Former Olympic cycling champion Chris Boardman believes a change in culture – and £1.5billion of funding over the next 10 years – could turn Greater Manchester into a world class region for walking and cycling.
Boardman, who won gold at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, has delivered a 15-point plan to transform the city region and encourage more people to ditch the car in favour of two wheels or two feet.
His ambitious Made to Move report, which was commissioned by Mayor of Grater Manchester Andy Burnham, includes proposals to publish a detailed 2018 Greater Manchester-wide walking and cycling infrastructure plan, as set out in the Greater Manchester Strategy, and establish a ring-fenced, 10-year, £1.5 billion infrastructure fund for walking and cycling.
Boardman, who was appointed the region’s Cycling and Walking Commissioner by Burnham in the summer, is under no illusions that the change is going to be easy.
But he told MM: “We’re not actually building infrastructure for people who already do these things, because they’re already doing it so they’ll be a spin-off beneficiary but cycling infrastructure, in particular, you’re building for people in the car so then the question is what would make you want to get out of the car?
“And so there are three things – it’s got to be easy, it’s got to be appealing and it’s got to be safe. That’s a really hard thing to do but that is the reality. If it’s not those three things then you won’t change it.
“What’s been quite exciting is that all the leaders (of Greater Manchester) and most importantly the Mayor have said they are up for that because of all they’
“I’ve told them how much it will cost – £1.5bn over 10 years – and I wouldn’t say they haven’t flinched but they know it’s a necessity and it’s not a case of can we do it, but how we do it so it’s an exciting time.”
The changes being proposed would see the Greater Manchester city region catch up with other large European conurbations such as London and Oslo.
Elsewhere, in Holland around 50% of children either walk or cycle to school whereas in the UK that figure is just 3%.
But former Tour de France yellow jersey wearer Boardman, who has long been an advocate for increased cycle safety, believes that if Greater Manchester can find success then the region could be a blueprint for elsewhere in the UK.
Asked about the chances of success of unlocking the funding needed, he said: “I think it’s massive really and we’ll do it in chunks and we’ll demonstrate that it works and give people confidence for the next road, the next city and on and on and on.
“It’ll take time, culture change always does, but it’s totally evident that at the other end it’s worth it.”
The report features some startling statistics.
It says that 50% of adults in Greater Manchester are inactive – at a cost of around £500,000 per week to the local NHS – and that 10 people in the region die early every day from air pollution.
It also points out that 30% of all journeys by car in Greater Manchester are less than 1km and that traffic congestion alone costs the region’s businesses £1.3bn each year.
The Mayor of Greater Manchester pledged in the recently-published Greater Manchester Strategy to promote wellbeing and healthy active lifestyles.
Burnham said he and the 10 council leaders across Greater Manchester were now ready to ‘rise to the challenge’ the former Olympian had set.
He said: “When I appointed Chris, I asked him to produce a bold and challenging plan to get people cycling and walking.
This report more than meets the test set, and together with Greater Manchester’s 10 council leaders, we are ready to rise to the challenge. It is now urgent, with Greater Manchester being asked to produce plans to tackle illegal air pollution.
“Chris has identified the need for substantial investment in our cycling infrastructure and in response, we are aiming to create a challenge fund of around £50 million a year from 2019 to 2021, which will be able to be accessed by our 10 districts if they are building to the required standard and meeting part of the costs.
“This will go a considerable way towards meeting the required funding challenge and we will provide initial funding next year to get things going.
“Investing in cycling and walking will not only improve the air that we breathe, it will help tackle our crippling congestion problem and improve our health, wellbeing and environment.”