Shipshape and Bristol fashion

Leeds council’s current idea is making Leeds “The Best City”. Officers are starting to consider once-taboo subjects like -whisper it- a proper segregated Dutch-style cycle lane on one city centre road. A senior Council colleague asked “what would the best city do?” and asked for plans. I won’t get my hopes up, but the very fact that it’s being considered feels like a great leap forward. But looking at the conditions for cycling in Leeds today, is the pace of change fast enough to move us up the league?

I recently returned from the Cyclenation/CTC conference hosted by Bristol Cycling Campaign, which included a choice of guided rides around to city to see how the infrastructure has developed there. Bristol is clearly a generation ahead of Leeds when it comes to cycle provision, attitudes towards cycling, and numbers of normal people on bikes.

Our guide pointed out a rare case where road space had been taken away to provide a cycle lane. I was surprised: the amount of space given over to cycles is so generous, if it didn’t come from road space, then what? In fact, the process of taking away road space started in the early nineties – nothing to do with cycling, but simply to make the city centre more pleasant. On several occasions we were shown green, pleasant places which used to be dual carriageways. They were taken out in the nineties and noughties as a way of just making the city nicer. Putting in cycle infrastructure was easy once the roads had been taken out. “Of course there were loads of objections from motorists,” our guide told us. “The Council did it anyway.”

Leeds as “the best city”? We’ve got a way to go.

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