On where we’re up to on the Prestwich High Street plans

It’s hard to say really. The whole thing seems to be a bit of a mess right now. I originally wrote about this scheme here: https://bangingonaboutbikes.wordpress.com/2015/12/03/on-why-its-crucial-to-get-cycling-right-in-prestwich/ and those thoughts are still very much valid, albeit now tinged by an unhelpful dose of realism.

Last night (Monday 21 December) I attended another public meeting, which had been primarily convened for residents on the western side of Prestwich to voice their concerns about the proposed closure of Warwick Street and the one-way plan for Clifton Road. The opposition from some residents on that side of the village is fierce, so much so that it looks like derailing the entire scheme.

In this regeneration we are being given a choice between Prestwich simply being a thoroughfare for people travelling to other places on the A56 and slowly dying on its arse as a local focal point, which is where we are now, or Prestwich actually being a nice, thriving and attractive place to live, which I think is what the scheme is ultimately trying to achieve. I say I only think that for the following reasons:

  1. The scheme’s mission statement is fuzzy to say the least: “Prestwich will be centred on a lively high street, full of independent retailers, where traffic adds to the vitality of the town centre and the street scene rather than dominating the environment.” There is an implication in there that traffic will be less dominant if the proposed plans go ahead, but no explicit statement of how this is supposed to happen.
  2. At the first public meeting I attended on 7 December, I explicitly asked whether the scheme envisaged any kind of “mode shift”, i.e. any conscious vision to disincentivise driving and facilitate more sustainable forms of getting people into Prestwich. I was told, emphatically, no. That was not part of the thinking behind the plans. Everything is based on an assumption that traffic levels will remain the same, which begs the question: how can we possibly reduce the dominance of traffic without actually reducing traffic itself? To me that’s a paradoxical and impossible objective.
  3. The large part of the discussion still centres around vehicle access, parking etc. which suggests that in whatever form the scheme is implemented the car will still be king, and if that is the case, the scheme’s objectives of making Pretswich more liveable will fail.

Now, originally, I didn’t think that the objections to the road closure/one-way plan were hugely detrimental to our alternative ideas for protected cycle lanes, given that the plans as they stand envisage rasied tables at side roads, giving priority to pedestrians and cyclists. I’m now not so sure. Our (Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign’s) proposed improvements are as follows, with protected lanes as depicted in the featured image above:

proposal1annotated-print.png

At both meetings I have made the point that the key issue for regenerating Prestwich is access. There’s no law of nature that demands that access needs to be by car, and indeed when I made my points about providing safe, protected cycle lanes that cater predominantly for people who don’t currently cycle, which would improve people’s options for travelling into Prestwich, enhance the attractiveness of the place by actually reducing traffic and thereby also to an extent obviating issues of congestion and parking (legal or illegal), and also improve access to local businesses, there was widespread approval and the sound of pennies dropping. People like the idea of people being able to cycle safely; however, that is also where we experience a troubling disconnect. “That sounds great. But will I still be able to drive my car as much and as conveniently as I do now?” The short answer is no.

We can’t have everything. We either build Prestwich for people, or we build it for cars. Do we think Prestwich would benefit from lower traffic levels? I think most would agree that that is so. However, what that also means is that we all individually need to start making different choices. We can’t have less traffic and simultaneously all keep driving as much as we do now. We either have less traffic or the same amount of traffic. We can either make Prestwich into a really pleasant place or a merely slightly less unpleasant place.

Which is why I am coming round to believing that the interventions on Warwick/Clifton are actually pretty central to the whole endeavour. Councillor O’Brien made the very useful point that if you build to accommodate cars, you get more cars. It’s a well-known phenomenon in traffic planning called “induced demand”. If you make something convenient, people will use it (sometimes known as the “build it and they will come” effect). The converse of that is that if you make driving less convenient and other modes more accessible, people will start making different choices. People in the houses that currently use Warwick/Clifton for access will find different ways of making short trips, by walking, cycling or public transport. Of course, car trips will still be possible, but more cumbersome, and if people think twice before firing up a polluting, potentially lethal tonne of metal merely to travel a few hundred yards to e.g. meet a friend for coffee, that can only be a good thing.

And I think that’s where the scheme at present falls down. Subtly, subliminally I think the plans do want to get car use down. But without Bury Council clearly communicating this and providing, and indeed spelling out, alternatives to private motor travel, it will inevitably be a fudge that benefits few, if any. It could be a bold, ambitious project that makes deliberate and considered interventions that will positively impact people’s choices about how they travel. Having spoken at meetings, I get the distinct impression that there is an appetite for that, and if we get it right, it could really put Prestwich on the map. Yet the official line is to merely subtly tinker with the status quo.

The choice is ours to make: we either create a nice place to live, which means modifying our own habits and behaviours to a certain extent, or we keep driving our cars to the exclusion of everything and everyone else. I know what I’d rather see. How about you?

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16 thoughts on “On where we’re up to on the Prestwich High Street plans

  1. Yet another great article, Nick.
    Points well made and well articulated.

    It will surprise no-one that I whole heartedly agree. Until we – humans – shift our mindset then nothing can change.

    I use a car also but my main mode of transport is cycling. I personally wouldn’t mind sacrificing a slightly longer journey via car if it meant we had better cycling provisions for others (I’m going to cycle whether we get them or not). The amount of people who use a car, where another mode (walking, cycling) would be quicker, cleaner and healthier must be fairly high. We have to try and exploit that.

    However, as you say: we can’t have it all. To move on, we must sacrifice. This is seen throughout Prestwich at the moment in other areas. Take bars. Some newer, modern bars with nice drinks and food are coming to Prestwich (I personally like this, as do a lot of people)and of course they are more expensive. “I want nice bars but not higher prices” – absolutely not going to happen. The same applies, if we want better infrastructure where people have a genuine option to get around by bike or foot, then we have to be prepared to sacrifice the convenience of the car.

    I personally love the living in Prestwich and I think it’s a great place to live. In particular I am attracted to the green spaces but accept we live on the cusp of a busy a-road. I’m really excited that we might be able to show the rest of Manchester how to do cycling infrastructure properly. Most of all, I’m excited about how much that could benefit everybody and bring about a nicer, cleaner place to live.

    Again, no problem at all with the car. I like having one and it certainly makes my life easier and better for getting to see family, for driving away for trips etc. but I don’t think we need to be as reliant on it as we currently are. Some people will always need to drive, you can’t expect everyone to do 40 mile round trips by bike every day. This is where can make a better case for better, more affordable public transport being a part of this as well.

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  2. Fully agree. No one’s trying to stop people from using cars at all, but we use them far too much, largely under the (in my view misleading) banner of convenience (there will be a post on that topic soon). Schemes like this shouldn’t be coy about their objectives. Succeeding in reducing traffic and making a place more people-centred, pleasant and vibrant should be a matter of pride, not something you’re ashamed of admitting to. That said, change is painful, habits are hard to break. It’s difficult to encourage people to change, you generally have to make physical interventions. Which is why it would be such a shame if this scheme turns into little more than a resurfacing of the A56, which is how it’s looking after yeserday’s meeting. You can’t make things better whilst keeping things exactly the same. And ultimately, we all benefit from a more pleasant environment, even though many don’t quite realise that yet.

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  3. Another absolute doozy of a line: “you can’t make things better whilst keeping things exactly the same”.

    Very true.

    Like you, while I appreciate everyone is different, I just can’t believe that everyone wouldn’t want to live in a nicer environment. There are so many benefits, it just needs the buy in.

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  4. I live in Radcliffe and commute to Manchester daily using Bury New Road . Prestwich is by far the worse part of my journey due to the sheer amount of traffic . It is actually worse than Manchester . The area i work is off the beaten track and due to the timings , public transport is not an option . I am not about to cycle all that way either , so what do you suggest ? I’m all for improvements but are you going to improve the New Road at the detriment to the Old Road ? All i see is a nightmare ahead of me.

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    1. For the avoidance of doubt, this isn’t my scheme. I’m just an ordinary resident like you trying to get things done right. This is for a 500-metre stretch of BNR aimed at making Prestwich a better place for the people who live there. I’ve set out my views in these blog posts, if you have any questions on how it will affect you I suggest you contact the council directly.

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    2. You’re going to get left behind I’m afraid. The idea that one person in a huge metal box can drive into a major city centre already seems quaint (and selfish) to me. Soon it will be actively discouraged (see TfGM’s vision document) and you, like many others, will have to change your car driving habits. This is peak car. What follows is sanity.

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  5. We have Manchester city centre at one end – the second biggest city in Britain and the M60 motorway at the other. Whilst I would love to cut traffic through Prestwich, where are all the cars going to go? If you really think that people are going to walk, use public transport or cycle then you are sadly mistaken. This is a major road going to a major city and sadly we have to accept that fact, all you are going to do is push traffic onto side streets and/or cause worse congestion than we have already. There is no easy answer to this problem but two lanes in both directions with strict speed restrictions might be a start

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    1. Please find enough space for two lanes all the way between Prestwich and Manchester and we can talk again. Add into that your suggestions for how generating more traffic will enhance the environment in Prestwich, reduce air pollution and boost public health and I’ll be very interested. Or do you just not give a toss and want to drive everywhere no matter what impact that has? I have a pretty good idea already.

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  6. Great analysis. Don’t be dispirited. There are an increasing number of people in Prestwich that are becoming aware of the need to fundamentally change things. Air quality in the area is one issue which will be raising alarm bells for Bury Council.

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  7. “Fundamental” change should be undertaken in a cooperative way, not by imposition. By restricting this consultation to 2 options, without having data to back-up their assumptions, the Council has effectively gone to war with commuters who prefer or need personal transport to public transport.
    In 2008 we had open dialogue coordinated by consultants resulting in 5 options. Why not now?
    Why not spend all £2m on a cycle route through the Irwell valley? It achieves separation. It is flatter for cycling out of Manchester. It will surely encourage more cycling than any road-paint ever could?
    Put simply, the process of consultation, the options, and the tree-hugging arguments around the decisions appear farcical and crass. Motorists will hate it. Bus users will be annoyed by the delays caused during and after construction. It won’t encourage many more cyclists to commute. Businesses on BNR will abandon it, as passing trade dies off when people realise it now takes 30mins to get to P/w and 20min to The Fort. So wider pavements: great! But they will lead to vacant shops if we aren’t careful!
    Develop the attraction to P/w, not reasons to avoid it.
    The Council has had £0.5m for a year and a half, and a further £1.5m allocated since February. If this is the “jam tomorrow” they’ve been promising, it tastes pretty sour by now!

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    1. Thanks for the party political broadcast. A few points:

      1) No idea why only two proposals were tabled. You’re a councillor, you should know who to ask.

      2) “Tree hugging”? Are you serious? Apart from the very obvious dangers on the roads, we have several thousand deaths a year from air pollution and a burgeoning inactivity/obesity epidemic as a direct result of our transport system favouring inactive over active modes. Car dependency shortens lives. If you see fit to shrug that off as “tree hugging”, I suggest you reassess your priorities.

      3) I am the first to admit that some people need to use cars to get about and they should of course be catered for in the transport system. There is no need to prioritise people who merely prefer to use dangerous, inefficient, polluting and congesting cars at the expense of others’ convenience, health and lived environment when other viable options are open to them.

      4) There is already a cycle route along the Irwell Valley called National Cycle Network 6. It is flat until you reach Prestwich and then you get to do the whole climb in about half a mile. It is also indirect. Remember the Prestwich Cycleway? That was scrapped for the same reason. People want safe, direct routes from A to B, no matter how they travel, and this scheme can put in an important piece of that jigsaw.

      5) (And I’m getting a little tired of asking this of the legions of naysayers): if you’re so staunchly opposed to what’s on the table, what are you suggesting instead? More of the same? More traffic, more bad air, more bad health, more misery for all whether they drive or not?

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    2. I’m not sure I am a tree hugger. Is this really the response from the Liberals? Like many residents (elderly and disabled as well as the young in Prestwich), I am hoping the scheme will redress the growing imposition of traffic on pedestrians. We need a consultative solution – but Donal, please don’t discard us as irrelevant stakeholders. (Edward Finch – previously Professor in Facilities and Infrastructure Management)

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  8. Donal – like I’ve just said on facebook, there’s a bloody great big box on the consultation form for ‘comments’. Does it really need to be labelled “please tell us what other options there are aside from these two” in order for people with brains in their heads to work out that they can use the box for making suggestions?
    I can’t be the only one who’s becoming tired of the years of Lib Dem negativity on all matters. Perhaps one reason your party has become an insignificance?

    I’m with Nick on the ‘tree hugging’ comment. That was just idiotic. You should put that on your next pamphlet so I’ll enjoy putting it in the recyling bin even more.

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