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“Where are the cyclists?” Councillor questions “low numbers” on cycle superhighway – but Chris Boardman praises “exemplar” of cycling infrastructure

“The infrastructure has to be there for the journeys people are going to make. In Holland it took decades to create the cycling culture it has now,” the local authority’s transport director said in response to concerns over the cycleway’s use

A council’s transport director has stressed that local authorities have to “keep working” on installing cycling infrastructure to encourage more people to travel by bike – arguing that in the Netherlands “it took decades to create the cycling culture it has now” – after one councillor claimed that few people are using the area’s cycle superhighway and asked, “but where are the cyclists?”

At a recent meeting of Bradford Council’s Regeneration and Environment Scrutiny Committee, called to discuss updates to plans for a new mass transit system in West Yorkshire, Liberal Democrat councillor Riaz Ahmed claimed that while the CityConnect cycle superhighway between Bradford and Leeds was “great infrastructure”, the lanes are used by “such a low number of cyclists”.

However, West Yorkshire’s executive director of transport Simon Warburton asserted that the area has seen a “significant” uptick in cycling numbers, and that the infrastructure “has to be there for the journeys people are going to make”. Warburton also pointed out at the meeting that Active Travel England commissioner Chris Boardman had recently praised West Yorkshire’s cycling infrastructure, citing it as an “exemplar” for the rest of the UK.

West Yorkshire mass transit scheme drawing (West Yorkshire Combined Authority)

The debate over the success of West Yorkshire’s dedicated cycling projects arose during a meeting in which representatives of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority informed councillors and locals about proposals for a new large-scale mass transit scheme in the area, which the authority says will integrate trams with bus, rail, cycling, and walking infrastructure, and create a “greener, more inclusive, and better-connected West Yorkshire”.

A public consultation on the mass transit scheme, construction on which is expected to start in 2028, will take place this year.

According to the authority’s representatives, the project would be designed to complement existing active travel schemes, enabling people to cycle or walk to the proposed new stations before boarding a tram or bus.

This reference to incorporating cycling and walking within the new Mass Transit scheme prompted the meeting to discuss the success of West Yorkshire’s current active travel projects – and, in particular, the CityConnect cycle superhighway between Bradford and Leeds.

Leeds Bradford CC bus stop Credit Ken Spence

> CityConnect defends 75cm Leeds-Bradford Cycle Superhighway

Opened in 2016, though not without its teething problems (including complaints from cycling campaigners about its “dangerous”, occasionally very narrow design), the £29 million, 23km, mostly protected route linking the two city centres in both directions was used by an estimated five million cyclists during its first five years of operation.

However, Riaz Ahmed, a Liberal Democrat councillor for Bradford Moor, questioned the success of the scheme, and the region’s cycling infrastructure in general, during the meeting, West Leeds Dispatch reports.

“It is great infrastructure, but where are the cyclists?” he asked. “Especially between Bradford and Leeds. Why is there always such a low number of cyclists using these lanes?”

> New cycleway opens in Yorkshire – but council's cycling champion“disappointed” by "irresponsible" cyclists who chose to ride on road instead

Responding to Ahmed’s concerns, Simon Warburton, who was appointed as executive transport director of the West Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority last March, said: “We’re seeing a significant step up in the take up of cycling.

“Chris Boardman was in West Yorkshire fairly recently, and said the cycling facilities here were an exemplar in his eyes for cycle infrastructure. You don’t get praise easily from Chris Boardman, so we’re doing some things right.

“But a simple answer to your question is we have to keep working on it. The infrastructure has to be there for the journeys people are going to make.”

Leeds Bradford cycle superhighway bus stop bypass.jpg

> Leeds-Bradford cycle superhighway will help make cycling less white and middle class

Warburton added that work is currently underway in Bradford to improve cycling and walking facilities, including the installation of a new cycle lane connecting the city centre to the west, which he said would help “bring the city centre alive for cyclists”.

“In Holland it took decades to create the cycling culture it has now,” the transport director concluded.

Bradford cycle superhighway (picture credit Twitter usser LeeDotDash).jpg

> Leeds-Bradford cycle superhighway row continues as campaigners say designs changed without their knowledge

Despite the praise for the Bradford-Leeds cycle superhighway at this week’s council meeting, at the time of its grand opening in 2016 the infrastructure was at the centre of some controversy, after cycling campaigners pointed out that the cycle lanes were, in places, half the 1.5m minimum width mobility aid users need, while also forcing cyclists to give way at too many side streets, potentially putting them at risk.

Cycling UK said at the time that the route’s “unsafe” design was a result of a lack of national design standards, which meant public money was being “misspent” on inadequate cycle schemes by councils across the country.

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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18 comments

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cyclisto | 1 month ago
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To be honest where in my area there is a heaven of cycling infrastructure compared to the greater area. The problem is that despite being over 15 years old there are still empty.

I can attribute to this to two factors. First that it is a little hilly with a mean slope of more than 2%, and bigger that people not think as commuting with bicycle as something exciting.

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chrisonabike replied to cyclisto | 1 month ago
1 like

Do you mind sharing rough location?

I think (if in the UK) "heaven" is indeed relative! For people to change recall that cycling needs to be not just easy but *more convenient / appropriate (for a particular journey overall) than driving*. That's a tough ask in the UK where driving is almost always prioritised (even if drivers don't realise...)

I would say that I'm in a great location* in North-West Edinburgh (near Granton) and there is patchy but ongoing positive change. But that is mostly as I'm a lifelong cyclist on UK roads / whatever infra - it would be very different for someone who hasn't kept that up or is thinking of taking kids out. So there aren't a large percentage of journeys happening by bike here.

Looking at the good and bad:

General to whole of UK:

Poor: no recognition that when people are cycling they will want to travel socially (e.g. side by side, in a group) just like every other time they travel eg. walking, train, plane, bus, car ...).  The last cycle track built in Edinburgh was a little wider though...

Very poor: aside from ASLs and the odd "cycle early release" no provision for safer junctions and certainly not convenience (like Dutch ones); vehicle detectors normally don't work on bikes and our lights are "not smart". Treating cyclists either like mini-cars or as people who are content to regularly get off and push.

Good: actual off-road tarmac "almost network" taking me to the shops (Craigleith), to a station (Haymarket), to "recreation" (park, foreshore, leisure centre) and to the West, North and East of town. *almost* to more local shops

Poor: the paths are shared use. Mostly not normally a drama for me but not ideal if you want active travel beyond a few %. The usual issues of dog walking, sometimes lots of people walking, "yoof" and may not always feel safe (there have been several attacks / incidents, sometimes you find burnt-out stolen bikes there and on rare occasions meet the thieves...) Also poor - paths mostly don't extend to the actual destinations (eg. Where people drive to now).

Good: there is cycle parking at both stations and some racks about elsewhere. Bad - definitely not general provision, and at Haymarket at least parking area is looking increasingly dodgy. Bike theft pretty common (even from "secure" stores) if you've anything looking new.

* Currently good but council has plans to reduce my convenience by breaking the cycling links to town and station in favour of a tram line.

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wycombewheeler replied to chrisonabike | 1 month ago
2 likes

more convenient than the same jounrey driving is simply going to come down to parking. Since travel times in many urban areas are not that dissimilar.

Is my bike secure at my destination?

Can I park my car for free within 200m of my destination?

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Hirsute replied to wycombewheeler | 1 month ago
2 likes
wycombewheeler wrote:

more convenient than the same jounrey driving is simply going to come down to parking. Since travel times in many urban areas are not that dissimilar.

Is my bike secure at my destination?

Can I park my car for free within 20m of my destination?

Ftfy

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chrisonabike replied to wycombewheeler | 1 month ago
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That's deffo a part of it.  However it's not the whole - note that there's often plenty parking (even free!) in NL*.

Again it's "compare the barriers" to doing so.  Currently driving has an inbuilt advantage - it already "works" - it's the default.  Most people already do - and so do their friends / colleagues. (You don't have to explain why you drove somewhere).

It works well enough and it's pretty flexible e.g. travel long / short distances, carry things, carry a few other people.  (Of course like all tools it also shapes our minds - what we consider necessary, appropriate or possible).

Also once you've passed the test, paid for the car, paid any VED, got the insurance - the cost per trip still seems small (yes folks - "eye watering fuel prices" but in relative terms it's pretty much the same as it's been for a decade - well, a bit cheaper [1] [2]).

So perhaps you think you might give the cycle in a go.  First - got a bike?  Somewhere to store it securely at home (where the crud you pick up won't get on the carpet)?  Now is it quicker to get out than e.g. getting into your car and driving off**?  Carrying in luggage?  Is the route straightfoward, feels safe e.g. at the end of a tiring day in winter, not too filthy / covered in broken glass?  Where do you park your bike at the other end (as you say - securely)?

None of those are insuperable but each stacks up.

When I started cycling into one job many years ago I was told there was cycle parking.  Great!  However no-one seemed to know where it was.  Located it in the basement garage, OK - but then found I couldn't always get in there easily because my "pass" wasn't registered for car access (that was limited).  No-one could sort out means to do same for bikes etc...  (If I had been towards the top of the hierarchy someone might have made it easier I guess...)

* That's a complex picture and certainly they're getting rid of car parking in places, or at least moving it off the streets.

** In my flats with insecure cycle parking (lost one bike) and currently a broken lift that means it's been almost a month of five floors down carrying my luggage and my bike, then reverse on return!  I'm lucky - this is possible for me...

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Jim66 | 1 month ago
2 likes

As far as I am aware, the modal share for cycling in Bradford is actually very low at around 1%. The rest of the district may be slightly higher, but the fact remains cycling, or rather urban commuter untily cycling is a very niche activity in the city itself. Poor cycleway design (I don't know what Mr Boardman is thinking?) and the hilly terrain doesn't help either. Some sections of the Leeds / Bfd., CSH (Church Bank & Barkerend Road) are amongst the steepest in the UK, if not the actual steepest. Therefore any would be cyclist is going to need a reasonable level of fitness and a reasonable bike in order to tackle such slopes. The city also suffers from high levels of social deprevation and inequality, & not everyone can afford an electric bike. As a regular bike commuter and former resident of the city I can say these things with experience. 

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mctrials23 | 1 month ago
7 likes

At this point idiots could paint a 20m stretch of bike lane on a road and 20 minutes later expect it to be flooded with cyclists. Perhaps we should take the same approach to railways. Lets just remove 90% of the ancilliary trains 20 miles outside of london and then wonder why london trains aren't packed any more. 

People are not itching to cycle and that bit of cycle lane you put is is magically going to make their entire journey safe. They still have to be on the roads at various points and the shitty drivers are still making sure far too many people are unwilling to take that risk. My partner won't cycle on the road. Just won't do it. There are cycle lanes at various points around us but 80% of any useful journey around here will be on the roads. Does that make the cycle lanes pointless? Of course not. Does it put off a huge number of people. Of course it does. 

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Stefan Fish Vis | 1 month ago
2 likes

Can we stop calling regular bike lanes super bicycle highways please? Just focus on safe lanes, as much as possible disconnected from other traffic. In Copenhagen they also call the main bike lanes Super bicycle highways, but yet cross town we have to stop 20 times for traffic lights where there is actually no traffic anymore for at least a decade. Many times and on the heaviest routes, right turning cars merge with the ending bike lane. The bridge is so windy and dangerous sometimes, and there is no barrier next to 3 lanes of heavy traffic. while one quiet street over, they build a nice bike bridge, but no infra to avoid the avenue, nor good connections to the south island from said bicycle bridge (all three bridges actually).
Its best to take the "superhighway" and lanes on the heavy traffic bridge away from the boulevard, also because there is no green light flow in normal CPH speeds. You either have to slack, or sprint to make them all except ofcourse the last one.
If you need inspiration, look at a place where we just have a lot of bike lanes, and they are mostly very well designed and largely free of traffic lights and still improving: its of course Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Yeah its buzy... Its good buzy!
Today i took a real Bicycle highway. Its from Arnhem to the German border.

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chrisonabike replied to Stefan Fish Vis | 1 month ago
1 like

Yep. In the UK that name appears to mean the opposite of what it says (from the first ones). "Cycle Superhypeways" indeed.

In NL as you say most of the boring regular stuff is far superior to any UK scheme (simply in terms of width, junction design, basic clarity of routes etc.) However they also have "highways" but these are just termed "fast bike routes". These are often upgrades of existing routes but they don't always need to change much. Improved clearer signage may be added, perhaps a narrow section is widened. Sometimes more substantial changes happen eg. building a missing link, or a route is straightened a bit or they find a way of avoiding some road crossings.

https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/tag/cycle-superhighways/

Did you ride the F325?

https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2022/04/20/ride-nijmegen-arnhem-on-th...

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FionaJJ replied to Stefan Fish Vis | 1 month ago
8 likes

I don't really care what they call them, so long as they are built with consideration for what people need. However, if someone is determined to call it a super highway then I expect it to be a bike equivalent of a major road,  able to take high volumes of traffic going longer distances, not having to stop and start to give way to vehicles from other directions, with plenty of width and space for cycling two abreast and overtaking.

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Pippin | 1 month ago
8 likes

Where are the cars? Was it worth building these roads in the 1920s?

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muppetkeeper | 2 months ago
13 likes

it's all good and well saying use the superhighway, but there are issues.

1. No feeder lanes into it in the suburbs. You may be safer once you get on it, if you can make it alive onto it.

2. It's constantly being closed by building contractors and road workers. Even if there are roadworks on the main highway, the contractors dump the roadworks signs in the cycle lane

3. parking nobheads

 

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the little onion replied to muppetkeeper | 1 month ago
0 likes

Bradford's "car culture" - a belief that cars and drivers have 100% rights, should be celebrated, and anything that is contrary to this is not worth celebrating.

 

To put this in context, as part of Bradford's city of Culture 2025, they have put on a play celebrating boy racers who modify their cars with anti-socially loud exhausts, and drive like idiots.

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2021/aug/11/peaceophobia-muslim-men-wh...

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Oldfatgit | 2 months ago
4 likes

Are cyclists using between 0700 and 0930 ... 1600 to 1830 ... or are they using the roads?

If the answer is the latter, then maybe the infrastructure doesn't meet the needs of the users.

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pockstone | 2 months ago
11 likes

Why no cyclists?...because it's shit. Dozens of deathtraps per mile and more give ways at side streets than you can shake a stick at. Also local standards of driving.

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andystow replied to pockstone | 2 months ago
9 likes

Yes, the bottom photo sums it up. Plainly brand new surface, looks to be continuous level for cyclists,  and they've painted all the markings in the wrong places.

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PrincipiaTrek replied to andystow | 1 month ago
1 like

Yes, if it really were a superhighway they side-roads would have to giveway to cross it.

 

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FionaJJ replied to pockstone | 1 month ago
3 likes

The headline made me think there was a complaint about wasting money on bike lanes in general, but reading the article I'm minded to think the cllr  thought the bike wasn't being used as much as it should be due to it not being good enough and wanting it to be improved. 

Who knows? The former opinion is common, but underwhelming and not as good as they should be bike lanes are far too common too and it would be nice to think a cllr is challenging them to do better.

It was amazing how many people convinced themselves the new cycle path near me is never used based on the couple of months immediately after the first section of upgraded path was opened, but while most of the rest of the route was a construction site, therefore requiring a significant detour for most of those using it for commuting.

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