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"Others have promised and failed": Controversial cycle lane becomes battleground for rival mayors

As one local mayor made removing the cycle lane a pledge ahead of an election in May, another mayor elected for a nearby town last year has penned an open letter to residents claiming it was his "pressure" that will lead to its removal...

A cycle lane in Middlesbrough has become a political battleground for rival mayors in the town and wider Tees Valley area, with a Conservative mayor making its removal a key campaign pledge ahead of an election in May. However, Labour mayor for Middlesbrough Chris Cooke won election with the infrastructure's removal as "an absolute priority" last year and has now penned an open letter to residents insisting he has "continuously [been] putting pressure" until Tees Valley Combined Authority leader mayor Ben Houchen "has finally agreed to my request".

The messy political battle centres on the Linthorpe Road cycle lane — segregated using wands and installed on the B1272 in 2022, a key route into Middlesbrough — Conservative Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen (who is standing for re-election in May) and Labour mayor for Middlesbrough Cooke seemingly only agreeing on the need to remove the infrastructure.

Last week, Houchen said "businesses and jobs are at risk because of the Linthorpe Road cycle lane" and suggested "others have promised and failed" to get it removed. "I'm stepping in to get this sorted, so if I'm re-elected on May 2nd, I'll do what it takes to get the cycle lane removed," the Tory mayor said.

In response, Cooke — the Labour mayor for Middlesbrough who was elected last summer and months later came under fire for an "abysmal failure" to rip out the "disastrous" cycle lane, one of his key election pledges — wrote an open letter in a bid to "outline the facts".

"In 2022, the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) which is chaired by Mayor Ben Houchen spent £1.7 million on installing the disastrous cycle lane. This was then approved by Andy Preston (previous mayor of Middlesbrough). They created it, they should fund its removal," he wrote.

"As soon as I was elected, I made attempts to work with Mayor Ben Houchen to uninstall the cycle lane. However, Mayor Ben Houchen and the TVCA refused to allow me to remove the cycle lane [...] he did not want to remove the cycle lane, he installed, as he wanted to delay delivering my election pledge to you.

"Despite Mayor Ben Houchen trying to block my attempts at removing the cycle lane, I have remained completely committed to its removal. I have had countless meetings with politicians, businesses and organisations to do everything in my power to deliver my election pledge. After continuously putting pressure on Mayor Ben Houchen he has finally agreed to my request, to uninstall the cycle lane.

"Last week, Mayor Ben Houchen announced that he will remove the cycle lane without informing you of all the background work that I have done to make this happen. So I wanted to write this letter directly to you to outline the facts. It has been difficult and challenging but I am glad that I am making the progress that I promised I would deliver to you."

In November, Cooke came in for criticism with the cycle lane still in place, and branded an "absolute disaster" and an "abysmal failure" by some. There have been reports of pedestrians and cyclists being injured following incidents with orca separators, and the infrastructure regularly being blocked by drivers' parked vehicles.

> Cyclist says motorists should be prevented from parking in bike lane "before someone gets killed"

Labour and Cooke were told the cycle lane still being in place was symptomatic of a "failure to deliver on a single election promise". In reply, Cooke said it would be scrapped, but only once the council had the money to do so, the mayor previously having won election with a campaign that included a video calling the infrastructure an "absolute disaster" that has "caused nothing but injury and mayhem" and would be got "rid of" on "May 4 [2023]".

A highway engineer, The Ranty Highwayman on X (formerly Twitter), shared Cooke's letter on social media and commented on the cycle lane, giving their opinion that the infrastructure "doesn't look too bad to me and there is plenty of parking near businesses who think parking spends money".

We have previously reported complaints from local riders who say the cycle lane is "constantly" blocked by parked vehicles, one cyclist hospitalised in October 2022 after colliding with a cycle lane separator.

"The problem with the cycle route is that cars are still parking there, delivery drivers are still parking there, and the bus stops are still there, you have to cycle over the bumps to pass the bus stop so you’re constantly checking the traffic," the injured rider said.

Linthorpe Road cycle lane (Middlesbrough Council)

"It's a cycle lane, it's not meant for cars to park along and it's not for pedestrians to walk up and down. The council should be going around and speaking to the public to see what we think of it first, or show us diagrams of what the cycle will look like. But they don't, instead they just build it, spend all that money on it and then when there have been accidents they take it away."

There has been a level of hysteria about the infrastructure project even since before it was built, business owners claiming, having seen the plans, that the cycle lane would be a "clear gateway" for shoplifters and drug dealers.

One reader from the area sent us this picture during the autumn, showing the route blocked and being "flytipped with sofas and obstructed by cars by local businesses".

Linthorpe Road cycle lane flytipping ( comment)


Dan joined in 2020, and spent most of his first year (hopefully) keeping you entertained on the live blog. At the start of 2022 he took on the role of news editor. Before joining, Dan wrote about various sports, including football and boxing for the Daily Express, and covered the weird and wonderful world of non-league football for The Non-League Paper. Part of the generation inspired by the 2012 Olympics, Dan has been 'enjoying' life on two wheels ever since and spends his weekends making bonk-induced trips to the petrol stations of the south of England.

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levestane | 1 month ago

Many assertions but no evidence. Looks like the cycle infrastructure is a political football.

TheUntypicals | 1 month ago

Those dumped sofas were moved away into the empty car parking spaces and then the council moved them onto the pavement as in Middlesbrough cars are the priority  2

MattKelland | 1 month ago

Every picture in this article is so incredibly depressing. Middlesbrough looks like a set from 28 Days Later.

kippo replied to MattKelland | 1 month ago
1 like

This picture is a cg mock up, it does not look that smart irl.

The other photos have been take very early in there morning, that road is normal chocka with slow moving traffic and people walking in the cycle lanes

TheUntypicals | 1 month ago

The entrance to the cycle lane has been deliberately blocked for the last 6 months with road signs for non existent works. Middlesbrough's elite are anti cycling in the face of an obesity and mental health crisis. I do not believe the cycle lane has had any negative affect on the businesses in Linthorpe Road.

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