Friday 25 April 2014

Salford's Cycle Networks - Bridgewater Way and Monton Loop Line

A further continuation of my journey to work and a review of the cycle facilities found on the way.  The previous two posts covered parts in Trafford :

Hopefully having survived exiting the Bridgewater Way I cross from Trafford to Salford over the Manchester Ship Canal via the rather narrow Barton Swing Bridge.  A lot of cars take very little notice of how narrow this bridge is and certainly don't reduce their speed appropriately.  It's quite pleasing when two buses or lorries use the bridge in opposing directions as they force all of the traffic to slow down.

There are no cycle facilities for about half a mile as you ride parallel to the Bridgewater Canal along Barton Road.  This means that you have to hold your own amongst the traffic in the narrow section of road as you pull away up hill from the lights at Peel Green Lane.  If you don't take Primary position here the cars and vans will push past you even if there are cars queueing for the lights on the other side of the road.

This section of the tow path is due for upgrading next year, 2015, but it won't provide an alternative to fighting with the traffic away from the lights as there is no tow path on the canal swing bridge.

Just before the junction with Liverpool Road there is an entrance down onto the canal tow path.

Be careful here, those wooden 'steps' are very slippery when wet, tyres and SPDs have been known to go sideways.  Definitely room for improving cycle access at this point.

You'll notice from the photos that the tow path has actually not yet been upgraded at the point you can access it from the road.  You have to negotiate about fifty feet of muddy singletrack to get to the upgraded part.  This is another example of a lack of joined up thinking.  You would have thought that linking the upgraded section to an access point onto the road so that it could actually be used would be sensible.  Instead the nearest direct access on to the path is on the other side of the bridge.
 Then around the next bend, yes the one in the distance.
 And around the next
 Looking back from the first bend to the bridge.
And there it is marked by the light blue direction signs.  That's a long stretch that surely cannot officially be in use as a cycle path as the last fifty feet haven't been upgraded and therefore cycling is not allowed upon it.

The surface of the tow path along here is different to that in elsewhere.  Gone is the lumpy tarmac and pea gravel to be replaced with compacted hard core.  The surface probably isn't as hard wearing but is a massive improvement in comfort and safety.

It's not all hunky dory though. The surface under Patricroft railway bridge is quite pitted.  I think this must be another different surface as if it gets wet it is extremely slippery.  Thankfully it's not wet very often.

Beyond the railway bridge it's back to lumpy tarmac.  It appears that not a lot of effort went into improving this section to a reasonable standard as no effort has been made to increase the path to an acceptable width. In places it is very narrow, almost to the point that two pedestrians would struggle to pass never mind cyclists.

There's a short section, fifty feet, where a guard rail has been added that significantly reduces the width of the path.  The state of the path surface along here is atrocious presumably because of tree roots and is the reason for the guard rail.  If you want to get air then it is very easy to do it here, just don't get it wrong as there's no space to recover - it will hurt.  Time this section wrong, i.e. when somebody has just started walking from the other end and you are in for a long wait as it is not easy to pass mid way along.

Just under the bridge at Monton they've recently driven this shuttering into the side of the canal.  I hope that this is temporary as it's an ugly hotch potch of levels.

At this point the canal is adjacent to the NCN55 and I change to that for the next part of my journey.  

In fact NCN 55 is just over the bridge but there is no cycle facility linking the two together, not even a rubbish shared footpath. So it's back to fighting amongst the traffic on this busy section of road.

NCN 55 goes up that slope to join the old railway loop lines - it's a tough climb with a fixed gear.  The building site is where somebody is spending a lot of money to make a car park for Duke's Drive.  Cars coming out of there will make it really safe for getting onto and off that slope.

NCN 55 between Monton and the site of Worsley Station is quite a wide route but that still doesn't prevent it suffering issues with the fact that it is shared usage. One person with one dog can still effectively block the entire path and as for groups of people spread across the whole width with no intention of sharing it even though they can clearly see people heading towards them.

The surface along here is again tarmac covered in pea gravel, except here the tarmac is smooth and all of the gravel is fixed down, i.e. there is no loose surface.  This doesn't mean that it's perfect.  That meandering path looks very nice in day light but come the darkness of autumn and the leaves off those trees the edge of the path can not be easily determined even with very good lights.  I came off along here late last year and it hurt...


I leave NCN 55 at Worsley Station but the surface soon detoriates which is a shame as it should be possible to ride off road almost through to Bolton, Leigh or Wigan.

It's back roads almost all of the way from here except for crossing the East Lancs road where I cheekily use this recently renovated subway.

'Cyclist Dismount' signs apparently have no legal standing and are used where a sub standard shared facility becomes farcical and rather than actually do something properly the council cop out with a simple sign passing the buck.  The sign for the subway is where they've realised that a collision between a pedestrian and a cyclist could occur.  In reality if you use the subway sensibly then there is no reason a collision should occur.

Especially as this really good mirror has been provided to enable those entering the subway to see anybody already in it and vice versa.

The final bit of infrastructure is this contraflow cycle lane.  It's a bit narrow but very useful.  The cars have been restricted from using the road as a rat run without impinging on other road users.  The parked cars are facing the oncoming cyclist so there is reduced risk of being doored.  If you were to be doored you would actually push the door back into the driver.  The cycle path is also spaced away from the properties so you get some warning of somebody stepping out.

The second half of the contraflow is back on the road which works fine apart from it isn't cleaned and whilst being free of glass it's full of grit and other detritus pushed aside by the cars.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Trafford's Cycle Networks - Part 2 - The Bridgewater Way

For much of its length in Trafford the Bridgewater Canal roughly parallels the extremely busy A56.  Kate Green is the MP for Stretford and Urmston and has challenged the council on the lack cycling provision along the A56 as well as other places.  Issues and response can be found here. The council explain the lack of facilities as follows :
Historically it has been very challenging to provide  dedicated cycle facilities on the A56 due to the restrictions of available road space, and the obvious need to keep traffic flowing on this congested route.
There could be a large heated debate on this statement but I won't go into it here. They provide an alternative which in theory could be reasonable
For this reason, we have adopted a policy in recent years of promoting high quality alternative parallel cycle routes to the A56.  Most particularly, the Council has secured £1.3m from the government’s Local Sustainable Transport Fund to extend the current extent of the ‘Bridgewater Way’ canal tow path walking and cycling route, matched by private sector contributions and the Council’s own funding
So the council see the provision of the Bridgewater Way as a high quality alternative to the A56. You'd therefore expect it be absolutely first class in order to attract drivers to commute by cycle and reduce the congestion on the A56.  However, this is cycle provision in the UK and particularly Trafford, so it falls some way short of good.
Whilst the canal towpath has been improved from Brooklands northwards I join it from the Trans Pennine Trail at Watch House Cruising Club in Stretford.  This is the view northwards from just after the cruising club.  The path appears to be of a reasonable width with a good surface.  However, it hasn't been laid well and this section always has large puddles if there is any sign of rain.  The surface is also rubbish.  It's been covered in pea gravel.  Apparently this is for safety reasons when it is icy.  However, for the majority of the year it's a downright hazard.  No cyclist wants to ride on gravel, it makes pedalling more difficult, if it's been newly laid or you're off the walking line it can force where the wheel is going and if you need to manoeuvre or brake hard then you're not on a solid surface.  If you're unfortunate enough to come off it rips through clothing and skin getting embedded in the bloody mess it creates.  On top of this the gravel used early on appears to have been a sharp flint like substance which can make its way through the toughest of tyres.  More recent gravel seems to be more tyre friendly from that point.  A plain tarmac surface would have been much much better as used on cycle paths elsewhere. It would also make the tow path much more accessible for wheelchair users.

Whilst conduit for lighting appears to have been installed (it's absent from later improvements) there is no lighting along the canal and in places there is also none nearby, i.e. it is dark at night.  You'd therefore expect in this risk averse legalistic country that the owners would have wanted any possible dangers removed.  So it's something of a surprise to find that the hole above is sat there just waiting for somebody avoiding a walker or dog to ride into it and go for an early bath.  If I come down the canal at night I'm always glad when I spot this as it means I won't be going for a drink.

One issue that drastically increases with the lighter evenings and better weather is other path users, particularly those with dogs.  This is not to say that they shouldn't be on this particular path but to identify that the shared usage makes it an inadequate cycle provision other than for a leisurely pootle.  In the above photo you can see how much space one lady and her dog take up and how far over the cyclist has had to go in order to pass.  This lady was actually quite considerate and would bring the dog in when someone passed.  However, not all dog walkers are the same and a lot of the time you have to slow down to walking pace, weave around the walker and then dive across to the other side of the path to pass Rover.  

Walkers and runners on their own can be just as big an issue if not more as they frequently have headphones on and are walking down the middle of the path or weaving from side to side.  The headphones make it nearly impossible to get their attention so passing them is risky at any speed and this is invariably on the loose stones put there for our safety.  Then there are the ignorant pairs / groups who quite clearly see you coming but think you can cycle on water.

As an alternative commuter route into Manchester and Trafford Park it falls a long way short of adequate.  It's a pleasant ride but it's not a mass use alternative to the A56.  

The unsuitable pea gravel surface has already been discussed.  However, the tarmac surface underneath is also substantially below par.  No part of the upgraded Bridgewater Way sports what could be described as a smooth surface that would make cycling pleasant.  The section north from Stretford to the A56 is particularly bad and uncomfortable.  The rain water helps show up the ridges and troughs each of which rams the saddle into your delicate parts and shakes your handle bars.  Not even mountain bike tyres can make this comfortable.  I wouldn't want to be in a wheelchair or small wheeled motor scooter along here.  There's no excuse for this surface other than shoddy workmanship and poor quality control. Other cycle tracks can provide lovely smooth tarmac that is a pleasure to ride on, so why do we get this crap?

The locals, they've no road sense and can sometimes be aggressive.

At Stretford Marina there are two sharp bends, one is a very tight ninety degrees and the other is a blind bend.  Both have to be taken slowly but even so are scary with the loose gravel giving the feeling that the tyres might just let go at any moment.

At Watersmeet the Bridgewater divides in two, the right hand branch here going past Salford Quays and on into the centre of Manchester.  The left hand branch under the bridge goes to the canal's original source - the coal mines in Worsley, Salford.  You'd have thought that if Trafford were serious about the canal path being the cycling equivalent of the A56 then the branch towards Manchester would be the first to be upgraded.  No, the next section to be upgraded was an isolated part from the bank of the Ship Canal at the Swing bridge to Park Way.  This either gives more evidence to the theory that Trafford don't see the cycle as a serious means of transport capable of reducing its congestion issues or that Peel, owners of the Bridgewater Canal and with a vested interest in the Trafford Centre, adjacent to the first isolated section, have had influence over which sections are upgraded first.

Whilst another section of the tow path has just been completed from Park Way to behind the Kelloggs factory there is still a short section of just under 1/4 mile that is best described as a mud bath.  Having had no response from Trafford's cycling officer as to why the section had been left I eventually got a quick response from Peel via the Friends of the Bridgewater Canal.  In it they stated that this section hadn't been done as it needs extensive canal wall refurbishment before the upgrade can be undertaken and that the upgrade is expected to be completed before the end of 2014.  My response would be to ask why this wasn't done first as unless you are prepared to negotiate this muddy bit the new section is unusable by bike.  More joined up thinking.

There is evidence that the upgrade will happen sooner rather than later as despite it being the end of March /  beginning of April and therefore the breeding season for our wildlife the powers that be have seen fit to cut down trees and remove all of the undergrowth along this bit.  Work is now under way on the repairs to the canal wall.  The shrubbery and trees have also been removed on at least the beginning of the Manchester branch.
Part way through clearing the bank.

With its large, uneven steps the bridge behind Kelloggs was previously a challenge even to a mountain bike. The upgrade is a massive improvement but yet again a smooth tarmac surface without those stone courses would be much more accessible.

This set of stairs and barrier up to Mosley Rd/Park Rd is the only other access to the southern end of the new section.  Not very welcoming to any cyclist.  A bike won't fit through that barrier.

Plenty of the natives (yes I know Canada Geese are not indigenous)

Near the Ship Canal there is this section of cobbles over a bridge.  It needs to be kept for historical reasons but unless you're on large, soft tyres it's painful and wearing on a regular basis.

The Bridgewater Way exits to Redclyffe Road (goes across the bridge) via the existing Chapel Place.  The above is the best view you get of the traffic coming over Barton swing bridge.
This is the view of traffic coming over the bridge when you get to the junction.  In a word, lethal!  I've raised this with Trafford's cycle officer months ago and he was going to have a site visit, but I've heard nothing since.  At the same time I pointed out that further up the road there was an existing, unused entrance that would provide much better visibility in both directions.  The entrance is just by the pedestrian in the photo below.
Note the useless cycle symbols painted on green squares on the road - these provide no protection whatsoever to a cyclist and do nothing to stop motorists pushing past. 

 Who owns the small bit of wasteland between the canal and the road, I'm not sure but in the two shots  above taken from the towpath a path can be seen though it is not negotiable by bike.  In the last shot it even looks as though at some point there was an official route through.
Crossing the bridge via the footpath is not even an option.  Not only because it is illegal but also because it is so narrow.  There is just enough space for one pedestrian to walk along.