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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

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

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

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

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

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

Give way anyway

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

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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.

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

Junctions with cycleway priority

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

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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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Cycling in the Netherlands picture post #5: Older people

People who ride bikes in the UK are mostly fit, confident young and middle-aged men. Sure there are outliers of course (such as retired tricyclist blogger Zandranna) but these are exceptions to the rule and do not make up numbers of significance. Cycling in the UK does not offer equal opportunities for all.

These picture posts aim to show how good quality infrastructure means that people of all ages and abilities choose to use a bike for transport and leisure, unlike the UK style of riding on the road with cars and vans, which will mainly appeal to those fit, confident men aged 20-50.

So here I present photos of older people riding bikes. These are scenes which are rare in the UK but are commonplace and unexceptional in the Netherlands. As with my previous picture post, my brief trips to the Netherlands yielded so many photos that I had a hard time selecting which ones to use. I dare say you could hang around for a month in most British towns and never find any scenes like these.

The first photo shows a group of people out for a ride together. Note the friend in a mobility scooter further ahead. In the Netherlands, cycle infrastructure is designed to also be suitable for people with disabilities, which means that everyone has very high levels of independence and freedom.

Let’s see your Bikeability achieve that, Franklin fans!

A grey-haired woman rides a bike alongside a canal and a windmill in the Netherlands

An older woman rides a bike on the safe cycle infrastructure in the Netherlands

An older woman rides her bike along a cycle path, past houses with driveways

A grey-haired woman casually rides her bike one-handed along a Dutch cycle path

A late-middle-aged man calmly rides his bike past a cafe in the Netherlands

An older couple ride their bikes along a bicycle road in the Netherlands

An older man rides his bike past hundreds of parked bikes in a city centre in the Netherlands

And finally, an old favourite! I like this one a lot because it really does demonstrate how the Dutch infrastructure allows people of all ages and abilities to get around safely and easily. Can you imagine this man having the freedom to ride a bike around your town or village, or in the British countryside?

An elderly man rides his bike on a safe, wide, rural cycle path in the Netherlands

You can find all the picture posts here.

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Cycling in the Netherlands picture post #4: Children

I thought this would be one of the easiest picture posts to choose the photos for, but it turned out that I had so many photos of children riding bikes that it was hard to choose which ones to show.

It’s often said that children are the pit-canaries of our society, and if this is the case then the UK has got a problem. Our pit canary lost its feathers years ago and is now gasping for air.

One of my aims with these Netherlands photo posts is to challenge those who insist that we can achieve mass cycling without infrastructure, by showing scenes that simply wouldn’t exist if the cycle paths weren’t there. I really can’t imagine any of these scenes happening on the UK’s roads!

Two young girls ride bikes home from school in the Netherlands, safely on the cycle path, away from motor vehicles.

A boy rides down a hill on a wide cycle path in the Netherlands, safely protected from the busy road.

Groups of schoolchildren ride their bikes on a safe, wide cyclepath in the Netherlands.

Three boys ride on a Dutch cyclepath, protected from the traffic on the road.

Two teenagers ride their bikes on a cyclepath in the Netherlands, protected from the main road.

A boy rides his bike across a junction in Holland.

Three Dutch kids ride their bikes past one of the many bike parking areas in Utrecht.

Three teenagers ride bikes on a rural cycle path in the Netherlands – up-hill!

Three Dutch girls ride home on a 'bicycle road' alongside the canal in the Netherlands.

Two boys riding home from school, practising riding no-handed! They are safely on a cycle track away from the motor traffic.

Two girls ride on a cycle path in Holland, beside a busy road with a tractor on it.

And of course there’s this old favourite too.

 


As this post is meant to be uplifting I recommend you ignore the following link, but if you really want to see the UK government’s equivalent vision of children cycling then click here. Just make sure you have a nearby wall handy to bang your head against.

 

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Cycling in the Netherlands picture post #3: Animals

Or ‘dogs’ to be more precise. (Although I did see people with cats in cat baskets being taken to the vet, I got no photos of them.)

In the Netherlands, it’s quite common for people to take their dogs with them when riding their bike. Either in a basket, a trailer, or scampering along beside, I’ve never seen such happy dogs as I saw in the Netherlands.

Three people on bikes waiting at a crossing. One is carrying an umbrella, the second person is carrying a crate of beer, the third person has his son on a child seat, and his dog on a lead.

Note that Super-Dad here also has his son in the child seat!

A man on a bike in the Netherlands, waiting at a cycle traffic-light. His son is on a child seat, and his dog is walking alongside them.

A man rides his bike on a protected cycle path in the Netherlands. His dog is sitting in the rear basket.

A young couple riding a tandem on a Dutch cycle path. A large dog is sat in a trailer attached to the back of the bike.

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Even the family dog can take part in the school run!

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You can find all the picture posts here.

 

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Cycling in the Netherlands picture post #2: Shopping

Time for another picture post! This one shows people going shopping. A rather dull, every day activity really, but one which most people would never dream of using a bike for in the UK. In addition to the general fear of cycling on the roads, sensible bikes with storage aren’t the norm here, there is often no cycle parking, and shopping centres are usually designed with only cars in mind.

Most Dutch people would think this a very boring blog post, as in the Netherlands it’s a common sight to see old women filling panniers with their shopping and riding off, for example. But that’s something you’d never see in the UK, and it shows that shopping by bike is perfectly feasible for people of all ages when you have the right infrastructure.

It’s interesting to see that at supermarkets in the Netherlands the cycle parking area is right beside the entrance, as opposed to the standard UK provision of a few wheel-bender bike racks shamefully hidden round the corner by the bins.

A bike parking lot outside a supermarket in the Netherlands. Hundreds of bikes can be seen with customers amongst them.

Many bikes parked outside a supermarket in Groningen, Netherlands. A young woman rides past on a bike.

A middle-aged woman rides a bike on a cycle-path in the Netherlands. She has a shopping bag on her handlebars and flowers in the panniers on the rear of the bike.

Bikes and shoppers outside a supermarket in the Netherlands

Bikes parked outside a supermarket in Woerden, Netherlands. Shoppers are loading items into their bikes' panniers. The bike parking is nearer to the shop entrance than the car parking!

A person cycles home from the shops in Amersfoort, Netherlands. Both panniers are full and they are holding a large shopping bag on the rack behind them.

A huge number of bikes parked outside a supermarket in Utrecht, Netherlands. Shoppers can be seen.

Cycles are parked ouside shops in Groningen, a woman is riding away with shopping bags hanging from her bike. A man waits with his Saint Bernard dog in the large front compartment of his 'bakfiets'.

 

I don’t know why the only supermarket in these photos is Albert Heijn — other supermarkets are available in the Netherlands and people cycle to those too! Maybe I should mention Jumbo, C1000 and Plus, just to even out the balance a bit.

 


You can find all the picture posts here.

 

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Cycling in the Netherlands picture post #1: Families

A picture is worth a thousand words, and most of the words I write tend to be rather cynical.

In an attempt to focus on something positive instead of banging on as usual about why cycling in the UK is so awful, here is the first of a series of photo-posts. The aim of the series is to show how people in the Netherlands enjoy and benefit from the cycle infrastructure — and to show how good we could have it, too.

This first instalment shows how Dutch families use the safe cycling conditions as an easy way to get around town. These photos don’t show rare occurrences — they’re all simply normal everyday scenes in the Netherlands.

A family riding bikes on a cycle path in the Netherlands.

A woman and her son ride safely along a cycle path in the Netherlands.

A mother and her two daughters set off at the traffic lights.

A mother and daughter cycling in the Netherlands.

In the Netherlands, a mother cycles to the shops with her young daughter in the large container at the front of the bike.

A young family prepare for a journey. Father and toddler on one bike, mother rides a 'bakfiets' with the baby in.

A family riding bikes in the Dutch countryside

Families ride bikes on the Dutch cycle paths.

A woman rides her bike along a cycle path in the Netherlands, her toddler in a seat behind the handlebars. The child is drinking from a bottle.

 

And I didn’t say the f-word once!

 


You can find all the picture posts here.

 

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