Traffic-choked Leeds is turning to park and ride schemes as it attempts to stop its roads grinding to a halt. Paul Robinson reports on plans that could make a big difference to the rush hour.
FOR THOSE commuters who spend the morning and evening rush hours queuing and stewing in their cars, a solution to Leeds’s traffic woes must seem a depressingly distant prospect.
After all, the city’s trolleybus – or New Generation Transport (NGT) – scheme is in limbo, with a decision not due on its fate until after a lengthy public inquiry that starts later this month.
In one respect, however, the battle to beat Leeds’s congestion blues is at last gathering momentum.
Work is now under way on the city’s biggest ever bus park and ride scheme, on land next to Leeds United’s Elland Road ground.
Express double-decker bus services will take just six minutes to reach the city centre from the 800-space site.
Plans have also been announced for a 1,000-space bus park and ride facility on land off Pontefract Lane in Cross Green, part of the Aire Valley enterprise zone.
And today council bosses said the Elland Road and Aire Valley schemes provided a glimpse into the future of transport in Yorkshire’s unofficial capital. Leeds City Council’s executive member for economy and development, Coun Richard Lewis, told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “We absolutely want to have more park and rides to come.
“You look and think about any city in the 21st century and taking steps to stop large numbers of cars going into its centre is the best thing to do.”
Coun Lewis added: “Park and ride removes the most stressful and slowest bits of a commuter journey – the last two or three miles of city driving and the search for suitable parking.”
The Elland Road and Aire Valley sites are not, though, a case of Leeds breaking entirely new ground.
The city has had a bus park and ride in place at King Lane in Alwoodley since 1998 without it achieving any significant success.
Relatively small scale and connected to the city by the Scott Hall Road guided bus route, at times only 60 or so of its 157 spaces are filled.
But Coun Lewis is confident that the new sites will flourish where the King Lane venture has, to an extent, failed.
He said: “The King Lane park and ride is a small site and has no dedicated transport link – it is simply adjacent to bus stops for a standard bus service, albeit one that has improved journey times over other services due to it using a segregated guided bus way for some of its journey.
“You really need to offer an incentive to people to abandon their cars and use park and ride, either in the form of a dedicated express bus service or something which people see as being special in some way, such as NGT.”
If NGT comes through the public inquiry process unscathed, the system will include park and ride sites at Lawnswood in the north of Leeds and Stourton to the south, with 850 and 1,500 vehicle spaces respectively. Proposed for junction seven of the M621, the Stourton facility would also have potential for future expansion to 2,300 spaces.
A trolleybus journey into the city centre from Stourton via Belle Isle and Hunslet would take around 14 minutes.
From Lawnswood via Headingley and Hyde Park, travel time would be 19 minutes. The NGT, Elland Road, Aire Valley and King Lane sites would together provide as many as 5,100 park and ride spaces.
Yet even if trolleybus gets the green light after its inquiry, construction work on the £250m scheme is not due to start until 2017 or 2018.
And, perhaps gallingly for local motorists, other UK cities are already close to the position where Leeds aspires to be. Nottingham gives drivers a choice of seven bus and tram park and ride sites, which have a combined total of 4,000 spaces.
Oxford has 1,900 spaces spread across five sites while a major service has just begun operating in Portsmouth.
Nearer to home, York is regarded as having one of the most successful park and ride systems in the country, with more than four million passenger journeys being made each year.
It comprises five bus-based sites at Monks Cross, Rawcliffe Bar, Grimston Bar, Askham Bar and the A19 designer outlet.
They offer free parking, with buses to the city centre running at least every 10 minutes and charging a standard return fare of £2.70.
There is one area, however, where Leeds and West Yorkshire are keeping pace with their rivals, and that’s rail-based park and ride.
Coun James Lewis, chair of the transport committee on the newly-formed West Yorkshire Combined Authority, told the YEP that there were more than 4,000 spaces available at train stations across the county.
He went on: “There has been a high demand for space and we have worked with Network Rail and train operator Northern to provide an additional 350 spaces at New Pudsey, Todmorden, Crossflatts, Sowerby Bridge and Pontefract Monkhill stations.”
It would be wrong to assume, though, that park and ride is universally popular.
As long ago as 2005, experts from the Campaign to Protect Rural England voiced concerns that many schemes nationwide were being built on green belt land.
And, more recently, objections were raised to Leeds’s Elland Road scheme, a joint enterprise between the city council, West Yorkshire passenger transport authority Metro and operator First Group.
Beeston Community Forum said roads around the football ground were struggling with congestion problems of their own, especially during peak hours.
Forum members also questioned whether the £2.8m project was “financially viable”.
Further opposition came from local ward councillors David Congreve and Angela Gabriel.
Their objections proved in vain, with the Elland Road site set to welcome its first users in time for the Tour de France cycle race’s visit to Yorkshire in July.
Explaining the decision to press ahead, Coun Richard Lewis said: “We did have quite a lot of opposition to the Elland Road scheme but we needed to take a bigger strategic view on the situation.”
He added: “From the feedback following the announcement of our park and ride in the Aire Valley enterprise zone, I think there’s a general acceptance that this is the right thing to do.”
* Covering a total of 142 hectares, the Aire Valley enterprise zone was launched with Government backing in 2012.
It has been aiming to attract new investment to Leeds by offering reduced business rates worth up to £275,000 over five years.
Schemes hailed as way of tackling air pollution
REDUCED congestion may be park and ride’s immediate gain - but, looking further ahead, supporters say a long-term benefit will be the difference that the schemes can make in tackling air pollution.
Leeds City Council’s Coun Richard Lewis said: “I think the thing that will convince people that our love affair with the car is not sustainable will be a realisation of the damage particulates from diesel engines cause to our health. Of course, park and ride is only part of the solution – we need more people to walk, cycle, car share and use public transport as healthier and more sustainable alternatives to the classic model of one person sat in a car designed to carry four or five people.”
A report from Public Health England (PHE) last week claimed that air pollution has contributed to the deaths of more than 2,500 people in Yorkshire in the space of a single year.
PHE acknowledged that air quality had improved “considerably” in recent decades but also said more could be done to cut death rates.
Dr Paul Cosford, PHE’s director of health protection and medical director, said: “Policies that encourage a shift from motorised transport to walking and cycling would be expected to reduce total vehicle emissions. Local authorities could also consider other measures to improve air quality, such as implementing low emission strategies as well as the appropriate design of green spaces.”
Figures for 2010 showed the region’s worst area for deaths from particle air pollution – which is linked to cardiovascular disease – was Hull, with a rate of 5.9 per cent, followed by Wakefield at 5.7 per cent and Doncaster at 5.6 per cent. In Leeds and Sheffield the figure was 5.5 per cent.
* A city council report published in 2012 said predicted jobs growth in the middle of Leeds by 2026 would generate an additional 10,000 morning peak commuting trips.
The report also said that extra rail capacity could handle half of the journeys, with another third ideally being made via new park and ride sites.