The City Connect scheme between Seacroft and Bradford is part of a £29million Government-funded project, which also includes an upgrade of the Kirkstall to Shipley canal towpath, more cycle parking and a community cycle hub.
Initially billed as a “highway to health”, it was developed as Leeds hosted the Tour de France Grand Depart in 2014.
But the project has fallen behind schedule as its initial spring 2016 launch date has been set back to late June, while sections of the 23km route have already attracted criticism.
City Connect has acknowledged “legitimate issues with unfinished parts of the scheme” but pledged that, when finished, it will provide a “genuine alternative for people travelling into Leeds and Bradford”.
Ken Spence, a Leeds-based consultant at planning firm Transport Initiatives, cycled sections of the flagship route from Thornbury to Leeds and feels the result could “set cycling back rather than forward”.
He found sections had bollards in the middle of cycle paths, areas where paths around bus stops were just 75cm wide and sections where riders were seemingly expected to negotiate sharp, angled corners.
“If any cyclists do use it, which is debatable, they will be a real hazard to pedestrians, in particular to bus users,” he said.
“Everywhere where there is a conflict point, like a junction, bus stop or crossing, they have pretty much bottled it in providing the real space that’s needed.”
Mr Spence criticised an “over my dead body” approach to reallocating road space from drivers to cyclists. He said: “I want to cry when I see stuff put in like this. This will set cycling back rather than forward.”
City Connect, a Leeds City Council, Bradford Council and West Yorkshire Combined Authority initiative, is aimed to improve the health and wellbeing of people in deprived areas.
Despite the Government’s investment in the scheme there are currently no national design standards for cycle routes.
Roger Geffen MBE, policy director at the Cycling UK charity, has been quoted as saying City Connect “is a compelling case for national design standards to ensure that funds earmarked for cycling are not wasted”.
The Leeds Cycling Campaign was consulted on City Connect. Martin Stanley, group chair, said: “On knowing that it was going to be a predominantly protected route with wide cycling lanes, in that respect, it’s slightly disappointing that some of that hasn’t been realised.”
He said that the designers were put under a “very restrictive set of conditions” due to a lack of political will locally to give road space over to cyclists.
Stating that the group was still “broadly in support” of City Connect, he said: “It’s not the best but it needs to be seen in the bigger picture.”
A City Connect spokeswoman said, when finished, the highway will be coloured to show cyclists are given “good visual priority” at 166 of 168 junctions en route, while bollards, postboxes and lights obstructing the route will be removed.
She said a “process of rectifying details” lies ahead, while the 75cm-wide sections at affected bus stops last for a maximum of eight metres due to “space available” and represent a “pinch point” for cyclists to slow down.
She added: “It will provide a genuine alternative for people travelling into Leeds and Bradford – a safe and direct segregated route where before there was a heavily congested main road with no provision for cycling.”
According to City Connect the Leeds to Bradford route will open around June 20 before Seacroft to Leeds opens around July 18.
Second £30m cycle plan not far away
The longest intercity cycle route in the North of England is just the start of investment in cycling in Leeds.
Phase two of the City Connect project has already been awarded £22million of funding from the Department for Transport, and that figure has been added to by £8million of contributions from West Yorkshire and York.
It will create a 7km superhighway to the north and south of Leeds city centre, improvements to city centre cycle access in Leeds and neighbourhood improvements to access for cyclists and pedestrians.
There will also be improved links in Wakefield, Bradford, Huddersfield and York as well as improved canal towpaths across the region over the next two years.
Leeds Cycling Campaign chair Martin Stanley believes the region’s experience of developing a cycle superhighway is part of a learning curve.
He said: “We have to make the best of the first round of superhighways and still try to improve them where there are issues but the real proof will come in the second part.
“We should not be making the same mistakes twice.”
Drawing comparisons with the several years of development that has seen London’s cycle lanes become renowned for quality, Mr Stanley explained that improving cycling provision long term will be an “iterative process” that will take time.
He said: “We do have to make sure we get more [cycle lanes] and we get them right.
“It’s offering constructive criticism and really saying it might not be perfect but in a lot of places it will be a damn sight better than what was there previously.”