Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman officially opens Saddle Junction cycle lanes

It is probably the most talked-about junction in Wigan but after months of work the transformed Saddle is finally open.

Olympic gold medallist Chris Boardman, who is now Greater Manchester’s cycling and walking commissioner, was at the official unveiling of the new cycle lanes snaking around the notorious Robin Park roundabout.

Chris Boardman and cyclist at the official opening of the new Saddle Junction cycle lanes

Chris Boardman and cyclist at the official opening of the new Saddle Junction cycle lanes

The £2.1m scheme, delivered by Wigan Council as part of a Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM) programme funded by the Department for Transport, has attracted a good deal of criticism and scepticism from borough residents.

Jokers even filmed themselves playing crazy golf on the wide green lanes, a clip which went viral on social media.

But as the first cyclists got in the saddle to ride around the newly-opened lanes Mr Boardman said there was little alternative but to get more people on two wheels and said he was confident Wiganers would flock to it in the coming months.

He said: “This is one of the most difficult junctions to tackle in the entire Wigan area so it is good the council has tackled it first. Junctions like this are a massive deterrent to cyclists.

“Wigan has one of the highest proportions of short journeys of less than a kilometre done by car in the entire city region.

“We have got to give people the opportunity not to go by car. That means, first of all, we’ve got to make space for them.

“The junction works really well from the user’s point of view and it has also significantly increased traffic capacity so benefits drivers too.

“It costs us £3.75m a year to travel as we are now, when you bundle up the costs of health, pollution, congestion and accidents. We can’t afford to stay the same. If anyone says we can’t do this then for me they’ve got to come up with an alternative to address these problems.

“When you ask people the right questions, like do you want your kids to be able to ride to school, then they respond in the same way. It’s when you get to changing behaviour that people get upset.

“Wigan should be proud it is leading the way on this. My message to people is get out there and use this provision. Give it a try and you might be surprised to find it’s a much more enjoyable way to get around.”

The new routes link the Saddle and Robin Park to Marsh Green, Kitt Green and Newtown and are aimed at cyclists who would previously have used the car to get into Wigan.

The 1km path from the junction to Hunter Road is separated from the footpath by a kerb and new pedestrian and cycle crossings have been installed.

Improvements are being made to the junction at Wallgate and Queen Street to connect the existing route from Saddle to the town centre.

The new route certainly got the thumbs-up both from the authorities and keen cyclists who attended to test it out.

Coun Carl Sweeney, portfolio holder for environment at Wigan Council, said: “We’re excited that this innovative, collaborative project is now open. Thank you to everyone in Wigan for bearing with us while the works took place.

“Offering suitable cycling facilities and lanes will give people more confidence to get on their bikes, which will improve air quality and also promotes an active, healthier lifestyle.

“Saddle is one of the borough’s busiest junctions, so providing a safe and good quality cycle lane connecting to Robin Park Road and Wallgate will make life easier for everyone coming in and out of the town centre.

“We have worked hard to keep motorists and businesses updated with the project as it progressed and we would like to thank them for their cooperation during this time.”

Cyclists praised the way the traffic lights sync up, meaning a rider heading towards Robin Park can cross six lanes of traffic without stopping.

Chris Evans, a local ride leader for British Cycling, said: “I really like the fact the lights change in sync, because long waits would be really discouraging.

“Less experienced cyclists do benefit from having segregated lanes and we want more people to start using bikes for those short journeys.

“Wigan is investing a lot and cycling is becoming far more popular than it has ever been.”

Peter Hill, founder of the men’s mental health campaign Place 2 Place, said: “I’m definitely in favour of this and I will be using it with my kids.

“I did a charity ride to Paris and I noticed how popular green ways were with families in France.

“I think it’s a difficult sell at first, and I know people were playing crazy golf on the green way and taking the mick out of it, but as we get to the warmer months I’m sure we will see a lot more people using it.”