New Generation Transport (NGT) is the trolleybus scheme that is the latest in a series of proposed “rapid transit” schemes for Leeds. The proposed trolleybus route starts on the North side of Leeds, with a park and ride site at the old Bodington Hall site with space for 800 vehicles, and runs South along the A660 Otley Road / Headingley Lane, through the city centre and along Hunslet Road to Stourton where a second park and ride with 1500 spaces will be sited.
Current transport choices along the proposed NGT route
The residential areas alongside the A660, and towns and villages further from Leeds on this route, are covered by several frequent bus services. However, bus services are slow on the A660 due to the volume of vehicular traffic. Despite the bus lanes, the average speed of buses is only 7mph.
The A660 is the corridor with the highest level of cycling in Leeds and has the greatest opportunity for immediate growth. 70% of private car journeys on the A660 are from locations within the outer ring road[i] and many of these could be carried out by bicycle.
Cycling levels in South Leeds are generally low, partly due to the motorways and main roads forming barriers to safe walking and cycling. Private car and bus travel are the most frequent transport choices, and the local residential areas of Middleton, Belle Isle, Rothwell, Oulton and Woodlesford have frequent bus services. However, in the most congested areas such as the approach to M1 junction 44 and M621 junction 7, there are no bus lanes and no safe cycle routes.
The major transport challenge for Leeds is overwhelming vehicle use
Historically, every available metre of road space in Leeds has been used for vehicles, and today road planning prioritises speed and flow of vehicles above considerations for walking and cycling, air quality, and liveable environments. Headingley and the City Centre have dangerously high levels of pollution from traffic, with air quality ranked among the lowest in Europe.
For those commuting into the city, driving offers a cheap, convenient solution and there is no incentive to try other transport modes. A substantial proportion of vehicle traffic in the city centre is not travelling short distances into Leeds, but through the city on the way to other locations[ii]. Again, there is no incentive for these drivers to use alternative routes avoiding the city centre. Leeds must both address flow-through of vehicles, and disincentivise car commuting for short journeys. A recent survey showed more support for the London congestion charge than opposition to it[iii] but there are no plans for Leeds to do anything similar to curtail private car use.
NGT does nothing to address this challenge
Leeds needs a coordinated effort to reduce private motor vehicle use throughout the city. Leeds uses cost benefit analysis models from the Department for Transport that assign a much higher value to the time of car drivers than bus users, pedestrians or cyclists, ensuring that schemes that include substantial disbenefits for private vehicles cannot be approved for government funding[iv]. Transport planners in Leeds believe they cannot implement any scheme that will have an adverse impact on drivers, and do not propose to move to newer cost benefit models that address the health and wider economic benefits of cycling.
The ambition of the two park and ride sites is very limited: NGT is proposed to be completed in 2019, and will provide 2300 spaces. York, with about a quarter the population of Leeds, already has 3800 spaces and more are planned for the coming years. Traffic volumes entering Leeds by the A660 corridor alone are estimated at over 1000 vehicles in the morning peak. As the majority of the A660 journeys are from inside the ring road, the 800 spaces at Bodington would be of limited appeal to those already travelling from closer to the City Centre and there is no evidence that congestion on the A660 would be reduced.
The Stourton Park and Ride route is designed specifically for traffic exiting the M1 / M621, encouraging growth in unsustainable car journeys from further afield. The scheme will be of limited benefit to Leeds area residents. A link to the park and ride site from local residential areas via the Middleton Ring Road has been removed in the latest version of the plans. Provision of effective bus lanes on the approaches to the Stourton roundabout would substantially improve journey times and reliability for the existing public transport passing through local residential areas.
Evidence shows that if congestion were alleviated on any corridor by people choosing NGT over their private cars, it would quickly be replaced by others taking advantage of the available capacity.[v] If a reduction in traffic volume is sought, capacity must be reduced.
Active travel and Leeds’ approach
Leeds’ City Council claims to have a strategy to promote walking and cycling. The benefits of cycling are well understood, and for every £1 pound spent on cycling initiatives £4 is saved in costs to the NHS and value to the economy.[vi]” Recent guidance from National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) recommends local authorities consider cycling and walking a key part of their new duty on public health[vii]. Cycling improves community cohesion[viii] and benefits local businesses[ix]. However, Leeds has been unable to put these strategies into practice due to the monopolisation of carriageway space for use by private motor vehicles.
Among Leeds’ competitors, the “core cities”, only Birmingham has a smaller proportion of people cycling to work than Leeds[x]. London and Manchester have more than twice the cycling share of Leeds, despite comprehensive public rapid transport systems. London has made substantial investments in cycling in because it is much more cost effective than the alternative of expanding public transport capacity.
NGT does not benefit cycling
Although the Council have arranged meetings so that local cycling groups can study the NGT scheme plans and suggest improvements, the planners are clear that NGT is not a cycling scheme and the aim of NGT is not to encourage or facilitate cycling.
Tom Riordan (Chief Executive of Leeds City Council) commented:
“As you know, we are working at a detailed level to mitigate the impact of the scheme on cyclists and we appreciate your input to help us achieve the best outcome we can. Our officers and advisors are working hard to achieve the best balance of competing needs. The Headingley corridor is particularly difficult given conservation areas and other planning constraints, but nowhere in Leeds has proven to be more in need of enhancements to provide reliable public transport. (Ironically this could be a factor why this is the busiest cycle corridor in Leeds by some margin. There could be suppressed demand for public transport due to its unreliability.)”
In many areas, particularly on the North side of Leeds, cyclists will be able to share the NGT lane. Where the NGT has a bus gate or specific signals at a junction, the 6 minute gap between NGT vehicles means that a cyclist might have to wait at this type of signal for up to 6 minutes. LCC say that It isn’t generally possible to provide a signal phase for cyclists at these points as this would cause unacceptable delays to the flow of vehicles, so cyclists will most likely need to join the general traffic lane and may be excluded from sections of NGT lane on this basis.
Leeds City Council standard practice is that when a bus or NGT lane is provided, a separate cycle lane is not provided. On the basis of not introducing any additional risk to NGT, it has been planned on the expectation of existing assumptions, even though they do not comply with the Department of Transport’s guidance for safe cycle infrastructure. The DfT say that “A bus lane width of 4.5 metres will enable buses to safely pass cyclists” but the proposed NGT lanes are generally 4.2 metres wide, even though the vehicles are longer than conventional buses, and are therefore more dangerous for cyclists [xi]
Leeds must take cycling seriously as a transport choice
The NGT scheme claims to reduce journey times but the minimum predicted journey time from Bodington Halls to Leeds City Centre is at an average of 12mph. The current average vehicle speed for private vehicles is 12mph providing no incentive for motorists to switch to NGT. The average cyclist can comfortably achieve 12mph for the whole journey, without a walk at either end, making cycling faster than any of the current or proposed alternatives.
The major barrier to cycling in Leeds is concern over traffic speed and volume. While road planning in Leeds prioritises speed and volume of traffic, cycling on major routes – the routes most people are familiar with - will never be perceived as safe. NGT does nothing to address this.
The Council has made perfunctory attempts to make provision for cyclists in the corridors affected by the NGT. The nearest “Core Cycle Network” alternative to the A660 is the West Park to City Centre route which is convoluted, difficult to follow, and in some places “actively dangerous”[xii]. A cycle route from Middleton and Belle Isle are provided into Leeds but from Southern commuter areas of Morley, Rothwell, Oulton and Woodlesford, no safe cycle routes are available. The Core Cycle Network is unsatisfactory due to LCC’s policy to make provision for cycling only where it does not require effects on any other form of transport.
Investment in cycling would provide better value than NGT
The cost of the NGT scheme, current estimated at £250 million, is estimated to be more than Amsterdam has ever spent on cycling infrastructure. As a result of ongoing investment of £10 million per year, 46% of all journeys in Amsterdam are made by bike.[xiii] A much smaller investment in cycling would deliver much greater benefits to journey times as well as huge health and environmental benefits for Leeds
For £40 million, Portland in Oregon built 300 miles of high quality cycle infrastructure, which increased modal share of bicycle journeys to 8%. The payback on Portland's investment, purely in terms of reduced health costs, is reckoned at 6.5 to 1.[xiv]
For a fraction of the investment required for NGT, Leeds could create a high quality cycle route which would encourage residents to take up this clean, efficient and healthy form of transport. Benefits to local health through increased exercise and improved air quality to residents, to the City’s carbon emissions, to reduction in road casualties, and to the wellbeing and experience of Leeds residents would be far in excess of those predicted for NGT.
[i] NGT project team, Headingley Café Scientifique
[ii] 2011 census data; Leeds City Region Transport Vision documents
[iv] NGT Project team, Cycle Consultation Forum January 2013
[v] http://thecityfix.com/blog/building-more-roads-does-not-ease-congestion/ and references in the article
[vi] Health and transport specialist, Dr Adrian Davis, All Party Parliamentary Enquiry into Cycling, January 2013
[vii] “Walking and cycling: local measures to promote walking and cycling as forms of travel or recreation”, NICE guidance ref PH41, November 2012
[x] 2011 Census “Travel to work” data
[xi] Local Transport Note 2/08 Cycle infrastructure design https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/3808/ltn-2-08.pdf
[xii] Institute of Transport Studies, personal communication
A response from the NGT Project Director:
Dear Leeds Cycling Campaign,
With regards to your article on NGT, I believe it warrants a response that deals with Leeds’ Cycling Strategy as well as NGT’s cycling proposals.
The NGT scheme is not expected to address all the transport issues within Leeds but it does aim to tackle a wide variety of transport issues en-route as part of an integrated package, cycling being one of them.
Leeds City Council view cycling as an important element of the city’s transport strategy. Cycling should sit alongside, and be integrated with public transport to provide viable alternatives to motor transport and help build activity into the daily lives of the city’s residents.
With that in mind we are producing a 13 year Cycling Strategy. This has already been circulated in draft format and will be given wider discussion at the forthcoming cycle forum. This will set out the City’s ambitions and explain how a step change in cycle use and safety will be achieved over the course of LTP3 and beyond. The Leeds Cycle Strategy will also form a key background document for the Tour de France Legacy, which sets out how we can lock in the positive messages and enthusiasm generated by the Tour.
The Strategy is also a requirement of a bid to the DfT’s Cycle City Ambition Grant fund. This would provide funding (of around £15m) to create a ‘Transformational’ cycle scheme that will provide the initial 2 years boost to the longer strategy. Cycling groups have been involved in formulating proposals and on-going discussion is taking place. The bid is comprised of a high quality route running from East Leeds, along the A64, through the city centre (with additional city centre links) and westward along the A647 and Bradford Road to the Bradford Boundary. This step change in infrastructure will be supported by improvements to trip end facilities and a series of Smarter Choices measures to ensure cycling take-up. A programme of design work will also be included that will involve officers and cyclists working to create proposals on other key corridors around the city to ensure a suite of designs are ready to take advantage of future funding opportunities.
A number of funded schemes are also being taken forward in the short term. These include Cookridge Street which will provide a vital north to south city centre link and the Chapeltown to City Centre Route that will provide innovative hybrid cycle lanes on Regent Street. Again cyclists have been involved at all stages and their experience and advice continues to be sought.
The NGT Team attended the Leeds Cycle Consultation Forum meeting in January and have met with a sub-group of cycling representatives, on five separate occasions since.
The NGT representatives listened to the concerns being raised, engaged in positive discussions and re-drafted the NGT layouts at various locations to improve the proposed cycling facilities.
- e.g. Re-consideration of cycling facilities along Headingley Hill; Re-consideration of cyclists at Lawnswood Roundabout; Re-design of layouts/junctions near University Campus areas.
The NGT scheme details are currently being revised to take into account various amendments along the route and ensure they meet required Design Standards. This will result in Design Freeze No.7.
- e.g. Use of traffic lights at NGT/bus gate facilities; Clarification on cyclists using NGT/bus lanes; Whole scale provision of Advance Stop Lines; Review of lane widths, especially re. safety around bends.
The NGT Team intend to visit an upcoming Leeds Cycle Consultation Forum and present the latest scheme proposals at appropriate locations, with respect to cycling concerns/issues raised previously.
There has been a co-ordinated effort to address cycling concerns on NGT. Overall, a net increase in cycling provisions/facilities will be evident along the whole length of the NGT route.
NGT Project Director