British Cycling’s myopic “Vision” for Leeds

Somehow, I missed this gem from earlier this year, but it’s so bad that it deserves a thorough savaging.

In July, British Cycling published their “Vision” for the Headrow in Leeds. Actually, it seems to be just a vague concept for a very small section of one street in Leeds, so its scale is hardly visionary to begin with.

First of all, let me tell you that the bit of the Headrow in question – directly outside the Town Hall – is utterly crap as it is now. Almost anything would be an improvement. (This is why the poll at the bottom of British Cycling’s article is rather stupid – “would you prefer to be fed shit, or shit with a crispy sugar coating?”)

It’s a very wide road designed for the movement of large numbers of motor vehicles (lots of buses here, with stops on the north side), and without even basic features such as pedestrian crossings in suitable places. Where crossings do exist, they’re staggered, for the benefit of motor traffic.

People crossing the road in Leeds city centre, where the Council would prefer they didn't

Google’s Streetview car caught this scene randomly. It shows that a crossing is required here. (Google Maps)

The very wide Headrow in front of Leeds Town Hall, with no pedestrian crossing

Narrow medieval streets? (Google Maps)

A long staggered crossing outside Leeds Town Hall, and very wide carriageway.

No space for better provision for walking and cycling here? Oh, no no no. (Google Maps)

Clearly, there is lots of space available here. Eastbound the carriageway has two wide lanes, there’s a wide central reservation, and the lane westbound is two cars wide for most of its length. Lots of buses use this road, and there’s no restriction on general motor traffic here either.

So with such a large canvas on which to paint some excellent infrastructure, I’m completely baffled as to how British Cycling, with help from Steer Davis Gleave, have created an absolutely awful concept, with painted lanes, unusable bus stop bypasses, and bikes sharing space with buses.

British Cycling's vision for Leeds graphic, showing painted lanes, if you're lucky

Plenty of space here for segregation, yet British Cycling’s highest fantasy is a painted lane followed by sharing with buses. (Note the fetid stench of “shared space” fancy paving, which costs a lot of money so it surely must do wonders for cycling.)

Mixing with cars will boost cycling, right?

I hate cycling in front of cars, even if they are painted in sporting colours and waving flags out the window. (Note invisible buses and bus stops.)

Bikes, buses and cars all sharing happily in British Cycling's la-la land.

It’s easy to cut-and-paste photos of Dutch elderly people and families into a picture like this, but the simple truth is that people DO NOT WANT TO SHARE WITH BUSES. (Also note the cack-handed attempt at a bus stop bypass on the left.)

Catch up by doing less

The images above are taken from this video, which ends with a pathetic request for “£10 per head”, which given that the Dutch invest more than twice that amount on road infrastructure alone (not on “soft measures” such as training or promotion), it is nowhere near enough to “catch up” with the Netherlands.

Some campaigns have actually done the maths and are asking for real money, not pulling nice-sounding numbers out of thin air (I’ve not yet seen an explanation at how £10 per head was arrived at).

Pedal on Parliament gets it. Stop The Killing gets it. The Cycling Embassy gets it. Why are the big guns of cycle campaigning so unwilling to actually ask for a decent amount?

Anyway, I digress. Back to the Leeds “Vision”.

Standing still while claiming to move fast

So there’s plenty of space – and a need – for Dutch-quality segregated cycleways along this stretch of road. Why haven’t British Cycling suggested any?

I don’t get it.

Steer Davies Gleave have some people in Leeds who seem to be on the ball.

British Cycling have got Chris Boardman, who is always saying the right things these days, and yet he’s talking about this crap as if it would make a blind bit of difference.

I don’t understand how Chris Boardman can say this…

“Millions of people in Britain say they would like to cycle but they are put off due to safety fears. We cannot pretend that this is going to miraculously change.”

…when describing a road plan which does nothing at all to address those fears. Perhaps the “we” in the second sentence refers to the cycle campaigning establishment, who, it seems, continue to pretend that people’s natural dislike of sharing roadspace with heavy motor traffic is going to miraculously change.

They quote the Leader of Leeds City Council, Councillor Keith Wakefield, as if he isn’t lying through his teeth:

“…we want to put cycling at the heart of the future of Leeds… That is our long-term aim, to do everything we can to encourage and help as many people as possible to get cycling.”

This is a man who went on the local news to make excuses about Leeds’ “topography” as if the huge mountains of Leeds are alone responsible for the city’s zero-point-something-percent cycling modal share. (Before anybody starts, even Swiss cities have a much higher modal share than Leeds.)

Default Man says “take the lane”

Is this simply another example of a wider problem with our society, that everything is dominated and designed by middle-class, middle-aged, white men – AKA Default Man? Do they lack the empathy to see things through the eyes of others? It seems they’re unable to listen to what people want or need.

Fifteen years ago a teenage girl from Leeds identified what the city was lacking, and what it would take for her to use a bike in her home town. Rather than listen to her, the sombre grey Franklinists explained that she was wrong, that she was much better off riding on the road instead.

Nothing in Leeds has changed since then. They didn’t listen to Zohra back in 2000, and those in positions of power still aren’t listening.

If this sort of crap is the best they can come up with, then it’s time for the grey men to get out of the way, and make space for a new generation of campaigners.


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4 responses to “British Cycling’s myopic “Vision” for Leeds

  1. What opened Zohra’s eyes to the awful infrastructure in her home town was the visit abroad, and the actual experience of cycling in a safe environment. Doesn’t that perhaps point to a way to encourage the birth of a new generation of campaigners: to organise trips abroad for young people, with the specific aim of learning how it feels to be free to cycle anywhere?

  2. It’s important to understand a few things about Leeds and cycling. First and foremost is Leeds’ heritage; it has been promoting itself for decades as a car-driving paradise, a “motorway city”.
    The council, including Mr Wakefield, are indeed lying. Industrial-strength lying about anything to do with bike riding has been the norm in Leeds for a very long time. Grandiose cycling schemes have been promised over and over again, and each is diluted, distorted and then incompletely implemented; and then not maintained or policed.

    The police in Leeds are almost homicidally hostile to cyclists, although they will arrest you and arrange for you to accidentally fall downstairs in the cop shop if you suggest it to their faces. Against this backdrop, the council’s moderate hostility dressed up in a veneer of naked lies seems mild in comparison. The council has operated a cycle consultation scheme for decades, whereby representatives (from the Leeds Cycle Action Group in the 80s and 90s, and latterly from Leeds Cycle Campaign) can meet with council planners, offer the bike-rider perspective. This is intended to give the cyclist in Leeds a (false) feeling that they are being listened to. Very nearly nothing that is recorded is used in any way; new road junction “upgrades”, for example, are scheduled without any recourse to this committee.

    Leeds has a bike provisions “czar” in the shape of a councillor who actually rides. He has no power, though, and his sympathies to and good relations with the Cycle Campaign are cynically used by the council at large to get the bike riders off their backs.

    Leeds Council has no interest at all in any bike scheme unless it offers the city lots of prestige, with photocalls, TV time, and ego-boosts for the elected members.

    The council will tell you that they have a “cycling core network” planned, with dozens of routes and countless route-miles in the pipeline, but they have been saying this, or something similar, since the 80s. It never materialises. It is all lies.
    They will show plans for the super-duper, “dutch-style” Bradford to Leeds cycle path, but firstly, this is not dutch style; secondly it is all stop-start with a mish mash of segregation, lines painted on the motor carriageway, and “shared space” death-trappery. However, these plans are not very believable because the last path planned (Regent Street) was half-built and then work stopped part-way through and it has been resting as a confusing rider-killer, unfinished, for many months. The council are not even vaguely interested. The Leeds to Bradford route was publicised in a storm of post-TourdeFrance “legacy” trumpeting, but as any meaningful exploitation of this imaginary “legacy” fails to appear, and the months slide by, and the public forget that the Tour ever happened, the route will most likely be watered down further and further until it is just a plan to paint some lines, yet again.

    So, in conclusion, the inadequate design suggested by British Cycling is irrelevant. Why? Because no cycle facilities are going to be built on the Headrow. Lots of nice artist’s impressions will be drawn and painted, probably over and over again, for the decades to come. Nothing will get built, though.

    Leeds has a very, very low modal share of traffic that is people on bikes. And it will stay that way, because it is a terrifying place to ride, and an easy place to get run over. The collisions happen all the time, by the way, but they don’t appear in any statistics because the bicycle-hating police do not record them.

    • It’s good to see that decades of dealing with Leeds City Council hasn’t made you cynical!

      Everything you say chimes with my experiences of the city, and with what snippets I hear from within their current cycling projects.

  3. paulc

    “Note the fetid stench of “shared space” fancy paving, which costs a lot of money so it surely must do wonders for cycling.”

    Will be wrecked quite quickly with all those buses and HGVs driving on it… they’d just had to replace a big stretch of paving on Cheltenham’s high street which was buses and pedestrians only on the bus lane through the pedestrianised bit…

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