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Car-free roads in Manchester: have low traffic neighbourhood plans ground to a halt?

The campaign group says elected representatives and town hall employees blame each other for a lack of progress and seem reluctant to fully embrace car-free neighbourhoods.

A Manchester campaign group has hit out in frustration at the lack of progress on developing car-free streets in their area.

Streets For People Levenshulme and Burnage has spoken out about the roll-out of the active travel neighbourhood in Levenshulme and accused councillors and the town hall of failing to back the project enough.

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Active travel neighbourhoods, which are also sometimes called low traffic neighbourhoods (LTNs), involve restricting access to certain streets by cars to encourage walking, cycling and opening up the roads and pavements as places for communities rather than solely as a means of getting from A to B.

The LTN filters in place on Manor Road in Levenshulme

The active travel campaigners say Manchester City Council and elected representatives both need to be bolder in their support for active travel as the schemes will not work if only partially implemented.

However, the local authority says there are delicate balances to be struck between the views and wishes of those in favour and those against.

What is the active travel neighbourhood in Levenshulme and Burnage?

The active travel neighbourhood in Levenshulme and Burnage has so far been some three years in the making and a final consultation on the plans comes to an end on Saturday 30 January.

However, the campaigners at Streets For People say they came together as a group in the summer of 2020 as it was felt the council was getting cold feet about the scheme and they wanted to preserve some of the benefits of the quieter streets from the first lockdown.

Announcing the final consultation last December, Manchester City Council said it was looking at 16 locations for traffic-calming measures.

These included bollards at junctions to allow pedestrianised and cyclists through while blocking off cars to deter rat-running, chicanes to reduce some routes to single carriageways, narrower roads to make it easier for walkers and cyclists to cross, improvements to crossings and the wider roll-out of 20mph zones.

Streets For People, though, say this is a reduction from the 25 filters originally floated for the active travel neighbourhood.

When a trial phase was rolled out at the start of 2021, 14 filters were put in place.

What do Streets For People say about the roll-out?

Streets For People Levenshulme and Burnage say that for the active travel neighbourhood to be effective councils need to fully commit to it, as just simply blocking off a few roads to cars will not achieve the full effect.

The group’s chair, Joe Crutwell, said: “It’s a bit like having a referendum on which wheels you want on a car. You need connected networks of these things. If you have an individual filter in a road people will just use the road next to it.

“That won’t create a quiet area. It feels like where filters are put in is quite arbitrary and we’re not really provided with reasons for it.”

A community event being held on Manor Road with the LTN filters in place

One particular area the group wants to see included is Manor Road, which runs between a park and a playing fields and they say is blighted by problems involving motorists driving recklessly.

The group has made the most of the filter that is there, holding community events including one for cycle repairs.

Joe said: “Kids frequent that area a lot but the road is very straight and wide. There are no speed bumps so people go at crazy speeds down there.

“There is one filter on Manor Road but there was supposed to be one at the other end to stop them coming down to cut back to a main road.

“People on these streets are continuing to receive cut-through traffic and that might not necessarily have happened.

“In the final plans they still haven’t filtered this street so as a driver I’m still going to turn down it and floor it down the drag strip.”

What has the group said about the council and councillors?

The group made a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to Manchester City Council for a copy of the three-month review of the trial area, a document which has been seen by ManchesterWorld.

Mr Crutwell says the group was previously operating under the impression that the highways department was reluctant to put in more filters and expand the active travel area.

However, the review said there could have been a second filter on Manor Road and one on Dunstable Street, only for councillors to reject that idea.

Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are proving controversial

The campaigners are now calling for more open dialogue between the authorities and residents keen to back car-free streets and have expressed their frustration that an opportunity to create a traffic-calmed area around Manor Road was not acted on.

He said: “It seems to us that councillors and highways need to have a discussion. It feels like a powerplay.

“They may say they support a more ambitious scheme, but the only way we as residents will know that is if we see action being taken. We are calling on councillors and highways to stop passing the buck and take responsibility for implementing these much-needed measures.

“The people who suffer in all of this are the residents left with dangerous streets.”

The group has launched its campaign Join The Dots, which aims to get the council to take action on boundary roads, strengthen the network of filters to create safe active travel routes rather than just measures on individual streets and promote other measures to boost walking and cycling such as bringing in School Streets and walking buses, putting in more cycle parking and improving pavements.

What has the council said?

Manchester City Council has said the creation of the active travel neighbourhood in Levenshulme and Burnage is a flagship scheme for the town hall.

However, it says the local authority has also faced challenges in balancing the wishes of those for and against the project.

The three-month review said that while overall the feedback on the scheme was broadly positive, it was notable that for more than half of the 14 filters there was not a huge amount of difference between comments which were positive and negative.

Coun Tracey Rawlins, executive member for environment, said: “The implementation of the Levenshulme and Burnage Active Travel Neighbourhood programme has been one of the most ambitious projects the council has embarked upon.

“The task of aligning the priorities of local members, interest groups and the public is a challenge with any project of this scale. But, over several years and through three consultations we have run we have managed to reach a positive consensus on the Active Travel Neighbourhood.

“The decisions made have been based on a combination of both local resident feedback and analysis of data – as one of the overarching goals has been to improve safety – but also through compromise as we want to utilise the resources at our disposal in the best way.

“The final plan which was put forward was bigger than initially proposed which I believe represents the collective desire to give this scheme the best impact possible when finally complete.

“The consultation we are currently running on the ATN has been extended to Sunday 30 January so I would urge residents to take part while they can.”

The Manchester Labour Group has also been approached for comment.