Streets for People and Clean Air Levenshulme are pleased to announce an online public meeting for Burnage and Levenshule residents on Sunday7th February at 3pm.
A month after the installation of trial filters in Levenshulme as part of the Active Neighbourhood project, we ask what Manchester City Council and the community can do together to improve our streets for walking and cycling, to make our community less reliant on cars to get around. Making it easier to get around on foot and bike helps tackle inequality and creates less air pollution in Burnage and Levenshulme.
We ask what should be done next in the Active Neighbourhood project, and where the council are at in improving unfiltered roads and creating safe ‘school streets’ for our youngest residents.
Unfortunately Chris Boardman is now unable to make the meeting. However, we’ve still got a great line up, including local councillors and speakers from Streets for People and Clean Air Levenshulme, with more to be confirmed.
Please email firstname.lastname@example.org any questions that you would like to put to Manchester City Council about School Streets and the Active Neighbourhood. We’ll then put these to the speakers.
Please also note that this meeting is for people local to Burnage and Levenshulme.
Its great to know what we always suspected, that there is a deep well of support for active travel within Levenshulme. Manchester City Council noted that feedback was ‘overwhelmingly positive overall, with roughly two-thirds of all comments being positive’. This is a highly impressive level of support for what were quite ambitious initial proposals. Indeed, Streets for People are not aware of another low traffic neighbourhood proposal in Britain that has attracted a higher level of support at initial consultation.
The announcement shows where new ‘modal filters’ are going to be placed for the six month trial. Filters prevent motor vehicles from entering from one end of through roads. They stop ‘rat running’ (using smaller, residential, through roads for longer car journeys), while maintaining car access to all of a street’s properties.
MCC indicate that five of the filters may be re-instated (without being clear as to which ones) if they are able to assess what the impact would be of including them in the trial.
Streets for People welcome the fact that this project is now moving again. The introduction of 14 filters will create a good number of streets where people feel safe to walk, cycle and wheel. We are particularly pleased that the original designs were retained for the area between Albert Road and Slade Lane. We urge the council to do what it takes to get the additional 5 filters which were welcomed by the community in place as soon as possible.
We are concerned that removal of some of the filters could result in unintended consequences. The original plan had a coherent design which split Levenshulme into cells, where transfer between cells by car was only possible via the “boundary roads”, thereby preventing rat running and making short trips by car less convenient, discouraging them. Discouraging short car trips would then ensure a reduction in the overall traffic levels across the area. The design meant that the filters were more than the sum of their parts because they worked together to stop rat running in whole sections of the community. It doesn’t necessarily make sense to design the active neighbourhood based on the popularity of individual filters, because filters work together. By removing some of the filters it is possible that some roads and areas will remain as rat runs, perhaps with heavier traffic than before.
We believe that if these problems occur, they are both foreseeable and remediable. We therefore have one big ask for our councillors. If the scheme has problems at first, fix it – don’t bin it. Work with residents to tweak the scheme until we get it right. The consultation shows that residents are overwhelmingly in favour of the scheme, so the council owes it to the local community to find solutions that work.
A trial will enable the community to find out what the ‘on the ground’ impact of the latest proposal is. This will provide the opportunity for Manchester City Council to experiment with both the number and placement of the filters. We believe it may be necessary to reinstate some of the filters that have been dropped from the most recent plans in order to achieve a truly active neighbourhood.
During the trial, the council will need to make a ‘business case’ bid to Mayor’s Challenge Fund, which is administered by Chris Boardman. The Fund has ring fenced £1.8million which can be spent making the Active Neighbourhood permanent, with additional features to improve its quality and reach. That fund comes attached to strict criteria. The changes that any scheme creates must feel much safer for walking and cycling, and form an integrated active travel network. We urge the council not to lose sight of that, and treat it as a positive challenge, not an inconvenient hurdle. Otherwise there is a risk that the opportunity for big improvements in our community will be lost, and the money will move to other councils in Greater Manchester who show more ambition.
Streets for People will now look in greater detail at the latest proposals and produce a more detailed response. We will seek to highlight both the foreseeable benefits and possible pitfalls of the latest design. We will aim to work positively to try and identify solutions to any problems which may occur. You can help by letting us know about any problems you might be experiencing or solutions you want to see.
Surely Manchester City Council (MCC) would have announced its plans for the filter locations by now, after another round of thousands of comments by local people in the latest consultation?
Streets for People have learned via an MCC Highways Officer attending the council’s Walking and Cycling Forum that the filters will now be rolled out in the New Year, following notifications to residents this month. Streets for People’s educated guess is that the filters will be placed in early January, given the notice period required by law for temporary road changes.
Of course, this is far from ideal. It is in fact the third time the trials have been delayed in the last six months.
Of particular concern is that the trials will now coincide with the return to school after the Christmas break – traditionally the busiest time for local road traffic – rather than at the beginning of the break, which would allow residents more time to get used to the changes before traffic picks up again.
As things stand, the project will certainly get off to a more difficult start than we hoped for. MCC will now need to be both extra clear and helpful in its communications with all affected parties, and to have extra courage to allow the scheme to settle if things are difficult to begin with.
But an even worse scenario is that the trials are delayed even further, beyond the beginning of January. The more the trials are delayed, the more MCC are wasting money that could be spent on immediate improvements to the area.
What is more, further delays begin to put at risk the bulk of the £1.8million in permanent improvements, which would be released through the formal application by the council to Andy Burnham’s Mayor’s Challenge Fund towards the end of the trial. That money is currently ringfenced for Levenshulme and North Burnage, but Burnham’s team won’t wait forever for MCC to get their act together, and the money could go elsewhere.
But perhaps things are a bit different this January: there is every sign now (unfortunately) that we will still be under some kind of Covid restrictions come January. This should mean that traffic levels will be somewhat lower than the typical first week of the January school term.
Also, the delay would give MCC more time to include some school streets in the trial. School streets are relatively simple projects (there are hundreds already across the country) but MCC has had little experience of them so far. Perhaps an extra couple of weeks will give them the time to catch up?
Finally, we really need to know the reasons behind these delays in order to avoid further mistakes in the future.
We recognise that this kind of a project is a first for MCC. Acknowledging that means allowing for mistakes – trial and error not just in the location of filters, but in getting the project through. But time and the patience of the community are running out.
We repeat what we’ve said all along: without clear, positive leadership from MCC and the councillors, this project is on very shaky ground indeed. It is not too late for either to stand up and be counted.