As I write, there is news of yet another preventable road incident, this time in my current hometown of Levenshulme. It might be argued that, with Manchester’s population as significant as it is, a higher volume of incidents are to be expected, even just as a result of the same odds, but that’s a difficult excuse to justify. These incidents don’t need to be the norm.

While the city’s transport infrastructure has been noticeably changing as roadworks and delays give way to shiny green cycle ways, embedded tramlines and modified vehicle accessibility, improvements can still be made. That’s the intention of Transport for Greater Manchester’s (TfGM) Transport Strategy 2040, whose draft version was published earlier this summer and is now publicly available to read and comment on via a consultation feedback form.

All agree that regenerating the city’s transport infrastructure is essential over the next 25 years. The city’s increasing population demands greater capacity for movement in order to avoid congestion and more accidents. The Velocity 2025 cycling plan, with its aim of increasing cycling levels by 300%, is already underway and various reports have been produced by Transport for the North (TfN), an agglomeration of powerful stakeholders, such as local transport authorities, combined authorities and Local Enterprise Partnerships.

Scenarios for Future Growth (2015) is one, which states that for buzz words like ‘growth’ to be realised, “it will need to be accommodated by enhanced public transport connectivity within city regions”. It sounds like a plan anyone could get behind in theory, but how will it take shape? The study goes on to identify “poor connections, low frequencies and complex fares, as well as slow journey times” as key areas for improvement.

Some of the other proposed solutions are under construction and unafraid to bulldoze any obstacles (see Ordsall Chord and Oxford Road Corridor, with others queued up, like the modernisation of Piccadilly and Oxford Road stations with HS2 in mind) with the aim of increasing capacity and designing the infrastructure to “operate through a series of nodes that also link with other public transport networks”.

This is all without considering the findings documented in a February 2016 report that “air quality is poor”, with nitrogen dioxide “well above the Air Quality Strategy (AQS) objectives” – illustrated through art at the recent Human Sensor performance by Invisible Dust, which was programmed as part of the Science in the City series – and other reports suggesting that suburbanisation and car reliance are creating poverty outside of cities.

In rhetoric at least, the larger pressure groups, think tanks and ‘industry standard’ assumptions seem to be heading in the right direction, but it hasn’t stopped plans being watered down. The Oxford Road Corridor route’s cycling lane fortification is a case in point, with the much-touted ‘Dutch-style’ design appearing to be one aspect under revision. The route, although largely impressive, has already pandered to the whim of moneyed stakeholders by shunning a logical tram extension down its almost entirely linear boulevard. Whether the council will risk the need for immediate modifications to new layouts, such as the erased cycle lane on Portland Street, remains to be seen. Surely it’s better to do the job properly now than to spend money again in the near future fixing preventable problems?

The degree of satisfaction with this journey’s process and destination will depend on many factors between now and 2040, including the findings of annual progress reports and striking the right balance between the voices of Greater Manchester Combined Authorities (GMCA) residents, qualified experts and interested stakeholders. It can feel like regional and national strategies usurp any more localised voices to the extent that consultation is merely a box-ticking exercise. Of course, we may have a more localised governance to look forward to in the form of ‘DevoManc’, whose proposed devolved powers include “more control of local transport“. All of which presents another opportunity to have your say, because phase 2 of the GMCA consultation process is now open.

It should be noted that both the GMCA and TfGM plans will be intended for final publication before next year’s mayoral ballot in May, so any promises made by candidates will likely only have flexibility within predefined limits.

But now is the time to have a say in the shaping of longer-term strategy for the city region and consider the consequences for years into the future. One thing can be sure when planning such an expansive scheme: travelling around Manchester will be very different by 2040.

GMCA’s Phase 2 consultation is now open here.

The TfGM consultation survey can be found here and will remain open until 26 September.
tfgm.com/2040

Ian Pennington