Open letter to Metrolink on cycling provision

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We have always made every effort to ensure that new Metrolink routes would not be detrimental to cycling. Unfortunately our concerns were not addressed through the consultation processes, so we have written to TfGM’s Metrolink Director Peter Cushing. The text is below or there’s a pdf version here.

Update: We received this response on July 29 and have contacted TfGM to arrange a meeting.

Dear Peter,

In meetings with TfGM, MPT, and Manchester City Council during 2014, major concerns have been raised about cycling provision along the route of the Metrolink second city crossing (2CC) and at other locations on the network where “street running” sections exist and people are expected to cycle over tramlines, amongst moving trams and other motorised vehicles. We had previously met with engineers from the East Manchester line, following several reports of cycling injuries involving the new tracks, but changes do not appear to have been made to that line or any of the lines built since. We note that the new Wythenshawe line has since been the subject of similar reports. We are conscious that work on 2CC is now well underway so it is therefore very late in the process to be able to influence its implementation in any meaningful sense. However, we feel there is an obligation for Metrolink to make every effort to reduce the risk these new lines have created, and to ensure the next extension to Trafford Park is not detrimental to cycling safety.

It should go without saying that the design of the tram routes and their interaction with existing and new cycling routes is crucial. The experience to date has been less than encouraging, with serious concerns expressed by local cycling groups and experienced, new and potential cyclists. The first meeting that we were involved in with Metrolink about 2CC dates back to 2011. Our concerns then were that the existing Metrolink line had already reduced cycle permeability of the city centre by prohibiting cycling along Mosley Street, and we stressed that as a minimum 2CC must not worsen the situation further. We also stressed that if the only solution was for trams and cycles to share space then the detailed design of the track and its surroundings was critical. We requested detailed discussions about this, and suggested improvements to the proposed layout on Corporation Street and a pilot scheme to evaluate possibilities (on Mosley Street). Nothing came of this, and Metrolink’s involvement with cycling groups since then has been minimal.

Following our initial representations, the report from that 2011 consultation included:
“4.37 With regard to cycle provision, TfGM is aware that Cross Street/Corporation Street forms a major cross-town route for cyclists and will incorporate appropriate provisions”.

To minimise the impact of this relatively narrow road space, we repeatedly suggested that the southbound platform should have been located opposite the Royal Exchange Theatre in order to maintain the safe cycling route while providing for trams and the high levels of pedestrians. We believe that the current proposal – which will require people to cycle along a narrow lane between the tram rails and a pavement kerb edge, partly within the swept path of the tram – is inherently dangerous and should not be considered “appropriate provisions” for “a major cross-town route for cyclists”.

We are especially concerned about the angles at which the cycle path will cross the rails at the northern end of Corporation Street near Victoria Station. Whilst these may be technically within current guidelines, this area will be a very busy – especially with pedestrians – so cyclists are likely to be required to manoeuvre with agility; and crossing rails at anything other than right angles is likely to be hazardous. Finally, we are also disappointed by the loss of the cycle lanes alongside the Midland Hotel, especially as our suggestions for the track layout in St Peter’s Square did not reach the design engineers who we later discovered wanted a similar layout – perhaps Metrolink’s position could have been strengthened if our representations had been more fully considered.

Space constraints suggest that the best way to resolve these issues is to employ some kind of track infill system along the critical sections. We recognise that the most commonly used system, veloSTRAIL, is not immediately applicable in these location given the rail profile used. However, it is suitable for use with most common rail profiles, including BS 113A which is the standard rail profile in the UK and is used in many sections of the Metrolink network. The rail used for on-street running, Ri59, is of course grooved, but has the same height and basic lower section as the BS 113A. As such it would be technically possible to fit the latter rail type along critical sections of these streets, though this would require changes to the track bed and other installation issues. This would then enable a currently available track infill system to be employed, though clearly there are issues which would need to be resolved with the Office of Rail Regulation (OOR). We understand that the infill system used in Geneva was retrofitted using this type approach. There may be other “off the shelf” infill systems which are applicable. If that is not the case then Manchester ought to take the lead – perhaps in conjunction other transport authorities or by encouraging innovation at our Universities and Science Park – to develop a safe and practical solution that can be installed as soon as possible.

In connection with this we would like to draw your attention to a recent Coroner’s report on a death in Croydon where tram tracks were involved in a cycling fatality. It called for a review into tramlines and cycling safety. Croydon Council’s response, setting out the brief for that review, can be found here. Please note in particular the comments on rail infill systems.

We would be grateful if you could acknowledge receipt of this correspondence, and we look forward to further discussion on the issues raised at the earliest opportunity.

Yours sincerely,

Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign

6th March 2015

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