• Manchester's Bee Network junction proposals to encourage cycling

Visualising the Bee Network

Greater Manchester has high ambitions; to make Manchester a great place to grow up and grow old in. The Bee Network, as part of the city’s Made to Move plan, is one initiative working towards this aim.

The World Happiness Report is a landmark survey of the state of global happiness across 156 countries. It is pertinent that countries ranked high in the 2018 index, such as Norway (Ranked No. 2) and Denmark (Ranked No. 3), prioritise walking and cycling above all other modes of transport. Emulating their approach, Manchester plans to encourage cycling and walking through the creation of protected, attractive and safe routes that are connected; thus improving the health and happiness of our citizens.

Greater Manchester has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to revolutionise the way we get around.

Made to Move is a 15-step plan by the Greater Manchester’s Walking and Cycling Commissioner, Chris Boardman, that will make Manchester a world-class walking and cycling city region. The aim is to double and double again cycling, and make walking the natural choice for as many short trips as possible.

This goal is to be achieved through the Bee Network, a vision for Greater Manchester to become the first city region in the UK to have a fully joined up cycling and walking network, covering 1,000 miles.

Plans have been outlined for over 75 miles of segregated and walking routes, plus 1,400 new crossings that will connect every community. An allocation of £160 million will kickstart the project, bringing the city’s spend on cycling and walking on a par with some of the world’s most liveable cities, such as Amsterdam and Copenhagen. £1.5bn will need to be spent over 10 years to deliver meaningful results and meet the required standards, but this huge undertaking is expected to realise £8.3bn in public benefits.

The Bee Network will make walking and cycling a viable choice for the two thirds of people who currently use a car as their main mode of transport. Walking and cycling will enhance physical and mental health through a reduction in pollution and congestion, and increased regularity of exercise, which  will also lead to increased productivity. Made to Move adopted the following as a yardstick – proposals had to reflect the choice of a 12-year-old, whilst remaining accessible to all. A particular target is the numerous car journeys taking children to and from school, which account for a large proportion of current short car runs.

A cultural shift is needed.

In April 2018 Virtual Planit was commissioned to produce assets for the launch of the Bee Network initiative. We are working with Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) and Chris Boardman’s team to visualise how these new routes and junctions will work, alongside filtered neighbourhoods and additional crossings.

Urban Vision, a joint venture partnership between Salford City Council, Capita and Galliford Try, are developing proposals utilising the Propensity to Cycle Tool. This is being used as a predictive mechanism and evidence base to inform cycling investment. One of the first actions is to make crossing points at major intersections that enable people to access existing quieter routes (those with less than 6 cars a minute, that feel safe to cycle along). The proposed Bee Network and system of nodes will increase the openness of routes to cyclists and pedestrians from the current 45% to an impressive 92%.

As part of the practice’s weekly Rise and Shine presentation programme, Virtual Planit shared information about the Made to Move and Bee Network initiatives. Their approach to the visualisation of proposals has been refined to form a cohesive suite of illustrations to effectively communicate the nature and appearance of the various interventions and introductions. For larger junctions and intersections an elevated, rather than ground level viewpoint, clearly shows the layout and functionality of proposals.

The visualisations indicate the complexities associated with segregation of different modes of movement, and the rebalancing of priorities. The new infrastructure introduces further elements into what can be already cluttered streetscape junctions, and care will be needed to reduce visual ‘noise’. The use of green painted surfacing may clearly define cycle routes, but is visually jarring. This may be a pragmatic and cost-effective proposal, but painted treatments are likely to deteriorate overtime, with aesthetics and maintenance implications. A coloured aggregate within a tar macadam route would be subtler, and the visuals clearly demonstrate that warmer tones of surfacing are far less intrusive within our red brick cityscape. Investment in small-scale stone or natural clay modules could be considered within key locations to complement our city’s great and historic assets.

To be truly effective, this investment in our city can’t focus purely on the provision of infrastructure, but must retain the initial ambition to make Manchester a great place to grow up and grow old in. Placemaking and character-building design has to be integrated with highways and safety considerations, to create streets and places that are attractive and encourage people to use them. A concerted effort will be required to weave individual, authentic and place-specific design responses into an initiative of such scale, but this is essential to maximise the benefits. A people-orientated approach and humane-scale has to be adopted to create sociable and vital streets, within and for our communities.

The Made to Move and Bee Network initiatives support Manchester’s vision to be in the top flight of world-class cities by 2020. This ambition must be kept firmly in mind when considering the scope and quality, as well as the scale and extent of proposals; proposals that have the potential to transform our cityscape and how we interact with it.

Bee Network CGIs produced by Virtual Planit are being used in the press, print, online and consultation events, which will be taking place throughout the Greater Manchester city region. Readily accessible to all, the visuals clearly communicate the nature of proposals, and are being used to help shape design development. Further details can be found at: Chorlton Cycleways and Merchants Quay.