Friday, 9 May 2014

TPT and Bridgewater Way as Commuter Routes - Conclusion

Current Cycle Provision for Commuters

In three previous posts I've reviewed my current route to work.  Having suffered a hit and run on a quiet road in Sale I've looked for alternative, away from road routes as like much of the country there are no safe road based routes.  The Trans Pennine Trail (TPT) and Bridgewater Way are the major cycle provisions within Trafford and the latter is currently being promoted as the big facility for cyclists.  Trafford have said that they can't provide facilities on sections of the A56 and are promoting the Bridgewater Way as the recommended alternative.  So it will therefore form the recommended commuter route through the borough and into Manchester.

Whilst the Bridgewater Way runs roughly South to North the TPT runs West to East and is part of the National Cycle Network.  It is a route that runs from west to east coast and should be a major part of the network within Trafford.  It's also been established for around fifteen years so provides an example of how Trafford looks after its cycling facilities.

Trans Pennine Trail Positives

  • The trail through Trafford whilst touching on residential areas is almost entirely within countryside making it a pleasant environment to ride through.
  • Very little if any interaction with motorised vehicles.

Trans Pennine Trail Negatives

  • Most of the surface is unmade or rough stone.  The former is totally unsuitable given the prevailing weather conditions and the mixed mode usage and the latter makes for a rough ride with the potential to cause an accident if a wheel glances the wrong way off a stone.
  • Rotted vegetation combined with the unmade surface and horse excrement makes a slippery and unsafe surface.
  • In many places the encroachment of vegetation has reduced the trail to as little as 2 - 3 feet width - insufficient for two people to pass.
  • The lack of lighting makes it unsuitable as a commuter route for most people for much of the year.
  • The unmade surface and multitude of puddles means commuting in office clothes is just not possible if you want to look presentable.
  • The unmade surface coats bikes in a layer of grit which makes short work of bike gears and wheels.
  • Anti-motor cycle barriers are largely redundant but still dangerous and restrictive to cycles.
  • Shared usage means that you can be brought into conflict with horses and dog walkers.  Usage seems to be low during 'rush hour' so this is not a major issue currently.

Bridgewater Way Positives

  • The canal provides a pleasant green corridor through the borough
  • No interaction with motorised vehicles
  • Solid surface (I'll ignore the unmade bits as they are in the process of being upgraded)

Bridgewater Way Negatives

  • Rough surface - the surface may be solid but no part of it is smooth and large stretches are down right lumpy.  This makes for a rough and uncomfortable ride even with large volume tyres,
  • Pea gravel - this is an unnecessary hazard.  It can make pedalling difficult and steering unpredictable.  It is very unnerving to have to pass other path users by going onto the loose gravel alongside a drop into water.  If you need to stop quickly there is a good chance the bike will skid and you'll lose control of it.  If you come off the bike that gravel will make a right mess of your clothes and skin.  It will also become embedded within any cuts and cause pain in its removal.
  • Width - the path even at its widest is only just wide enough for two cyclists to pass.
  • In some places the encroachment of trees has already reduced the width of the path so that only one person at a time can get past.
  • The lack of lighting makes it unsuitable as a commuter route for most people for much of the year.
  • The Sale and Stretford sections of the path are heavily used during the spring and summer months by walkers, runners, dogs and rowers.  Trying to push a load of commuters down the same narrow path just leads to conflict and a stop start journey.
  • The Patricroft section in Salford is used by a number of anglers who can spread across the whole width of the path.  Most are cooperative but some just block the path.
  • The width of the route in Salford is far sub standard.

Conclusions

Whilst the TPT and Bridgewater Way are welcome additions to the few cycling facilities that there are in the area, they are far from adequate when viewed as a commuter.  They might just about be ok for a leisurely pootle or a one off journey but they are not conducive to regular use.  The poor build quality of the TPT and the lack of maintenance of it mean that it is now not much better than a bridleway and is unsuited to using even a touring bike on it.  This latter is quite comical really when considering that it is a route for getting from one side of the country to the other, i.e. touring.

The principle gripe for both facilities is the path surface, cyclists need a smooth, firm surface that is not going to break up.  The fact that the Bridgewater Way is actually a newly laid tarmac surface but isn't remotely smooth shows a piss poor attitude to specification or quality control, or no understanding of what a surface is like to ride along.  The pea gravel surface also shows a complete lack of understanding of cycling requirements.

With very little promotion the Bridgewater Way is already a well used route by commuters trying to avoid the horror of the A56.  It is also a well used leisure facility for local residents and has been for many, many years.  Combine the two and there are unpleasant issues for all users.  Promoting it as the cycling alternative to the A56 clearly shows that Trafford just can't see cycling as a means of transport other than by a few die hards or they are unwilling to put any proper money into it, preferring instead to plough more and more money into the overcrowded road and tram systems.

Both routes are effectively remote and equivalent to a back alley at night.  The lack of lighting therefore means that they can not thought of as an alternative safe route for most potential cyclists - would you recommend your wife or daughter use them on a dark winter's night?

With poor standards of driving, poor attitude to cyclists and lack of traffic enforcement cyclists need segregated cycling facilities of a far higher standard than the two routes here.  Without them there will not be the significant increase in cycling that the government and council are supposedly working towards.

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