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Thoughts on Chris Boardman’s appointment as Walking & Cycling Commissioner for Greater Manchester

So Greater Manchester now has a commissioner for walking and cycling – Chris Boardman.

This is good news! Boardman, like so many other transport cycling campaigners, comes from a sports cycling background, yet he seems to totally understand transport cycling.

Although I did criticise him for overstating the effects of liability insurance legislation a few years back, nearly everything Boardman says is absolutely spot on.

I was particularly impressed when watching this video, in which, after Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham speaks of the job as being “for cyclists”, Boardman immediately clarifies his position:

“My job as I see it is not actually for ‘cyclists’ – it’s for normal people in normal clothes doing normal things, getting from A to B and using bikes and walking to do it, and we’ll only do that if it looks easy, it’s appealing and it’s right in front of me.

“So our job – my job – is to make sure that that space is there, that safe space, a genuinely viable, attractive option for people to move around by bike.”

Gets a thumbs up from me!

And although Mayor Burnham sometimes seems to be a bit confused about the difference between sport and transport, Boardman appears to have confidence in the Mayor that his intentions are right.

And the intentions really do need to be right, because the city is failing to achieve its goals so far.

Good intentions from 2013 failed to materialise

In 2013, Transport for Greater Manchester revealed their plan for cycling, which aims to increase transport share from 2% to 10% of journeys within 12 years (i.e. by 2025).

Their targets at the time included doubling the number of people cycling by 2015 (did that happen, anyone?) and to complete seven cycleways running into the city centre by 2016.

Now here we are, four years after the plan was released. One third of the allotted time has passed, so surely they are well on their way to achieving these goals? Are there seven safe cycleways full of smiling citizens?

It seems not.

As far as I know, only one of those cycleways was completed, and mostly to a very poor standard. (In short, some of the bus stop bypasses are okay, but nearly all the rest needs a real highway engineer to redesign it.)

So now Greater Manchester has just eight years to create radical change on a massive scale.

Meeting these targets – which they set themselves, remember – will mean an intense programme of road rebuilding . It will mean removing car parking spaces and blocking off side-roads. It mean making changes that some people will vociferously disagree with. It will mean having the political courage to push those changes through for the greater good.

Hope and cynicism

I hope that Boardman has the political power and authority to overrule the pro-motor dinosaurs who are no doubt entrenched within Greater Manchester’s roads authorities. (I can’t imagine it’s the only part of the UK without such people in local government?!)

I hope that Boardman has the honesty and integrity to tell us if his work is being frustrated by said dinosaurs. And if those dinosaurs get their way, I hope he has the courage to say publicly, “this road design isn’t good, I do not approve of it.”

There will be challenges ahead. The usual anti-cycling fear-mongers will now be sharpening their pens, pitting cycling against walking and against people with disabilities, they’ll be preparing tales of lost business and “traffic chaos” (just as shopkeepers in the Netherlands did in the 1970s before they learned that cycling was their friend, not their foe).

I admit, I do remain cynical. I worry that the rôle of commissioner could be intended to placate progressive transport campaigners, someone to distract activists and soak up dissent. I also worry that the authorities in Greater Manchester don’t have the desire or knowledge to make good on their promises, as we’ve already seen.

But I have lots of confidence in Chris Boardman. He really does seem to get transport cycling, perhaps more than any other prominent figure in the industry. He’s seen what real cycling infrastructure looks like, and he knows how it can transform a city for the better.

(And I’m sure he has no desire to be sidelined into acting as a mere PR mouthpiece wheeled out occasionally to greenwash some half-baked road design or promote some soft-measures fluff.)

So I hope my cynicism is proven wrong. I hope that in a few years I can look back on this post and say, “hey you miserable git, you were wrong – Chris Boardman and TfGM are transforming the area into an efficient, clean, modern metropolis!”

Real change, real people

I’ve got good reason to hope that my cynicism is proven wrong – I’ve got family in Manchester, one of whom is a young boy of 2.

In 2025, he’ll be 10.

Will he have anything like the freedom that children in Dutch cities have? Will he cycle to school with his friends, without his parents worrying about him, as is the norm here in the Netherlands? Will they cycle together as a family on a weekend, as I see so many families doing here in Groningen?

Or will he be like my 8 year old niece in Leeds, who walks only from the front door to the car, to be driven everywhere thanks to a city council which has spent 50 years making sure its residents have no other decent option?

So, as you can see, I really want Chris Boardman to succeed – because that means that Greater Manchester succeeds, which means a better environment for everyone who lives there.

 

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Crap Groningen Cycling Infrastructure #2 – Noorderhaven

Here’s another piece of recently installed crap. It’s the north side of Noorderhaven, which forms part of Groningen’s bizarre inner ring road.

As you can see, there’s plenty of space here – two rows of parked cars! – but no safe space for cycling.

Instead, people cycling are expected to ride between parked and moving motor vehicles, in an advisory painted cycle lane which offers no protection whatsoever.

In a city which claims a 60% modal share for cycling, doesn’t it seem strange that the transport department prioritises the storage of static metal boxes over the safety and convenience of the people using the city’s most popular transport mode?

Noorderhaven Groningen, two lanes of car parking, no protected space for cycling

So there’s space for two lanes of parked cars, but only a narrow painted advisory strip for cycling? This is UK-quality infrastructure in what claims to be one of the world’s top cycling cities. Also, the usable width of the footway is very narrow due to the cars parked on it.

Noorderhaven Groningen, car zooms in cycle lane

Would you feel happy for your children or your grandparents to cycle here, between the parked cars and the moving traffic?

Noorderhaven Groningen, elderly man cycles in painted lane

Nobody should have to cycle this close to large vans, protected only by a white line – especially where there is ample space for a cycleway.

Could there be a good reason for such poor and dangerous infrastructure where there is clearly space for much better?

I just don’t understand why Groningen seems to be building for the 1970s rather than building for the future – or even for the present day.

 


For those of you interested in such things, this road was reconfigured in August 2015. Previously there were two lanes for motor traffic and nothing at all for cycling. The footways have been widened, but they’re full of parked cars, so there isn’t actually any more space to walk in. The council has essentially created an extra row of parking spaces – strange decision for a “fietsstad”, no?

 

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Groningen does not have a 60% modal share for cycling

I’m not sure why, but it annoys me that a 60%+ modal share for Groningen keeps being quoted. Perhaps it’s because I prefer facts to hype?

This figure seems to have been arrived at by conveniently removing walking from the statistics, which means that every other mode’s number can be increased by about 30%.

If you read that whole Twitter thread, you’ll note that the local government mouthpiece (whose mission is to praise everything that the council does around cycling, whether it be good, bad, irrelevant or an insult to our intelligence) doesn’t even know the modal share for walking – although they’re happy to make a guess at “1 or 2 percent”, which is laughably low for a city like Groningen, which has a city centre filled with residences, and lots of local shopping areas in the suburbs.

I couldn’t find any modal share stats for walking in Groningen, but a recent Dutch government report gives a 25% utility (i.e. not recreation) walking share for Utrecht, and a 30% share for Rotterdam, Den Haag and Amsterdam (PDF here, see page 20). Why would Groningen’s walking share (and it’s a very walkable city) be so much lower than other Dutch cities? At “1 or 2 percent” the walking share in Groningen would be lower than Detroit.

This trick of erasing walking is the same one that the Fietsersbond used a few years ago to inflate the cycling figures for Amsterdam.

The other, more common sleight of hand which city cheerleaders use in order to quote an impressive-sounding number is to present the commuting share as the overall share. (The modal share for cycling at rush hour is usually much higher – more on this here and here.) Interestingly enough, the same Dutch government report that I linked to above gives Groningen a 60% commuting share for cycling – which is believable, and possibly also a source of misinterpreted figures, but is not the same thing as the overall share.

Anyway, most statistics I’ve seen which do include walking as part of the transport mix put cycling in Groningen at nearer 40% (see the spreadsheet linked from here and this PDF, for example). This is still a hefty mode share, and a number which most cities around the world can currently only dream of achieving.

Measuring transport is very complicated, of course – do we measure by distance, or by time, or by trips? What if a journey involves multiple modes? How do we collect and measure this data? As you can imagine, it’s pretty involved, and it can be tricky to compare stats between cities which may be using different methods. But choosing to leave out walking – or to only give the commuting figures – doesn’t give an honest representation of the truth, and only makes the figures harder to compare between cities.

I’m not trying to do Groningen down here (I moved here, after all!) and it does indeed have a large amount of cycling. But the local authorities seem to have been resting on their laurels for many years now, with cycling numbers clearly boosted by the huge student population, and it feels like PR has been chosen over investment in infrastructure. While there is some good new infra, there are some downright dangerous designs too, and it seems strange that even a city which claims such an amazingly high cycling share often finds it difficult to prioritise this key transport mode, or even to maintain its existing infrastructure.


That last link, by the way, points to Mark Wagenbuur’s 2016 post about Groningen, which I’ve just re-read, and have realised that it’s basically a perfect summary of everything I wanted to write about Groningen (although I’m rather fond of the simultaneous green, but I agree with Mark that the signal phasing isn’t always done well here).

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Good Groningen Cycling Infrastructure #1 – Sontweg

Well it wouldn’t really be fair to tell you about the bad bits of Groningen cycling infra without mentioning some of the good bits, would it?

And there really are plenty of good bits. I love living here – in comparison to Berlin and London, Groningen is a dream to cycle in.

As a fairly new arrival here, I find that using the history feature on Google’s mapping software provides an interesting glimpse into the city’s recent past. It’s possible to see how things change over time – some for the better, and some for the worse.

Mostly, however, it’s for the better – the general trajectory in the Netherlands seems to be upwards.

And that’s certainly the case on Sontweg, a fairly large road that heads east out of the city (or west into the city), running past one of those trading parks full of big-box stores like Ikea.

Over the past decade, Sontweg has been through some major changes. Once it was a fairly minor route around the edge of a peninsula, but in the past decade two new bridges have been built*, joining Sontweg up with roads to the north and the east.

Now, we could talk about the wisdom (or lack thereof) of creating new routes for motoring, but one thing I can’t complain about is the cycling infrastructure that’s been built as part of these road upgrades.

Here’s Sontweg just three years ago, in May 2014:

Sontweg in Groningen in 2014. Only unprotected cycle lanes, despite acres of space available.

Of course, the unprotected cycle lane is blocked. (Source: Google Maps)

Pretty gruesome, eh? Despite all that space, nothing but cruddy old unprotected cycle lanes, despite this being a route for industrial traffic and also the main route into town for the fire brigade’s emergency vehicles.

Anyway, let’s look at the same scene in July 2016:

Sontweg in Groningen in 2016, featuring proper protected cycleways.

Ah, look at those beautiful ribbons of red asphalt! (Source: Google Maps)

So as you can see, there’s been quite an upgrade.

The main road widening has added a bus lane on each side, and there’s also an intermittent turning lane / crossing island in the middle.

But for me the most important addition is the cycleways, one on each side, surfaced with smooth red asphalt, and set back from the road.

Wide cycleway of red asphalt with forgiving kerbs and separation from road

This is how I roll… to Ikea, anyway.

Cycleway on Sontweg in Groningen. Made of red asphalt. Cycleway passes a bus stop, which is on a raised platform by the road.

And this is how I roll back again afterwards. It’s an exciting life.

It’s a fine piece of cycling infrastructure. Top marks to whoever was behind this scheme.

My only criticisms (I can’t even go one post, can I?) are that some of the junction mouths on the south-western side should be tightened up, and that the cycleway could be wider. It’s comfortable, but when you’re riding side-by-side with someone, and a third person wants to overtake, it can be a little tight. And there’s plenty of space for a wider cycleway too – it’s strange that it’s not wider, considering Groningen’s claimed modal share you’d expect them to be building for the future.

First world problems, eh! Anyway, I think that a cycling campaigner’s default position should be to always want more space. After years of being squeezed to the sides, cycling needs people who demand more space.

So, there we are – good progress, from bad infrastructure to excellent.

 


* One of those two new bridges is the one which helped Groningen to lose out on the Cycle City award in 2011, though of course in the UK it would be winning prizes left right and centre. See David Hembrow’s blog posts about it here and here.

For more photos of good cycling infrastructure, I can recommend the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain’s Good Cycling Facility of the Week.

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Crap Groningen Cycling Infrastructure #1 – Damsterplein

Wow, it’s been quite a while since my last post, hasn’t it? Sorry about that. I’ve missed you too.

In my defence, I’ve been busy adjusting to life in Groningen in the Netherlands – yes, I’ve moved to one of those places which people like to go on and on about because it’s great for cycling.

And Groningen really is great for cycling – mostly.

While the city and surrounding areas are generally very good or even excellent for cycling, there are many baffling gaps, neglected corners, and dangerous designs.

So after spending years praising many good bits of infrastructure in this country, I think I’ve earned the right to complain about some of the bad bits, the exceptions to the cycling wonderland that is the Netherlands.

So let’s start with Damsterplein, shall we?

Damsterplein: I think that’s Dutch for “disappointment”

I first experienced Damsterplein completely by accident, riding around the city when we first arrived, in the spirit of happy exploration. I was stunned to find such a large, busy road without any good cycling infrastructure – only intermittent, legal-to-drive-in “advisory” cycle lanes, which disappear at bus stops so that buses can pull in.

Since that first visit I’ve avoided using the road as much as possible. I cycled through there recently, to take photos for this blog post, now in the spirit of brave investigation. And yet although I’ve only ridden here maybe half a dozen times, I’ve had an unpleasant experience every single time, usually caused by having to pull out into a stream of moving motor traffic in order to overtake a bus legitimately waiting at a bus stop, or a car parked in the cycle lane.

Every. Single. Time. Now you can see why I avoid riding there.

So here’s a few pictures, some which I took myself, and some from Google Streetview to prove that I’m not cherry-picking rare situations. Avid cycling blog readers may recognise Damsterplein, as David Hembrow has mentioned it in a couple of blog posts.

Damsterdiep cycle lane parking 1

Luckily for this guy, the Streetview car was hanging back (Source: Google Maps)

Damsterdiep cycle lane parking 2

Does this look like an “8 to 80, all-abilities” cycling environment to you? (Source: Google Maps)

Damsterdiep cycle lane parking 3

It’ll be fine, he’s just nipping in to the shop for a few minutes. Don’t worry about the bus that’s about to overtake you. (Source: Google Maps)

Damsterdiep cycle lane parking 4

Motor vehicles parked three-wide, one lane of moving motor vehicles, and no actual space for cycling here on the southern side of Damsterplein.

Damsterdiep cycle lane parking 5

After I took this photo, the driver of the car behind me decided to overtake as I was passing this parked car. I will not cycle here again.

And if you thought the cycling “infrastructure” here looked crap, then the footways aren’t much better. All the cars in the photos above which appear to be parked on the footway are in fact parked legally. Here’s an unusually car-free section:

Crap footway parking on Damsterplein in Groningen

The dark line marks the official edge of the parking space, leaving just a metre or so for walking – and that’s assuming that the vehicle is parked perfectly within the space. (Source: Google Maps)

This arrangement is pretty crap for walking. It’s not much fun finding a van mounting the kerb toward you, and as a recent case in the UK tragically showed, having motor vehicles mounting the footway can have lethal consequences. Could a young child be expected to know that the black line denotes a parking space into which a motor vehicle may be driven?

This footway parking design also means that cars and vans must be driven across the cycle lane in order to access the parking spaces, which creates delay and danger for people cycling – and this also means that the cycle lane is now in the door zone.

I also worry that this kind of design for parking essentially legitimises use of the footway for other things (rather like the “shared footway” designs in the UK legitimise pavement cycling). It conditions people into parking on the footway, not just here but in general. It says “don’t worry if there’s no parking space, just stick the van on the footway, it’ll be reet for a bit.”

And all this motor-centric (and anti-cycling and anti-walking) design exists despite there being acres of space here in which to get things right. See how much room for manoeuvre the driver of this car has within the single humongous traffic lane:

Extremely wide carriageway for motor vehicles on Damsterdiep in Groningen

Narrow, medieval streets?

A sea of asphalt, about three cars wide, and yet there’s no space for proper cycling infrastructure? I’m calling bullshit on that one.

(Also, how about those tyre marks? Do they suggest safe and careful driving? What you can’t see on this cropped photo are the motor vehicle tyre marks along the cycle lane…)

Cycling backwards through time

Anyway, I was going to end my post there – these “Crap of the Week” posts are meant to be brief – but while looking at old Streetview and aerial photos, I learned a little bit of recent history about the place, and my distaste for the current layout grew deeper: it’s brand new.

Well, almost – the current layout was built between 2008 and 2010 as far as I can tell. Here’s how the street looked 10 years ago:

Satellite image of Damsterdiep in Groningen, showing cycleway along southern side and painted lane along northern side

Here’s the western end (closest to the city centre) in 2007. None of the current square exists, but there is a cycleway on one side of the road. (Source: Google Earth)

Damsterplein Groningen east 2007

And here’s the eastern end. Note that a single-lane road becomes four lanes at the junction. (Source: Google Earth)

So heading west into the city, it’s always been pretty crap – the cycleway suddenly ends at the junction with Oostersingel, and people were (and still are) expected to cycle around a jumble of parked cars and stopped buses. That hasn’t changed.

But heading east, out of the city, the cycling experience has become so much poorer. In 2007, after crossing the bridge over the canal, a protected cycleway begun almost straight away and took you safely all the way to the huge junction to the east. That’s now gone.

Overall, however, the square that is now Damsterplein looked like a pretty dismal place, essentially a large car park. So the city decided to spruce things up by creating a new public square (a fine idea!) underneath which would be a massive multi-storey subterranean car park.

(Now this car park is interesting in itself. It’s often said that for a city to be cycling-friendly, it must be hostile to driving. And yet Damsterplein isn’t the only brand-new underground car park in Groningen. The city must be spending millions of Euros on these things, which doesn’t seem like the actions of a body that wishes to discourage people from driving into the city.)

So, the whole area – the entire massive space between the buildings – was being redeveloped. Every centimetre would be dug up and replaced. This was a blank canvas, on which millions of Euros would be spent.

Groningen Damsterplein in 2008, a huge hole in the city, wasteland ready for development

Damsterplein in 2008. All of this ground was about to be torn up and replaced. (Source: Google Maps)

Surely with such a large-scale project, the citizens of Groningen could expect some top-notch cycling infrastructure for their money?

For at least two years all vehicle access had been severed – enough time for people to adjust their travel patterns and become accustomed to the idea that Damsterplein wasn’t a through-route for motors. Surely a golden opportunity to introduce a pleasant, motor-free square on the edge of the city centre.

Here’s the same view today:

Damsterplein in 2015. Four lanes of motor traffic exiting at the main east-side junction.

Damsterplein today. Seven lanes of motor traffic – beautiful. (Source: Google Maps)

Now the seven lanes of motor traffic you see here aren’t as bad as they look, as at this end of Damsterplein there are proper separated cycleways – but the size of this junction suggests that the amount of motor traffic circulating around Damsterplein itself is too large for cycling to be mixed in with it.

Instead of the peaceful motor-free or very-low-traffic square that was surely possible, Damsterplein is instead surrounded by rumbling engines on all sides.

I’m staggered that with all the changes that have gone on here (and since completion there have been retrofitted tweaks for buses and for car park traffic) the designers decided not only to rebuild the old unprotected cycle lane on the city-bound side of Damsterplein, but also to copy that dangerous design across to the outbound side too.

This is a city which claims a 60% modal share for cycling (which isn’t actually true, but we’ll come to that another time) and yet even here, cycling infrastructure is chipped away at and downgraded in favour of motor vehicles.

I could forgive crap infrastructure a little bit when it’s old and in need of replacement. After all, Rome wasn’t built in a day. But when something is just a few years old – designed and built with wilful ignorance of all that we know about good cycling infrastructure, and the dangers of mixing heavy motor traffic with cycling – it’s completely unforgivable.

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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

06-leeds-cycle-superhighway-gives-way-at-side-road-exhibit-d

07-leeds-cycle-superhighway-gives-way-at-side-road-exhibit-e

03-leeds-cycle-superhighway-gives-way-at-side-road-exhibit-a

04-leeds-cycle-superhighway-gives-way-at-side-road-exhibit-b

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

09-leeds-cycle-superhighway-york-road-petrol-station-entrance

22-leeds-cycle-superhighway-crossover

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!

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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…

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

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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.

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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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Cycleway removed, people are angry

Most people don’t like cycling amongst motor vehicles. It’s a simple concept which many somehow fail to understand.

A popular cycleway has been removed, so now people cycling are expected to use the carriageway. The people who cycle there are upset.

But the local cycle campaign think it’s great that everyone, from children to the elderly, must now cycle amongst cars, vans and buses.

Sounds familiar – could be Britain, right? Well, it’s actually happening in Hamburg.

You can watch a short video about it, from German TV, and below you’ll find a transcript which I’ve translated into English, with help from Katja Leyendecker at the tricky bits.


 

VOICE-OVER:

Cycling along the Alster [a lake] in Hamburg.

For some, a stress-free route to work. For others, simply relaxation. This, in the middle of the city.

Every day 4,300 people cycle along this stretch. But the joy of cycling here is now over for many. A long section of the old cycleway has simply been removed. Completely without reason, many feel.

 

MAN IN BLUE JACKET:

It was a wonderful cycleway along the Alster, where one could be really relaxed while cycling.

 

WOMAN WITH BEIGE HAT:

It’s a real shame, because it was separated, not squeezed together with people walking, it was really well protected and worked so well.

 

MAN WITH SILVER CYCLE HELMET:

It was an absolutely wonderful, great cycleway. And it is no more.

 

WOMAN WITH BLUE SCARF:

Cycling along here you could look out at the lake… and now we have to look at cars. What a pity.

 

VOICE-OVER:

Here, the Hamburg traffic department have planned something different. They want the road next to the existing cycleway to become a so-called “cycle-street” on which people cycling share with motor vehicles.

But it’s not entirely finished – and the cycleway has already been ripped up anyway.

 

MAN IN BLACK HOOD:

Completely stupid. It’s no fun riding on the road every day.

A view of riding along the cycle-street, between parked cars and oncoming motor traffic

A view of riding along the cycle-street, between parked cars and oncoming motor traffic.

 

MAN IN BLACK CYCLE HELMET:

It’s unacceptable, because cyclists now have to go elsewhere. And nobody wants to cycle on the road. I already saw a cyclist lying under a car.

 

WOMAN WITH FURRY HOOD:

I cycle that route a lot, and yesterday I was verbally abused, because I was cycling on the road.

 

WOMAN WITH BLACK HAT:

It’s impossible, you have to overtake parked cars, kids are expected to cycle here, on their way to/from school, people open car doors quickly, it’s impossible.

A so-called 'cycle street' full of moving buses, vans and cars.

The so-called “cycle street” which could easily be mistaken for any motor-dominated road

 

VOICE-OVER:

And so, this is how it looks further north, where it’s already a cycle-street: “20’s plenty” for everyone, people may cycle side-by-side, a peaceful mixing of car and bicycle.

Well, that’s the idea.

Some even think it’s good.

 

ERWIN SÜSELBECK, ADFC HAMBURG (local branch of national cycling organisation):

This street is optimally suitable for a cycle-street. It has little motor traffic, very little motor traffic, it has enough width. The cycleway was always too narrow, there was always conflict with people walking, and it works here, as anyone can see, cyclists are traveling amongst the drivers, it all works. On the road one can safely and comfortably travel, therefore it makes sense to put the cycle traffic there.

[Note that as he says this, behind him you can see someone choosing to ride on the footway rather than mix with motor vehicles on the “optimally suitable” road.]

The ADFC-Hamburg representative talks, while a person cycling in the background votes with their feet, choosing the footway instead of sharing the 'cycle street' with a car.

A person cycling in the background votes with their feet, choosing the footway instead of the motor-dominated cycle street, making Erwin Süselbeck look somewhat silly.

 

VOICE-OVER:

But while we were filming, several passing cyclists felt the need to stop and voice their concerns.

 

MAN IN GREY COAT:

Just this week, I’ve had three situations that were very close. You are lobbying for cycling, right? It’s a busy street, it’s no good for cycling.

 

ERWIN SÜSELBECK, ADFC HAMBURG:

That’s not correct, this road is optimally suitable for a cycle-street.

 

MAN IN GREY COAT:

When the drivers overtake at 30 miles per hour?

 

ERWIN SÜSELBECK, ADFC HAMBURG:

No, they shouldn’t drive that fast.

 

MAN IN GREY COAT:

But they do it anyway!

 

VOICE-OVER:

The city of Hamburg has spent around 20,000 Euros to rip out the old cycleway. But the cycle-street won’t be ready until at least 2017. So cyclists just have to use the road as it is.

Just what was the transport department thinking?

 

SUSANNE MEINECKE, HAMBURG TRANSPORT AUTHORITY:

We’re not forcing anybody. Cyclists are safe on the road here. And we want to offer something reasonable for cyclists, and the old cycleway wasn’t a reasonable offering.

 

VOICE OFF-CAMERA:

But you are forcing people, you’ve ripped out the cycleway already.

 

SUSANNE MEINECKE, HAMBURG TRANSPORT AUTHORITY:

Yes, but with that, we’re giving them a cycle-street.

 

VOICE OFF-CAMERA:

That nobody wants.

 

SUSANNE MEINECKE, HAMBURG TRANSPORT AUTHORITY:

[Long pause…] I honestly don’t understand your questions. There are very few people driving here, and cyclists are safe on the road. I don’t understand the problem.

 

VOICE-OVER:

Many citizens clearly see it differently.

 

MAN IN BROWN COAT:

You don’t travel here.

 

SUSANNE MEINECKE, HAMBURG TRANSPORT AUTHORITY:

How would you know?

 

MAN IN BROWN COAT:

Most people who cycle here laugh at your plans.

 

SUSANNE MEINECKE, HAMBURG TRANSPORT AUTHORITY:

That’s not true.

 

MAN IN BROWN COAT:

The people who do are in danger. Just look at the traffic. This type of vehicle [points at tourist bus] I’ve been endangered a few times myself. Look at this, they’re deadly dangerous. They travel along here one every minute, and they don’t care that it’s a cycle-street, or about the 20mph limit, or any such things. It’s deadly dangerous here.

A man talks to a Hamburg council representative, pointing to a tourist bus in the background, with which he is expected to 'share' the road.

“Look at this, they’re deadly dangerous.”

 

VOICE-OVER:

Many feel that instead of the controversial cycle-streets, they would prefer new cycleways to be built. Many roads in the city have none, and some of those that do exist are so bad that they barely deserve to be called cycleways.

 

MAN IN SILVER CYCLE HELMET:

I think it’s senseless planning. When there are so many potholes in Hamburg, frost damage, but there’s money for pointless stuff.

 

WOMAN IN BEIGE HAT:

I can’t believe that they’ve frittered away so much money – our money – on complete nonsense.

 

VOICE-OVER:

Even though the transport authorities may have meant well, for many cyclists this project has caused more problems than it has solved.

 


It makes me angry that some cycle campaigners continue to ignore the general public who repeatedly say time and time again that they don’t want to cycle amongst motor traffic.

Frau Meinecke may not understand the problem, but I can explain it to her easily: This debacle demonstrates the dangers of listening only to confident cyclists and ignoring the everyday users of cycling for transport.

 

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