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Leeds Bradford Cycle Superhighway takes shape

18th October 2015

Cycle superhighway at Odeon roundabout, Thornbury

I looked at a section of the Leeds Bradford Cycle Superhighway today, between Thornbury and Armley, to see how much had been completed, to look at the quality of what is being built, and to take some photos. 

The Superhighway runs for 23km in total, between Bradford to the west, and Seacroft, to the east of Leeds. It is a major part of the West Yorkshire cycling plans which won government Cycle City Ambition funds in August 2013. The other main scheme is the upgrade of the Leeds-Liverpool canal towpath between Shipley and Leeds.

Leeds Bradford Cycle Superhighway: background

Cycle Superhighway, Stanningley

A Leeds City Council report dated 16th July 2014 says that the Cycle Superhighway is part of the Tour de France legacy, and will help to reduce congestion and pollution, and to improve the health of the region's residents. Associated with the Superhighway are a number of 20mph around the route.

According to a Telegraph & Argus report of 11th February 2014, it was 'hoped' that the project would be finished by Summer 2015. The current Cycle City Connect progress update indicates that that timetable has slipped. It says:

'Superhighway - works to build the 23km of segregated cycle superhighway began in January 2015. The work is approximately 50% complete (as of September 2015) and are on schedule to be complete April 2016.

The first sections will be open in Autumn 2015 and further details of sections will be posted closer to the time.

Parking on the superhighway will be an offence and fines will be issued to prevent this happening. This offence will not be enforceable until the Traffic Regulation Orders are sealed and the signage erected  along the route. There will be a grace period of one week whilst this process is embedded.'

Leeds Bradford Cycle Superhighway: visit on Sunday 18th October 2015

I looked at a significant part of the route, between Thornbury, on the eastern edge of Bradford, and Armley, on the western edge of Leeds. The whole route will go from Bradford city centre to Seacroft to the east of Leeds, but not enough of it is yet built to make cycling the route a practical proposition. This map gives an overview of the route:

Leeds Bradford Cycle Superhighway map

Incidentally, the air quality today by the A647 between Thornbury and Farsley was disgusting. I say this not because I took any measurements, it is just what I noticed when walking by the road and breathing. Although the A647 is a busy road, even on a Sunday, it runs through a residential area. If the Cycle Superhighway can help reduce traffic, and therefore the noise and pollution the residents have to endure, it will be worth it.

Leeds Bradford Cycle Superhighway: types of cycle track

Cycle Superhighway at Odeon roundabout, Thornbury
There are two types of cycle track: type 1, which is 2m wide, with a 60cm kerbed buffer; and type 2, also 2m wide, but with 'kerb upstand'. Type 2 is used where there is less space available. (These descriptions are from the Leeds City Council report dated 16th July 2014).

This is an example of type 1 (protected by a kerb):

Type 1 cycle track, Cycle Superhighway, Armley

The photo above is from a stretch of the Cycle Superhighway on the A647 in Upper Armley. In my view, it is good quality cycle infrastructure. The road is a busy dual carriageway, which would put most people off cycling, but this lane is great because it gives cyclists their own protected space.

And this is an example of type 2 (half-height kerb):

Cycle Superhighway Leeds, type 2 track

This is the compromise type of bike lane, which is being built where it is felt that there isn't enough space to provide a kerb buffer. Instead, the bike lane is at an in-between height, slightly higher than the road, and slightly lower than the pavement. It is probably of acceptable quality. 

In some cases there is very little height difference from the pavement, so one risk is that pedestrians will spill over into the bike lane. The other main risk is that cars will be driven in or parked on the bike lane. In some places, the bike lane is hardly raised from the road at all:

Marginal kerb height of type 2 track, Leeds Bradford Cycle Superhighway

Leeds Bradford Cycle Superhighway: side roads

Cycle Superhighway Dick Lane Grange Avenue junction

Priority over side roads is a key issue. If you don't give a cycle route priority over side roads, in the same way that a main road has priority over side roads, it becomes glorified pavement cycling, and the route will only be attractive to those who already prefer to cycle on the pavements.

The July 2014 Leeds City Council report seemed clear about side roads: the Cycle Superhighway would have priority over them. There is no mention of cyclists giving way to motorised users. This is the relevant section of the report:

Leeds City Council report, priority over side roads

There was controversy over the Dick Lane/Grange Avenue junction (pictured below the 'side roads' heading above) in May this year. Blog The Alternative Department for Transport published photos of the finished work, showing the cycle track giving way to a side road, and calling the design crap and dangerous.

Cycle City Connect published a reply, which said that the junction was built in accordance with published plans: '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.'

Whatever was on the plans, I believe it is clear from the Leeds City Council report that priority for the Cycle Superhighway was promised, and that promise has been broken at the Dick Lane/Grange Avenue junction. The Superhighway work isn't finished, though, so there's no reason why it can't be redone. 

The question now is whether all other junctions with side roads will give priority to cyclists, as originally promised. The Cycle City Connect statement says, 'We recognise that there needs to be a public update on the remaining side road treatments to reassure that, for the most part, cyclists will retain priority.' I'm not particularly reassured by the words 'for the most part.'

The Alternative Department for Transport post was quite outspoken, but I think the author has done a service by raising this issue, and - I hope - preventing the designers and engineers from quietly changing the specification from what was originally promised.

There are examples amongst the junctions that are already built of the Cycle Superhighway clearly having priority over minor side roads (Christ Church Mount, Armley):

Christ Church Mount junction, Armley

There are other examples where the cycle track is not yet finished, and we have to hope that priority will be given to the Cycle Superhighway as promised (Fairfield Mount, Stanningley):

Cycle Superhighway junction with Fairfield Mount

Leeds Bradford Cycle Superhighway: signal-controlled junctions

Bicycle traffic lights, Cycle Superhighway, Leeds-Bradford

The Leeds City Council report dealt with signal-controlled junctions separately. It said:

'[W]here possible, dedicated, single phase crossings for cyclists [will be provided]. Where this cannot be accommodated toucan (combined pedestrian/cycle) crossings have been proposed. These dedicated phases for cyclists should help minimise the risk of conflict between a left turning vehicle and a straight-ahead cycle. For dedicated facilities cycles will either be detected by loops in the cycle track or cyclists will stop and press the push-button unit.'

It looks as though good quality signal-controlled junctions are being built:

Signalled junction on Leeds Bradford Cycle Superhighway

Leeds Bradford Cycle Superhighway: parked cars

Vehicle parked in Cycle Superhighway

Clearly some residents are used to parking on the pavement outside their houses. I saw a few cars parked in the Cycle Superhighway today, but of course the Superhighway isn't completed or usable in most places for the moment. When it's in use, there will be an inconvenient change to parking arrangements for some people. 

The Cycle City Connect update mentioned above makes it clear that parking on the Cycle Superhighway will be sanctioned with fines once the Traffic Regulation Orders have been sealed.

In many places, the Superhighway passes behind parking spaces, which seems a sensible and practical arrangement:

Superhighway passes behind parking spaces

Leeds Bradford Cycle Superhighway: bus stops

Floating bus stop, Staningley

The Cycle Superhighway passes behind bus stops, using the 'floating bus stop' design which seems to be best practice. I know this design isn't universally popular, but I think it's a sensible solution to potential conflict. There are instances where there isn't much space, and you can imagine it being a squeeze to get past on a bike when it's busy:

Floating bus stop, Thornbury

Leeds Bradford Cycle Superhighway: summary

Cyclist on Leeds Bradford Cycle Superhighway, Stanningley

My overall impression is that the Cycle Superhighway being built is good quality bicycle infrastructure, which will give protected space to cyclists, and could and should encourage more people to get on their bikes. The type 1 track is excellent, and the type 2 track should prove to be acceptable, as long as it's built carefully at half-height (rather than ending up being the same height as the road or the pavement, or both).

The arrangements at side roads are important. The Dick Lane/Grange Avenue junction is not what was promised, and it was a bad mistake. It should be rectified. It's a good thing that it was highlighted in May 2015, and I hope it will concentrate minds when the other junctions along the route are built. It's important that local cyclists keep a close eye on what is happening on the ground over the next six months or so, and raise the alarm if this happens again.

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