Part 1 of an in-depth review of the Metrolink Trafford Park Line.
Next to part 2 – Sir Alex Ferguson Way to Warren Bruce Road
Now that the Metrolink Trafford Park Line (TPL) is largely complete, I thought it was time to look at the route again and see what’s been delivered for walking and cycling.
Anyone who follows this blog will probably be aware I’ve covered the progress on the TPL for some time. If you want to familiarise yourself with the background to this development and some of the concerns raised in the past, you can do so in the following posts.
- Save Trafford Wharf and Promenade Park – June 2015
- Metrolink Trafford Park Line – March 2017
- Metrolink Trafford Park Line – Trafford Wharf update – August 2017
- Metrolink Trafford Park Line – Latest designs – December 2017
- Progress on the Metrolink Trafford Park Line – July 2019
And there have been plenty of concerns. TfGM and Metrolink have a well-deserved reputation for delivering pretty terrible cycling provision as part of Metrolink extensions. You only need to look at two recent examples for the Second City Crossing and the Airport Line. Both of these extensions pretty much disregard the needs of people on bikes, by creating a hostile environment for cycling.
While the TPL is probably a step up from the Second City Crossing and the Airport Line, it’s still pretty dated in many aspects. Unfortunately, most of the design predates the appointment of Chris Boardman as Cycling and Walking Commissioner for Greater Manchester and the work his team have been doing on Made to Move and the Bee Network. I had hoped that Chris might have intervened at a late stage to make improvements, but this doesn’t appear to have happened.
The following video covers the whole of the route, in both directions. It’s quite long and includes me stopping and starting many times. So you may want to skip through it and concentrate on the parts of interest. There’s also many photos of the route in parts 2 and 3.
The subsequent posts cover the whole of the TPL and changes made in detail, but here’s a summary of what I consider to be the good and bad parts and what could done to improve the route.
Protected cycleways replaced with unprotected lanes
The area of Trafford Park has been something of rarity in Greater Manchester, for years it’s had some of the best examples of protected cycleways in the area. With it being an industrial estate with wide, straight roads (due to the now defunct Trafford Park Railway), adding cycleways here was definitely easier here than in most of the city.
As the existing cycleways were installed some time ago, they have been in need of some maintenance for a while. They’re also not really up to modern standards and tend to be a little narrow and lack priority over side roads. Though with all that said, what’s there has been better than nearly everything else in Greater Manchester.
Disappointingly, TfGM decided to put the needs of trams and drivers before people’s safety by removing a number of sections of protected cycleways, only to replace them with nothing but painted lanes.
So, Metrolink’s claims of providing “an additional 4.2km of cycling lanes” and “doubling the existing provision” is pretty disingenuous at best. Painted lanes are not cycling provision , they’re a cop-out. TfGM and Metrolink know that.
None of this is a surprise though. It was all there in the designs they shared, which were only made public just before work started and any pleas to improve the cycling provision were ignored.
Lack of priority at junctions and side roads
As I’ve already mentioned, lack of priority was already an issue with the existing cycleways in Trafford Park. This was pretty standard at the time the cycleways were installed, where people cycling were expected to give way to motor vehicles.
Expectations are very different now. With examples of best practice in The Netherlands, Denmark and even closer to home in Waltham Forest, we know that for cycleways to be safe and attractive to use, they need to have over side roads and wait times at junctions need to be kept to a minimum.
With the newly installed cycling provision on the Trafford Park Line, you’d expect best practice like this would have been included in the design. But no, signalled crossings along the route prioritise trams and motor vehicles over people walking and cycling. Meaning that crossing junctions by foot or bike is an incredibly frustrating experience, which will lead people to risking their lives to cross or just not bothering and getting in their cars.
Confusing switching between cycleways, shared use paths and cycle lanes
If you want people to use cycling infrastructure, it needs to be safe, convenient and easy to understand. If it’s confusing to use and forces you to stop and start, then people won’t use it. We’ve seen numerous examples of good and bad to know this is the case.
When designing the cycling provision on the Trafford Park Line, TfGM decided to prioritise trams and motor vehicles over people cycling, with the impact being that you’re often forced to switch between cycle lanes, shared use paths and cycleways. Quite often without clear signage and in some cases, in a very short distance.
Not only is this confusing and difficult to follow, but it also causes conflict between people walking and cycling. As someone who cycles regularly and knows about different types of cycling infrastructure, this was confusing. So I can only imagine what it’d be like for someone who’s not so confident. This just adds to the reasons why people choose not to cycle.
Some genuine improvements
While there are plenty of issues, there’s also some examples of genuine improvements on the route. Some of the new protected cycleways are actually pretty well implemented, and are only let some poor surface finishing, poorly placed poles. There’s demarcation kerbs separating cycleways from footways, where often you’d see painted lines.
There’s also some good examples of dedicated cycle crossings and lights at junctions that have been well implemented. Though unfortunately, most of the crossings along the route are shared used paths.
Along the route, you’ll find some pretty good bus stop bypasses too. Wide with good angles and demarcation kerbs, these are much better than other examples we’ve seen, such as the on the Stretford Cycleway.
How it could be improved
So, given the issues, how could it be made better? While it wouldn’t bring it up to Bee Network standards, there are some smaller improvements that could be made to improve the route.
Upgrade unprotected cycle lanes with Wand Orcas
We’ve seen on the Stretford Cycleway that Wand Orcas can be a relatively straightforward and inexpensive way to upgrade painted lanes. While not as robust as kerb protection, they can be an effective barrier from motor traffic, creating space where people can cycle without feeling threatened.
Upgrading the painted lanes on Sir Alex Ferguson Way, Trafford Wharf Road, Warren Bruce Road and Village Way with Wand Orcas would instantly provide a safer and much more pleasant environment to ride in.
Improve timings at signalled crossings
Changing the timings at the signalled crossings would be another straightforward way to make the route more attractive to people walking and cycling, by reducing the amount of time necessary to wait.
This could have a massive positive impact as people would save minutes getting across the bigger junctions. In doing this, I suspect it would have little impact to traffic flows.
Give priority to walking and cycling at side roads
This isn’t quite as straightforward, as it would potentially require construction work. But making side junctions safer to cross by giving walking and cycling priority with continuous footways and cycleways would be a significant improvement.
Side junctions with clear priority for walking and cycling are much safer and attractive to use. This is something Chris Boardman’s team know and are trying to get the rules for zebra crossings changed, so they can be easily used on side junctions to reinforce right of way.
Next to part 2 – Sir Alex Ferguson Way to Warren Bruce Road