Gear up Leeds, the cycling revolution is coming

Unlike our European counterparts, the UK appears to be falling behind in citywide cycling. Euro hubs like Amsterdam would appear surreal to the British road user, such is the amount of freedom cyclists enjoy across the city’s streets. Rather than car horns and tyre screeching, a symphony of bells and rattling bike frames upon cobbled roads delicately reverberate around the city.

Could this be a possible future for Leeds? For the time being Leeds city centre remains a dystopian landscape for all budding cyclists attempting to travel to and from the bus lane and one way system ridden city centre. Leeds city centre seems rather inhospitable to the cyclist, but as we aim to move to a greener world, how do we get the city’s citizens to opt for bike rather than car or public transport?

Leeds and Bradford city councils answer to the problem at hand is City Connect, a body made up of West Yorkshire Combined Authority and other local partners to deliver a programme of cycle improvements in the Leeds City Region. The plans for Leeds city centre include providing a number of different types of cycle lanes – with the aims of providing a safer environment for cyclists traveling across the city.

Despite Leeds city centre not appearing to be the most compatible for cyclists, new infrastructure that will improve conditions are looking to encourage more people take up cycling. The new plans provided by City Connect aim to make vast improvements across the city of Leeds and surrounding areas. Their range of plans consists of upgrading the Leeds Liverpool canal cycle towpath, a Bradford to Leeds cycle superhighway, improved Leeds city centre cycle parking and cycle lanes and also 20 mph zones for adjacent streets to the City Connect cycleway. The cycle superhighway connecting Leeds and Bradford will be largely segregated from general road traffic to ensure maximum safety.

Leeds City Council executive member for transport Richard Lewis believes the changes to the city centre should not only be indulged by current cycling enthusiasts, he said “one of the benefits I would personal like to see from this new infrastructure is to see more people cycling on a day to day basis; the new infrastructure isn’t trying to put everyone in latex, more so to increase the amount of people using bikes for one or two mile journeys”.

Depending on the progress, the new infrastructure may raise Leeds’ cycling reputation to rival that of Copenhagen or Amsterdam, councillor Lewis claimed. “Geographically, Leeds is against becoming a city synonymous with cycling due to the amount of hills, however certain areas of Leeds will be able to develop into areas dominated by cycling”.

In the midst of the 2014 tour de France departing from Leeds and sweeping across Yorkshire in its opening stages, there is a feeling that it is time to strike whilst the iron is hot with regards to cycling in Leeds. With more people discovering the benefits of cycling – such as stress relief – in the wake of the event, it is more apparent than ever that changes are required to be made if Leeds is to achieve the status of a cycle friendly city.

One of the most common aspects as to why many people choose not to cycle is safety, and it is quite easy to understand these fears as the facilities for cyclists can be improved greatly. Although cycling fatalities have decreased from a record 1,536 in 1934 to 109 last year, there is still an element of fear that comes with cycling in an urban area due to the large number of motorists occupying the same roads.

Hidden amongst the redbrick buildings of the University of Leeds campus sits the Velocampus bike hub. A centre for all things on two wheels, the bike hub provides maintenance services and repairs for bicycles, as well as the opportunity to rent a fully equipped bike for a desired duration. Thanks to funding from the local sustainable transport fund, the Velocampus bike hub is now in its sixth year of existence. You cannot go far in Leeds city centre and its surrounding areas without coming across one of Velocampus bike hub’s distinctive green and white signature bicycles. The popularity of the scheme speaks volumes about the hub’s work to encourage sustainable transport among the thousands of students living in Leeds.

Speaking about encouraging people to cycle in Leeds, Connor Walsh of Velocampus bike hub said: “people are put off from cycling due to the safety fears that come along with riding a bike so it can be difficult, however people should still be encouraged to get involved with cycling”. With regards to making cycling a more popular option across Leeds Mr Walsh suggested that motorist behaviour needs to be altered to make cycling a safer option, he added: “motorists and cyclists do not mix very well together on the road, such problems as residential parking on tight roads pose a threat to cyclists safety which is something that needs to be addressed”.

According to reports, the proposed cycling facilities improvements are set to be completed by December 2015 for Leeds city centre and surrounding areas. Factors such as the council approved plans and the work being done by Velocampus bike hub will contribute to Leeds improving its stature as a cycle friendly city, however there is an underlying feeling that there is much more progression to be made if Leeds is to meet the standards of a cycle friendly city. Regarding the improvements to the cycling in Leeds city centre and the superhighway, Velocampus feel the scheme is not the turning point for cycling in Leeds. “The plans for improvements are a good start, but it is not likely that Leeds will elevate itself to the level of the likes of Amsterdam for cycling” Connor added.

Photo: Dr Gilly Bean via Creative Commons

Originally published in City Zen issue 01 – December 2014

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