Harry Gray – The Tour de Force behind changing cycling in Greater Manchester
When Andy Burnham became Mayor of Greater Manchester, he pledged a plan to integrate a London-style transport system in Greater Manchester, known as the ‘Bee Network’. The ‘Bee Network’ is a proposal of integrated public transport for Greater Manchester, composed of bus, tram walking and cycling routes.
The proposal is set to go ahead in 2024, with commuters being able to hop on and off trams and buses all day for an affordable fair.
The main goal of the network is to reduce the percentage of car journeys throughout the region from 60 percent to 50 percent by 2040. Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) have made it a goal to reduce carbon emissions across Manchester and offer an alternative to commuters travelling into and out of the city.
But what if walking and cycling was the main form of transport being promoted for the Bee Network?
As we see in London, “Boris Bikes” have been extremely popular since their launch in 2010. According to Transport for London (TfL), the readily accessible bikes have been hired over 93 million times by June 2022.
The bikes availability has also showed that when seen as a priority mode of transport for commuters, the usage rate will be increased. For example, on the 9 July 2015 when the entire tube network closed because of a strike, the bikes were hired 73,094 times. With TfGM hoping to reduce carbon emissions across the region, surely a carbon neutral mode of transport would be a priority?
One person who thinks this is Harry Gray, a cycling campaigner in Manchester, who sat down with Northern Quota to discuss the problems with cycling in Greater Manchester.
Harry is a member of the Walk Ride Greater Manchester (WalkRideGM), a campaign which aims to make walking and cycling an essential option for commuters travelling in Greater Manchester. Harry uses his social media platforms to express his passion for cycling whilst campaigning for other cyclists and their safety.
Harry, originally from a Lancashire village near Preston, moved to Manchester in 2014 as a student attending the University of Manchester. After losing patience with the unpredictability of the buses in Manchester, he decided to use the Oxford Road Cycle path which had just been built, connecting Fallowfield to Manchester city centre, as he felt it was “quicker and safer”.
When asked how he got into campaigning, Harry said: “ever since that moment [switching to Oxford Road cycle path], I’ve been switched on to cycle campaigning in Manchester. I’ve been to places like the Netherlands and noticed the infrastructure they have there, and it amuses me how we [Britain] can’t have the same here despite having similar climates”.
Noting how that there was a protest on Fallowfield Loop, he said this was “quite instrumental” to him joining the WalkRideGM group. As part of the group Harry Gray can continue his love for cycling whilst spreading a message to increase the safety of cyclists in Greater Manchester.
Now living in Salford, Harry set up Walk Ride Salford, a branch off the tree of WalkRideGM, focusing on the active travel schemes in the borough. Salford city council have taken an active approach to making cycling safer through investing in safer cycle lanes.
For Harry, setting up the campaign group in Salford was an opportunity to know that the cycling safety improvements are being noticed.
Harry said, “the most important thing for a campaign group in Salford, which is different to other campaign groups, is to show the council that people value the spend that is being put into the community, especially when there wasn’t a campaign group in the community”.
The motto of the group is to ‘make walking and cycling an everyday choice’. Harry explained that making cycling a part of an everyday activity takes away the notion that cycling is just for a sport. “There’s a difference between encouraging people to cycle and enabling people to cycle.”
“For too long we’ve tried to encourage people to do stuff. But the problem is people aren’t going to change their behaviour through encouragement, people change their behaviour on policy and how policy affects them. By creating a better infrastructure, you’re enabling people to cycle.”
In England, 47% of people aged 5 and over owned or had access to a cycle in 2021, the same level as 2020, according to the Department of Transport. However, in the Netherlands around 44 percent of people use bicycles as their first mode of transport.
So what factors are contributing to less than half of the population living in England, not having access to cycling?
A potential factor is the perceived danger around cycling. In Britain, the number of pedal cyclists killed has decreased by six percent since 2012. However, despite the reduction, the fatalities recorded in 2021 (20%) is seven percent higher than the average in 2019.
Harry, who was asked how Greater Manchester can improve to protect cyclists said: “the future of Greater Manchester is improving the infrastructure, such as cycle parking which is a big problem within Greater Manchester.”
“Another way of improving is to make driving more difficult in the city centre. At first this can put people and councils off, but we need to change the mindset that driving isn’t a human right, and we need to disincentivise driving.”
In terms of who Harry aims his changes to, policy makers such as Manchester City Council came under fire due to their cheap car parking in the city centre which prolongs the problem.
The council have launched a new bus gate in the city to divert the traffic in the city centre and make public transport a lot more efficient. Harry said: “Cars are inefficient to travelling around the city. If we can make the bus quicker then it will help to disincentivise cars within the city.”