New Generation Transport (NGT) is the trolleybus scheme that is the latest in a series of proposed “rapid transit” schemes for Leeds. The trolleybus route is proposed to start at the North side of Leeds, with a park and ride site at the old Bodington Hall site with space for 800 vehicles, and run South along the A660 Otley Road / Headingley Lane, through the city centre and along Hunslet Road to Stourton where a second park and ride with 1500 spaces will be sited.
The trolleybus is like a tram in that is has overhead power lines, but like a bus in that it runs on a normal road surface (does not have rails) although in many places this takes the form of a dedicated lane. The vehicle is envisaged to be a 2 or 3 carriage articulated vehicle, similar to the long “bendy buses” currently in use in Leeds. Although the designers are currently planning on the basis of singly articulated (2 carriage) vehicles, it is possible that mono-articulated and max UK road legal vehicles of 18M would be at capacity straight away. They therefore may need to use 25m biarticulated (3 carriage) vehicles to have expansion room.
A 6 minute interval will exist between NGT vehicles and the stops are more widely spaced than current bus stops. The route is due to open in approx. 2019 and is currently projected to cost about £250 million. Part of the funding is already secured from the Department for Transport pending approval this year.
The development of the plans for the scheme has been alternating design phases with a “design freeze” in between. As of the end of February 2013, a design freeze will be in place while the scheme is approved by Leeds City Council’s Highways and Transportation Board. Then a “Transport and Works Act Order” will be raised, where the plans, and most importantly the outer boundary of all land affected by the scheme, will signed off by the Department for Transport (DfT). After this point, although future changes to the design of the plans are still possible (and in fact are likely given the long timescale), the outer boundary cannot change. After this, the scheme will be the subject of a formal consultation and public enquiry, likely early 2014.
NGT and cycling
The planners are clear that NGT is not a cycling scheme and the aim of NGT is not to encourage or facilitate cycling.
Tom Riordan (Chief Executive of Leeds City Council) commented:
“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.)”
Cycling will generally be permitted in the NGT lanes where it is safe to do so. In some locations, where the NGT lane is completely separate from the carriageway, it will be travelling at up to 50mph and therefore isn’t safe for cycle sharing. However the majority of this type of location is on the Southern part of the route where the impact on cycling is likely to be less.
At the January Leeds Cycle Consultation Forum (CCF), the scheme was given a general introduction and then some specific areas of concern for cycling were looked at in detail.
An NGT cycling policy and strategy document will be published. The team said it “should be possible for this to be made available”. The policy for cycling will include:
1. advisory cycle lanes to be provided where possible
2. sharing with NGT where the width is at least 4.2m
3. a segregated or shared use path in some areas
4. links with existing cycle provision
Although in many areas cyclists will share the NGT lane, where the NGT has a bus gate or specific signals at a junction, the 6 minute gap between NGT vehicles means that a cyclist might have to wait at this type of signal for up to 6 minutes. It isn’t generally possible to provide a signal phase for cyclists at these points as this would cause unacceptable delays to the flow of vehicles. However following discussions, the design team will aim to provide a bypass or a safe merge into the general traffic flow, when cyclists are sharing the NGT and approaching a set of signals.
It was requested that wherever possible cycle lanes should be mandatory (solid line) rather than advisory (dashed line) – this means that vehicles are not permitted to encroach into the cycle lane. “Mandatory” does not mean cyclists are required to use the lanes. Usually implementation of a mandatory cycle lane is more complicated as it requires removal of parking and loading permissions which would require a Traffic Regulation Order (TRO), and if any objections, a public enquiry, but as NGT is going to have a public enquiry anyway it may be a good opportunity to implement mandatory cycle lanes.
The phrase “where possible” is frequently used when discussing cycle infrastructure. The NGT team confirmed this does not mean “where physically possible” but that all factors had to be taken into account, including the needs of other road users, in making these decisions.
It is unlikely that cycles will be permitted to be carried on NGT vehicles. Cycle parking will be provided at the park and ride points. The cost of travelling on the NGT is not yet decided and will depend on the company chosen to administrate the route. By then, Oyster-style smart card ticketing should be in place and a fare is not expected to be substantially different from an equivalent bus fare.
Questions on the general impact of NGT:
Q: will a cycle lane and a NGT or bus lane be provided in any locations?
A: It is standard practice that when a bus or NGT lane is provided, a separate cycle lane is not provided. On the basis of not introducing any additional risk to NGT, it has been planned on the expectation of existing assumptions and therefore where the NGT is suitable for sharing, a separate cycle lane will not be provided.
Guidelines for bus lane widths say 4.6m is ideal and allows safe passing, 4.25m allows passing but safety is affected so should only be used for short distances, and 4m is the absolute minimum and may encourage unsafe passing, particularly where the adjacent lane has queuing traffic. The NGT lanes are 4.2m max and many seem to be down to 3.85m.
Q: What is the expected reduction in volume of traffic, brought about by the scheme?
A: Existing capacity for other types of vehicles must be maintained, therefore a reduction in volume of traffic cannot be an expectation in the NGT designs. There is an overall “multi-modal transport objective”. The benefit-cost ratio of the scheme has to be monetised and if the scheme includes a reduction in vehicle use, the DfT will withdraw the funding.
Discussions and design concessions
Following CCF, a subgroup was convened to look at the plans in detail and cycling representatives have been in weekly meetings with the design team. Specific areas of concern that have been discussed and (at least partially addressed) by the NGT design team include:
1. The Lawnswood roundabout will be signalised and a lane for NGT will go straight across the centre of the roundabout. Cycles won’t be permitted to use the NGT lane as there will only be a green signal every 6 minutes. Confident “vehicular” cyclists can share the signalised roundabout with vehicles where Advanced Stop Lines (ASL) will be provided, and a series of toucan crossings would connect a shared use path around the side of the roundabout for those not wishing to mix with the traffic.
2. The junction of Otley Road with Otley Old Road will be signalised, and cyclists commented that the angle of the junction causes concern (it is very shallow and vehicles can turn at speed, into the path of cyclists heading straight on across the road entrance). The designers agreed to look at the design of the junction and are considering closing the shallow entrance road and requiring left turning traffic to use the signalised junction that will be provided opposite the new park and ride site. This is currently a mini one way system but traffic will be allowed to enter what is now an exit-only side road.
3. At Oxley Halls, a right-turn island will be provided for cycles outbound.
4. Between Alma Road (next to the Arndale Centre) and Wood Lane, NGTs in both directions will leave the A660 and pass behind the Arndale centre. Cycling will be accommodated on a wide segregated shared use path with pedestrians (3m wide for cycles, 2m pedestrians). In-bound, cyclists will be able to easily enter and leave the path. However it is proving difficult to accommodate a right turn into the new route in the outbound direction. It may be possible to have two refuges allowing the A660 to be crossed in stages, or possibly a press-button toucan style arrangement. This is still under discussion and the design team is considering options.
5. On Headingley Hill, there isn’t sufficient road width for cycle-only or cycle and bus/NGT shared lanes in both directions. One CCF attendee suggested a 20mph limit but this is unlikely. The A660 is a main corridor into and out of Leeds and therefore traffic flow must be maintained. The current suggestion is an advisory cycle lane in the in-bound direction and two lanes outbound, one for NGT and cycles, and one for everything else including buses.
6. At the junction with Victoria Road outbound a cycle feeder lane to the right of left-turning traffic will be provided, to avoid the danger of “left-hook” by left-turning vehicles being on the right of cyclists wishing to travel straight on.
7. At Hyde Park corner, there will be no right turn for vehicles travelling towards central Leeds. There will also be no right turn into Victoria Rd and no right turn into Clarendon Road (this may have been reinstated). A right turn will be provided for cycles at Hyde Park corner by a jug-handle arrangement where they will turn left into an ASL at the entrance of Woodhouse St, then reverse direction and travel straight across the junction into Hyde Park Rd.
8. For those continuing into Leeds, an inbound advisory cycle lane will be maintained alongside the Eldon pub and down to the traffic lights; this has been a specific area of complaints from cyclists in the past because it’s narrow and frequently encroached upon – and the new plans do not address this. Although vehicular cyclists may not need it, it was felt important that a cycle facility be maintained. Woodhouse Lane/Albion St is likely to be the preferred route into Leeds as this will be closed to through vehicular traffic Southbound (access to the University and nearby properties will be allowed). There will be improvements to the area by the University Parkinson building: a 20 limit will be applied and discussions are ongoing re the format of the road to allow better flow of pedestrians and a more pleasant environment.
9. Following discussions about cycles being passed by NGT and whether there is sufficient width for safe passing throughout the route, the designers are to carry out swept-path analysis on all bends of concern (such as the entrance to Alma Road).
10. City square is a particular area of concern with large volumes of pedestrian, cycle and vehicle movements at peak time. The current arrangement of the large toucan crossing to the entrance to the rail station will be preserved. Options for cycles include using the existing facilities through City Square, and using Boar Lane to access Basinghall Street (as is already possible), enabling access to the Headrow. Two specific problems were discussed: of cyclists exiting the station on-road and at their green light, Westbound traffic (usually buses) exit City Square in direct opposition and crossing the entrance to the cycle facility on the Square. This had already been raised as an issue but a delay on the lights of the Westbound traffic was vetoed by LCC Urban Traffic Management and Control (UTC). In addition, for cyclists travelling from the South and East, exiting the top of Bishopgate Street with the Loop traffic there is often not sufficient time to safely enter the infrastructure in the Square due to volume and speed of following traffic. To address these two issues, the designers will investigate provision of a slip route off Bishopgate Street as it turns the corner into City Square, allowing cycle access from the right of that carriageway onto a shared pedestrian area, then by toucan across the Western part of Park Row to allow a more convenient entrance to the existing infrastructure. It was noted there will be no right turn from the Headrow into Cookridge Street, so Park Row will be the preferred route for cyclists wishing to access Cookridge St and the North.
Further discussions on the city centre and South section of the route are ongoing.