Traffic and special clothing: an Italian view of Manchester

Lorenza cycling in Manchester city centreIn the second of GMCC’s series of interviews offering an outside eye on Manchester’s cycling culture, we hear from adopted Mancunian Lorenza Casini, an architect by training and cycle campaigner by conviction, who mixes with Manchester’s motors on a daily basis.

Lorenza’s home town, Vicenza, looks cycle friendly, judging by her photos. What strikes you, apart from the absence of cars, is the conviviality of the cycling, with people on their bikes chatting in the narrow streets and the market squares. Bicycles integrate with the fabric of the town and there is not a shred of hi-viz. “The Italians still love their cars,” Lorenza wryly assures us, but cycling there is “great” thanks to the slower pace of life and the fact that the drivers are cyclists too. “There’s no dedicated infrastructure but there’s respect.”

On moving to Manchester as a student in 1998, British road behaviour came as a shock. “Cycling looked incredibly scary, with cyclists wearing special clothing sandwiched in between all that traffic.” Without any changing rooms at work to remove any ‘special clothing’, Lorenza remained bikeless for ten years.

Things changed after a trip to Copenhagen and Berlin, where riding in civvies is the norm, but conquering the fear of traffic was a gradual process, with a one-mile ride to the office inspiring a three-mile shopping trip, and an office move requiring a slightly longer ride. “I started to realise that it’s all about familiarity and confidence on the road, being assertive but polite.”

Although she looks confident sitting bolt upright astride her Pashley Princess, cycling can still be a fraught experience for Lorenza, determined by how good a day she’s had and whether there have been any “close calls” with traffic. Something needs to be done.

Lorenza joined GMCC because we need “infrastructure as well as training if mass cycling is to be encouraged.” Her vision is crystal clear: “bicycles and traffic need to be separated when speeds exceed 20mph.”

How does she rate the segregation in Manchester? “Are you joking?” she retorts. “There’s hardly any to rate!” Then, after a pause, “I’d rate my commuting route five out of ten.” With a note of positivity, she adds, “the segregated section near MMU on Grosvenor Street going past UMIST isn’t bad.”

What is more important: minimising dependence on the car or building segregated infrastructure? She tentatively answers the former but doesn’t want to sound idealistic. Instead, segregation is a means of reclaiming the street. “The more cycle lanes, the more cycling and the less motor traffic. There’s probably a mathematical formula in there.”

Her blueprint for a better city involves segregation in the Berlin style – the Berliners make more relaxed cyclists than the Copenhagenites, apparently. Either way, Manchester has a long way to go if it’s to become Britian’s best city for bikes, let alone catching up with the continent.

 

This interview was published by Greater Manchester Cycling Campaign.

> Read the other articles in the series