Another visit to Leeds’ unfinished “Cycle Superhighway” with no end in sight

Note: For all those Evening Post readers who email me to complain about cycling in general – I’m not against cycling, or cycling infrastructure. The reason you spend so long sat in traffic is because Leeds has given people no other option but the car. Leeds needs cycling infrastructure. So the concept behind this scheme is sound – but the execution is very poor, and that’s what I’m criticising here.

Well here we are again, back in Leeds. And it’s the same old story – delayed works, lack of communication, bad design and broken promises. The eastern cycleway – from the city centre, along the A64 York Road, out to the A6120 Ring Road – still isn’t finished, despite several completion dates passing without comment.

It’s difficult to know where to begin when writing about the City Connect project, as there are so many bad points to cover. So maybe I’ll start with one or two good things that I saw, to begin on a positive note.

The good bits

Well firstly, this bus stop bypass isn’t too bad. The cycleway could be wider, especially considering the massive width of the road, but the kerbs are forgiving, and there’s a verge separating it from the road. There are no sharp turns at the bus stop, but I’m not sure about the pedestrian crossing angles, though the difference in surface colour should help.

An overhead view of a cycleway at a bus stop bypass in Leeds

Some sections of kerb are extremely forgiving – maybe even too much, as when the cycleway and footway are both surfaced in the same black asphalt, the difference isn’t clear enough. Really, the cycleway should be a different colour asphalt.

But this is much better than the pseudo-forgiving kerbs used on some other cycleways, which are too high and/or too steep.

A close-up photo of the join of a footway and cycleway in Leeds. The kerb between the two is short, with an angled side. The cycleway is lower than the footway.

And that’s about it. I’m afraid that’s pretty much the extent of the good stuff I saw. (And not all the kerbing is as good as that bit, either.)

Changes, delays and silence

This section of the project was meant to have been finished months ago – last year even, perhaps – I’ve lost track of the number of times that the deadline for opening has been missed. The latest update from City Connect said that the work was to be completed by the end of October – so these photos, taken in early November, should be of the finished article.

Earlier this year City Connect tried to fob us off with a sleight of hand, splitting the route into two parts so that they could declare the project complete in June, despite only the western section – now branded CS1 – being finished. This eastern portion, labelled CS2, remains incomplete.

When I was there at the start of November, it was clear that there are still lots of physical engineering works which haven’t been done, but the solution seems to have been to quickly cover up the gaps with paint so that the City Connect PR machine can pretend it’s finished for now.

Quite unlike the promises of excellent infrastructure made at the start of the project, much of the “Cycle Superhighway” resembles the usual failed excuses for cycle infrastructure which any British cycle campaigner is familiar with: shared use footways, narrow painted lanes on busy roads, fiddly and inconvenient junctions, long waits at multiple toucan crossings, and so on.

It represents business as usual, not the great leap forward it was sold as.

So easy, it’s child’s play

Along the route there are lots of newly-installed banners proclaiming City Connect’s cycle route to be “as easy as riding a bike”, which also feature the logo of something called Child Friendly Leeds. This is a council initiative which aims “to make Leeds a child friendly city” and claims to believe that a “successful city has children and young people at its heart”.

Banner attached to a lamp post. Text on banner reads: CityConnect. Seacroft - Leeds - Bradford. Your journey, as easy as riding a bike. We are child friendly Leeds.

Well, either Child Friendly Leeds is just another attempt by Leeds City Council to whitewash over their business-as-usual policies, or there will be some very angry people who are annoyed that their logo is plastered over infrastructure which is anything but child-friendly.

Give way on the cycleway, AKA priority for motoring

One of the first things that caught my attention was that several give way markings have been added on the cycleway, despite promises from City Connect that the cycleway would have priority at side roads.

This is poor design: people using the cycleway should usually have the same priority as those using the road, otherwise it just results in slower journeys.

A bus turns across a cycleway in Leeds, with priority

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None of this bears any resemblance to the plans that were consulted on, the junction diagrams provided, the agreements with cycling groups, and the reassurances (PDF) offered after the Grange Avenue fiasco that such a junction design would be a rarity.

You’ll notice that on the final photo above, people cycling must give way to traffic from both directions. (In the first four, there is, at least, priority over vehicles exiting the side road.)

But while these give way markings are new, the rot had already set in many months, or even years, ago. The way these junctions were designed, and subsequently installed, it was inevitable that the cycleway would yield to the carriageway. Such junctions with priority squeezed alongside a busy 40mph arterial road aren’t ever going to work safely – hence why painted cycle lanes can also be dangerous, they can lead to the infamous “left hook” collision.

The junctions above should never have been designed like that in the first place. If a cycleway is to cross a side road like this, the cycleway should be set further back from the road, with a raised “continuous footway/cycleway” junction to slow turning vehicles further – which City Connect knew about, as it was included in their junction type diagrams. (Though would this work along a 40mph dual carriageway anyway, or are signals required?)

So while I don’t agree at all with the decision, I can see why someone eventually opted to paint in give way markings at these junctions – not that that makes them safe, but that it ticks a box somewhere, so that the blame for any collision can be placed on the person cycling.

Give way anyway

At some points, there are even give way markings for… no reason at all! The photo below shows the cycleway and footway merging to become shared space at a crossing, but not all crossings are done like this. Sometimes the shared footway starts with a give way marking, sometimes just wheel-grabbing tactile paving slabs.

11 Leeds cycle superhighway - give way at crossing.jpg

Vague crossovers

But like so much of the City Connect project, there’s absolutely no consistency at all. Many of the crossovers (entrances to car parks, petrol stations, etc.), often just metres away from the junctions pictured above, do give priority to the cycleway, although it’s done vaguely with just green paint (no white lines) which does little for visual priority.

08-leeds-cycle-superhighway-york-road-car-park-entrance

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If it’s safe at these junctions, then why is it dangerous at the others? And if it’s dangerous at the others, why is it safe here? I know that crossovers and side-roads are technically different, but I doubt many drivers will approach them differently here.

Junctions with cycleway priority

To be fair, the cycleway does have priority at some junctions, but this has often been done incompetently, with unneccesarily vague design…

30-leeds-cycle-superhighway-vague-junction-priority

While a flush kerb might have no legal meaning with regards to junction priority, people can still clearly see it, so it’s important for visual priority. Hence, the kerbs which run along either side of the cycleway are good (as they reinforce priority), but the kerbs which cut across the cycleway are bad (because they negate that intended priority). The coloured surface should extend several metres along the cycleway before and after the junction.

…or with sudden, sharp turns.

A cycleway in Leeds crosses a side road with priority

Note how there’s no continuous footway here, and the road surface doesn’t change to a different material. The green surfacing doesn’t extend much beyond the junction itself either, and there’s no line marking the edge of the cycleway, which would give good visual priority.

A side road with cycleway priority on Leeds Cycle Superhighway

Here, any cars turning off using this sliproad (designed for speed) will be right alongside (or just behind) anyone riding on the cycleway, just before they make a sharp right-hand turn across their path. At least the priority is clear, due to the give way markings being right up against the cycleway.

An unfinished side road crossing on Leeds Cycle Superhighway

This side road junction is unfinished. But note the tight 90º turns required (we’ve already done two to reach this point). Also note that the kerb cuts across the cycleway, and that the footway is interrupted by the carriageway too.

Furthermore, when the roadworks were done, the kerb line (which cuts across the cycleway for no real reason) wasn’t laid quite flush – there’s a slight drop as the cycleway begins to cross the road, and a slight bump up at the other side.

You can see here where the leaves have gathered against the upstand on the far side of the junction, which anyone cycling along the route must mount as they ride along:

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In some places, City Connect have covered this up by slopping lots of green paint on there, but it can still be felt, and in some places it causes puddles to form, which will be fun in the winter.

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A sense of abandonment

And at some junctions, there’s nothing at all for cycling. A mixed-use footway simply ends at the junction, as if City Connect simply never existed.

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A shared footway (i.e. cycling permitted) crosses a side road on Leeds Cycle Superhighway

This is super, apparently.

Right, said Fred…

Quite often, it feels like the contractors were told just to finish the job as quickly and cheaply as possible, without worrying whether it actually works or not.

In some places, the cycleway vanishes entirely, with stretches of shared-use footway common:

A footway in Leeds where cycling is permitted. About 25% of the width is taken up by telecoms cabinets.

You share with people walking, and with a mobile phone mast and equipment cabinets.

Here, the “Cycle Superhighway” manifests as the amazing piece of infrastructure we’re all familiar with – a white line in the middle of a footway.

Leeds City Council have painted a white line on a footway, and called it a Cycle Superhighway

In this form, it crosses the entrance to a petrol station, before giving up altogether just before the exit. Beyond this point, the cycleway doesn’t even exist as a white line, it simply disappears. Sorry, I mean it Cycle Super-disappears.

Leeds Cycle Superhighway, in the form of a white line on a footway, crosses the entrance to a petrol station before disappearing altogether

In other places, the rush job means that the cycleway becomes an unmarked shared-use footway, which then becomes… a painted lane on the road. Ah, such amazing infrastructure, well worth waiting years for, truly Super!

18-leeds-cycle-superhighway-becomes-a-painted-lane-on-a-fast-busy-road

Even this hasn’t been done well, requiring a double-turn onto a fast, busy road, with nothing but white paint and crossed fingers for protection (the lighter section of kerb-stone is the extent of the dropped area). This whole stretch is utterly unsuitable for anything wider than a bicycle, such as a hand-bike or cargo bike.

Remember, according to Leeds City Council, this is “child friendly” infrastructure – so I’ve taken the opportunity to add the appropriate logo to the next photo.

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There’s a motorway-style crash barrier here to protect the traffic lights (presumably), but anyone cycling here will be on the wrong side of it. This probably tells you all you need to know about how much Leeds City Council cares about cycling.

Thrown to the Loiners

This design – rejoining the carriageway at a busy junction – occurs more than once, including on both sides of the major junction with Harehills Road.

On the westbound side, someone has at least had a go at designing a decent transition from cycleway to cycle lane, though such a design has no place at any busy urban crossroads. It’s completely inappropriate to send people cycling into mixed traffic here, a point where they need protection the most.

Leeds Cycle Superhighway suddenly turns into a bike lane at Harehills Road junction

Again, there’s plenty of space here. Why are people cycling sent on the wrong side of a crash barrier, to share time and space with heavy motor traffic at a busy junction? Isn’t this exactly the sort of problem that City Connect was meant to solve? Instead they’ve shrugged their shoulders whenever any difficult decision had to be taken.

Heading eastbound, the situation is even worse – although, of course, as the damn thing still isn’t finished, who knows how it will end up? (If City Connect know, they’re not telling anyone.)

Anyway, this is what I suspect is intended: After avoiding people walking or waiting at this narrow shared-use space at a bus stop…

25-leeds-cycle-superhighway-junction-with-harehills-lane-1-bus-stop

…your handbike-using grandma or trike-riding nephew is then expected to “rejoin the carriageway” here, by use of this dropped kerb…

26-leeds-cycle-superhighway-junction-with-harehills-lane-2-dropped-kerb-cycle-lane

Space is clearly at a premium here. Narrow medieval streets and all that.

…and arrive at this mutant ASL, which certainly won’t be full of stopped vans.

27-leeds-cycle-superhighway-junction-with-harehills-lane-3-bizarre-asl

People cycling along the “Superhighway” will be travelling straight on here, remember – i.e. they’re going the same way as the red car – so they’ll need to watch out for drivers turning left at the speedy 1960s-style slip-road junction.

Again, this is exactly the kind of interaction that City Connect was meant to put an end to. What’s the point in City Connect’s existence if they’re not going to fix junctions like this?

Should they survive, sanctuary beckons as the protected cycleway begins again on the far side of the junction (though note the kerb, cutting across the entrance to the cycleway at an angle, which is there for no reason other than to pose a hazard in wet weather).

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In conclusion: it keeps getting worse!

We were promised a first-class cycleway, but we’ve been misled and ignored constantly. Now we have infrastructure which is a real curate’s egg: whilst some bits are okay, much of it is rotten.

I do feel a little sympathy for the people designing this monstrosity, as it’s been said that Leeds City Council forbade even one centimetre of road space to be taken for cycling infrastructure. If that’s true – and I’ve heard it from many sources – then the project was doomed from the start.

But whatever the reason, the designs used by City Connect have been proven to be unattractive, inconvenient and even deadly many times before, yet we’re expected to be grateful for anything at all. Their interest in this project has clearly already dwindled, and they’re on to the next pot of funding already. There’s no consistency, no accountability, and no reliability.

Despite their claims to be an infrastructure project, City Connect now spend most of their time tweeting about cycle training and lights, and very little effort is spent on discussing infrastructure. This seems to be the norm for lots of UK cycling projects – the hard stuff is too hard and too quantifiable, so instead they fall back on “encouragement and promotion”, despite it being proven to be useless – but then, that’s all that’s expected of publicly-funded cycling advocacy in the UK anyway.

Anyway, thanks for reading. I’ll leave you with this, one of the worst bus stop designs I’ve seen in a while, and that’s really saying something. This goes to show that even when presented with a large blank canvas, City Connect can be relied upon to mess things up.

A bus stop bypass on Leeds City Connect Cycle Superhighway. The cycleway curve is far too sharp, and people walking must cross it twice, despite there being lots of space to get it right.

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11 Comments

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11 responses to “Another visit to Leeds’ unfinished “Cycle Superhighway” with no end in sight

  1. D.

    “people using the cycleway should usually have the same priority as those using the road, otherwise it just results in slower journeys.” – Exactly! Those give-way markings and sections are appalling – traffic coming from your right should be giving way to the cyclists, like any other situation where traffic has to move over another lane. Like when motorists want to leave a motorway – nobody expects that the left hand lane has to give way to cars leaving the motorway from the middle or right hand lane, do they???

  2. I rode the whole CSH from Leeds to Bradford yesterday for the first time. During this trip I encountered:

    * Many sections with broken glass and other debris in the lane.
    * Half a dozen cars/lorries/taxis parked in the lane.
    * A driver who tore out of side street without looking and blocked my progress.
    * Three drivers who went through lights at red when I was attempting to stay on the CSH when it switched from one side of the carriageway to the other, which it does frequently.

    I was also almost doored when vehicles in the lane opened doors without checking.

    Some sections of the route are very good, but many areas, especially junctions seems to have been designed for the convenience of drivers and not cyclists.

    The CSH is a great initiative and we definitely need more dedicated cycling infrastructure in Leeds, But the execution of the project has been so poor I fear that it won’t be long before someone is seriously injured or killed when using this infrastructure.

    • Louise Turner

      Dear Rob I am just reading all of the comments related to the super cycle highway and you were right. Tonight I was knocked off my bike whilst travelling on to the road where the cycle path disappears and reappears further down. The driver did not stop although going in another direction and I am now left with a very very sore leg. There are some serious design floors in this highway and I doubt I will be the last that this happens to.

      • Louise Turner

        And I got knocked off at the Shaftesbury junction as mentioned below. It’s confusing to know exactly who has priority here as you are expected to go onto the road and then pick up the path again. Whilst I agree it has sections that are much safer eg not riding in the bus lane there are serious floors in this infrastructure and I am incredibly lucky tonight.

  3. Alan Cale

    Thanks for coming back and reviewing our wonderful new infrastructure! As I live near this route in the east of the city I have waited for this to arrive for many years now, hoping for a safe route into the city to emerge.
    Child Friendly Leeds is a council initiative by the way and the use of the logo in this context (by them, not you!) is scandalous.
    We have been left with a mess frankly, that does appear to have been abandoned in parts, and is actually more dangerous than nothing at all, especially the Shaftsbury junction you mention (with the weird ASL design).
    You can already predict the council meeting dialogue when modal share figures are published; ‘well this has been a waste of money, lets not bother with anymore of that and get back to widening roads’

  4. Chris Binns

    Hi there thanks for taking the time to write this review, this project has been a pet hate for quite a while now and I’m glad that I’m not the only one to see it’s shortcomings. i had hopes for this project but feel I’m safer on the road in most parts! Also I heard a rumour that there are plans to build a similar project in the north of Leeds.

  5. Liam M

    I’ll raise you a worse bus stop just a few miles further north on Roundhay Rd coming into Harehills.

    It used to be vaguely like the last image you show, slightly shallower entry angle, brought you across poorly settled textured paving stones, and in winter poor maintenance spat you onto sheet ice often obscured by the shelter itself. But at least if you did end up with an undesired sit down, it was somewhere relatively benign.

    A few weeks ago they reengineered it. Now instead of going behind the shelter, it briefly brings you up a kerb and then steeply turns right back toward the road. It adds a left turn to bring you parallel to the road and then about 5m after the whole thing started it spits you back into the road right into the marked bus stop!

    It’s presumably retained to avoid having to require the lights on the end of the high occupancy lane identify bikes. However it’s narrow, twisty and bounded by soil beds. This soil is highly likely to get washed onto the path and give it a very skittery surface which if experience is anything to go by won’t be cleaned even if explicitly requested. But this time any loss of control will drop you into the path of a bus.

    It’s a really horrible redesign. I’d hoped for improvement when I’d seen cones go up but no luck.

  6. Georgina

    I use the last bus stop all the time! I gave way to a cyclist on there the other day as he was travelling a lot faster than me so it was easier for me to stop walking than him to stop pedalling. I actually hoped this highway would be a way for me to gain a little confidence with riding into the city centre to university but seems not. Oh well!

  7. Andy

    Such a shame – I don’t know Leeds roads but looking at your photos I think I would feel safer cycling in the traffic – at least there you can ride defensively and have room to manouver.

    It would have been so much better to cover half the distance at a truely higher standard for the same budget. I don’t know why councils are so obsessed with stretching thin budgets so unrealistically far like this.

    • Mark Williams

      It’s probably just boring old [quasi-]public sector corruption. If the council and their consultant are intent on embezzling the money;¹ it sounds much more impressive to do so (and easier to get away with) under the cover of a 2N km cycle `superhighway’ than a N km minimally-adequate cycle track. As the poster (and his `many sources’) hint at, the latter is one of the last things the UK highway establishment would tolerate anyway.

      1 :- Salaries for the otherwise unemployable, occupancy of excess office space so it doesn’t get disposed of, grandiose levels of back-office support, web-site/ social media accounts/ branding largess, etc.

  8. Ken Spence

    Some may have seen my own comments on Cycle Connect’s western half in the YEP or local TV news, however, these were made earlier in the year when less was completed. Since then there has been some response and other illustrious commentators have been a little more positive and explained some of the reasons for the less than satisfactory delivery of the scheme.

    Apparently the failure at many of the junctions is due to cost and that there is an intention to correct this when future major junction improvements are undertaken. Many of the very narrow (18 inch wide) bus bypasses are allegedly at stops were never more than a couple of people wait and some of the design and implementation was prior to the new TSRGD (Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions) made better alternatives legal. I will give the designers some benefit of the doubt on these issues (although I’ve seen half a dozen people waiting at one of those bus stops). However, this rather begs rather bigger questions. Why was funding given to this scheme in the first place? What quality threshold had to be overcome for that funding bid to be successful? Is there any external auditing and quality assessment of what has been delivered? The real culprit here is not Leeds City Council but the Department for Transport (DfT) and the way that sustainable transport infrastructure is funded by means of challenge funds and beauty contests.

    We know Leeds is good at winning the beauty contests but it has little or no history of delivering decent cycle infrastructure so it should come as little surprise how disappointing the outcome of City Connect is. A clued in DfT would have known that this, on paper, very ambitious scheme could not have been well delivered with the junctions and highway it would encounter and the funding on offer. That they went ahead and gave out what is still such a shed load of money is a scandal when the money could have been spent so much better elsewhere. This is just another damning indictment of how we do cycling in this country. The new London Superhighways are a shining but lone example of what can be done, but sadly they are still the exception that proves the rule.

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