British Cycling and Leeds Cycling Campaign propose transformation of Leeds centre

Can the Motorway City of the Seventies be made cycling-friendly?

by John Stevenson   July 1, 2014  

With Saturday’s start of the Tour de France in Leeds just days away, British Cycling and Leeds Cycling Campaign have both unveiled ideas for ways the city can become more cycling-friendly. British Cycling has focussed on the town centre’s main street, the Headrow, while Leeds Cycling Campaign has laid out a programme of improvements that could be implemented over the next three decades.

With a congested centre and the cycling-hostile legacy of the city’s ‘Motorway City of the Seventies’ road-building policies, Leeds is believed to have the lowest rate of cycling of any major city in the UK.

It’s a classic example of how, in the words of British Cycling policy adviser Chris Boardman, “cycling has been designed out of our towns and cities”.

British Cycling and Leeds City Council are therefore calling on national government to commit just £10 per head per year from existing transport funds to every local authority in Britain to kick-start the cycling revolution that Prime Minister David Cameron called for in 2013.

Boardman said: “This would be a true legacy from Britain hosting the Tour de France. Inspiring people to get on bikes is one thing but the fact is that cycling has been designed out of our towns and cities and we urgently need to put this right.

“Millions of people in Britain say they would like to cycle but they are put off due to safety fears. We cannot pretend that this is going to miraculously change.

“National government need to face up to some hard truths and commit adequate investment.

“It’s important to clarify, we are not asking for more money but for a tiny fraction of the existing provision to be targeted as part of a long term plan to remodel our urban landscapes.”

Here’s what Leeds’ main street, the Headrow looks like now:

and here’s how British Cycling suggests it could look in the future. Mouse over the hotspots for explanations of the underlying ideas and benefits:

Part of the idea, says Boardman, is to make cycling accessible for everyone. Currently, the majority of Britain’s urban cyclists are young and male, a demographic that’s prepared to tolerate the percieved risk of mixing with buses and HGVs.

“Accommodating the needs of people young and old is not cheap but it’s 10 times cheaper than meeting the mammoth annual costs of treating obesity-related illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes,” said Boardman.

“We’re starting today with a new vision for Leeds city centre but we want this ambition to be realised nationwide.

“This isn’t just about cycling, it’s about creating accessible, pleasant, healthier places to live and work. It isn’t even a cycling project, it’s a logical, people-first, evidence-based vision with no down sides.”

Leeds Cycling Campaign's vision for Leeds


Leeds Cycling Campaign 's ideas for the Headrow. Illustration by Emma Chinnery

Leeds Cycling Campaign welcomed British Cycling’s ideas.

“This echoes our own vision for cycling,” said Lizzie Reather, chair of the campaign. “In the week that the Tour comes to Leeds, it’s great to see the Council working with BC to create some positive ideas about what our city could look like.”

In its Vision for Leeds, Leeds Cycling Campaign presents an even more cycling-friendly and leafier idea of how the Headrow could be transformed.

“You’ll see our vision for the Headrow is different from British Cycling’s,” said  Reather, “but that just shows two different options for achieving the same thing.

“We’ve gone for protected bike lanes, thinking that was appropriate for a busy bus route, whereas BC have taken a shared space approach, which works well in areas with low speed and volume of traffic. We’re all aiming for an environment where anyone can feel confident and safe on a bike.”

The campaign group’s plan envisages a citywide cycling network building out from the Leeds-Bradford cycle superhighway with safe, segregated cycle lanes along all major roads within ten years. That’s roughly the time it took the Netherlands to build the core of its cycleway network.

8 user comments

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The Headrow, in its current state, is an utter nightmare for cyclists. Narrow lanes and too many buses crammed in just make it horrible to negotiate. And that's without having to deal with the absent minded pedestrians!

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posted by YorkshireMike [70 posts]
1st July 2014 - 17:07

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I'm so glad to see BC stepping forwards from simply 'welcoming' political statements and giving 'advice', to having a more active role in putting ideas together and moving forwards as best as anyone in any not directly in charge can.

The political apathy surrounding urban redevelopment is astounding, but that appears to be a sad fact that isn't going to change on its own. While that remains, others can still work towards assembling a vision so convincing that's it's hard to ignore.

Just as in 1970s Holland, if any sort of 'cycling revolution' is going to happen, it's going to be instigated from the grass-roots upwards. It's heartening to see that BC have the wherewithal to stop 'calling' for things and start assembling them into a clearer, compelling image.

posted by Quince [127 posts]
1st July 2014 - 17:07

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I saw the figure £4 million touted elsewhere for this renovation of The Headrow. Four million quid for one street. Though I suppose you gotta start somewhere.

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posted by Him Up North [179 posts]
1st July 2014 - 20:46

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All looks good but I can't figure out why campaigns for utility cycling keep piggy-backing on cycle-sport events.

We already have a strong culture of sport and leisure cycling in the UK and have done for many years. Has this translated into mass uptake of the bicycle as a form of transport? No. Do people involved in cycle-sport even use bikes to travel to races etc? On the whole, no. I race BMX and know loads of kids/parents who are involved in the sport; do you think the kids ride to school? Of course not.

It's a bit like piggy-backing a car race to run an anti drink-driving campaign. Yes, both involve cars but it's not really relevant.

The point I'm trying to make is that we need to start thinking about sport cycling and utility cycling as two quite different things which carry quite different benefits to participants. It's as distinct as the difference between walking to the shops and doing a 5km running race. Nobody uses the London marathon to encourage people to make more journeys by foot. Without making the distinction cyclists will always be viewed as lycra-wearing weirdos by the majority.

posted by Matt eaton [395 posts]
1st July 2014 - 23:29

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So they do The Headrow, and its great - apart from the fact if cars are allowed it will never be 'low traffic', and they will never stick to 20mph. And then you have to get to The Headrow - via one of the routes into Leeds city centre that (apart from maybe Kirkstall Rd) are bereft of cycling safe routes.
Then there's the issue of mixing bikes and pedestrians - so add education of pedestrians to look as well as educating motorists to look.
Leeds is a whole bigger issue than making one street work. It is without doubt one of the worst cities I have come accross for commuting on a bike.

posted by jash [7 posts]
2nd July 2014 - 8:25

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Kirkstall road is probs the best route into Leeds, it would be fantastic if we had space for cycling on all major routes into Leeds.

CB is the don.

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posted by Leodis [190 posts]
2nd July 2014 - 8:56

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Matt eaton wrote:
All looks good but I can't figure out why campaigns for utility cycling keep piggy-backing on cycle-sport events.

We already have a strong culture of sport and leisure cycling in the UK and have done for many years. Has this translated into mass uptake of the bicycle as a form of transport? No. Do people involved in cycle-sport even use bikes to travel to races etc? On the whole, no. I race BMX and know loads of kids/parents who are involved in the sport; do you think the kids ride to school? Of course not.

It's a bit like piggy-backing a car race to run an anti drink-driving campaign. Yes, both involve cars but it's not really relevant.

The point I'm trying to make is that we need to start thinking about sport cycling and utility cycling as two quite different things which carry quite different benefits to participants. It's as distinct as the difference between walking to the shops and doing a 5km running race. Nobody uses the London marathon to encourage people to make more journeys by foot. Without making the distinction cyclists will always be viewed as lycra-wearing weirdos by the majority.

You're right - it is a highly important distinction that too few people realise, and the fact we keep discussing 'cycling' as if it's one single activity with one single purpose is at best misleading and a worst brain-washing millions of people into believing that making a city 'cycle-friendly' means turning it into a velodrome rather than an Assen.

However, I'm happy to see utility cycling piggy-backing on anything it can get at the moment. Also, given that BC deals with everything from getting kids to school to Olympic champions, I can understand their approach in capitalising on something that has the public's attention.

In short, I strongly agree with you about the importance of the distinction, however I think the TdF is too good a platform to pass up. There are more similarities between basic utility cycling and the TdF than any other major event I can think of. Until we get some sort of globally publicised 'trundling around town' event, anyway. Wink

posted by Quince [127 posts]
2nd July 2014 - 15:21

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It's great that CB is continuing to use his big media profile to help pro-bike schemes, but this is not a bike scheme, this is a city centre prestige redevelopment (proposal).

1. It is a "shared space" initiative. Great in a quiet residential street, but suicide in a city centre. If cars are allowed in at all, it will be full of cars. If not, we will just get run over by buses. Segregated, cycle-only space please.

2. Getting to the Headrow from anywhere in Leeds will continue to involve just as much danger as before, in order to enjoy the couple of hundred metres of boulevard living.
Anyone who rides in Leeds can probably point out several bike deathtraps within 100 metres radius of British Cycling's pretty picture. make that a 1km radius and suddenly the list of deathtraps gets so long that you would have to print it on a toilet roll.

The money would be better spent on less prestigious, but more deadly junctions and stretches of roads that currently have much greater urgency.

Why aren't they? Because Leeds council doesn't actually care about safety for cyclists, just civic "prestige" (ie a flashy city centre). This is because the cameras of the world will look at the Headrow, but will not look at the other squillion miles of roads in Leeds MDC.

The attention of the press is rapidly attracted to a dead body under a car on the Headrow, but not a dead body under a car on Otley Road, or Dewsbury Road, or York Road, etc etc.

This is the same reason why a "cycle superhighway" from Bradford centre to Leeds centre gets massive publicity and hoo hah... because it will pass through the centre. You can be sure that the fanciest bits of provision will be the nearest to the press cameras. Away from the press' radius if interest, the facility will be the usual ill-thought-out rubbish.

LCC's "vision" is colossally more optimistic and pleasant, but is also inclusive of non-motorists all over the city. Its main purpose isn't civic prestige, but usability and safety for pedestrians, cyclists and anyone else not in a private car.
Somebody tell Mr Boardman about LCC's proposal and get him to get behind that... and roll the concept out to everyone else's towns and cities too.

posted by severs1966 [73 posts]
8th August 2014 - 13:02

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