Andy Burnham steals a march on London with plans for UK’s first carbon neutral transport network

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Chris Boardman and Andy Burnham (PA Wire)
Chris Boardman and Andy Burnham (PA Wire)

Andy Burnham sought to steal a march on London on Monday by announcing plans for the “UK’s first carbon neutral transport network” in Manchester.

He also promised to build “the UK’s largest walking and cycling network” – though his initial plans for 130km (81 miles) of routes are only half of the 260km (160m) claimed by Sadiq Khan to have been built or in progress in the capital.

The Labour mayor of Greater Manchester is also seeking permission for widespread trials of the country’s first “side road zebras” – zebra crossings on side roads, at the junction with main roads.

A trial found that drivers were more likely to give way to pedestrians waiting to cross the road if a zebra crossing has been painted on the surface – even if they came without zig-zag markings and flashing Belisha beacons.

Mr Burnham and his transport commissioner Chris Boardman, the former Olympic champion and Tour de France cyclist, believe making walking more attractive will reduce the number of short car journeys.

Mr Burnham, who is returning to the COP26 conference in Glasgow this week, believes he can cut emissions by delivering a 30 per cent increase in bus travel by matching London’s low fares and by encouraging more people to walk and cycle.

His plan, set out on Monday, is for Greater Manchester’s “Bee Network” to integrate buses, trams, walking and cycling by 2024, and rail by 2030.

Overall, Manchester aims to be carbon neutral by 2038 – eight years later than London – but 12 years earlier than Boris Johnson’s 2050 target for the UK.

Sources confirmed his long-term aim is for the UK’s biggest cycle network - 1,800 miles of lanes and 2,400 new crossings, as set out in his Bee Network masterplan.

Mr Burnham, who was re-elected to a second term in May, wants the region’s bus fleet to be 50 per cent electric by 2027 and 100 per cent electric within a decade.

In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan is seeking Government support to electrify the capital’s 9,000 buses by 2030. At present, about 550 buses are electric. It is thought Mr Burnham’s plan also relies upon substantial government investment.

Manchester will also launch a bike hire scheme akin to London’s “Boris bikes” on November 18 – though on a far smaller scale than the capital.

And in May next year the city will launch a clean air zone. But unlike London’s ultra-low emission zone, it will not include cars but will only target taxis, vans and lorries.

Mr Burnham said Manchester’s Metrolink tram system, the biggest in the country, already ran entirely on renewable energy.

He said: “Today we’re going one step further and setting out a new ambition to being the first UK city-region to deliver a carbon neutral transport network, including full electrification of our buses in the next decade.

“We’ve already started building the UK’s largest cycling and walking network, with £70 million worth of active travel schemes either completed or now under construction. This investment has helped enable thousands of people to change their daily lives; residents who’d previously not have considered walking or riding can now travel without cars for everyday trips in safety.

“We’re ahead of the curve on Metrolink, now we need to apply that carbon neutral aim to everything we do.”

Mr Boardman said: “Today’s commitment for a carbon neutral transport network is proof yet again of our unwavering dedication to a 10-year mission of making the city-region one of the best places in the world to travel on public transport, on foot and by bike.”

The pair tested the new Bee Network bikes – cycling from Fallowfield, through Chorlton and Hulme into Manchester city centre on Monday morning.

The scheme previewed last week at the University of Salford, with 30 bikes.

From November 18, the bikes will also be available in Oxford Road in Manchester city centre and at MediaCityUK. The full scheme, operated by bike firm Beryl, is due to launch next June.

It will have 1,500 bikes, including 300 e-bikes. By comparison, the Santander scheme in London has 14,000 bikes, with 500 e-Boris bikes due to launch next summer.

Mr Khan announced last year that the amount of “protected” cycle lanes had increased from 50km in 2016 to 162km by February 2020, though this included side streets and other partially segregated lanes.

He recently suggested, in a written answer, that TfL had lost track of the amount of protected cycle space, due to the widespread use of a further 100km of “pop up” lanes during the pandemic.

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