Can Leeds become one of the 20 most bike-friendly cities in the world?

On the face of it, Leeds isn’t a great place to cycle. The self-proclaimed ‘motorway city of the seventies’ is still ruled by motorised transport, with large swathes of the city cut off from other parts by motorways, dual carriageways, inner- and outer- ring roads. There is very little quality cycling infrastructure, which is shameful for the third-largest city in the UK.

Only 1.8% of commuters in Leeds travelled by bike according to the 2011 census; although up from the 1.3% recorded in 2001, this is still much lower than comparable cities. Manchester has 4.1% of commuters travelling by bike; Newcastle 2.5%; Liverpool 2.1%. It’s also far lower than the current poster children of bike commuting: Cambridge with 32%; Hackney 14.6%; Bristol 7.7%.

So, can Leeds join the cities that have been deemed to be the most bike-friendly in the world? You’ll find the usual suspects in this list: Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Utrecht. The surprising city at number nine is Dublin. Strong political will, plenty of 30km/h zones and good cycling infrastructure make Dublin the safest capital in the EU. Seville has also shown how a city can transform itself in a relatively short period of time: cycling’s modal share has increased from 0.5% in 2006 to 7% in 2012.

What does Leeds have to do to follow in their footsteps?

The recent All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group’s recent inquiry into how to Get Britain Cycling had a number of recommendations, not least that: more money should be spent on cycling as a mode of transport; that more use should be made of segregated cycle lanes; and that strong political leadership is needed.

This week, Leeds City Council, together with its partners in Bradford MDC and West Yorkshire Metro, has submitted a bid for money from the Department for Transport’s (DfT) Cycle City Ambition Grant Fund which ticks all those boxes. It has the ambition that has been sorely missed in Yorkshire: a 23km cycle ‘superhighway’, a Highway to Health, no less.

It will link the planned housing growth in east Leeds with east Bradford, connecting the two cities, whilst passing through key employment areas and Leeds city centre. Much of the route will be fully segregated in the Dutch style and many of the adjoining areas will be covered by 20mph zones. The £18m required from the DfT will be supplemented by £11m of local funding.

If successful, the bid will surely become a catalyst for Leeds to become a world class cycling city. This year has also seen the awarding of the 2014 Tour de France opening stages to Yorkshire, which will start in Leeds. July 2013 will also see the first ever Sky Ride in Leeds, which will see Leeds city centre closed off to traffic.

Will we see Leeds in the top 20 bike cities by 2025? Time will tell, but the last few months have given cyclists in Leeds real hope that we can finally pull away from the legacy of the motorway city.

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