Middlesbrough Council’s Labour administration has been accused of “abysmal failure”, and its councillors of being mere “cheerleaders”, for failing to deliver on one of the mayor’s key election pledges: the scrapping of a controversial protected cycle lane which, since its installation last year, quickly became the site of frequent illegal parking by motorists and several incidents resulting in injuries for cyclists and pedestrians.
Speaking at a council meeting last week, Mick Saunders, the leader of the Middlesbrough Independent Councillors Association, questioned Labour’s ability to scrutinise and challenge mayor Chris Cooke during his first six months in the role, especially over his as-yet undelivered promise to remove the fiercely criticised cycle lane on Linthorpe Road, a pledge Cooke put at the centre of his election campaign earlier this year.
“What challenge and scrutiny have you undertaken of the mayor’s ability to deliver his election promises?” Saunders asked Labour group leader Matt Storey at the council meeting, Teesside Live reports.
“Let me remind you: the mayor stated he would reduce waiting times in hospitals, he has failed to make any progress on that. He would reduce crime, crime levels remain high.
“He would remove the cycle lane on Linthorpe Road, it remains in place. It seems to me that the Labour chairs are simply acting as cheerleaders despite the abysmal failure of the mayor to deliver on a single election promise.”
The cycle lane in question, on Linthorpe Road, was approved by Middlesbrough’s former independent mayor Andy Preston and installed last year as part of Middlesbrough Council’s plans to provide cyclists with a “quick and safe” route into the town centre while also creating a more pedestrian-friendly environment with improved road crossings.
It was delivered as part of a 10-year strategic transport plan across Teesside, Hartlepool, and Darlington, led by the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA).
However, despite the scheme increasing the number of cyclists using the road by 70 percent, the low Orca dividers initially used to separate the bike lane from traffic through ‘light’ segregation were condemned for both creating a safety hazard for cyclists and pedestrians while also failing to deter motorists from driving or parking in the cycle lane.
In October 2022, cyclist Paul Harris – who was hospitalised after being hitting one of the Orca separators – claimed that the layout forced people on bikes to “constantly” dodge parked cars, buses, and pedestrians, and that a comprehensive overhaul of the lane was required “before someone gets killed”.
“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,” Harris said.
The 50-year-old’s nasty spill came less than two months after a 78-year-old woman was left with a broken wrist, a black eye, and concussion after tripping over one of the bike lane markers on the same road, while a 27-year-old fractured her elbow on a night out while crossing the lane.
In response to the safety concerns, Middlesbrough Council began replacing the controversial Orcas with wands, while in January this year then-mayor Preston withdrew his support for a planned extension of the cycleway.
In May, newly elected mayor Chris Cooke – who campaigned to bin the scheme, estimated to have cost £1.7m, during his successful election campaign – confirmed that the lane was to be ripped out as soon as possible, a decision he argued was “necessary” on safety and economic grounds, but that proposals for alternative cycle routes would be considered.
“I have pledged to get rid of the Linthorpe Road cycle lane and there will be a new scheme looked at once the executive is in place for a different site,” Cooke said at the time.
“I am concerned about the amount of injury it has caused, I am concerned about the amount of reports that I have had that emergency services can’t get down that road, and I am concerned about the amount of businesses that are saying it has directly impacted their ability to operate.
“The work won’t start yet because there are budgetary constraints to consider and it has to be well thought out, but it will be going as soon as I can.”
However, the mayor’s failure to swiftly deliver on that promise was also criticised last week by Liberal Democrat councillor Tom Livingstone, who labelled the Linthorpe Road cycle lane “disastrous” and urged the council executive to “keep their manifesto pledge to withdraw that cycle lane as soon as possible”.
Meanwhile, independent councillor Joan McTigue added: “Half the town’s asking the same question”, while pointing out the concern of residents that illegal parking has increased on the road due to the cycle lane’s presence.
Janet Thompson, the local authority’s executive member for community safety, responded: "I am aware of issues with illegal parking in and around the town centre, particularly around the Linthorpe cycle lane.
“I’ve been contacted and sent photos which I’ve passed on to our enforcement team, this has also been reported to council by businesses in this area.
“Our wardens have been conducting patrols to address the problems and are continuing to do this. So in light of what these issues are, I agree with what you’re saying about the removal of the cycle lane.”
Labour group leader Storey also added that some of the mayor’s election pledges, such as the cycle lane, “will take time to come through”.
“But we’re six months into this administration. The council is under a tremendous amount of pressure, financial pressure. We've inherited a terrible financial position from the previous administration. The government is still watching us like hawks because of the previous administration.
“This Labour council and Labour mayor are trying to put those things right.”
Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.