Leeds City Council is currently asking the public for their views on an ambitious new vision for a city where cars are no longer a necessity and everyone has access to affordable, zero carbon travel.
Its draft Connecting Leeds Transport Strategy sets out a series of six ‘big moves’ to achieving that goal, including the delivery of a mass transit network, enhancing public transport, transforming the city centre and finding new mobility solutions.
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The word bus appears 113 times in the 35-page document, while train or rail feature 71 times and bike, cycling, cycle or cyclist are mentioned 74 times. By contrast, motorcycles are referenced only twice and the word motorcyclist does not appear at all.
Richard Manton, a rep for the Leeds and Bradford branch of the Motorcycle Action Group (MAG), said: “We’ve been trying to get Leeds City Council to meaningfully engage with us for some time, but at best they’ve done the bare minimum for motorcycles and at worst they have been outright hostile to the suggestion of incorporating powered two-wheelers into the transport strategy.”
The report briefly acknowledges motorcycles in a section on decarbonising transport – another of the six big moves. It says: “Motorcycles take up less space than cars and can help reduce congestion by more efficient use of road space. However, they can still emit similar levels of CO2 to private cars.”
This is despite a graphic on the previous page noting that the average car emits 243.8g of carbon dioxide per person kilometre travelled compared to 119.6g for a motorcycle – less than half the amount of a car with only one occupant.
The same graphic also observes that top range electric vehicles generate 209.1g unless they have been charged using sustainable energy only.
Mr Manton said: “They seem to be very blinkered and going down this green avenue that sets their agenda, but they’re not thinking about people on minimum wage who have to out to work at 5am.
“We’re not arguing against any sort of green transport, but you’ve got to look at the practicalities of low paid workers being able to get on this bandwagon. Right now, most people can’t.”
He pointed to key barriers being the much higher costs of electric models – whether car or motorcycle – compared to petrol and the lack of current infrastructure for charging.
“You’ve got to plug these bikes in with a special charger, you’re talking 60 mile range maximum, then it takes six hours to charge it back up,” he said. “It’s pie in the sky now, but hopefully in 10 years time it won’t be.”
In the meantime, Mr Manton believes encouraging commuters to switch from cars to motorcycles could have immediate benefits in not only reducing emissions but also freeing up parking and road space – a key factor in reducing congestion that makes bus services unreliable.
He highlighted a 2011 report by the Belgian city of Leuven that examined the impact of commuting by motorcycle instead of car. It found that 10 per cent of car users making the switch reduced time lost to congestion by 63 per cent.
Other benefits, he said, include the greater flexibility offered by motorcycles compared to the fixed routes of buses and trains as well as accessibility for those not able to cycle around the city.
“All I would like to see is all two-wheelers promoted by the council,” he said. “It’s a sensible idea. There’s a massive swathe of people who can’t cycle in a hilly city like Leeds.
“I’m 50 years old now and my knees are shot. I can’t cycle like I used to, but I can jump on a scooter or a motorbike and be doing what I need to do.”
If the final version of the transport strategy reflects the feedback provided by MAG, then it will also need to address some of the difficulties faced by motorcyclists in the city.
“One of the things we’ve been pushing for a long time is security,” Mr Manton said as he urged the council to consider creating more secure parking in the city centre that can be used by bicycles and motorcycles alike.
Safety of riders is also another key concern, with MAG keen to see motorcycles beings allowed to use all bus lanes in the city as cyclists already do.
An earlier West Yorkshire Combined Authority consultation saw a recommendation made for motorcyclists to be allowed to used bus lanes where possible.
Mr Manton said: “Calderdale accepted it straightaway, the same with Wakefield. Leeds City Council, after about two years, we’ve got a trial starting in spring on Kirkstall Road. They’re already making noises about it not being rolled out city-wide, which is frustrating.”
The council has stressed no final decisions have been made on any of the ideas featured in its draft strategy, adding that there is a role for motorcycles.
But in a statement provided to the Yorkshire Evening Post, it noted the same concern about the carbon impact that is set out in the draft document.
A Leeds City Council spokesperson said: “As part of the draft Connecting Leeds Transport Strategy which is currently out to public consultation, we have set out a number of ideas in which we can reduce carbon emissions in the city and in doing so, encourage more people to access more affordable, low carbon or carbon free travel options.
“There’s a role for motorcycles, as they can provide greater flexibility of travel for some and cater for trips which are not feasible by public transport.
“But like all travel modes, in meeting our net zero carbon city target by 2030, there are challenges for using motorcycles, such as the reduction of travel in using the internal combustion engine.”
It also responds to another concern raised by MAG – how its decision to adopt the Vision Zero approach will affect the way it treats motorcyclists.
The commitment would see the council working to ensure that there are no annual fatalities or serious injuries on Leeds roads by 2040.
Mr Manton said: “As this is based on a ‘safe systems’ approach, we hope that the council will focus on good road design and removing hazards. Narrower lanes and badly designed traffic calming measure put both pedal and motorcyclists at risk.
“What we don’t want to see in Leeds’ version of Vision Zero is victim-blaming measures like pressing people to wear high visibility clothing or trying to reduce the number of bikes on the road.”
The council spokesperson said: “To achieve our Vision Zero target, we need to work on safety. As motorcycle riders are classified as vulnerable road users, this group in 2019 accounted for the largest share of high severity casualties. Therefore, the principles of Vision Zero means that all these casualties can be addressed by a safer systems approach.”
They added: “No final decisions have been made on any of the ideas put forward in our draft strategy. The aim of the public consultation is to ensure that everyone is able to have their say on any aspect of the detail. We continue to welcome all comments and those contributing can be assured that their feedback will be fully considered.”
The public consultation on the draft strategy comes a year on from the launch of the Yorkshire Evening Post's Unlock the Gridlock campaign, which set out five key transport priorities in response to concerns consistently raised by readers about the congestion and unreliable public transport networks.
Visit leedstransportstrategy.commonplace.is/ to learn more about the Connecting Leeds strategy and submit comments until March 26.
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