Once more around the Loop, dear friends

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?

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4 Responses to Once more around the Loop, dear friends

  1. I might be wrong here (memory can be deceiving, it happened back in the mid/late 1990s) but I think the Loop was created to take motor traffic off the main shopping streets in the very centre of town.

    Before the Loop, cars were permitted without restriction all the way along the Headrow, Vicar Lane, even Briggate! (Who’d want to go back to motor vehicles on Briggate?) The junction of Park Row/Boar Lane/Wellington Street/Bishopsgate Street wasn’t restricted either, for example. This meant that motor traffic from one part of the city centre to another went along the main shopping streets.

    Leeds City Council, with their usual delusions of grandeur, was jumping on the latest “we’re a major city too!” bandwagon, which was pedestrianisation. So the Loop was created to send motor traffic around the Briggate/Headrow shopping nexus rather than through it.

    In the early days, many people fought the loop by trying to drive the shortest route possible, but I found that the best option was merely to succumb to it’s gyrations, even if it meant going the long way around.

    Great blog, by the way. (I’ve had a post entitled “Leeds, Motorway City of the 70s” in my drafts for quite a while, must get around to finishing it!)

  2. malaconotus says:

    Yes, that’s how I understand the history as well. Although I prefer, “Leeds turned the city centre into a massive roundabout and then pretended the centre of it was meant to be a pedestrian-friendly shopping area.”

    Thanks for the positive comment on the blog. We’ve got a few more very interesting and quite shocking facts on cycling levels and cycling safety in Leeds which should be up next week.

  3. Graham says:

    Hi. I’m not sure what the problem is here. The loop has provided a pedestrianised heart to the city (who would want cars on Briggate as you say!). The answer to Michael MacIntyre’s contrived dig is of course to walk – so it encourages journeys on foot. Yes, it is difficult to drive 100 yards in one direction, so avoid using the car – that is one of the purposes of the loop. The other is to keep traffic flowing outside of the heart of the city centre – which your post says it does – traffic can get around and across the city quite free-flowingly.

    Cycling round the loop itself is not for the faint-hearted I would agree, but it has also created quieter streets around it, which are good for cyclists. Vicar Lane and Boar Lane are now quite simple to cycle down – buses being the main traffic. The streets to the west around Park Square and behind the Town Hall, are also quiet. I regularly cycle from Whitehall Road up to Millenium Square without hitting much traffic at all.

    The biggest issue with the loop is for people unfamiliar to Leeds. But I bet most of them struggled with it before as well, and in the days of sat-nav, this is surely less of a problem.

    I’m a cyclist and a pedestrian. I can’t remember the last time I drove into Leeds. But I like the loop. I think it was a bold design and it has worked.

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