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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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…
…or with sudden, sharp turns.
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
…your handbike-using grandma or trike-riding nephew is then expected to “rejoin the carriageway” here, by use of this dropped kerb…
…and arrive at this mutant ASL, which certainly won’t be full of stopped vans.
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).
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.