Michael Macintyre made fun of Leeds’ Loop Road in a recent stand up sketch –and with good reason (though one might ask why, if he could see the theatre from his hotel, he felt the urge to drive to it – anything for a good anecdote, I suppose!). There have been real examples where businesses moving offices had to ask their removal lorries to negotiate nearly two and a half miles of busy road just to move a hundred yards. But far from being an object of ridicule to the Council’s road planners, the Loop is inviolable: capacity on the loop must be protected, and nothing must be allowed to delay or interefere with the traffic flow. We’ve seen it a few times in plans for various parts of the city centre network, and this attitude doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.
To new drivers in the city, the Loop causes more stress than probably any other road in the region. There’s a slightly scathing junction-by-junction critique from CBRD. Growing up in York, the Loop was spoken about with fear. It was said that you would never find your exit; that you would see your destination flash past, while you were in the wrong lane to get off; that there were lost souls still Looping, many years after setting out to skirt the city. In fact, the Loop is a very efficient way of moving vehicles around the city: I would argue, too efficient. In a widespread survey of traffic movements a few years ago, the Council discovered that a high proportion of the traffic entering Leeds during rush hour isn’t going to Leeds at all, but through it, from Harrogate to Sheffield or from Bradford to York. Crossing the city in a car, by far the quickest way is to drive straight into the centre, around the Loop and out again. Driving an extra Loop if you miss your exit, or even two or three, is still quicker than almost any other route.
Those new to the Leeds road network might feel as if the Loop’s been there forever. Why did the Loop happen? What problem did it solve? Does it still serve its purpose? Not questions I can answer.
Cyclists and pedestrians might ask, can’t these more vulnerable groups sometimes be prioritised over the Loop traffic? Can’t the Loop traffic be delayed while people on foot or bicycle cross roads into and out of the city centre?
For me, a much more important question is, why must capacity and speed on the Loop be preserved above everything else? Why not try to reduce traffic flow on the Loop, reduce traffic speeds, and send the Loop traffic away from the heart of the city? Can’t the Council see that the Loop makes Leeds city centre hostile instead of friendly to those on foot, and those on foot make up the vast majority of people actually benefiting the city’s economy. Instead of “fortress Leeds”, protected by a flowing metal moat, why can’t we have a city that’s permeable, wanderable, cyclable?