Tag Archives: bradford

CityConnect: You’ll get what you’re given

You can read all the posts about this particular junction, in order, here.

One thing that this debacle has highlighted is the urgent need for the Department for Transport to set national standards for cycling infrastructure. Not guidelines, or recommendations, but actual standards that must be followed.

Clearly, having local councils make it up as they go along just doesn’t work. There’s a reason why all the road markings and signs and layouts are familiar all across the country: It’s because standards have been set by central government, which must be followed by the various authorities that have responsibility for the roads.

And highways engineers love standards, it gives them something consistent to work from, some reliable measures to stick to, something to back them up if something goes wrong.

So until the DfT create good standards for cycling infrastructure, we will continue to get crap designs.

I’ve also been reminded to be wary of hyperbole. It’s usually an attempt to cover up something undesirable. Like those one-party dictatorships with the word “democratic” in their name, the “cycle superhighway” is anything but super. The results we are seeing are so far from the glossy vision that was promised just a year ago (PDF).

Another thing we’ve learned is not to trust local authorities, especially ones who hate cycling as much as Leeds and Bradford clearly do. I’ve been told by many people that Leeds City Council insisted that the “cycle superhighway” must not reduce motor capacity at all. That doesn’t sound like a council that wants to create cycling conditions for everyone.

The finished junction of Dick Lane and Grange Avenue came as a surprise to the many cycle campaigners who had spent hundreds of hours with the representatives of Leeds and Bradford councils, discussing the plans. I think they expected the junction to be fixed, as I hoped it would be.

Unfortunately, we have all been misled by people seemingly more interested in PR than creating a quality cycleway. (With the exception of commenter ‘severs1966’ who never believed a word they said in the first place.)

On Friday evening, CityConnect released a statement (PDF here) about the junction of Dick Lane and Grange Avenue. It contains many points which I would like to address, some of which have been raised already in the comments on CityConnect’s Facebook post and on Twitter – I’m very grateful to those people who are asking questions and making points. I would be far less informed without you, and I doff my cap to you here.

So let’s have a look at CityConnect’s mealy-mouthed excuses in order.

“There’s not enough space.”

Apparently there is no room for a better design “due to highway boundary constraints” which is utter bullshit. There’s tons of space here. You can bet your life that if another lane on the gyratory was felt necessary, suddenly the grass verge would not be so sacrosanct.

Or, as this cycleway is so important – remember, it’s a “superhighway” – and it needs more space, why can’t a lane be taken out of the main road, taken for use as part of this project?

The sad truth is that cycling is still a second-class citizen here. It’s clearly being squeezed in at the edges, where it won’t interfere with motor traffic. People using this “superhighway” will find themselves doing a lot of apologising as they mingle with people walking in “shared use” areas, looking over their shoulders at dangerous junctions, and waiting at toucan crossings while people in motor vehicles glide by without delay.

“We’ve copied designs from that London!”

Unfortunately for CityConnect, their attempt to find legitimacy by quoting the London Cycling Design Standards (LCDS) has rather backfired.

The design quoted is from the old 2005 edition, and the new 2014 edition actually recommends against installing this type of junction, with a photo of an almost identical junction used as an example of what not to do.

Part of the LCDS 2014, showing a photo of an almost identical junction, with an 'X' in the corner indicating it's a bad idea. The text below reads 'This track works well on links but requires cyclists to give way at each side road. Cyclists often choose to stay on carriageway rather than take fragmented routes with built-in delay.'

Excerpt from LCDS 2014 (chapter 1, page 3).

For two-way tracks crossing two-way side roads, ‘bending-out’ by 5 metres is the recommended option. Where island separation is wide, this can be achieved with little or no deviation of the cycle track. Continuing a two-way track through a priority junction without deviation is possible, but brings with it various risks, related to the visibility of cyclists to turning motorised traffic. It is not recommended unless traffic speeds and volumes are very low and other measures can be put in place to enhance visibility of cyclists – even then, it should be subject to a sitespecific risk assessment. Closing side streets to motorised traffic is likely to be the only reliable way of dealing with these risks.

Excerpt from the 2014 LCDS (chapter 5, page 25) – click to enlarge.

But even if the 2014 edition did recommend this design, it wouldn’t matter – the LCDS isn’t an infallible document, handed down by some cycling deity. This would still be a crap junction. Quoting crap guidance wouldn’t make it any good.

“Those poor drivers, having to drive a little further”

I don’t get this. People love their cars. They keep them shiny and talk about how comfy they are and how great it is that they can listen to whatever they want. But ask them to spend another minute or two in this luxury cocoon, and suddenly they’re outraged! The fear of the angry resident is strong at CityConnect, as it seems they won’t even consider proposing such an imposition here.

The statement says that making Grange Avenue one-way “would have meant residents having a long detour via Thornbury Barracks Roundabout which was not considered appropriate.”

Now you’ll have to ignore Google Maps, as the current layout on there is incorrect, I believe, because Thornbury Barracks Roundabout has recently received a £3.4m make-over (yes, the entire 23km “superhighway” costs only 5x the price of making it easier for people to drive past just one roundabout).

Making Grange Avenue one-way would mean those residents who drive into the centre of Bradford would have an entire two-minutes added to their journey home! This is unacceptable, and installing a deadly junction design is the only solution. Anyone who dies will be either on foot or on a bike, and therefore don’t count as important human beings like people in cars do.

“It’s been audited for safety”

Let’s see it then. Where is this safety audit? Who wrote it? Do they have experience with cycling infrastructure? Did they take account of the many collisions at similar junctions?

(Thanks to RDRF in the comments for reminding me of this post by the Ranty Highwayman explaining what a road safety audit is, and what it isn’t. Essentially, it’s not a matter of passing or failing a road safety audit, and as CityConnect are making it difficult for us to see this audit, their claims of having one are even more meaningless.)

“The design didn’t change”

This one is such utter nonsense, it’s actually a blatant lie.

The exact quote (emphasis mine):

“The construction of this junction has not differed from the original design consulted on in terms of priorities for cyclists. However, we recognise that there is not an obvious highlight on the drawings to show that cyclists do not get priority. Whilst it is appreciated that there were ambiguities on the plans as to the priorities that would be in place for the speed tables located at a junction, there has been no intention to misinform the public or groups that have been part of the consultation process.”

The completed junction clearly differs from the original plans, which not only show the double-dashed ‘give way’ line before the speed table, but also included the green icon to indicate a cycleway priority junction:

The original plans for the junction of Dick Lane and Grange Avenue, which clearly show the cycleway having priority over the side-road

The original plans for the junction show a priority cycleway.

I’ve criticised these plans many times for being vague, but one of the few things that is clear is that the cycleway was to have priority over the side road.

To say that “there is not an obvious highlight to show that cyclists do not get priority” is a lie, as the plans in fact show the exact opposite.

To claim that there are “ambiguities” here – one of the few things the plans were actually clear about – is a lie.

“It was only this one! Oh, and another one.”

Finally, I don’t believe that this would have been only one of two junctions with this crap design, had we not kicked up a stink about it.

There should be no junctions of a known-to-be-dangerous design on a brand-new “cycle superhighway”. Would you feel comfortable flying with an airline which promised that “only 1% of our planes has a potentially fatal defect”?

Note that in CityConnect’s table of junction types on page four of their statement, one section has “cyclists on the carriageway” which doesn’t sound particularly super to me, and another has “design not confirmed” which doesn’t fill me with confidence considering how long this project has been underway (over two years now!).

In conclusion: get stuffed

To summarise: One of the first junctions to be finished on a major project varies massively from the agreed design. Campaigners identified a serious deficiency in it, and have effectively been told to get stuffed, like it or lump it.

That’s not a great start.

 

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That Bradford junction: some suggestions

You can read all the posts about this particular junction, in order, here.

You know, writing about the Leeds-Bradford “Cycle Superhighway” can be really difficult, because the information provided by the people running the scheme is so often poor and inconsistent.

Last year I wrote about being confused by the plans, which were full of mistakes and essentially unreadable. It was impossible to know what was intended due to the lack of detail provided and mistakes in the plans.

And that hasn’t changed, the plans provided are still too vague. So if I’m going to make my points about the now-infamous junction, dear reader, I must first explain some errors in the plans. Here goes…

Some hypothetical junctions, and some green blobs

The information provided by the PR people defines four types of junction, as you can see in the image below. Each type has an icon.

Four types of junction used on the CityConnect project - all of them have priority over side roads.

Note that none of these resemble the finished product. (Original PDF here.)

Even though these icons are meant to simplify things, they’re used so inconsistently that they might as well have not bothered.

Below are the four icons as shown on the plans in question. Note the cycle lane and cycle track icons have been switched, and that there’s a different icon for raised table:

Four icons used to denote four junction types, only one of which matches the previous image.

Only one of these actually matches the image above. Does anyone have any aspirin? (Original PDF here.)


Okay, fine, there are confusing green blobs. Get on with it!

Anyway this is a long and boring way of saying that according to the design, the junction of Dick Lane and Grange Avenue should look like this:

A computer-generated image of a two-way cycleway, which bends away from the junction mouth of the side road it crosses. The design is okay, but not perfect.

And not like this:

New junction design at Dick Lane and Grange Avenue in Thornbury, Bradford, taken in May 2015. Turning motor vehicles have priority over people walking and cycling.

Though I think we now know where the silly wiggle came from. It seems it’s an amateurish and foolish attempt to shrink down the example junction into the space available.

The example junction in the diagram isn’t actually too bad. There’s a few mistakes (the narrow cycleway, the cycleway curve and ramp are too sharp, the visual priority is poor, there’s no need for the tactiles, there’s no continuous footway) but it’s generally the right idea. There’s actually a British example of this with good visual priority (though no footway) and a not-quite-as-good example here. You can watch a Dutch version in action here.

It’s a good design, because it allows turning cars to deal with crossing the cycleway separately, in two distinct steps. It also gives people on bikes time to react to a turning vehicle if necessary, as they’re not riding right alongside the turning car. It also means that cars being driven out of the side road don’t block the cycleway while they wait for a gap in traffic on the main road.

Lost in space

But there’s clearly no space for that here! Well, there is space – tons of it, as you can see from above:

Satellite image of the junction of Grange Avenue and Dick Lane in Bradford. There's a wide grass verge and large grassed park over the road.

Narrow medieval streets, anyone? (Photo: Google Maps)

A lane could be removed from the gyratory (shock!) or the main road could be moved west to create space for a wider cycleway and proper junction treatment.

But I can hear the excuses already: there’s not enough money in the budget to do that, it would mean moving utilities, we’d have to cut down a tree, it will reduce the almighty motor capacity, and so on.

But if that’s the case, then why did CityConnect specify that type of junction here, where it clearly doesn’t fit within the space given? I suspect that’s the only bi-directional junction they had in their toolbox, so it was simply slapped on here without much thought.

So, let’s see what we can do within the current space.

No more complaining, here’s some suggestions…

Bear in mind, this option is compromised: the cycleway is already far too narrow, and two-way cycleways need to be designed with care to mitigate the additional risks they present at junctions.

A better option would be to make this cycleway one-way, and have the northbound cycleway on the west side of Dick Lane (as suggested by Jitensha Oni on Twitter). There’s certainly enough room between the carriageway and the park wall. I think that would be a better option, as it reduces the number of interactions on the east side.

But whether this happened or not, there are two things that could be done to improve matters:

• Make Grange Avenue (the side road) one-way, therefore becoming ‘no entry’ at this junction, or even removing the junction altogether.
• Give the cycleway and footway visual priority across this junction by using contrasting materials.

I can’t see a reason why Grange Avenue is a two-way through route, as it just connects back to the main road around the corner anyway. I’d suggest simply blocking it off altogether at this junction. Or, if it must remain open for some reason, it could be arranged like this (my suggestion in red):

Amended map of Grange Avenue in Bradford, showing potential one-way restriction

Original map: Google Maps.

If Grange Avenue was made a one-way street then people on foot and bike only have to worry about motor vehicles approaching from one direction. (At the moment, a 270° view is required when cycling southbound!)

More detail, please!

Okay, let’s do our best under the circumstances. It might look like this:

A possible redesign of the junction, which gives clear visual priority to people on foot and bike.

I’ll shout this: THIS IS NOT MY IDEAL DESIGN! THIS IS STILL FLAWED! Please read below…

The footway and cycleway should be surfaced in materials which contrast with the carriageway, to give clear visual priority to the footway and cycleway.

The footway will ideally be a light colour, using light paving slabs (reinforced to handle the weight of motor vehicles, of course) and the cycleway should be surfaced in red asphalt (specifically, machine-laid red 55/10 HRA).

Ideally the entire cycleway should be in red asphalt, but unfortunately black has already been used. So as we’re dealing with a remedial fix here, the surfacing must extend along the footway and carriageway beyond the junction in both directions for several metres in order to provide the visual priority required.

The footway and cycleway need to be at footway height across the junction – i.e. with an ‘upstand’ of around 12.5cm.

To achieve this, as the cycleway approaches the junction, it will need to very gently rise up, over several metres so it’s barely perceptible, until it becomes level with the footway for a few metres before and after the junction.

At the junction, therefore, motor vehicles will need to climb a ramp to mount the crossover area, then descend a ramp into the main carriageway on the other side.

A cycle symbol and an arrow should be painted on the cycleway where it crosses the junction. (Assuming the cycleway is still bi-directional, there will need to be one in each direction.)

Finally, a “STOP” line and sign could be placed before the ramp at the end of Grange Avenue, to reinforce the footway and cycleway priority.

The finished thing might look vaguely like this (use a little imagination):

Junction in the Netherlands with continuous footway and cycleway across junction mouth, giving clear priority to people walking and people riding bikes

I’ve flipped this so it makes more sense to UK eyes. (Photo: Google Maps)

The design is still not ideal, though the main problem now is that the cycleway is far too narrow to be bi-directional – making it one way, would be preferable. But either way we’ve solved the left-hook problem and made priority very clear.

Unfortunately, unless a lane is removed or the road is shifted, there isn’t enough space for a car exiting Grange Avenue to wait beyond the cycleway and footway, which will mean that it would occasionally be blocked by a car waiting for a break in traffic on Dick Lane.

Note that this actually looks a lot like CityConnect’s other design for where a cycleway crosses a junction, albeit much improved.

Now about my fee…

99 bottles of beer on the wall…

The frustrating thing is, this is just one junction out of hundreds, maybe even thousands, on the CityConnect project. How many more have been dangerously designed, or changed without notice?

I’ve been informed about several dodgy bits by concerned people in Leeds, and I’ve spotted many more on the plans that are either vague (just like this one was, pre-installation) or look like they’ll be very fiddly by bike (think multiple toucans and 90º turns).

It’s exhausting looking through all the information around just this one junction, so I do appreciate the scale of the work involved, and the time and effort that local cycle campaigners must have put in when reviewing the plans.

But, in some locations at least, the finished infrastructure is still far from good enough. Perhaps it’s due to the way the project was funded – a limited amount of money that has to be spent on a big scheme within a short time period. So the money was spread too thinly, and the plans were rushed. I don’t think we build motorways like that.

Or maybe it’s due to the lack of interest the local councils seem to have in the scheme now that the £18m cheque has cleared and the Tour de France has left town.

I’ve been told by several sources that people high up in Leeds City Council insisted that the “Cycle Superhighway” must not – under any circumstances – reduce motor vehicle capacity. That, apparently, is a red line that was not to be crossed.

What sort of attitude is that? It may be 2015 where you are, but it’s still 1970 in certain rooms inside Leeds Town Hall.

Under constraints like that, I can see why at least some of the route is turning out to be disappointing, and I do have some sympathy for the people behind the scheme as they try to achieve big plans with so little time, money and support from above.

Not all of it is bad, some sections do look pretty promising, and I’d genuinely love to see photos and videos of the good bits too. But the problems do need fixing – the junction featured here is a real howler. If there hadn’t been an outcry about this one junction, who knows how many times this awful design might have been repeated throughout the route?

As public money is being spent on this project, it’s only fair to scrutinise it in public too. If the conclusion is that central government’s bizarre funding restrictions doomed the project from the start, or that the council is choking bits of it to death, then this should be acknowledged rather than letting the PR department pretend everything is fine. This isn’t a witch-hunt, I just think the public deserves to know what went wrong, and why.


Still to come, one day: the canal towpath of doom, and a huge junction full of toucan crossings.

 

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Leeds-Bradford CityConnect: an update

You can read all the posts about this particular junction, in order, here.

Well yesterday’s blog post, and especially photos courtesy of local resident Lee, have caused quite a stir.

In case you’re new to the topic, here’s a good summary here on road.cc, but the short version is this: part of a brand-new cycleway is dangerous crap, a photo was taken which spread like wildfire, and as a result someone at CityConnect has presumably had a bad day at work.

The project’s mouthpiece has now issued a statement on their Facebook page, which I shall reproduce here in case it is taken down:

“Thanks for all the comments on the junction off Dick Lane, we appreciate the time taken to let us know your views and have got the following response;

The design for this junction has not differed from the design consulted on although we acknowledge that the design drawings for this junction may have been misinterpreted. Safety concerns from the safety Audit Team were one of the factors for the design of this junction.

This junction has been subject to the same sign off process by Advisory Group and Programme Board that all other designs have. Advisory Group includes representatives from Sustrans, CTC and Leeds Cycle Campaign as well as other interested parties. The design for this junction has also been subject to the same public consultation process on and off line.

However, in light of the considerable interest on social media and sections of the press, the design team have been asked to produce a position statement to be reviewed by the Advisory Group to ensure that the final design is the best possible outcome in this location.

If we have been quiet today it is because we have been looking at the issues raised and progressing a solution. The safety of cyclists and the provision of an ambitious piece of infrastructure remains our key priority.

We’ll keep you updated. Thanks”

Unfortunately, the two main claims are untrue.

“The finished junction matches the plans”

I’m not sure whether they’re suggesting that the cycle campaigners misinterpreted the plans, or that the installation team did. Unfortunately, as we’ve never been provided with detailed drawings, I have no idea what plans the installation team received.

If they’re suggesting that the consultees misread the plans, then it takes about 30 seconds to reveal this claim to be nonsense – it’s on their own website. Section A, sheet 4 (PDF).

Here’s the junction in question, as shown on the consultation plans. I’ve removed the parking restriction markings as they’re irrelevant here and just confusing:

Original plans for the junction in question, where the cycleway has priority over the side road

Modern art or engineering plans – or maybe neither?

One problem with the plans provided is that they’re not detailed enough. They’ve been over-simplified, in an apparent attempt to make them appealing to the public. The lack of detail was something I complained about before, but while I asked more than once for detailed plans, I got nowhere.

I assume that proper detailed plans must exist somewhere, as the installation crew surely can’t have worked from this vague doodle.

The plans are frustratingly unclear. For example, if the two parallel lines to the left of the junction mouth represent the incline of the raised table, what happens to the left-hand half of the cycleway? Also, where’s the segregating island to the north of the junction?

So the public plans are a vague mess, but one thing is clear: there is a give-way marking on Grange Avenue before the raised table, and there are no give-way markings on the cycleway. This doesn’t match the now-famous photograph of the finished junction.

This means that the plans were changed – but who made the changes, and why? CityConnect needs to provide the answers.

Also, is it only this junction that has received such a change, or have any others been altered too?

“The design was approved by CTC, Leeds Cycle Campaign and Sustrans”

Now, I’m not known for being kind to CTC – quite the opposite – but I strongly doubt that, in 2014, they would have approved this design. (If nothing else, to have given the thumbs up to such a junction would do more damage to their reputation than Turbogate and the Niceway Code put together.)

My contacts within Leeds Cycle Campaign tell me that they too insisted the cycleway must have priority at side roads, and I see no reason to doubt them. They have nothing to gain and everything to lose by accepting such unnecessary compromises.

Sustrans… Well actually, I can believe that Sustrans would approve such a thing, or even design such a junction, given their rather patchy reputation, but again my contacts, who were intimately involved in the consultation process, tell me that in this case the local Sustrans bods did reject designs which gave motor vehicles priority at junctions.

Anyway, the claim that cycling lobby groups approved the finished design (and not the design shown above) sounds to me like rubbish.

So what next?

What next indeed! Well I’m working on a blog post covering what should have happened at this junction, and what could be done to mitigate the current design. Whether any action will be taken is another matter.

Other parts of this project have also come under scrutiny, including the canal tow-path, which I shall be blogging about too (read the comments under the previous article for an overview).

And I also have another question for the CityConnect team: when does your funding run out? For at the moment, it’s very useful to have one point of contact to which we can address these concerns. I’m not always impressed with the answers I get, if any, but at least there’s something.

At some point this year this project will be considered closed. Will the website lapse into decay? Will the Twitter account go silent? Will the Facebook page be removed? Because if that happens, we’ll merely have two silent councils and the only answers will come from painfully slow and obstinate responses to Freedom of Information requests.

 

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Bradford’s new Cycle Super Deathway

You can read all the posts about this particular junction, in order, here.

In July 2014, Henry Lang was killed when riding along a cycleway on Twickenham Road in Richmond, London.

The junction is dangerously designed – turning motor traffic has priority over the cycleway at side roads. The junction is unclear, people on foot and on bike are expected to look left as well as backwards to the right, simultaneously, and so the design is dangerous.

The junction of Twickenham Road and Kew Foot Road, where the separate cycleway, and footway, cedes priority to a minor side road

This design is inconvenient and dangerous. (Photo: Google Maps)

This is exactly the type of design which all cycling campaigners hate, from the hardened road warriors who love mixing with motor vehicles, to those who dream of the stress-free cycling infrastructure in the Netherlands.

Nobody wants cycleways like this. They don’t suit the fit and confident, and they fail the rest of us. They’re crap, and they’re dangerous.

So why is Bradford building brand new inconvenient death-traps like this – with the added complications that come with bi-directional cycleways?

The photos below show freshly finished work, part of the Leeds-Bradford “CityConnect” “Cycle Superhighway” project, at the junction of Dick Lane and Grange Avenue.

New junction design at Dick Lane and Grange Avenue in Thornbury, Bradford, taken in May 2015.  Turning motor vehicles have priority over people walking and cycling.

This design is proven to be dangerous. This is not acceptable. (Photo courtesy Lee @d0tdash)

New junction design at Dick Lane and Grange Avenue, taken in May 2015. The new two-way cycleway has to give way to side road traffic, as do people on foot.

Does this look super to you? Or even like a highway? (Photo courtesy Lee @d0tdash)

Shockingly bad design.

It doesn’t even match the published plans, which show the cycleway and footway having priority over the side road. Why were the plans changed, who changed them, and when? These are reasonable questions, can the CityConnect team answer them?

Why does Grange Avenue even need to be a two-way through-route, considering it merely connects back to Leeds Road around the corner?

If the person responsible for this is reading, then please quit your job before you kill someone. Let someone else do it, as you’re clearly incompetent.

Or if your bosses forced you to create this monstrosity, then please contact me anonymously so I can name and shame them before somebody dies. Let us know where the blame lies. This is a waste of public money and a hazard.

The time for this kind of crap is over. It’s 2015, we know that designs like this are dangerous, and we know what works.

I’m pleased to see that Cyclenation and CTC have both criticised it, and it clearly falls well below the CEoGB’s expectations. Leeds Cycling Campaign and Sustrans Yorkshire are also not happy, especially as they were consulted on the design, which has since been silently changed. This junction is exactly the type of thing all campaigners should be opposing.

There is lots of space here to get this right, tons of space (have a look across the road). The two-way cycleway is too narrow, the curve at the junction is too sharp, and there should be clear visual priority for the cycleway and footway.

This is all possible, there’s no physical reason why good design doesn’t happen in Britain. Is it a lack of knowledge? Is it managerial incompetence? Whatever the reason, it needs fixing.

And I’m sure excuses will be made about timescales and budgets, but these are all part of the problem that needs addressing, they’re not a reason to install dangerous designs like this.

This project should be put on hold now, and a thorough appraisal made before it is open for use by the public.

This junction is just one of many problems that I’ve been made aware of in this project. I’m planning a blog post covering some of the others, but there’s only so many hours in the day and this whole scheme seems full of dangerous flaws.

If you know of other poor-quality or dangerous parts of this scheme – or if you know of any particularly good bits that should be commended – then please get in touch.


PS. Of course, there’s the obligatory promotional video, which bears little resemblance to the actual engineering.

 

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

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

So I’ll start by saying this: As it stands right now, I would rather go full-Franklin and campaign against this scheme than risk any of this crap being installed. It really is so awful that I would rather see the whole project cancelled than have the current scheme approved.

Regular readers will know that I’m all for good-quality cycling infrastructure, and I’ve campaigned hard to get it. But there’s now a bigger danger to cycling in Britain than those old-school “cyclists’ proper place is on the road” types, and that is poor-quality infrastructure.

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

A year of no progress whatsoever

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plans of confusion

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

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

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

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

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

Do those behind this scheme even understand the difference?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s also inconsistencies such as this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So bikes go on the what, now?

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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After 40 years, can Leeds finally stop being the “Motorway City of the Seventies”?

Talking to people in Leeds about utility cycling is a bit like trying to explain air conditioning to Eskimos.

I don’t mean to insult the citizens of Leeds here – I was one myself for 30 car-filled years. I love my friends and family, but they have lived their whole lives in a city which has one of the lowest cycling rates in a country with one of the lowest cycling rates in Europe, so you can hardly blame them for driving everywhere and thinking that’s normal and healthy. I understand that from this position the concept of utility cycling can seem baffling and outlandish.

Nor do I criticise anybody in Leeds who uses a car every single time they leave the house. There are few genuine alternatives for most people.

The bus system in Leeds is dominated by one bus company, almost to the point of monopoly, and there is no integrated ticketing system or smart-cards in use. So if you buy a day ticket on a FirstBus bus, you can’t use it on another operator’s bus. You can buy a “Metro Day” which is a ticket issued by the local transport authority, but that costs more and isn’t widely advertised.

As there’s no Oyster equivalent either, each new passenger has to have a conversation with the driver about where they’re going, hand over cash and wait for change. Multiply this by several passengers, or even twenty or thirty people at a busy stop, and you’ll see why a bus journey in Leeds takes much longer than it should.

There’s no metro system, just regular National Rail trains. These are only of use to those who live near a station, and who aren’t in a rush. They’re not the most frequent services either, to say the least, and some of them have certainly seen better days.

The cycling modal share in Leeds is pathetic. Even the commuting share, which tends to be about twice as high as the overall modal share, is around 1%. In the student areas it rises to the giddy heights of 2%.

But this is no surprise, as Leeds City Council has for decades promoted private car use above all else. Not long before I was born, Leeds proudly proclaimed itself to be “Motorway City of the Seventies“. That was actually used as a slogan for the city! You can imagine the sort of schemes they cooked up.

The planning decisions which were made back then have resulted in a dreadful transport environment. Even driving in Leeds is no fun, as the congestion is so bad. (It’s not London, but it’s bad enough.)

Morning Has Broken

However, there is a small ray of light shining through the diesel smog. Like many local authorities across the UK, Leeds, along with conjoined sibling Bradford, is at long last rousing from its 40-year transport slumber, awakened by the delicious aroma of central government money.

The two neighbouring councils have joined forces to come up with a grand plan to create a “cycle super highway” from the centre of Bradford all the way through Leeds to the other side. (If it sounds familiar, that’s because those in charge of Leeds have delusions of grandeur and will copy everything London and Manchester does.)

Someone at the council clearly has a sense of humour, as they’ve called their bid Highway to Health. In it, they’ve used the word “segregated” which is interesting as this wasn’t even on the menu a couple of years ago, but it’s seemingly a word which no cycle plan can be without today.

It promises “segregated, safe cycle lanes, secure cycle parking and activities to encourage cycling and walking” which sounds pretty good. And looking at the plans, they’re considering something which would give those 1970s planners heart attacks: “reduce existing carrigeway to provide cycle track”.

This is actually really encouraging. There’s plenty of space in Leeds for really great cycle infrastructure (not that lack of space is ever a good reason to ignore cycling). They’ve defined two types of cycle track, one Dutch-style and one Danish-style, and they’ve got the general idea right.

Leeds' two cycle track designs. One Dutch-style with a separating kerb, and one Danish-style with only vertical separation.

Pretty good, but not wide enough. Ideally the elevation of the cycle track would always be halfway between the footpath and the road, as it is in the Type 2 diagram.

They’ve also defined what their bus stop bypasses will look like, and they look pretty good to me.

Leeds council's bus stop cycle bypass design.

Looks okay to me. They’ve got the general idea.

Part of the route has access roads alongside the main road, and these will be utilised for cycling as part of the plans. This is a great way to get a long stretch of decent cycle route, almost for free, as long as they can discourage as much motor traffic as possible by using alternating one-way restrictions and other methods.

A False Dawn?

Unfortunately, while the general concept is a good one, they seem to have been designed by someone who drives everywhere, although they have watched that video of London’s planned cycle path along the Victoria Embankment. I doubt that those behind the plans have been to the Netherlands to see why cycling works so well over there.

(I acknowledge that these plans are a first draft, merely an attempt to get the funding, and I sincerely hope that the scheme designers take this constructive criticism on board should this project go ahead.)

For a start – and it’s a biggie – their minimum width for a one-way track is only 1.5m, and 2.5m for a two-way track! This is far too narrow, and makes me worry that the whole scheme is about to unravel. The standard minimum for one-way cycle track should be 2m (ideally 2.5m), and 4m for a two-way track. If the current widths are kept, Leeds’ cycle tracks run the very real risk of being seen as toytown infrastructure, dangerously narrow, and a waste of money.

It also looks like they’re planning for full-height vertical kerbs, which reduce the usable width of the cycle track by quite a margin. It sounds like a silly little detail, but it’s really not. Kerbs need to be suitable for safe cycling, and the standard UK road kerb isn’t good enough.

Toucan play at this game

Also worrying is the number of toucan crossings (combined cycling-and-walking crossings). They’re nearly always fiddly for bike users and confusing or unnerving for those walking. If we must sometimes put the two modes together, parallel cycling/walking crossings are legal, so why can’t we use those?

I’m not sure about their concept for when a cycle track meets a pedestrian crossing either. What happens if people are waiting at the crossing? Do bike users have to wait until the crossing is clear, or are they expected to swerve onto the footpath? Are people on foot expected to press the button then take a few steps back?

The Netherlands has solved these problems, we need to copy their designs rather than waste time and money with rubbish like this:

Leeds City Council's plans for when a cycle track passes a pedestrian crossing. A recipe for confusion.

A recipe for confusion, not fair on people riding bikes or walking.

Here’s one in action, near Leeds train station:

A photo of a cycle track which runs beside a pedestrian crossing. The cycle track gives way then disappears, only to re-appear after the pedestrian waiting area

Something is wrong here.

Well I say “in action” but this design only really works because so few people cycle in Leeds that the chances of a pedestrian meeting a person on a bike here are infinitesimally slim.

(Incidentally, the cycle tracks near the station are of a pretty high quality for the UK. It’s just a shame that they’re so very short and of limited use. Added July 2014: I say they’re good “for the UK” which is faint praise – they still have some severe flaws, as described in this Reddit conversation.)

Dutch-style junctions? We’ve heard of ’em

They seem to be having terrible trouble getting junctions right. Whoever drew these plans really needs to visit the Netherlands, as all the situations have been solved already. The current plans involve a mixture of ASLs, painted cycle lanes and toucan crossings, which simply isn’t good enough.

Again, the Dutch have existing, working solutions for all of these junctions. Why not copy them?

Detail from Leeds council's plans for the roundabout at Barwick Road and the Ring Road, where bike users are expected to use a two-stage pedestrian crossing with a pig-pen island.

I’ll be honest: this doesn’t scream “convenient” to me. (See it on Google Maps)

Do you think there might be a better solution here? Even though Dutch-style roundabouts are still undergoing trials, why not provide a single-stage straight-through crossing?

Note to traffic engineers: IT IS VERY DIFFICULT TO DO A 90º-TURN ON A BIKE.

Here’s another junction:

One of Leeds City Council's junction designs, a confusing mess of paint and toucan crossings.

“We didn’t know what to do here. Will this do?” (See it on Google Maps)

I like the phrase “on and off road facilities to be provided” which is traffic planner code for “this looks hard, and we didn’t know what to do, so we’ll put ‘confident cyclists’ on the road, and everyone else will just go on the path.”

I know this junction well, and I can tell you that the proposed design is a mess. They really need to go back to the drawing board on this one. It’s really not that complicated (it was a roundabout until about ten years ago) but they’ll need to put in some cycle-specific signals to fix it. Dare they make the cars wait?

And a final junction:

A junction on York Road in Leeds, where the cycle paths turn into on-road cycle lanes

Nice cycle paths, shame about the junction. Also note lack of any facility for turning right, other than cycling across multiple lanes of motor traffic. (See it on Google Maps)

This junction really isn’t that complicated, there’s no excuse for giving up on the cycle paths and putting in painted lanes instead. They may as well do nothing and cross their fingers. Junctions are where good cycle path design is needed most!

Oh Bradford, where art thou?

I must reserve my ire for Bradford though, as they’re letting the whole thing down. Their side of the scheme looks largely to be business as usual, with long stretches of “on-carriageway cycling”. If you’re lucky, there will be a painted cycle lane.

The section below is on Leeds Old Road, which is a wide road with a painted central strip. There is plenty of space for a proper cycle track. Bradford aren’t even trying.

Thanks for nothing, Bradford. (See it on Google Streetview)

They’re even suggesting “cycle on carriageway” at the enormous multi-lane Thornbury Gyratory, which is ridiculous and shows that they really don’t care about cycling.

The enormous Thornbury Gyratory in Bradford, where the council thinks there's no room for cycle paths.

This junction is HUGE, and all they’re suggesting is cycle lanes? Look at it on Google Maps. LOOK AT IT NOW.

Maybe Bradford is secretly hoping to become the new Motorway City of the Seventies.

In conclusion: possibly

Overall though, the scheme is a huge leap forward, and a world away from the usual cycle provision of bus lanes, blue signs and apathy (well, the Leeds side is, anyway – Bradford really needs to get with the programme). It’s physically a huge scheme too, crossing right from one end of the city to the other.

This is no complete solution, however. It’s still nowhere near the dense network of cycle paths and nearly-traffic-free streets which are required for mass cycling, and there are many details which need to be fixed.

But there are very many good points also, and the general concept is the right one – provide safe, protected space for cycling, away from motor vehicles.

With some alterations (fix the junctions, widen the tracks) then maybe – just maybe – Leeds can finally begin to leave the 1970s behind and one day become a 21st century European city.

 


 

Manchester is also up to something which is good but could be better. Two schemes, in fact – this one in the city centre and this one on Oxford Road. You can take a look and tell the council how to do it right – even if you don’t live there you can respond.

 

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