Leeds City Council has responded to urging from Olympic silver medalist Lizzie Armitstead to provide better facilities for cyclists by saying it “wholeheartedly supports” the ChooseCycling campaign and is “firmly committed” to making the city bike-friendly.
Armitstead was one of 14 elite British cyclists who recently wrote to their local councils calling on them to make a public commitment to improve conditions for cycling.
Otley, Armitstead’s home town, is part of the City of Leeds metropolitan borough. Despite the popularity of serious recreational cycling in the countryside around the city, Leeds has a cycling modal share of journeys of about 0.5 percent, believed to be the lowest of any major British metropolitan area.
Armitstead and the other riders recommended councils adopt British Cycling’s #ChooseCycling 10-point plan, launched earlier this year by Chris Boardman.
Leeds city centre is notoriously congested by motor traffic, and the city was recently named by the World Health Organisation as being one of nine UK urban areas failing to meet guidelines on air quality.
Leeds is in the spotlight as the host town of the opening stage of this year’s Tour de France. The race sets out from Leeds on Saturday July 5.
In a letter addressed to council leader Keith Wakefield, Armitstead said: “I believe that making it easier for people to choose to travel by bike is the solution to many issues facing the city including improving health, reducing congestion and making it a better place to live and work.”
She said “strong political leadership” was needed to achieve “the greatest impact”, according to the Yorkshire Evening Post.
Responding to Armitstead’s letter, council cycling champion Roger Harington said: “As a council, we are firmly committed to making Leeds as cycle-friendly as possible.”
He cited the council’s hosting of SkyRides and the £29m Leeds to Bradford cycleway as examples of its commitment and said the council “wholeheartedly supports” ChooseCycling.
However, cycling campaigners are sceptical that the Motorway City of the Seventies will reverse decades of failure to provide good quality cycling infrastructure.
In a recent critique of Leeds’ plan for a cycle route across the city, blogger Schrodinger’s Cat wrote: “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.”
Nevertheless he added that if problems with the route could be fixed: “maybe – just maybe – Leeds can finally begin to leave the 1970s behind and one day become a 21st century European city.”
Lizzie Reather of Leeds Cycling Campaign says she is "cautiously optimistic" about the council's plans. She said: "Cycle City project (CityConnect) has user involvement, ambition, positivity."
Nevertheless, Reather said that "several recent examples (Chapeltown Road, Cookridge St) show the council has a lot to learn - still limited understanding of cyclists' needs."
But former Leeds resident and campaigner Mark Severs is highly sceptical. Severs served on the council’s cycle consultation committee. “All the recommendations were ignored,” he said.
“The council announced grand plans for cycling infrastructure over and over and over again. Hardly any was built, some white lines were painted, drivers ignored these or parked in them, and there was no enforcement.”
Severs is does not believe the cross-Leeds route and link to Bradford will ever be built.
He said: “Nothing will come of this plan, and nearly all cycle journeys in Leeds wil remain unimproved. The whole thing is just puffery from the council, intended to allow them to pretend that they are moving forward. It is only one tiny step above sheer outright organised lying.”
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