Leeds and Bradford Cycle Superhighway: Confused? You will be.

The plans for Leeds’ “Cycle Superhighway” are so afwul that I genuinely don’t know where to start.

So I’ll start by saying this: I would rather go full-Franklin and campaign against this scheme than risk any of this crap being installed.

It really is so awful that I would rather see the whole project cancelled than have the current scheme approved. Regular readers will know that I’m all for segregated cycling infrastructure, and I’ve campaigned hard to get it.

But there’s now a bigger danger to cycling in Britain than those old-school “cyclists’ proper place is on the road” types, and that is poor-quality infrastructure.

Nothing will derail the entire “Space for Cycling” movement more than the acceptance of rubbish designs, and Leeds’ plans are probably as good an example of rubbish designs as you’ll find anywhere.

A year of no progress whatsoever

It’s now over a year since I first wrote about Leeds and Bradford’s lacklustre plans, though I hoped at the time that the designs would be improved.

So, a whole year has passed, surely that’s plenty of time to come up with something at least vaguely reasonable?

Sadly, it seems not. While the latest plans are an improvement over the ones I last looked at (especially the sections in Bradford) they still fall short of the standard of infrastructure that’s needed here.

As is normal with such big projects, there’s a wonderful-sounding “vision” (PDF) and then there’s the grim reality of the actual designs themselves. They’ve got a name (“CityConnect”) and a logo, which must not be tampered with.

Visual guide to how you must and must not use City Connect's precious logo.

It’s interesting that they’ve been so exacting with the logo, yet extremely sloppy with the actual plans.

These big schemes always have plenty of lovely words about how great cycling is and how it benefits everyone and how brilliant it would be if people could use a bike to get around, but then the planned scheme makes it clear that cycling comes last, motor vehicles are more important, and the whole thing is going to be a botched job.

It’s all about the branding – PDF here, but make sure you have some incense sticks and a whalesong CD ready, it’s a wild ride of paradigm-busting colours and mutual touching.

(Incidentally, whoever is running the City Connect Twitter account is responsive and helpful, though they have been unable to provide me with simple and important pieces of information, such as the width of the planned cycle track. This fits in with branding being prioritised over content, I guess.)

It seems to me that whoever is in charge of this scheme either doesn’t have a clue what they’re doing, or they’re cynically and intentionally trying to appear modern and cycle-friendly while actually continuing Leeds’ reputation as the Motorway City of the 1970s. I’m told that there are some great people involved who really do want the best but are being hampered by relics of the past in powerful positions. Whatever is happening behind the scenes, the current plans are dreadful.

And that’s particularly annoying for me personally, as this scheme affects areas that are close to me. I grew up in Leeds and my family still lives there. My BMX was stolen from outside the very Halfords that this scheme runs past.

More importantly, my niece – just five years old, an age where Dutch children are regularly cycling around with their parents – lives very close to the planned route.

When it’s built, would my sister be able to use this cycleway with her daughter? In ten years time, will my niece be able to ride into town safely on her own, as millions of Dutch teenagers do today?

Looking at these plans, no. Not even close. It’s not a safe design, it’s a hack job. I would not advise my sister to use this “superhighway”. I would advise against it.

So who is this scheme for? Who is it aimed at? Existing cyclists – very few though there are in Leeds – surely don’t need this, as it will only slow them down. I can’t see how it would attract people to begin cycling either, as it’s just not convenient enough compared to the alternatives.

It seems to be aimed at some kind of day-tripping leisure cyclist who prefers huge arterial roads to greenery.

Plans of confusion

I was intending to dive into the plans themselves in this post, but due to the inconsistency of the images and icons shown to describe different types of cycleway, it’s difficult to know exactly what’s planned where.

For example, the blue circle icon for their “Type 1″ cycleway seems to suggest that the footway, cycleway and carriageway are all at the same level, with raised kerbs separating them.

But then the cross-section diagram seems to suggest that the footway will be at the normal raised level, and the cycleway at carriageway level with a raised kerb as a divider (like CS2X in London).

And then they’ve used a photo of a section of CS3 in London to illustrate this, which is like neither of the other two suggested arrangements (though that photo does match their “Type 2″ cycleway!)

Various images that Leeds Council have used to describe their Type 1 cycleway, none of which match up.

Do those behind this scheme even understand the difference?

Okay, so I’d read all this and decided that the blue ‘Type 1′ cycleway must be level with the carriageway, with a raised dividing kerb, like in the 3D image at the bottom and the cross-section diagram on the left.

But just when I thought I might be able to make sense of the plans, there’s more mess! The designs show triangles at the start and end of the blue ‘Type 1′ sections, which I’ve been reliably informed denote a ramp up or down (the point of the triangle being the bottom of the slope):

A section from Leeds Cycle Superhighway plans, showing apparently raised cycle track, also described as being at carriageway-level

The triangles suggest that the blue sections are raised to a higher level than the carriageway.

It seems that the people behind the plans are as confused as I am, because somebody has clearly spent a lot of time drawing these triangles in. Whoever sat at a computer and did this must have thought that the blue “Type 1″ cycle paths are raised from carriageway level, or they wouldn’t have diligently spent time and effort adding ramps into the drawings.

I asked the always-responsive City Connect Twitter person about this, and they checked for me. It seems the blue “Type 1″ cycleways are at carriageway level after all, and the triangles on the plans were “an error from [the] design team”.

An error? Look, I’m not an engineer, I’m just some schlub who would like people to be able to use a bike for transport easily and safely. How on Earth did nobody notice this before me? Is the communication within the project so poor that nobody is scrutinising the plans as much as untrained members of the public? Why are we paying people to make such obvious errors?

How many more errors – invisible to my untrained eye – are hidden in these plans, to remain there until the guys with the shovels turn up on site?

Note, added 20th September 2014: It’s also occurred to me that if the blue bits are indeed at carriageway-level, where’s the 60cm-wide segregating strip meant to go? The black line on the plans is nowhere near wide enough. How can people be expected to give informed feedback on such vague plans?

Nothing says “Superhighway” quite like the words “footway conversion”

There’s also inconsistencies such as this:

Confusing labelling on Leeds Cycle Superhighway plans, showing a footway conversion at carriageway level

They’re just putting labels on at random, now.

The image above shows a footway conversion while the icon used is for a carriageway-level cycleway divided by an island. We all know that “footway conversion” means nothing more than a few signs and some paint, so why have they labelled it as being at carriageway-level? (And I wonder if they intend to move the many lamp-posts and telegraph poles that are currently embedded in the footway?)

Photograph of footway to be converted into a cycleway on York Road in Leeds

Are they really planning to drop this footway down to carriageway level? I don’t think so. So why label it as such? (Image: Google Streetview)

At least, I hope the intention is to convert the entire width of it into a cycleway, although the icon suggests that one half of it will be turned into a cycleway, with the other half remaining a footway.

With such inconsistency, and with no width given anywhere, it’s impossible to tell. Isn’t that the whole point of plans, to answer these questions?

Finally for now, the icons for “cycle lane across junction” and “cycle path across junction” are used inconsistently, too:

Different parts of the plans show different icons for side-road treatments

So bikes go on the what, now?

The whole thing reeks of sloppiness. How are members of the public expected to give feedback when the designs are so unclear? Even those who are paid to work with them seem unsure about what is intended where.

If only they’d paid as much attention to detail on the plans as they have done on the logo.

Anyway, that’s enough for today, I reckon. I’ll have a deeper look at some of the plans very soon.

But for now, I’ll leave this question, which I sincerely hope someone from City Connect can answer: Why are there no widths given for any of the planned cycleways?

 

Update, Wednesday 23rd July 2014: A response was posted by City Connect on their blog, which prevents linking to anything but the main blog page, so you have to click here then find the blog titled “Section G Plans”, which should be at the top until they add a new post.

At least, I think it was a response to my blog post, or my tweets. It’s hard to tell, as there was no link to what was being rebutted.

 

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “Leeds and Bradford Cycle Superhighway: Confused? You will be.

  1. I had a look at some of these plans a while ago and I found all those symbols scattered all over the place quite overwhelming and confusing. If the idea was to make the plans accessible to non-experts they’ve made a pretty poor job of it. I’d rather have seen proper technical drawings showing the detail of the junctions, the floating bus stops, and all the rest of it so that I could have made a proper judgement of the quality of this thing.

    “Why are there no measurements of width given for any of the planned cycleways?”

    Because they all look to be about half the width of a road traffic lane – i.e. the usual bog-standard not-at-all-“super” 1.5 metres, or maybe slightly more. Perhaps they’re afraid to admit planning such an inadequate width for their “superhighway”.

    • You’re right, I think they’ve tried to make it accessible to all, but it hasn’t worked. The person-in-the-street would probably still prefer a visualisation, but the dumbed-down plans don’t give enough detail to you and I.

      I think your answer to my final question may well be the right one! It’s insane that no widths have been provided yet (I have asked but received nothing so far). How can anyone provide an informed response if one of the key pieces of information is missing?

      • These consultations are just box-ticking exercises. I doubt it occurs to them that someone might know better. Up here the council is building a bus rapid transit line which has significantly degraded a relatively popular cycle route, but consultation on those changes began when construction had already started. The contempt these people have for the public is amazing.

  2. Those triangle do look to suggest rises and falls in surface, presumably as the cyclepath meets side crossings. no one makes that repeatable mistake and it gets past.

    Either that was the original design, and once pointed out someone has realised it’s crap and hastily changed it, or they are fobbing you off and it will be built like that.

    It’s the same old rubbish of stealing space from pedestrians for cycling. The ONLY winners in this are the drivers frankly. Oh and the council who get to say that they are providing facilities, but the cyclists are to blame if they aren’t used & why build more.

    • I’ll cover it in my next post, but the intention is definitely for the “Superhighway” to become nothing more than a painted cycle lane as it passes junctions. (Not all, but many.) Because that design has worked so well in the past, hasn’t it?

      I agree, the whole design is based on squeezing cycling in at the edges of walking. The car is clearly still considered to be big thing of the future at Leeds City Council.

  3. Hasn’t the #TdF gone through now? Job done, surely.

  4. Andy

    It’s possible the quality of the drawings is because a certain air of panic may now be setting in with respect to the timescale of the project.
    From;

    https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/83002/cycle-city-ambition-grant-guidance.pdf

    which is, I believe where Leeds got the funding for this ‘superhighway’, quote; “The Department’s agreed contribution will be the maximum that the scheme will receive and the Department will not be able to provide any funding beyond 31 March 2015…”. This suggests everything has to be on the ground and built, otherwise it’s up to Leeds C.C. to find any additional funds. To get that money spent, on what is a relatively large scheme, I would have thought they would have wanted to go to public consultation before now. Unfortunately, I don’t think Leeds C.C. will be unique in this respect.

  5. Andy

    BTW, if you go down to Regent Street (Leeds) you’ll find a bit of their Type 2? cycle track, i.e. [carriageway/kerb/cycle track/45-degree splay kerb/footway]. Unfortunately it starts/ends short of the notorious Sheepscar junction and doesn’t quite make it to the bottom of the Headrow. And there’s still sign posts stuck in the kerb separating the footway and cycle track

    Maybe next time…

  6. There is at least one promising feature here. The second type of side road treatment shows the designer has correctly got hold of the Dutch/Danish pattern of a pavement and cycleway that is continuous across the mouth of a minor road, with a steep ramp for cars from the main road. In the first type of side road treatment, unfortunately, the segregation is stopped much too far short of the junction. The same mistake is made in the new (draft) London Cycle Design Standards. This mistake is always made in the UK. It was made in the first designs of the Seven Station Link, then corrected. On the basis of what I can see at the moment I think you are being too prematurely damning. There is not enough detail or clarity to know whether this scheme will be any good or not.

    • Wait for the follow-up articles, I’ll be going into the detail more, then you’ll see why I’m damning! (There’s far too many bus stop lay-bys with squeezed foot- and cycle-ways next to multi-lane roads, for a start.)

      Regarding the second side road treatment image, look closely and you’ll note that while cars have a hump, so do bikes, as the cycle track has to get from carriageway level to footway level. It’s good that they’ve seen the Dutch/Danish design, but from what we’ve been presented with I’m not convinced that they will implement it very well at all.

      There are a few potential good points, yes, but they’re vastly outweighed by the bad points. Unfortunately the whole thing looks like squeezing cycling in at the edges, by impinging on walking space, as usual.

      My main point in this article is that the plans are still in an early state a year after funding was granted, and only a few months before work is due to start. It shouldn’t be possible to be prematurely damning at this late stage – yet we still don’t have any detailed drawings to give feedback on!

      • Yes I see, you are probably right about that image: I was reading it as the track being at pavement level, but it seems actually to be at road level with ramps on the track at the junction, which is stupid, as, with no ramps on the main road, that will be an incentive for cyclists to avoid the track. They seem to be repeatedly confused about what the two types of cycle track, at pavement level and road level, entail. We can only hope this criticism will lead to a rapid redrawing of the plans.

  7. Gar

    Schrodinger always condemns the design and never the cyclist. It often seems to me that cyclists want to use the road interacting with “other” road vehicles, giving their bicycles a status unwarranted by their safety in such traffic.
    For me as a 70 year old (with a tib and fib broken leg caused by a cycle-harassing motorist) the ONE thing I want to do is avoid all interaction with any road vehicle at all.
    Many cyclists imagine that ,merely because they are going in the same direction as other vehicles, that their mode of transport is much safer.
    They ignore cycle routes laid out for them, however inadequate, and choose to interact. I use the cycle tracks,however inadequate,and recognize that I am very lucky not to be interacting. If you compare inadequacy and lack of safety, on very fast moving roads, I choose inadequacy every time.

    The vast increase in cyclist traffic in the last three years must be very worrying, but the consolation is that motorists in the UK have become much,much more like the French in their courtesy to cyclists at the same time. Both the increase and the courtesy are observable.

    I see so many examples of very foolish road behaviour by cyclists, who can only be very naive about the bicycle as a road vehicle, that some sort of road training should be compulsory. Many schools do have cycling road safety classes, which can only be good.

    In my view, and I have mentioned it before, the push bicycle should be declassified as a vehicle at all, when not on the road. If it is on the side walk, not a vehicle, whether in use or not, then the problem of empty footpaths, and now empty, unused cycle tracks being built alongside, would not arise, unless pavements are designated as such by local by-law.
    It would make a huge difference to planner flexibility, and design.

    Rather than concentrate on design of these many and non splendid designs, Schrodinger would do much better to consider the idiocies of the general principles of transport law and how changing them can be put in to good effect.

    • You’ve got a lot to learn. Where to start?

      Bikes are inherently very safe. Motor vehicles are very dangerous. If you doubt this, consider how many people would be killed on the roads if there were no motor vehicles on them. Almost zero, is the answer to that. The behaviour of people on bikes is irrelevant. With the kind of designs SC advocates, dangerous situations would not occur because cars would be kept away from bikes.

      Another thing that’s dangerous is British cycling infrastructure. You might perceive that you’re safer on our cycle tracks, but you are wrong to think so. It is also slow. You might not be in much of a hurry, but I am – my time has value and I won’t waste it giving way to every private driveway.

      Cycling is not increasing in Britain and driver behaviour is not improving. This is pure fantasy.

      Have you ever been to a proper mass cycling city? I’ve been to loads of them. Go visit one with an open mind and be prepared to discard all your misconceptions. Cycling is important – it deserves to be treated as such. Not for the sake of giving Cyclists special treatment, but for the sake of building a more civilised society.

    • I think we agree, Gar. I certainly don’t want to ride with motor traffic – my whole blog is dedicated to that!

      But accepting second-rate infrastructure isn’t great either. Sure, schemes like this might help you and I make more journeys by bike, but they won’t help the mass of people to do so. When so much taxpayers’ money is being spent on a scheme, it should be designed to benefit them all.

      As it stands, this scheme is full of bus stops where walking and cycling is squeezed together, side-roads where the cycle path turns into a cycle lane (and thus a left-hook zone), wiggly 90º on-the-spot turns at toucan crossings.

      Perhaps you’re right, that I would be better aiming at the top of the legal and regulatory tree (i.e. the DfT) rather than constantly dealing with the local output of the broken system.

      I agree with you too that the this legal definition of “vehicle” – which currently means everything from a skateboard to an HGV – needs redefining. Previously I’ve proposed splitting it in two: “self- and low-powered vehicles” which would be everything from skateboards to electric bikes and mobility aids, and “motor vehicles” which would be everything from a motorbike upwards.

      Then, finally, we could end this weird situation where cycle paths in the UK keep switching between “on-carriageway” and “on-footway”, and create a distinct “cycleway”.

  8. Andy

    “My main point in this article is that the plans are still in an early state a year after funding was granted, and only a few months before work is due to start. It shouldn’t be possible to be prematurely damning at this late stage – yet we still don’t have any detailed drawings to give feedback on!” S.C.

    The CCAG cities received funding sometime around August 2013.

    http://road.cc/content/news/90116-prime-minister-announces-%C2%A377-million-funding-cycling-projects-england

    From that point, because of the sizes of the projects, they will have had to put the work out to tender (also because previous government policies have caused in-house engineering expertise to be gutted). Once a successful engineering firm or firms were appointed it would be towards the end of 2013, say October/November at the earliest.

    From that point we are now just eight or nine months down the line. For highway projects of this scale that’s barely into the foothills. The problem is that original timescale given – no funding after March 2015 – together with the strings attached to the funding; the clue’s in the name ‘Ambition’ Grant. I believe Leeds had lost out on an earlier round of funding for not being ambitious enough. You might say that’s great and fits in with not just sticking any old crap in. Unfortunately, it’s led Leeds (and again, I suspect, they are not alone in this) to be much more ‘ambitious’ this time, the unfortunate thing being that from a standing start to finished scheme takes time – we’re also in a period where the Highways Agency is spending money like water so ‘human resources’ are at a premium. It’s my belief that to satisfy the funding most of the bidders probably over committed to what they could do (and I would stress, not necessarily on purpose), in what will practically turn out to be a sixteen month period at best.

    As I said above, to do any scheme right requires time (non-contentious highway improvement schemes take years, from the first ideas and lines on a plan to the contractors giving the scheme over to the highway authority). Unless they had plans of what they wanted to do already on a shelf somewhere (not likely in these straitened times) then all these CCAG schemes were going to take time. Therefore, I believe most of the blame lies with the DfT and those in government wanting to be seen to be delivering projects. I find it more difficult to blame the Local Authorities who do seem to want to put decent infrastructure in, but are hamstrung from the start.

    • Thanks for your comment Andy, you’re quite right that the funding constraints are ridiculous. Expecting huge projects delivered within a tiny timeframe isn’t acceptable, and it shows how the government sees transport cycling as some kind of joke.

      By June 2013 there were certainly some fairly advanced plans, which the current ones are based on. I wrote about them here. Even if the engineering firms were appointed this year, that leaves six months for improvement.

      The current plans have improved over the originals, especially the Bradford section, and perhaps I am being a little hard on those behind this scheme who are expected to work wonders in no time at all. I agree that leadership and long-term change needs to happen in central government and the DfT, or I’ll be playing whack-a-mole with bad schemes forever.

      Either way, the current plans are unacceptably poor. Cycle campaigners cannot endorse this quality of work, or we risk getting it again and again.

      I wonder if Leeds and Bradford would be allowed to scale it back, and concentrate on just one section of it, and do it properly?

  9. Andy

    “Either way, the current plans are unacceptably poor. Cycle campaigners cannot endorse this quality of work, or we risk getting it again and again”. S.C.
    I, agree. But, having seen from the semi-inside the hoops that schemes have to go through it’s a wonder Local Authorities (LAs) build anything.

    BTW, those consultations everyone is cynical about do count. Each response by a member of the public needs answering; though I do wonder if this is where LAs fall down. As someone who doesn’t work directly for a council, my answers to consultation responses (pre-editing, that is) could probably be classed as ‘frank’. LA officers have to be – or seem to think they must be – much more circumspect when answering members of the public. They appear to operate in a world where politics with both a small and large ‘p’ get mixed. Perhaps this is why so many members of the public who respond feel fobbed off with bland platitudes? OTOH how long would someone stay employed in an LA if they responded to the public that something wasn’t going ahead because the political support wasn’t there, that there was no money left in the pot, or it could go ahead, but would take decades even given the present increased levels of funding?

    “I wonder if Leeds and Bradford would be allowed to scale it back, and concentrate on just one section of it, and do it properly?” S.C.
    I think they could, in theory. However, this risks having to write a cheque back to the DfT, which could be quite humiliating. Also, if you look at the pdf I linked in my first post, the LAs have to monitor what effect their work has on levels of cycling. In turn this will probably affect whether they get another round of funding.

    I’m not sure of the details, but there seems to be a split in the CCAG cities wrt strategy – some appear to be going for multiple route improvements over a limited area (Newcastle and Birmingham) – the others are targeting only one or two longer routes (Leeds and IIRC Manchester). Which approach gets the best results in the time available who knows (although, as someone out in the wilds of south Leeds who will no doubt be waiting decades for a sniff of a ‘superhighway’ I think those area-wide treatments have merit).

  10. Jitensha Oni

    Andy, SC – fascinating. Not sure how you’d define “best results” though – any infrastructure, even poor stuff, seems to increase cycling, and the variables would probably be too numerous to rule out the likelihood that the smaller increase of two schemes is not due to something other than the build. But isn’t the whole shambolic process you are discussing exactly why there needs to be a body like the Cycling England of old, or Cycling Czar or whatever you call the position, to fix these issues but which we have yet again recently been told we can’t have.

    Anyway on the plans themselves, at the risk of being premature to SC’s forthcoming posts, looking at the A64 part of the plan E of the City Centre, there’ s an element of blinkered jobsworth box-ticking here because, while the route aims for fairly impressive continuity, as far as these things go in the UK, nowhere is there a depiction of the links to the feeder routes i.e all the roads joining it. It is characteristic of a Dutch network that the feeder roads are covered too, at least in the vicinity of junctions.

    I looked in a bit more detail at the York-Road-Selby Road deisgned-by-committee- (badly)-even before-the-new-plans junction. Blimey! The basic road layout is so bad even for cars, I bet it would have a Dutch engineer tearing their hair out. What it looks like is that someone put a coffee cup down on the area of a few staggered junctions and left a ring there that was duly tarmacked over in the implementation.

    Here’s an exercise demonstrating this. Use a route planner to see the route from

    85 Rookwood Avenue, Leeds, United Kingdom

    to

    37 Wykebeck Valley Road, Leeds, United Kingdom

    (house numbers are arbitrary, it’s the road that counts, but the planner software I used works better with the number)

    Then vice versa. Compare the two. Actually that part is in fact exactly what you want – bikes should be able to do that journey much quicker. I know that’s not much to do with the bike route itself, but the point is that if you have intrinsically poor road geometries, it becomes all the more difficult to retrofit without massive expense.

    If you want a criticism of the route itself, at least one crossing seems to have been left for pedestrians only, which seems a bit of an omission, especially in view of recent DfT draft guidelines indicating that a more efficient combination of pedestrian and cycling crossing than has been possible so far is in the pipeline. I leave it as an exercise for the council (if they read this) to find out which ones.

  11. Andy

    “What it looks like is that someone put a coffee cup down on the area of a few staggered junctions and left a ring there that was duly tarmacked over in the implementation.” J.O.
    I think you’ll find the skill of the engineer is in choosing exactly which cup to use espresso, afternoon tea, builder’s mug, or one of those Sport Direct monsters we keep specially for motorway junctions. That’s why we’re paid the big bucks.

    “…at least one crossing seems to have been left for pedestrians only, which seems a bit of an omission, especially in view of recent DfT draft guidelines indicating that a more efficient combination of pedestrian and cycling crossing than has been possible so far is in the pipeline.” J.O.
    Unfortunately those proposals are only in the pipeline. Until they are approved (which, Sod’s Law, will probably be after that March 2015 funding deadline) then they can’t even be implemented as trials anywhere. The getaround (assuming you are talking about the combined zebra/cycle crossing, aka a ‘tiger’) is to make an extraordinarily wide zebra, such that the cycle bit can be added after the fact. Even then there are ‘issues’ with the tactile paving arrangements, which may seem petty, but add yet another cost.

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