Over the past 60 years or more, our streets have become increasingly dangerous for people. The roads’ dictators are those armoured mechanical beasts known more commonly as the private car, whose use has proliferated despite its detrimental effects to the environment, people’s wellbeing, safety and financial situations.

Manchester City Council’s Core Strategy (2012) Policy T1 ‘Sustainable Transport’ states that:

To deliver a sustainable, high quality, integrated transport system to encourage modal shift away from car travel to public transport, cycling and walking, to support the needs of residents and businesses and to prepare for carbon free modes of transport, the Council will support proposals that: […]

Take account of the needs of road users according to a broad hierarchy consisting of, in order of priority:

1. Pedestrians and disabled people
2. Cyclists, public transport
3. Commercial access
4. General off peak traffic
5. General peak time traffic.

In principle, this inverted hierarchy is a means to redress the imbalance on our roads in favour of more sustainable modes of transport and needs. It means that those walking or with mobility aid should be ceded right of way by any of the other transport modes and those cycling should be ceded right of way by any mode below it, and so on. Yet still on our roads, we regularly see examples of behaviour that boil down to common bullying, with larger vehicles – often the least sustainable and least efficient environmentally, spatially and economically – asserting dominance through impatience, neglect and sheer presence of size and mass. Too often, you see instances of more dominant road users asserting their presence by maintaining or increasing their speed when confronted with a more vulnerable road user.

In October, the Department for Transport announced plans to address road safety with a review of legislation regarding a potential new offence of causing death by dangerous cycling, which follows the launch this summer of “a UK-wide initiative to help police crackdown on dangerous drivers who pass cyclists too closely”. However, both rely on police enforcement, and with dwindling officer numbers this will no doubt continue to be low priority.

The revised Highway Code also encourages the ‘Dutch reach’ method of opening a car door, but again this is a soft approach to a problem that requires hard action, which most effectively arrives via road layout and infrastructure, a visual and physical enforcement that can encourage preferable behaviour without the need for human policing.

In the context of generations of car-centric road building, it is still frustratingly difficult to translate well-meaning policy into highways engineers’ design repertoire, as junctions between major and minor roads are still beholden to the ‘worst case’ standards – i.e. that someone may try to corner it at 30mph; something that no driving instructor should be teaching. With minor road access point designs as wide as we see currently, it only serves to encourage such malignant road use, and in turn make these junctions more difficult to navigate for pedestrians and those using mobility aid. So much for the ‘inverted hierarchy’.

But there is hope. The Manchester to Chorlton Walking and Cycling Route proposal was unveiled as the second major addition to the network after the Oxford Road and Wilmslow Road route. This seizes the opportunity presented by Walking and Cycling Commissioner Chris Boardman’s Beelines funding and could pave the way for enabling more people-friendly streets. The downside is that even the smoothest of trajectories wouldn’t see work underway until 2021, due to statutory consultation and tender periods. The scheme requires support from all Greater Manchester residents who would like to see similar schemes in their area, so get involved via the link below.

Other authorities have been putting forward their plans, with Stretford Road in Trafford almost complete and Salford City Council seeking to transform Chapel Street through a combination of protected cycling lanes and minor-to-major road infrastructure that indicates pedestrian priority.

Furthermore, the future of street design will soon look brighter with a better benchmark to be set by a design guide due to be unveiled early in 2019 by the Beelines project team.

With momentum starting to build for people-centric street design, a new walking and cycling campaigns group launched on Wednesday 5 December, with attendees filling much of the main hall at the Friends Meeting House. Arranged by a team including the Guardian journalist and recent FLoop protest ride organiser Helen Pidd, the group’s stated aims for 2019 are as follows:

1. Make Deansgate traffic-free
2. Crackdown on pavement parking
3. Civilise the school run
4. Trial bikes on Metrolink trams

Further grassroots initiatives are emerging, including the Levenshulme Beelines community group fronted by the people behind the proposed Station South bicycle café. They have hosted two open forums so far to discuss potential filtered neighbourhoods as part of short and long-term visions for the Levenshulme area.

There are strides being made at policy level to correct the car-centric planning of past decades, and we can all help to keep the wheels in motion, including contacting your local councillors and responding positively to the existing consultations. It may still seem utopian and distant when looking at the belligerent status quo, but the momentum is with safer, people-friendly streets, so now is the time to get involved.

You can view and comment on Chorlton to Manchester initial designs here.

Ian Pennington