Increasing the number of people cycling, as part of a sustainable transport strategy, is known to be good for the health, economy, and environment of any city. Cycle-friendly planning is good for property values, retail vitality, local businesses, and “agglomeration”, and has wider economic benefits due to reduced health-care costs and absenteeism, and improved productivity. It reduces CO2 emissions and improves air quality, has a low impact on the built environment, and alleviates noise pollution. Cycling reduces levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cyclists live, on average, two years longer with fitness levels of people ten years younger. (See Cycling and Local Transport, CTC)
Leeds City Council claims to recognise this, and to have strategies to encourage active lifestyles, to increase sustainable transport, and to promote walking and cycling. Improvements to a busy road running through the centre of one of Leeds most vibrant communities should have presented an opportunity to put this into practice. The Highways Department’s recent proposals were an opportunity to re-design Harrogate Road through Chapel Allerton to make it more pleasant to walk or cycle to local shops, restaurants and businesses or to use public transport into and out of the city centre.
Why, then , does it appear that the council have manipulated the consultation process at every stage to justify not making much-needed improvements to one of the city’s most cycled routes? At the design stage, at the consultation stage, and now at the report stage, the council have sought to justify a scheme which does little or nothing to improve cycle safety in one of England’s most dangerous cities for cycling, or to make Harrogate Road a pleasant and safe place to live, shop, eat, walk, and cycle. Is it to appease local businesses, to meet outdated and inappropriate targets, or just because the council doesn’t see Harrogate Road as a place for a community to live but as a way of getting somewhere else? Is Leeds still the Motorway City of the 70s?
Manipulation of the Results
Leeds City Council’s Highways Department last week published what it calls the ‘factual results’ of a consultation on improvements to Harrogate Road through Chapel Allerton. The consultation considered two options for changing Harrogate Road to benefit pedestrians, cyclists, and bus users. Option 1 implemented a bus lane, which would also benefit southbound cyclists, created a pedestrian crossing island, and removed a small amount of parking. Option 2 removed more parking to create a northbound cycle lane as well.
The results have been published in a format that suggests businesses favour no change, local residents favour Option 1, and non-residents favour Option 2. Is this a fair reflection? Are those the ‘factual results’? Or is it a means of pushing through Option 1, which does very little to help cyclists?
As far as I can see, none of the council’s other consultations have been analysed and reported in this way. For this consultation, the overall results are not shown, only the breakdown into local, non-local, and businesses. This hides the fact that 98 out of 196 respondents, a full 50%, were in favour of Option 2. A third favoured option 1 and one-sixth favoured no change. Only by presenting the breakdowns, and not the full picture, can the council make it look like a three way split, with the middle option being the one favoured ‘locally’.
And what do they mean by local? Someone who lives almost two miles away on, say, the Farm Hill Estate, and who uses Meanwood Road to get to and from the City Centre, is counted as ‘local’, with an LS7 postcode. Someone who lives on Allerton Grange Gardens, less than half a mile from the proposed changes, and who travels Harrogate Road daily to work, is ‘non-local’.
Even if the ‘local’ definition is accepted, and local opinions counted double, Option 2 remains the favourite. In fact, even if local people count double and local businesses count triple, Option 2 is still the most popular. The respondents to this survey want a northbound cycle lane and the council’s ‘factual’ report makes it seem that they don’t.
Worse, the ‘key findings’ of the report are presented in a way that distorts the data gathered. We are told, “The main problem areas are traffic congestion, the conditions for cyclists and the delays to bus services.” But this is not the rank order that the respondents gave. For both ‘local’ and ‘non-local’ respondents, conditions for cyclists were ranked as the most serious problem, with 58.1% overall considering it a major problem . Only 42.1% overall considered traffic congestion a major problem.
Even the first statement about the findings, “the results show that the main form of transport along Harrogate Road is the private vehicle.” is wrong. A self-selecting questionnaire can’t show that: only a traffic survey can. But it doesn’t even reflect correctly the questionnaire responses. A weighted analysis of respondents’ answers about the mode and regularity of transport gives 33.7% of respondents’ journeys on Harrogate Road by car, 33.6% on foot, 17.7% by bus, and 15% by bicycle. The 0.1% difference in journeys made by car or on foot barely justifies the statement that private vehicles are ‘the main form of transport along Harrogate Road.’
The bias against cycling and in favour of driving is evident throughout the report. The main concern expressed was safety for cyclists, but the report garbles this as, “70% of the respondents think that cycling is a major problem on Harrogate Road, though nearly 3% feel there is no problem.” The correct, and shocking, conclusion is that only 3% of people responding think there is no problem with cyclist safety on Harrogate Road. The report also implies that all respondents own or have access to a car, claiming that “over 23% use there (sic) vehicle less than once a week or never.” Difficult as it may be for the council and the highways department in particular to understand, 41% of Chapel Allerton households do not own a vehicle. (2011 Census, http://tinyurl.com/LS7NOCAR) Question 3 of the consultation survey asked about car ownership, and not about bicycle ownership, but the report did not disclose the findings.
Manipulation of the Consultation
It should come as no surprise that the ‘factual results’ are presented misleadingly, and in a way that understates the demand for cycle facilities, downplays the problems faced by cyclists, and supports the less cycle-friendly options,. The questionnaire itself, and the options presented, seemed designed to encourage responses that opposed improving conditions for cyclists.
The questionnaire appeared to be designed specifically to elicit a negative response to the northbound cycle lane proposal. The information about the impact of the two options should have been contained only in the consultation documentation, but an extra note about the supposed presumed aspects of Option 2, “would reduce the amount of parking by 29 spaces and could only be implemented if the crossing at the school is removed” was repeated in the questionnaire itself. This was the only factual information highlighted again in the questionnaire., as shown below.
In the opinion of an expert on public consultation from Leeds University’s Institute of Transport Studies, this would bias the results against the northbound cycle lane, “It is quite a big red flag… …It probably would affect the decision of those filling in the questionnaire.”
The council also closed the consultation process early, finishing it at midnight on the 9th December when it should have finished at midnight on the 10th December. The Council blamed, “error with the questionnaire service”, but as concern over the proposals grew among local cyclists, leaflets and emails were circulated by cycling groups and businesses encouraging people to respond, and a greater proportion of the later responses were likely to have been in favour of the most cycle-friendly option. My own response was only included because I printed, completed by hand, scanned, and emailed my response. Several cycling friends, including two of the staff at my local bike shop, were unable to make their views known because the process was ended early.
Manipulation of the Design
There is a third reason to suspect the Highways Department is deliberately discouraging cycling. Did the design of Option 2 intentionally pit the needs of cyclists against pedestrians, car drivers, and local businesses, in order to drum up opposition to cycle facilities?
Implementing a northbound cycle lane does require the removal of some parking spaces, but there does not need to be any conflict with pedestrian needs. The proposed new crossing is only in conflict with a cycle lane because it is not a proper crossing, just an island with bollards in the middle of the road which reduces the traffic lane width, leaving no room for a cycle lane. But there are no signals to slow or stop the 30mph traffic. It is intended to allow parents and children to cross to and from the primary school. Is it safe to invite parents with very young children to cross between parked cars and wait on a small island, with no protection, for a gap in fast-moving traffic? The bollards are made from collapsible plastic because this causes less damage to vehicles if they are hit, which is hardly reassuring. If a new crossing is installed surely it should be a full width, light controlled crossing like the one 200 yards north of the school. A properly implemented crossing would not conflict with a northbound cycle lane as the central refuge would not be needed and the traffic lanes would not need to be narrowed.
Even Option 2, the most cycle-friendly option, does not comply with the Department of Transport’s standards for Cycle Infrastructure. The guidelines say that on busy roads, cycle lanes should be 2 metres wide, and bus lanes shared with cyclists should be 4.5 metres wide. The council has in recent years used its own standards of 1.5m and 4.2m where it considers there is enough room, and often provides even less whenever it would mean narrowing the vehicle lanes. The northbound cycle lane in Option 2 is just 1.5m wide, even where the carriageway is 22 metres wide … [NOTE: this is a correction of the original text which said the road was over 25m wide here. Excluding the shop frontage, which is not publicly owned, the carriageway is at least 3 metres narrower than was originally stated. A new blog post suggests this is still more than adequate for what the council says is not possible.]
The top concern of both local and non-local respondents is the safety of cyclists, and even the “cycle-friendly” option does not comply with standards for designing safe cycle facilities.
The Council’s proposals also failed to address other serious local concerns. The local residents committee, CANPlan, objected that, “Neither of the proposals sort out the dangerous mess of the Montreal Avenue and the Methley’s junction”, a confusing intersection of six roads which is difficult to safely negotiate on foot, by bike, or in a car.
Why would the Council Manipulate the Consultation?
The Highways Department appears to have manipulated the proposals and consultation at every stage. It has produced designs which don’t comply with standards for cycle safety, issued a consultation questionnaire biased against the cycle-friendly option, closed the consultation early, and manipulated the results to claim support for its preferred option, even though two thirds of all respondents favoured other options and 58% of respondents thought cycle safety was the biggest problem on the road.
Why would they have done this? I can suggest three reasons.
1. Parking for Shops and Businesses
Firstly, the council say they are keen to support local businesses. All of the options were heavily concerned with preserving parking along Harrogate Road, and ensuring parking spaces are available outside local shops and businesses. But even among the business respondents, fewer than half wanted no change, and 38% favoured the most cycle-friendly option even though it reduced parking. 10 out of 13 businesses said they wanted all parking spaces retained, but studies show that retailers hugely overestimate the number of people arriving by car, and the importance of providing parking. People prefer to walk or cycle around their neighbourhood if they feel safe to do so. If Harrogate Road and the rest of Chapel Allerton were more pleasant to move around by bike or on foot, the demand for parking would be reduced. Pedestrian shopping areas are attractive precisely because they do not have parking adjacent to the shops and traffic passing by. I would imagine that if the whole central triangle of Chapel Allerton were pedestrianised, the businesses around the centre would be very likely to see a boom in business as the whole area became a more pleasant place to eat, shop and relax.
2. Safety Targets
Leeds has targets for reducing the number of people killed or injured on its roads. The Safer Roads Action Plan is out for consultation at present, although the consultation does not seem to be accessible on the Council’s ‘Talking Point’ site.
The new plan doesn’t break down the number of people killed or seriously injured into cyclists, pedestrians, and car users, like the previous plan did. But the 2011 Leeds Road Casualties Report shows that in recent years the number of people killed or injured in cars has steadily reduced, mostly due to improved car design and medical intervention. The number of pedestrians killed or seriously injured has fallen only slightly in recent years, after a reduction from 1994 to 2005. This was probably due to people walking less, and more children being driven to school, although child pedestrian casualties have not reduced since 2005. The number of cyclists killed or seriously injured is rising, with a clear upward trend over the last five years, which the council says is due to an increase in cycle use. The Council’s 2013 plan quotes a 43% growth in cycling and an 18% casualty increase, and its 2011 casualty report claims a doubling of cycle commuters into the city centre. But comparing 2001, when 25 cyclists were killed or seriously injured on bikes and 1.10% of journeys to work were on bikes, with 2011, when 40 cyclists were killed or seriously injured and 1.75% of work journeys were by bike, it seems that cycling to work has not got any safer in ten years. (source: Census Data 2001 and 2011, ONS)
It is clear that driving is getting safer per mile driven, but it seems that walking and cycling may not be getting safer at all. Since the targets are absolute numbers of people, not rates per mile or per journey, reducing the number of cyclists and pedestrians helps the council to meet their targets because driving is over forty times safer per mile than cycling . While the council says it wants to promote walking and cycling, the focus on safety target s and measurements is set up to discourage active travel modes, which are currently more risky than driving. And the council doesn’t seem able to take the necessary steps to make walking and cycling safer, as can be seen by every single cycle lane in the city being below the DfT’s recommended width.
3. Is Harrogate Road for Cars or for People?
The biggest reason for the Council’s failure to support cycling on Harrogate Road was identified by the local residents association, CANPlan, who said that the proposals were ‘Highways thinking about the highway only.’ The fundamental problem is that Harrogate Road is being regarded as, and treated as, a major arterial route by the Council. It is not being treated as it should be: as a place where people live, shop, and work. Harrogate Road is not an A-road, or even a B-road, and the concern of planners should not be traffic capacity. Scott Hall Road was constructed as an A-road to carry through traffic, but Harrogate Road is faster for many car journeys, and carries a substantial volume of non-local traffic. In fact, some of the traffic is not even travelling to Leeds, as Harrogate Road is a quicker alternative than the main trunk road and motorway network for travelling from, for example, Harrogate to Wakefield.
The most fundamental concern of Leeds’ Highways Department is getting as many cars in and out of Leeds as fast as possible. Harrogate Road is a route, and not a place, for them. Leeds still is ‘The Motorway City of the 70s’ as it proudly boasted at its sorting offices…At the moment, Harrogate Road is a barrier to people walking and cycling to the local shops and restaurants. I know this from many, many conversations with neighbours and customers of my shop in Chapel Allerton. It carries too much traffic, travelling too fast. It is intimidating and difficult to cross on foot or by bike and is dangerous to cycle along. It needs more safe crossings, slower traffic speeds, and dedicated lanes for bicycles. It needs positive measures to encourage people to leave the car at home and walk, cycle, and use public transport.
The Highways Department just don’t understand this. For fifty years they have been designing a city for cars, not for people, where the only priority is vehicles moving as swiftly and smoothly as possible. As a consequence, over 1000 pedestrians and over 350 cyclists have been killed or seriously injured on Leeds roads in the last ten years. Many more have had minor injuries or near-misses and some will have changed their behaviour as a result. With a low rate of cycling and around forty cyclists killed or seriously injured every year, Leeds is twice as dangerous for cycling as Manchester, Bristol, Nottingham or Liverpool, four times more dangerous than Hull and eight times more dangerous than York. As things stand, more cycling and more walking means more deaths and more serious injuries. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Leeds is among the most polluted cities in Europe, with pollution from motor vehicles killing more than a thousand people a year, and Leeds does not expect to meet its 2010 pollution targets until at least 2020. The city also faces rising healthcare costs from an epidemic of obesity and diabetes as a result of sedentary lifestyles.
Leeds is car-sick, and the Highways Department will not do what is needed to make walking and cycling safe and convenient, and make the people of Leeds healthier, happier, and wealthier. The whole mindset of the Council and the Highways Department needs to change, starting with a new set of proposals to make Harrogate Road a pleasant and safe place to live, shop, eat, walk, and cycle.