Helen Pidd in Manchester
It’s hardly Amsterdam, but Manchester is trying to become a little more cycle-friendly. For starters, there are good, secure bike parking racks all over the city centre, and the council has started putting in the odd cycle lane here and there. The problem with the latter is that they tend to be shared with Manchester’s very many buses.
It is often said that the main route from the south of Manchester into town, from Fallowfield along Wilmslow Road and Oxford Road, is the busiest bus lane in Europe. Though the council has put in cycle lanes, you’d have to be mad to use them, particularly during rush hour. Instead, consider one of the parallel roads: either Lloyd Street or Yew Tree Road in the east, which cuts through Moss Side (fine during the day, less inviting after dark). You could also use Whitworth Lane in the west, which segues into a short traffic-free path at the Old Hall Lane junction and passes some rather nice allotments before you reach Birchfields Park.
There is, unfortunately, no secret to tackling the city centre’s tangle of one-way streets. If you want a sneaky (legal) way of getting from Deansgate to Piccadilly, cycle courier Matt Tansey suggests turning right up one of the sidestreets (eg Brazennose Street) to Albert Square, then going along Princess Street and Fountain Street. Don’t be fazed by the one-way sign: it applies only to cars. There’s a little lane for cyclists that goes against the flow and towards the Northern Quarter.
Want to go from Hulme to Piccadilly station avoiding the city centre? Local cycling campaigner Costel Harnasz says: “Go down Cambridge Street with the university buildings on your right. Turn right up Hulme Street, which becomes Charles Street as you cross Oxford Road past the BBC. Cross Princess Street, turn left at Sackville Street and turn right immediately after the porter’s lodge. Then go up Altrincham Street, where the road becomes pedestrianised. Go left at Echo Street then along cobbled Pump Street on to Whitworth Street, where Piccadilly station rises splendidly.”
The Fallowfield Loop is an almost eight-mile off-road stretch running along an old railway line from Chorlton in the west to grittier Gorton and Fairfield in the east and takes in three of Manchester’s hidden parks, including the wildflower-filled Highfield Country Park. The route is run down in places, but is smoothly surfaced and is convenient for Fairfield, Gorton, Ryder Brow and Reddish North stations. Most local train services allow bikes, but check with GMPTE on 0161-228 7811 or at gmpte.gov.uk. You can’t take normal bikes on trams, but folding models are fine.
A good stretch of the Ashton canal running past the new Manchester City ground at Sports-city and almost to the back of Piccadilly station has been converted into part of the Manchester Cycle Way (route 60, which links to the Fallowfield Loop). Work to improve the Rochdale canal route continues and the Bridgewater canal may be made cycleable in the next few years too.
Crossing the nightmarish Mancunian Way flyover is almost pleasant if you use the bike-friendly footbridge at the north end of Hulme Park or the cycle crossing at Newcastle Street.
A few words about security: if you want to get your bike nicked, park it near the universities.
Finally, for those who need refuelling, cycle couriers love Shlurp, an early-opening deli serving porridge behind the Hidden Gem church on East Brazennose Street. There are heaters outside so you can mind your bike as you breakfast.
· Additional research by Rumeana Jahangir. For a map showing Manchester’s cycling blackspots, go to manchesterfoe.org.uk/lyb/blackspots.
Greater Manchester Cycle campaign: gmcc.org.uk
Put in your postcode to see local routes: sustrans.org.uk
Advice on cycling in Manchester, plus maps: cyclegm.org
Steve Sampson in Birmingham
Birmingham is Motor City. It travels en masse by car on a road system built for that purpose. As a cyclist in the second city you are very much in a minority. Birmingham does not have a cycle-route network covering the entire city, but knits together on- and off-road routes using canal towpaths.
1 Get the free Cycling and Walking Map, available from libraries or online at birmingham.gov.uk. Published in March 2006, it offers a network of designated and advised routes for commuters seeking to avoid busy arterial roads.
2 Invest in a bike worthy of Birmingham’s varied urban terrain – you’ll need a superlight frame and near puncture- resistant tyres.
3 If you find Motor City intimidating, build your confidence with cycle training: contact pro-bike lobbyists Pushbikes (pushbikes.org.uk).
4 Get to know your fellow commuters. There are well-established weekend clubs that offer the chance to meet and exchange hints and tips. One regular meeting point is Del Villagio, in the Bullring shopping centre, on Saturdays at 9am. “There is a great camaraderie among commuters cycling in Birmingham because we’re in such a minority,” says student army nurse Kate Williams.
5 Know your specialist city-centre bike shops: On Yer Bike (0121-627 1590) and Birmingham City Cycles (0121-666 6045) both provide information for would-be commuters and offer a same-day repair service so you can be back in the saddle for the ride home.
Designated cycle paths
1 Rea Valley cycle route: fantastic for travelling in from the south of the city. The journey time is 20 minutes shorter than by car, according to commuters. The route starts at Rea Street in Digbeth and follows the course of Rea river all the way to its source in the Waseley Hills. It passes Birmingham city centre landmarks such as the International Convention Centre, Centenary Square and the National Indoor Arena.
2 Ward End route: this on-road route starts at Fazeley Street, near Millennium Point, and goes to Ward End and Castle Vale. The route also passes through Ward End Park.
3 North Birmingham cycle/walk route: this mainly off-road route starts in Sutton Park and goes to Brookvale Park (near Gravelly Hill).
Hotspots to avoid – and how
Birmingham is encircled by three ring roads. Although much of the inner ring road, Queensway, is being “tamed”, many cyclists say using it is suicidal. Other dangerous routes include Five Ways roundabout in Edgbaston, and the main radial roads that lead into the city centre: Hagley Road, Soho Road, Coventry Road and Bristol Road, which all cross the central ring roads.
Belgrave Middleway crossing via Longmore Road into Gooch Street Toucan crossings and a buses-only gateway give a safe cycle crossing point over a busy dual carriageway.
Lancaster Circus/Queensway Cycle lanes feed under this busy island to allow safe access from Aston University and the central shopping area.
Arthur Road, Bordesley A signed cycle path into Kingston Road allows riders to avoid the massive and busy Bordesley Circus island and provides easy crossing of the Coventry Road radial.
Ways Island, Edgbaston At the junction of Broad Street and Hagley Road, signed cycle paths pass under a traffic island, on to Hagley Road, Ladywood Middleway and to the AMC cinema and the new entertainment complex.
Swan Island, Yardley Cycle paths lead off Yardley and Church roads to give safe cycle passage over this very busy dual carriageway junction.
Canals for commuting
Clear towpaths include the Birmingham to Worcester canal; the Birmingham and Warwick canal; the Birmingham to Wolverhampton canal; the Grand Union from Digbeth to Yardley, which is good in patches and atrocious in others; and the Birmingham to Fazeley canal.
The city centre
The city’s pedestrianised precincts surrounding New Street station and Centenary Square are mostly bike-friendly. However, access is restricted around the Bullring shopping centre, so watch out for signs.
There are increasing number of Sheffield stands to lock up bikes in the city centre. Cyclists say current crime hotspots include New Street station, nicknamed Ground Zero, and college car parks.
In tomorrow’s G2: Your guide to commuting in Brighton, Leeds and Cardiff – the best shortcuts, plus spots to avoid.
Later this week: Edinburgh, Liverpool, Bristol, Oxford, Belfast and Newcastle.
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