Leeds Cyclists had our second detailed look at the NGT plans last night. It was genuinely encouraging to see how your people had taken on board the serious misgivings we raised at the Cycle Consultation Forum of the week prior. They seem to be 'getting our drift' now and considering changing plans to address specific concerns.
Where they are limited though is that they are clearly working within a wider framework, dictated I think by DfT, but also by the policies of LCC. They have been open and honest on the hierarchy of NGT design, which is:
No reduction in vehicular capacity
Fast and smooth flowing NGT
Cycle facilities 'where possible'.
This framework creates conflict with cyclists, specifically where certain light-controlled junctions are concerned. To explain, on a nice straight bit of road, cyclists will often be using the near-side of the NGT lane. This should, in most cases, be sufficiently wide to accommodate NGT passing cyclists without undue risk or worry. (We raised this issue of safe minimum radius corners where NGT might encroach on the cycle lane and your people are looking at the plans.) When the NGT lane reaches a junction though the options for cyclists are:
1. Stay in NGT lane and sail across, but this is only possible once every 6 mins (frequency of NGT), which in most cases will mean a long wait. So this isn't really practical.
2. Offer cyclists an alternative off-road route, e.g. in one proposed case running behind an NGT stop (conflict with passengers/crossing pavement), crossing the side road via two offset toucan crossings (tedious, lengthy, congestion in middle refuge, risk of leaving some users stranded in road when refuge fills), then re-joining NGT lane (crossing pavement again). As you will understand, this is neither practical nor likely to be used.
3. Cyclists will approach the lights in the NGT lane and have to make a difficult decision as to whether to follow an NGT through, if there is one, or (likely) make a dangerous manoeuvre across the NGT lane into the fast-moving vehicle lane, cross the junction, then re-join the NGT lane on the other side. This is what will happen in practice.
In an ideal world cyclists would have a cycle-prioritised phase across the junction. But this isn't on the table because this would obviously have a negative effect on vehicle traffic (it would have to wait).
There are several junctions on the route which fall into this situation and which without some give on your part will be nigh on impossible to resolve satisfactorily.
Another example - heading into Leeds down from Headingley the right turn into Hyde Park Rd is *very* popular with the multitude of students wanting to reach campus across the relatively safe Hyde Park. There are thousands of these and a good many use bicycles. On the current plans the right turn is to be removed, but the desire will remain, meaning lots of dangerous/illegal manoeuvres elsewhere as riders try to circumvent the problem. We impressed this specific case onto the planners last night and we did start to move towards a cycle-only phase right turn. They are going to look into it. What I ask is that you give them support. If they meet a wall of 'you cannot affect car traffic' they will be caught between a rock and a hard place. There has to be a sensible compromise if the NGT is to get backing of Leeds Cyclists.
On a more general note, Leeds is widely regarded as having a rather old-fashioned approach to transport. The car remains king, large new roads are still being planned (e.g. ring road extension in east Leeds), cycle facilities are generally very poor, and pedestrians are compromised when trying to get around the centre (think about the Loop and how it cuts off sections of the city). We have serious congestion and pollution problems, and we are never going to make our CO2 reduction targets. Recent NICE guidance is now confirming what we already knew, that the population is unhealthy and in dire need of exercise.
The solution to all this is more people using bicycles and their feet to get to work. This can be achieved with serious investment in well thought out cycle infrastructure and decent integrated public transport. This has to come at the expense of the car. Where Leeds has made real efforts along these lines the results are there to see. The A65 Quality Bus Corridor has greatly increased the cycle facilities and you will now see a steady stream of cyclists during the rush hour. People queuing in cars are taking to their bikes. Generally though Leeds does not have this infrastructure and most people if asked will say 'I would like to cycle to work but in Leeds? You must be mad.'.
The NGT scheme is an ideal opportunity to make the A660 corridor much better for cycling, and this should not just be 'where possible' but as a *priority*. Everywhere you look in the UK and beyond, decent cycle facilities are full. Have no doubt that this would be the same on the A660. You would also see a reduction in deaths and serious injuries, which I the A660 produces with unpleasant regularity.
You are a businessman and want Leeds to grow and prosper. All the evidence out there is that this does not happen when the focus remains with car travel, at least not within the city area. Where cycling and public transport is the norm, people absolutely love it, and businesses prosper (look at pedestrianized Briggate). If your vision of Leeds is to be realised there needs to be a sea change in attitude and action at the top of LCC. Perhaps the NGT scheme is where it starts.
I would be happy to talk through any of these ideas with you, or to involve others. Us cyclists want Leeds to prosper too.
From: Tom Riordan
To: Will Crocombe
Date: Wed, 23 Jan 2013 08:53:16 +0000
Subject: RE: Leeds cycle infrastructure
Thank you for your e-mail of 21st January regarding cycling in Leeds and NGT. I particularly appreciate your desire to see Leeds have a prosperous future and I thank you for your constructive suggestions. As you know, we are working hard to ensure Leeds grows and has a prosperous future. I share your belief that providing Leeds with an efficient and capable transport system is a key part of that plan. Cycling will play an important part in Leeds' future, not least through the impetus of Leeds hosting the Tour de France in 2014. However, surveys have shown that a high proportion of car drivers entering Leeds in the morning peak have travelled beyond the distance that most people would consider cycling, so cycling is just one part of the solution. There is a pressing need to get some of these motorists out of cars and onto a viable, attractive public transport alternative, to ensure that Leeds can grow.
NGT is an exciting project which I believe is right for Leeds. We are under no illusions as to the challenges which we face to deliver a scheme which will help Leeds be fit for the future whilst protecting the interests of local communities and users. Such a large scheme cannot currently be funded without money from central government and adhering to their requirements for value-for-money is a pre-requisite for the scheme moving forwards. Delays to car traffic are given a monetary value in the scheme evaluations and these can make or break the scheme. In this instance, we have little influence on the process and unfortunately this means that significant reductions in car capacity are not practical.
As you know, we are working at a detailed level to mitigate the impact of the scheme on cyclists and we appreciate your input to help us achieve the best outcome we can. Our officers and advisors are working hard to achieve the best balance of competing needs. The Headingley corridor is particularly difficult given conservation areas and other planning constraints, but nowhere in Leeds has proven to be more in need of enhancements to provide reliable public transport. (Ironically this could be a factor why this is the busiest cycle corridor in Leeds by some margin. There could be suppressed demand for public transport due to its unreliability.)
The council is committed to improving cycling within the city and I am glad that you appreciate the recent improvements the Council has made to the A65.
I am pleased that you have been able to have detailed and open discussions with my officers to help improve the design of NGT and I understand these are on-going. I have shared your correspondence with them so that they consider your concerns when designs are being finalised. I hope that these continuing discussions with my officers and advisors will result in a project that delivers benefits for both cyclists and public transport users.
Thank you again for your input.
From: Will Crocombe
Sent: 29 January 2013 12:51
To: Riordan, Tom
Subject: RE: Leeds cycle infrastructure
I appreciate the response but really most of this is rhetoric. LCC has been declaring its love for cycling for a good while now without anything of significance being implemented. If the city really does want to promote cycling then we need more than words.
Your comment that "..significant reductions in car capacity are not practical." does however suggest that there is some manoeuvre room with your planners. For example, where we have planned cross-roads on the A660, adding a cycle-only phase to the lights might add a mere 10-15 seconds delay to other vehicles. To cyclists this might amount to a huge improvement. There are also other junctions where cyclists need to turn right. In the current plans these turns are dangerous - more so than currently with the extra lanes to cross. A light controlled cycle-only crossing might be possible with little over 60 seconds delay. So for just a few minutes delay to the precious car traffic we could make a significant difference, between a 'same as usual or worse' to 'actually a pleasant step forward' headline for cyclists.
We meet with the NGT planners this evening for the third time. A call from you giving them a smidgen of wiggle room would be greatly valued.
To light-heatedly provoke your parochial tendencies, you might like to note that our sister city Bradford now features a cycle and pedestrian flyover on the busy Manchester Road:http://www.ericwright.co.uk/case-study/bradford-living-street-connect2/
It is by all accounts both beautiful and functional, and demonstrates the sort of commitment necessary to take that genuine step forward. It cost 1.85 million. The NGT budget is 250 million.
From: Tom Riordan
To: Will Crocombe
Date: Fri, 8 Feb 2013 17:03:58 +0000
Subject: RE: Leeds cycle infrastructure
Thank you for your further e mail. As you are aware the Council has been successful in securing the Tour de France Grand Depart and it is continuing to implement the Core Cycling Network. The Council will be working with our LTP partners and stakeholders, including Leeds Cycle Action Group and the Cycle Forum to put together proposals for a bid to the DfTs Cycle Ambitions City fund, which, if we are successful could provide up to £10m over the next two years. The sort of schemes that come out of this should confirm that we are taking cycling seriously and you will be invited to be a part of the design process.
With regard to NGT I am pleased that you are contributing to the design and I am aware that progress is being made on improving facilities for cyclists along the route. As you are aware the NGT design has to balance the needs of all users including cyclists in a very tight and congested transport corridor within tight budget constraints.
I hope you will continue to contribute to the design through the ongoing meetings with the design team.