For those used to brutal concrete, Oxford Road is easily the best 1960s station in the country. A beautiful and recently sympathetically restored laminated wood structure was needed to keep the weight down. Now it has a ‘Cycle Hub’, which contains Northern Rail’s ‘Bike and Go’ operation. Register and for the day you can hire a beautiful red Dutch bike (the trains were run by Dutch Railways until early 2016) for about the price of a pint.
Immediately outside the station the first junction is an intimidating mess dominated by buses, white vans and taxis, but at least the weight of the bike helps with the potholes. Down Oxford Road a lot of money has been spent on new cycle lanes but these aren’t continuous. A lot better than nothing, but I feel safer in the main carriageway. At one corner roadworks have exposed 1960s tram lines, while I count no less than 13 buses waiting in line at the traffic lights. Perhaps this is a clue. Maybe instead of trying to make buses and other road vehicles happy, we should remove the vehicles along the busiest bus route in Europe and have a tram, or even an underground Metro with the space given over to people in what is one of the largest concentrations of students in Europe?
Having paid my respects to Elizabeth Gaskell I head west. You would expect the University area to have good links to Salford Quays with BBC, MediaCity and other cultural attractions. But you would be wrong. Stretford Road is wide, straight and was supposed to be the New Naples: the arch and some of the architecture is nice. Few of the intended ground-floor shop units materialised, and the Naples street buzz is missing. It should be ideal for cycling, but the road is totally dominated by moving and parked cars. Nearer Salford Quays it gets worse as getting to the Bridgwater or Ship Canals requires braving an intimidating gyratory and then the towpaths are unnecessarily blocked by minor works.
Salford Quays itself is a negation of planning. That so much money has created something so ugly, poorly connected and cut off in its gated enclaves is dispiriting. The mean square outside the Lowry is little more than a turning circle, the tram stop is pig ugly, and the bland commercial buildings of MediaCity enclose a dank and draughty open space. Behind is neglected landscaping, a vast amount of car parking and an underused cycle hub (shed).
After more intimidating junctions on the way back it’s a relief to hand the bike back. We have a way to go before we have a Netherlands cycling experience. TfGM aims to increase the total number of journeys made by bike across the city region from 2% today to 10% by 2025, but the scale of the challenge and the tiny amounts of money spent so far (almost all from central Government grant-aid) make even this modest target seem faintly ridiculous. Cycling has an incredible list of benefits. It improves health, cuts pollution and noise, improves quality of life and creates jobs and other economic benefits too. All the best places in Europe to live and the most prosperous have a lot of cyclists. But all this is lost on the Councils of Greater Manchester as they designate land near Motorways for business, Green Belt for housing and build more and more roads for cars and scratch their heads and wonder why nobody wants to live in town centres anymore and why wealth creators give a wide berth. WAKE UP MANCHESTER!