The new £29 million Cycle Superhighway has already had more than it’s fair share of bashers.
Here at the Dispatch we’ve rightly highlighted the adverse impact its construction has had on businesses at Stanningley Town Street and Stanningley Road. The scheme, running late and rumoured to be over budget, has had communication issues with traders and has undoubtedly damaged trade, perhaps irrevocably for some. I’ve lost count of the number of comments I’ve seen posted by readers or by folk on Facebook labelling it a ‘white elephant’.
I’ve also had one Leeds councillor recently tell me that it wasn’t the answer to the city’s transport problems – and some have spoken publicly of their scepticism of the scheme.
I’m minded to agree with them. By itself, it probably isn’t the answer. It’s not currently going to win many popularity contests with some people in West Leeds.
I’m also conscious of the number of times we’ve spent highlighting the fact that much of Leeds at peak times is constantly gridlocked. In the last Wild West column I argued that it was time for a city-wide discussion on this issue. I stand by that – it is.
But I’m going to make myself unpopular here by saying the cycle superhighway at least deserves a chance.
Why? Well, a bit of basic research shows similar schemes have worked elsewhere, for starters. I stumbled across this article about similar schemes in New York.
The article, posted on sustainable design Fastcoexist.com, says:
“When New York City first started adding new protected bike lanes in 2007, some drivers made the usual argument against them: Taking street space away from cars would slow down traffic. After years of collecting data, a new report from the city shows that the opposite is true. On some streets redesigned with protected bike lanes, travel times are actually faster. And it turns out the new lanes have a range of other benefits as well.”
The article adds pedestrian injuries have dropped an average of 22% on streets with bike lanes. Cyclist injuries have also decreased; on 9th Avenue, for example, even though far more bikes are on the street, cyclist injuries have gone down by 65%. Travel times have apparently decreased for cars, according to stats.
Over the past seven years, New York has installed over 30 miles of protected bike lanes, but that’s just the beginning and it’s the city’s plan to do five miles of protected bike lanes every year in future.
Perhaps we could also learn something from the Spanish city of Seville, where cycling has increased 11-fold in recent years. Proof that any city can get lots of people riding by building an ambitious network of connected, segregated bike lanes?
Heck, cycle lanes in Amsterdam have proven so popular that they’re now facing, yep, you’ve guessed it, congestion on the lanes themselves …
Now, I know Stanningley Bottom isn’t New York or Seville and Stanningley Road isn’t Amsterdam. But if other cities can reduce their traffic congestion via this method, why can’t we? Why are we so different here in Leeds? Are we really that dependent on the car? Why are we so against even trying?
These are questions we all need to start thinking about.
Something simply MUST be done to alleviate our city traffic congestion.
Maybe the cycle lane by itself isn’t the answer.
But we’re are the stage now where it’s too late to say “on yer bike” to it. It needs to be given a chance. If Leeds is to ever break its gridlock hell, maybe there’s more riding on this cycle lane than just a few cyclists.
Wild West is a weekly comment column. Views are those of the author, not those of West Leeds Dispatch.