Picture-post: Terrible cycle infrastructure on York Road in Leeds

I’ve covered the dreadful design and execution of the Leeds-Bradford “Cycle Superhighway” before, but I’ve never had chance to get a good look at it up close, relying instead on reports and photographs from concerned readers.

However, recently I got a chance to take a detailed look for myself, and unfortunately, even with the low expectations I had, I was disappointed. For the money spent, disruption caused, and time taken, this could have been great, but it’s rubbish.

No doubt the propagandists responsible for defending this shambles will once more repeat their favourite phrase, “it’s not finished yet,” as mitigation for the poor design you’re about to see. But a lot of the roadworks are finished, and some paint and a few signs aren’t going to make much difference.

So join me, if you will, for a stroll along the A64 York Road, Leeds’ main east-bound traffic artery, signed for a 40mph limit which is often ignored. We’ll laugh, we’ll cry, we’ll shake our heads sadly. My dear readers, I present to you, Leeds Cycle Superhighway…

We’ll start at the eastern point of the scheme, next to the Ring Road, and head west into town. I’ve not included photos of every inch, but I’ve tried to give a sense of what’s been installed here (the junctions I’ve missed out aren’t much different to the ones I’ve included).

Firstly we can see that the definition of both the cycleway and footway disappear at every driveway for some reason, presumably because today’s motor vehicles couldn’t possibly mount a small kerb, right? (Though prams and wheelchairs clearly can…)

Clear cycleway priority over people walking, but driveways get smooth treatment without kerbs

What this will probably mean in practice is that drivers will continue to treat the cycleway as part of their driveway, and park their cars there. Why was red asphalt not used? Why is the kerb line interrupted? There’s no need for this, it should be better.

For some reason, beyond the junction the cycleway is raised up above the footway (i.e. the opposite to what you’d expect, and not what was promised by City Connect).

Soon the cycleway disappears altogether, and turns into shared-use footway, despite York Road being over 35 metres wide at this point.

Separate footway and cycleway end, turns in to shared footway. A car is parked on the footway in the distance, blocking it.

Note the car parked on the Superhighway/shared-use-footway in the distance, and the nearer cars parked on the footway too. (I’m told enforcement is due to start next month.)

After the parked car, the shared footway becomes a separate cycleway and footway again, but note what you’re expected to do if you’re walking straight on (the footway is on the left, by the way).

Shared footway ends, but people walking must cross the cycleway, which is on a raised platform

Yes, people on foot are expected to continue along the ever-decreasing footway, then cross the cycleway. (From this point on, the cycleway is a raised platform above the footway – you can see the hump just after the crossing in the photo above.)

Then, once you’ve walked past the bus stop, you’re expected to… cross again!

A strange raised cycleway, with a bus stop and foot crossing in the distance

This is a recurring theme – the cycleway and the footway cross each other constantly, which introduces unnecessary conflict, indirectness and delay. Of course, in reality, people will just walk along the cycleway here.

Next we come to the junction with Cross Gates Lane, which is a huge junction for what should be a residential street. The speed table and give-way markings are undermined by the kerb line and the double yellows, which both interrupt the visual priority of the cycleway.

A wide junction, with cars approaching from three directions, all of which appear to have priority over walking and cycling, thanks to poor design

The footway is also severed here, which makes it look even more like people driving have priority. To add to the danger, motor vehicles can approach from three directions, as there is a turning gap in the median along York Road.

Soon we arrive at a service road which runs alongside York Road but is for local traffic only. You might think that using the service road would make sense here, as surely it’s quiet enough?

People walking must cross yet again, and not use the cycleway which is much more convenient

Nope, instead we’ll re-route people walking across the road (again!) onto a narrow footway, then designate the existing footway as the Cycle Superhighway, put up some ‘no parking’ signs, job done.

Sign says 'no motor vehicle parking or loading on footway or cycle track'

The message is clear, at least. But will it be heeded?

At the bottom of the hill there is a petrol station, and here is how the crossover is handled:

A cycleway and footway cross the entrance to a petrol station, which disrupts them both

I crossed from the other side of the road to take the above photo, and I found I had no idea which side was footway and which was cycleway. I later deduced that the raised section (on the left) is the cycleway, and the footway is the bit with the road sign and advertisement blocking it.

Around the corner, after some more shared-use footway, we reach this ancient relic of an earlier attempt at cycling infrastructure.

Old cycleway and shared use area in Leeds, perhaps from the 1990s, in poor state of repair

So Leeds City Council are still installing the same bad infrastructure that they were back when this was fresh. It’s almost as if they want to suppress cycling…

Further along still, we find a long section on which work hasn’t even begun. I’ve been told that the route will open in Spring – I’m assuming that means Spring 2016 – but that’s clearly not going to happen.

I’m not even sure where the cycleway could go here, given that at no point so far has any space – not even one lousy millimetre – been taken from motor vehicles. More shared-use, perhaps? Or an on-road painted lane?

Very narrow footway with motorway-style barrier on A64 York Road in Leeds

Moving on, and we eventually arrive at a footbridge which crosses York Road, giving us this panoramic view of the narrow, medieval streets into which decent cycling infrastructure simply won’t fit.

Photograph taken on footbridge over York Road in Leeds, facing west, looking over six lanes for motor traffic

Again, note that work hasn’t even begun on the westbound section. It’s not looking good for a Spring 2016 opening.

Incidentally, even though the walk from end to end would take about an hour, it took me about double that, as I was stopping to take photos and switch sides. In those two hours I saw three people cycling – two children messing about, and one adult actually using a bike to get somewhere.

In that same time I must have been passed by many thousands of motor vehicles. You can do the maths yourself to estimate the modal share on this particular Saturday afternoon.

To prove that Leeds’ lone transport cyclist wasn’t a figment of my imagination, here is documentary evidence of this rebel, who helps to give some scale to the dreadful bus stop bypass:

A cyclist uses a narrow, badly-designed bus stop bypass

Three lanes of motor traffic and still the bus stops in a lay-by, meaning walking and cycling both suffer.

I don’t remember where he went next, but I hope he looked over his shoulder very carefully:

A shallow-angled slip-road, designed for turning off a fast road without slowing down much, cuts across a footway and cycleway

Yes, that’s a slip-road which exits off a 40mph main road and crosses the cycleway and footway at an oblique angle. The cycleway is apparently going to have priority over turning motor vehicles here.

This clearly isn’t safe. How do these so-called engineers sleep at night?

Just beyond that mess we reach another service road, which should be an open goal, right? Again, no:

Cycleway squeezed up against fast road, instead of using service road alongside

It’s still under construction, but that will be the cycleway on the right, squeezed up alongside a fast, busy road. Surely that space would have been better used as car parking, with cycling sharing the service road?

Finally on this wastbound run, we reach the extent of the current works, at the very edge of Leeds city centre, just after this masterful work…

Narrow cycleway and footway alongside three wide lanes for motor traffic

That’ll do for this post, there’s only so much you can take in one sitting. Once you’ve steadied your nerves, we can take the trip in the other direction, heading out from town back east towards the Ring Road. If anything, it’s even worse.



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32 responses to “Picture-post: Terrible cycle infrastructure on York Road in Leeds

  1. Robert D Keat

    It’s been appallingly done since the get go. My first ever complaint was which side is cycleway and which is pedestrian? The answer I got was ‘does it really matter’. The other thing is if you happen to come across a slower cyclist, hope so you safely overtake? From bad design to bad construction this thing has been a joke from the start. I will not use it on principle

  2. Beate

    I cycled in to work for the first time 18 months ago. I arrived in central Leeds a gibbering wreck feeling lucky to be alive. However flawed the cycle superhighway is, it is already several orders of magnitude better than that first trip – I’ve never been on a set of less cycling friendly roads in my life. I can’t wait for it to be finished – I have seen a few fellow travellers on it and it can only get more popular. Roll on parking enforcement and full completion.

    • I do agree with you, separation from motor traffic is far superior to riding with cars, especially along York Road, which in my 30 years in Leeds I was never once tempted to try. (In fact, I was amazed to find that the route could be walked in just an hour – travelling only by motor vehicle really distorts one’s perception of distance!)

      So my criticism isn’t of the concept, but of the execution. For a brand new scheme, designed and developed since 2013, there’s no reason or excuse for all these danger and conflict points. There are plenty of examples of how to handle all these types of junction, yet Leeds City Council have fudged every single one.

      So as a result, the route isn’t as clear, safe or fast as it should be. While it may convince you and a few others (mot of whom probably cycle already) to ride into town more often – and I’m glad it has done – I doubt that many of the tens of thousands who currently drive in will switch to cycling, as the route is just too compromised and inconvenient. And it’s also dangerous at points – the junctions I’ve mentioned – and City Connect still haven’t explained how they’re going to be made any safer.

  3. At what point do professional institutions hold their members to account for incompetence in design and execution?

    • Andy R

      They’d probably need to receive a complaint first, maybe from one of the user groups I mention below. Certainly rule 3 the Institution of Civil Engineers Rules of Conduct states;
      “3. All members shall have full regard for the public interest, particularly in
      relation to matters of health and safety, and in relation to the well-being
      of future generations.”
      It goes on to explain;
      “The manner in which members can fulfil this Rule includes, but is not limited to, the following:
      Take all reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of members of the public and of those engaged in the project. This covers the whole life of a project during construction, operation, maintenance and decommissioning.”
      Frankly I think the best approach would be to use some part of the Equality Act, eg;
      “20 Duty to make adjustment
      (1)Where this Act imposes a duty to make reasonable adjustments on a person, this section, sections 21 and 22 and the applicable Schedule apply; and for those purposes, a person on whom the duty is imposed is referred to as A.
      (2)The duty comprises the following three requirements…
      (4) The second requirement is a requirement, where a physical feature puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in relation to a relevant matter in comparison with persons who are not disabled, to take such steps as it is reasonable to have to take to avoid the disadvantage.”

      • Perhaps it would also help if institutions advised that engineers designing cycling infrastructure must have regard to recognised standards such as LCDS , in the absence of official national standards?

        • Mark Williams

          LCDS, despite the bare-faced untruth belying its name, is not a standard. It is merely `guidance’ so riddled with caveats, compromised proposals and flawed thinking as to be virtually worthless—and certainly considerably less money than has been wasted on ill-advisedly copying-and-pasting (and in some cases, badly re-interpreting) other guidance over the years into each successive version. It is also not recognised across even the whole of TFL (itself responsible only for 5% of largest highways), let alone the whole of London.

          When it comes to proper national standards, which are desperately needed; do not accept such an inferior pastiche as a substitute! It wouldn’t surprise me to find that LCDS would endorse most or all elements of the Leeds–Bradford [one way only?] cycle `superhighway’ and was an inspiration in its design. It’s not for nothing that London is known as `the motorway city of the 1960s’, you know ;-)?

  4. Robert D Keat

    In principle its a good idea. In design and construction it is monumentally flawed. I’ve heard a few people day that its ‘better than nothing’ however it is dangerous in parts, poorly lit and likely to be badly maintained. Lets face it LCC hardly have a great reputation for maintenance and repair.

    • Yes, I agree on the principle – this whole blog was set up to promote that principle! So I had high hopes when I first heard about this, almost three years ago.

      But sadly, as you say, the execution is awful. One worry about the way they’ve installed the junctions is that the priorities rely only on paint, making it very easy for the council to add give-way markings to the cycleway at some point in the future.

  5. Andy R

    Jesus wept (and then so did I). I’m not an expert on how blind and partially sighted people are taught to navigate, but I do know one fundamental rule they are told is ‘up is safe’, that’s one reason why areas of shared space without kerbs are felt to be so hostile.

    Therefore parts of this scheme have ether been designed or constructed in such a way that they put this particular user group (and the one which has the most trepidation in sharing areas with cyclists because of their relative silence) into direct conflict with those cyclists.

    I can’t believe this was shown on any details produced for the Stage 2 road safety audit (if one was carried out) else the designers would have been told to change it straight away – as it is the Stage 3 auditors are going to have a field day and either LCC or the contractors are surely going to be paying to have this work re-done.

  6. very illuminating article. Who are the specific individuals responsible for signing this off? Not the institutions, the actual people. Do we know?

  7. The Dutch actually have a law that says that if a road authority provides such terrible facilities that their users suffer an injury, collision or death, the road authority can be held at fault, at least partially. This design would instantly make them liable if it was implemented in the Netherlands, going against pretty much every design guidance without proper reason.

    • Mark Williams

      The UK is not that civilised and does not have the rule of law when it comes to `king motorist’, amongst other things. Such a law would be utterly ineffectual in the UK while the motoring lobby embedded in the legislature, prosecution `service’ and judiciary habitually prioritise `smoothly flowed motor traffic’ above all other considerations every bit as much as their counterparts at the councils.

  8. Pingback: Picture-post: MORE terrible cycleways on York Road in Leeds | The Alternative Department for Transport

  9. Not only did the cycle super highway not encourage me to start cycling, the absolute mess of it is one of the reasons I stopped cycling and sold my bike.

    If you can’t get a multi million, TdF inside flagship right, then what will you?

    So now I no longer cycle, amusingly because of the cycle super highway.

  10. Joe

    I would like to make the point that any expertise that existed in Councils was made redundant by the 6 year old Tory government, in favour of cheaper, unqualified personnel (in every dept).
    Yes, criticism is due, but you’re criticising people who are doing their best, considering they haven’t been trained, don’t have a clue and are blindly following a government sponsored manual of design.
    You get what you pay for, and in this country they won’t pay for expert design. Almost everything that has been built in the last decade will have to be ripped up and started again. Nobody knows how to waste taxes like the tories.

    • Ah, the “blame the Tories” crowd… the Council in Leeds is a Labour Council! And they’re desperate to spend magic-money-tree-cash to keep the unionised highways industries happy, and show that they are “for the people” and all that patronising, infantile tosh.

      • MJ Ray

        Look, they’re both to blame. National Tory government has tied local council budgets down and refused to make minimum safe standards mandatory, but local Labour government has pressed on spending what they still can on creating a hazardous obstacle course.

        • Mark Williams

          Yes, there really is no shortage of blame to spread around. The permanent civil service and their quasi-private sector consultants/ contractors at local and national level are just as bad as the members of most political `parties’—each dodging their culpability and hiding behind one of the other groups in turn. All viscerally dislike walking and cycling as transport modes if they in any way detract from their `great motor car operating “democracy” ‘.

      • Joe

        Unionised highways industries? That’s last century.
        Everything the tories touch, withers and dies.

  11. Pav

    I have tried cycling from Oulton to LGI along this and after 2 weeks I gave up all hope. Smashed glass and debris on “cycle lanes”, taxi drivers who had to be in front of me for no reason, nearly got knocked off by the bus. I normally ride in York and I must admit that I feel safer riding there

  12. Fluff

    I use this stretch a lot and it’s terrible, I’m sure the residents smash bottles over the cycle path out of spite. Parked cars on the route, zoned out pedestrians not knowing where they should be. In truth not fit for a roadbike let alone for purpose. Lcc had a real chance here and at the moment they’ve failed.

  13. I won’t be using it. Ever.

    I tried using the Superhighway myself a couple of weeks ago to cycle to work and I encountered glass, women pushing their push-chairs and other pedestrians in the cycle highway so I deduced that it’s safer to continue on the road.

    Although York Road can be scary, most drivers are considerate towards cyclists that don’t take the piss (running red lights etc) and there’s also a bus lane to cycle in along most of the route.

    Whoever designed this should resign. Why didn’t they look at continental Europe for what they’ve done to accommodate cyclists? The cycle lanes in Holland are second-to-none.

  14. Lisa O'hagan

    It’s a total mess everywhere York road stop after the asda makes no sense at all path wise ! Crossing over at different points then bike lane in middle ???of it not safe at all Total shambles out side Sutton approach bus stop when ever they put that back ! And what about wheel chair users were is a thought for them ….

  15. Barry Bethal

    One thing you may not have noticed is that the start of the track (the shared pavement shown in your first photo) is only accessible from the north, if you’re coming onto York Rd from Marsh Lane (south) or the loop tunnel (west) the kerb/railings mean there is no way onto the track, and there isn’t a dropped kerb to get onto it for about half a mile (top of the hill by the vets). It looks like they’re leaving it like this too. Absolutely absurd.

  16. In case anyone is wondering why nobody told the designers how it should be done properly… we did. Many, many volunteers from Leeds Cycling Campaign, CTC (as it was then), Sustrans, Living Streets and independent individuals gave up literally hundreds of hours in workshops, consultation sessions, and eventually weekly plans meetings where we pored over the detailed designs. LCC posted summaries of the first couple of sessions:
    We lobbied for proper infrastructure that would be safe, convenient and direct. We explained concepts like Dutch style roundabouts, green wave, visual priority, simultaneous green. We shared all our varied experiences of cycling and genuinely thought we were making a difference. It breaks my heart that this now seems to have been a huge waste of everyone’s time.

  17. Pingback: Copenhagen bus stops – Nicer cities, liveable places

  18. Db

    Another complete waste of money, even now the “super cycle highway” is deserted, and now I’ve been told they want to close Templenewsam golf course to make way for (drum roll) a cycle path, don’t they realise not everyone wants to cycle to work, arriving tired and sweaty, come on councillors there’s more to keeping fit than cycling

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