Words: Richard Beecham, local democracy reporter
Some members of an influential Leeds City Council committee have urged decision-makers to press ahead with plans to trial allowing motorcycles to ride in a bus lane in west Leeds.
Plans to allow motorbikes to the marked lanes in parts of west Leeds were originally brought forward in September 2019, after which, councillors proposed a trial on the A65 from Abbey Road, Kirkstall, to the city centre.
But, having developed proposals for a scheme, council officers now say they did not get the support of Kirkstall ward councillors, due to their concerns about the safety of cyclists.
Speaking at a meeting of the council’s Infrastructure Scrutiny Committee this week, the chair of the panel Coun Paul Truswell (Lab) said:
“In principle the board was sympathetic to the idea of supporting motorcycling as a much more environmentally friendly form of transport.
“However, as we found, it’s been difficult to translate that in-principle support into practice.
“The other great obstacle, it’s clear that no one bus lane is representative, so if we have a trial, the results are only applicable to that bus lane.”
But other members of the panel voiced their frustrations at the scheme’s lack of progress two years in.
Coun Jonathan Taylor (Con) said:
“We are looking to expand bus lanes and bus provisions and this trial would give us the opportunity. It may work or it may be deemed unsuitable, but we should encourage the administration to go along with it.
“This guidance suggesting cyclists will be under more inherent risk from a motorcycle than a bus or a taxi using the bus lane just doesn’t fly with me.
“Kirkstall ward members are saying the trial should take place elsewhere in Leeds. This sort of NIMBY-ism that we are coming to expect from certain quarters is really not helpful.
“The amount of initiatives imposed on the rest of us despite our protests, also need to be taken into consideration.”
But Coun Neil Buckley (Con) added:
“At this rate it will be 2040 before we make a decision. There aren’t any potential delays to buses – a motorcycle zipping down a bus lane cannot possibly hinder a bus – it’s just not going to happen.
“On the same page, it mentions a city where residents do not need to own a car – this fits in perfectly with that strategy.
“The only objections, it seems to me, are coming from the local councillors. It is a trial. We would not expect them to exercise a veto.
“We really need to get this thing trialled. It’s only a trial, after all.”
Coun Mohammed Shahzad (Lab) said:
“Wherever we go in Leeds, we will get concerns as ward members, but we would never be able to take this trial on, because everyone will say ‘not in my ward because it didn’t happen in Kirkstall’.
“It’s one of those things we will have to be firm on and say ‘we have agreed to trial this’ – we can’t keep on delaying this.”
Guidance from Leeds City Council officers stated that, since the board last discussed the issue, “significant changes” were made to national guidance on cycling, warning allowing motorcyclists into bus lanes used by cyclists “is likely to be a deterrent to cycling and increase conflict”.
Kirkstall councillors’ concerns were based on the perceived risk to cyclists caused by allowing motorcyclists to use the A65 bus lanes.
A council report added:
“The A65 is the only bus lane in Leeds which conforms to the widths specified. Because of this, Kirkstall members question the utility of a trial which would not be able to inform the other bus lanes in Leeds, a trial could only inform a position on the A65.
“Therefore they see the risk inherent in a trial which could only have limited use in informing future policy as being unsupportable, with any benefits motorcyclists may accrue, not to be worth discomforting and deterring cyclists, nor risking injury to cyclists.”
The council’s portfolio holder for transport, Coun Helen Hayden (Lab), said:
“I am very cognicient of the ward members and their residents, but it is a citywide issue.
“When I looked at what the cyclists said, they would like a segregated cycle lane. That to me makes a lot of sense.
“It would be very confusing if you could use one bus lane and not another. But in terms of having a trial, I am in favour of that if we can find a suitable site.”
Members of the panel voted for a working group to look further into the issue.