Leeds City Council is currently consulting on six schemes to transform the city centre. The changes are sensible yet exciting, and the details concisely and clearly communicated.
The majority of the improvements are designed to enhance the experience of people walking because that’s what people mostly do in city centres. Pedestrian crossings are being straightened out and widened, doing away with cage-like railings. One (more) street could be cleared of motor vehicles, continuing a hugely popular programme to pedestrianise – or humanise – the city centre, which now throngs with people and activity, from market stalls, food vendors, art installations, theatre and buskers.
Cycling begins to look like an attractive option, with new continuous cycle lanes, separated from motor traffic. These are designed to be safe rather than fast, with pedestrian zebra crossings at regular intervals – in keeping with restoring a human scale and pace to city centre streets.
Buses are being assisted not by squeezing in additional bus lanes at the expense of space for people walking and cycling, but by restricting where motor vehicles may go. Sections of streets are exclusively for buses in one or both directions. Bus stops and shelters are also being upgraded.
The consultation diagrams and visualisations are simple and clear. Overlaid on the engineering drawings are comprehensive, consistently colour-coded annotations explaining every proposed change. Businesses can see in a single map how access for motor vehicles will change. It’s dead easy for anyone to comment on proposals. Everyone can see others’ (anonymised) comments and can indicate if they agree or disagree.
The history of improving transport in Leeds city centre is instructive. An ambitious plan to build a tram network, gradually pared back to a single trolley bus route, died a death in 2016 following a public inquiry. Instead, the council is pursuing a programme of incremental changes, gradually transferring road space from motor vehicles to people and buses. It’s a pace of change that people can cope with: evolution, not revolution.
The Greater Cambridge Partnership would do well to talk with the team at Leeds City Council, because they’re doing a lot right.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 20 March 2019.