Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, explains how the Congestion Plan will tackle the issues being caused by an increasing population
By 2040 it is estimated Greater Manchester will have 3 million residents, an increase of 200,000 people in just over 20 years. As we attract more people, jobs and investment we are, like all other successful cities around the world, creating more traffic.
One of my pledges during my election campaign was to tackle congestion. To that end, last year, I launched the congestion conversation so I could gather the views of Greater Manchester’s residents, businesses and organisations. Over 7,000 people responded with their opinions on congestion and their suggestions on how to address the issue.
It was a valuable exercise, bringing to the fore the personal impact of long and delayed journeys. It is easy for us as policy makers to focus on large-scale issues, such as the economy and environment, but the harmful effect congestion has on people’s day-to-day lives is just as, or even more, important.
We heard stories of people stressed by their commutes, unable to spend enough time with their families, concerned about the effects on their health and unable to regularly get to work on time. We also heard about what they thought were the primary causes of congestion, including: too many people travelling at the same time, too many short car journeys, road works, poorly timed traffic signals and the lack of alternatives to driving.
I asked Transport for Greater Manchester, the city-region’s 10 local authorities and panel of experts to use the information from the congestion conversation, alongside other data, to develop our plan to tackle increased traffic.
The result is Greater Manchester’s Congestion Deal.
It is called a Deal because it depends on everyone doing their bit to help tackle congestion. Our approach is to focus on people and their behaviour, rather than vehicles. While there are measures to improve the way the road network is managed, and there is investment in new infrastructure, many of the interventions proposed are not traditional transport solutions. For example, working with businesses and other employers to enable more flexible working so that fewer people have to travel at peak times.
The Congestion Deal has 7 key themes. The first is smoother journeys. We want to ensure that there is less stop-start driving, by keeping traffic moving at the busiest time of day. We will do this by delivering a £400 million programme of schemes to upgrade junctions and provide new roads to address key bottlenecks. Alongside this there will be investment in new smart traffic signals at around 90 junctions to improve movement on congested corridors.
We also want to make journeys more reliable. Greater Manchester’s transport network is complex and, inevitably, things will go wrong. If people don’t know why their journeys are taking longer it can cause frustration, stress and anxiety. Additionally, if people know about possible disruption in advance they can plan their journeys to avoid it. We therefore want to ensure we are getting the right information and sharing it with the right people at the right time. To do this we are expanding our existing transport control centre, so it will run 24/7 and bring together multiple transport agencies for a coordinated approach.
We will also be working with people and employers on Greater Manchester’s most congested corridors, so we can give them better information on disruption. Communication during planned events that create significant traffic is also key, so we will ensure we are using all the channels available to us to reach the right audiences. We also want to take tighter control of roadworks through targeted enforcement of roadwork permit conditions and a lane rental scheme, so they are coordinated and finish on time.
The Metrolink expansion to the Trafford Centre will be completed in 2020 and there will be an additional investment of £82 million in up to 27 new trams, to increase capacity by over a quarter. In rail we expect there to be an additional 40,000 seats across the north every day, as the outdated and cramped pacer units are finally phased out.
Building on the recently completed programme of interchange improvements at Bolton, Altrincham and Wythenshawe we will build new transport interchanges, in Ashton-under-Lyne, Stockport and Wigan town centres.
Businesses and other employers also need to do their part. More need to allow flexible working and vary opening hours, to reduce the number of people travelling at the same time. We will encourage this through the development of the GM Good Employer Charter. We also want to work with businesses to encourage their employers to considering different ways of commuting, such as cycling, and to reduce the number of deliveries at the most congested times of day.
We will work with the communications sector to increase coverage of ultrafast broadband so that people can work anywhere. On Metrolink we will build on the existing corporate discount on annual season tickets and work with employers to simplify and promote the use of free and low interest season ticket loans. We are also exploring the possibility of introducing cheaper Metrolink tickets at quieter times of day, such as before the morning rush hour.
Finally, we need to ensure our plans are future proofed and forward looking. We need to work with developers, construction companies and service providers so that as we grow we do not make congestion worse. This means putting new buildings in the right place and working together to create more attractive places for people. It also means making use of new technology and new solutions to tackle today’s problems.
The Greater Manchester Spatial Framework will help ensure that new development is located where it can be highly accessible by cycling, walking and public transport, to reduce reliance on the car, particularly for short journeys. Our Construction Management Plans will ensure developers and constructions companies keep road clear at the busiest time of day and that disruption is kept to a minimum.
We will also establish a Highways Academy across the local transport sector to develop the skills and work force for the future.
As you can see there is a wide spectrum of measures in the Congestion Deal. There’s no quick fix or single solution to tackling congestion. No major city in the world has solved the problem. But if businesses, bus operators, councils and commuters work together, we can all make Greater Manchester a better place to live, work, visit and travel around.
Andy Burnham is the Mayor of Greater Manchester and a Labour politician