Everybody agrees that there is a major problem with the volume of traffic on the A660. The question is how we solve the problem.
As bus services are cut and fares increased yet again across Leeds, it’s clear that we don’t need shiny new bus lanes, we need a cheap, convenient and dependable service.
Why would we spend millions of pounds on a new road when there are solutions that are quicker, simpler, less destructive and more effective?
The NGT proposal is not really about a new bus plan, as it runs along existing well-served bus routes. Apart from having a park and ride car park, it adds nothing significant to existing public transport options.
NGT is really all about having buses that allow the current large volume of cars to move around them. It will see shops demolished, traffic noise increased, trees cut down, local pollution increased and, most importantly, will have no real impact on the overuse of cars.
MANAGE THE DEMAND
It has long been established that building new roads does not alleviate congestion. Instead, the more road space is provided, the more people use their cars. If there are so many people wanting to come into Leeds in the morning, it is impossible to provide enough road space for them to each bring a car. We will never satisfy that demand, so we have to actively manage and reduce it.
It’s about more than convenience, too. There’s a huge environmental cost to having so many cars crawling along. As the council has a duty to reduce carbon emissions in the city, they should be inclined to choose solutions that reduce car use instead of trying to accommodate it.
THE HEALTH RISKS
The higher an area’s level of car exhaust, the higher its rate of childhood asthma. The epidemic of asthma since the early 1990s has been substantially attributed to car exhaust pollution.
Exhaust fumes also contain several carcinogens. The greater the exhaust in the air you breathe, the more likely you are to get cancer.
The overflow of the main arterial roads leads to the use of ‘rat-runs’, with commuters taking short cuts through residential areas. This not only increases the exhaust fumes in the area but also the amount of road accidents, especially when drivers unfamiliar with the area don’t think of it as residential and go at inappropriate speeds. In an area like Hyde Park, where houses commonly have little or no garden, children are at a greater risk of being hit by a car.
It is a sick irony that the less likely a child is to come from a car-owning area, the more likely they are to be injured by a car. Making Hyde Park be the place for drivers to get ‘stacked up’, engines idling and frustration rising, means that Hyde Park will develop new rat runs.
IT WORKED WITH THE SCHOOL RUN
There have been significant improvements in traffic management tackling the ‘school run’ in Leeds. The yellow buses and the ‘walking buses’ have reduced the number of cars on the roads. These simple measures not only make the roads clearer and safer, but improve air quality and reduce carbon emissions. If we’re prepared to manage traffic for young people traveling at rush-hour, why don’t we do it for adults too? Indulging their car use is as ineffective and anti-social as encouraging cars to join the school run.
Nobody enjoys inching through the traffic along the A660 at rush hour. But with so many cars containing no passengers, and so many people all going to the same tiny area of the city at the same time, the solutions are easy to initiate.
People will only get out of their cars if there is a clean, safe, swift and reliable alternative.
PARK AND RIDE
The most obvious is a park and ride. It’s a proven solution used in towns and cities around the world. A car park is built at the point where cars come on to the road into the city, usually at the ring road. From there, frequent and cheap (or even free) buses run to the city centre.
A double decker bus can take 90 passengers in the space of three cars. Imagine what that would do if just half the A660 drivers used it. If a bus carries 40 people, each passenger’s carbon emissions are a tenth of someone driving their car.
The NGT plan does include a park and ride in just this way, but for the new trolleybuses. Instead of having expensive new infrastructure, why not use the money to subsidise the buses? A free normal bus would entice more passengers than an expensive trolleybus.
Whilst the per-passenger pollution from a bus is substantially les than a car, there are some zero-emission options that take up even less road space.
The government advises that everyone should do 30 minutes exercise most days of the week. Cycling is the obvious way to fit that into the daily routine with the minimum of disruption. Cycling 20 miles a week halves the risk of coronary heart disease. However, it also increases the risk of being killed on the roads.
Cycling becomes safer the more people do it. As such, the greater the number of cyclists, the more it encourages others to take it up. It will, at no extra cost, increase itself as a method of transport, but it needs active encouragement to kickstart it as a popular option.
It also gets safer with dedicated cycle lanes. At present, lanes are shared with buses (making the most vulnerable road users rub up – often literally – against some of the largest and most cumbersome).
Cycle lanes in Leeds are also prone to suddenly disappearing, leaving the cyclist suddenly prey to a swoop of motor vehicles. This often happens in the middle of complex junctions, precisely the place where safe cycle provision is most needed. We need a network of continuous and exclusive cycle lanes if we are to make any claim to it being a safe option. Yet NGT plans to remove some cycle lanes, such as Headingley Hill to Hyde Park Corner.
The West Yorkshire Local Travel Plan aims to have a 20% increase in the number of cyclists coming into Leeds in the morning peak by 2011. This is going to take serious
Under the government’s Cycle To Work Scheme, employers can buy bikes to hire to employees, and claim back the VAT. Employees can try out a bike without the commitment to buy one. The hire is deducted from wages, and once the bike is paid for employers are encouraged to sell the bike to the employee for a token sum.
Leeds City Council are part of this scheme, but only allow new applicants for three months of the year. This is, they say, to help ‘the financial management of the scheme’, an incredible egregious euphemism for ‘we don’t want to spend money on it’. As the largest employer in the city, if the Council is serious about meeting the West Yorkshire Local Travel Plan’s target then they’ll make the scheme year-round.
As the scheme is designed for employers of all sizes and sectors, it should be vigorously promoted across the city. It requires no commitment from the employee, it is cheap, simple, swift and effective for those who live within a few miles of the city centre.
For those who travel from a great distance, there could be secure ‘enclosing’ bike lockers at the park and ride site where a bike can be left semi-permanently. A driver then uses their car on the uncongested roads and cycles last few miles to and from the city centre. There could also be bike hire at the park and ride used in a similar way. If cycle hire works in tourist spots, it can work for urban commuters.
Cycle-wear and exertion are not compatible with smart business attire. Large employers could provide shower facilities in washrooms, or the Council could provide public showers.
Employers based in the city centre can be encouraged, with incentives if necessary, to set up car-pooling schemes where workers give one another lifts into work. Even if employees live in different places, there can be a pick-up point before they get to the congested part of the road.
One of the most effective methods is one politicians are most scared to implement as it grasps the nettle of penalising car use. Vehicles driving into the centre of the city during peak hours are charged. The funds raised can be invested in non-car transport. It has worked well in London. Some detractors there say it hasn’t raised the predicted funds – that’s because people have stopped driving into the charge zone. Wherever it comes on the funds:discouragement spectrum, it is effective.
INCENTIVISE NON-CAR METHODS
As employers would save by needing less parking spaces, they could afford to contribute to schemes that encourage other methods of travel. Companies can subsidise public transport passes for employees. They don’t even have to spend money on incentives and rewards. Canterbury City Council gives employees who use green methods of traveling to work (including car sharing) an extra day’s annual leave per year.
Many employers, Leeds City Council included, pay a mileage allowance to employees for travel undertaken in the course of work. Given that they pay three to four times as much for a car (plus parking), it is already in their financial interest to encourage cycling. If we want cycling rates to increase then the existence of the rate should be publicised, the rate should be increased, and it should be promoted to other employers as a model.
The City Council’s prominence gives it huge influential power. City Council employer policy is commonly used as a blueprint by much of the voluntary sector. After the City Council, the NHS and the universities are the next largest employers in Leeds. As public bodies, it would perhaps be easier to get them to participate in socially beneficial schemes. Additionally, the NHS will be amenable to the health aspects of encouraging exercise and discouraging the carcinogenic and respiratory assault of exhaust fumes.
Companies should be doing a carbon audit, including the emissions involved in their employees transport to work. Incentives for those that do well and/or naming and
shaming of the chronically profligate should be a part of it.
Whilst this is beyond the realm of local government to enforce, they could certainly encourage it. (They could also stop giving greater mileage allowance to employees driving gas guzzlers).
In 1995 the City Council opened the Leeds Energy and Environment Centre on the Headrow, providing information on a wide range of energy related issues, free of charge, to small businesses and homeowners so Leeds people could reach a high standard of environmental good practice and save money on their fuel bills. Such a service is needed now more than ever.
Conventional buses are more manoeuvrable but they emit more carbon dioxide than a trolleybus. They also cause localised air pollution from the exhaust pipe.
The trolleybus uses electricity which causes carbon emissions at power stations, so whilst a trolleybus’ impact is less than a diesel bus, it is still significant.
However, hybrid diesel/electric buses mean the city centre can be driven around without exhaust emissions, with CO2 emission levels comparable to a trolleybus, and require none of the extra infrastructure (or restricted mobility) of trolley buses. Transport for London have experimented with various solutions, and have decided that from 2012 all new buses will be hybrids.
LET BUS DRIVERS BE BUS DRIVERS
Buses would be a lot quicker and more reliable if the driver didn’t have to wait at stops to sell tickets. This used to happen by having an on-board conductor selling tickets. This was only abolished to save the conductor’s wage bill. Nottingham’s new tram system uses conductors.
London has speeded up its buses by having off-board purchase. People have a prepaid smart-card, and there are machines at stops for one-off tickets. If smart-cards give a discount, frequent users will buy them. This means that, even if the driver still sells some tickets to people without cards, the time spent waiting at stops is reduced.
Any of these solutions will help, but it is a combination of them all that would ensure that there’s something that works for everyone. Doing a range of small-scale actions, many of them simple and inexpensive, is cheaper for the city.
This means there are no hefty contracts to be had, nor any sexy grand infrastructure projects for politicians to inflate their esteem with. But if we think that our civic pride should be based on quality of life for the residents rather than glossy pictures in brochures for visiting businessmen, then these are the measures we should take.
DON’T SELL WHAT IS PRICELESS
Our urban green spaces are always under pressure. As free, unpaying places in the middle of prime development land, there is the constant threat of lucrative deals taking our open spaces away. The history of public parks is the history of resistance to that encroachment. Just because we don’t pay for our parks and trees doesn’t mean they have no value. On the contrary, it means they’re priceless.
Once we lose these places to concrete and tarmac, we never get them back. And then, after several years, another sliver will be sliced off by another scheme. Every plan to take our parks should be considered very carefully, and we should never allow them to go ahead if there is a ready alternative. In the case of NGT on Woodhouse Moor it’s not just that there’s an alternative solution, it’s that the alternatives actually are solutions while the NGT plan would just perpetuate the problem.
NGT would make the road through Woodhouse Moor expand from four lanes to six. Mature trees along both sides of the road would be cut down, and an entire row of shops at Hyde Park Corner would be demolished. It does not serve us for the park to become a less inviting, more unhealthy place. NGT is an attack on our community.
As a short piece of six-lane road bookended by four-lane stretches, it won’t make the traffic faster, it will just move the bottleneck from Headingley to Hyde Park. The people of Headingley certainly should have their traffic problem alleviated, but not by shunting it on to somebody else. Instead, we should prevent it happening in the first place.
The NGT plan means we would lose some of this park – the ‘lungs of the city’, and trees that cleanse the air – in order to have crawling or static traffic belching out fumes. This is in nobody’s interests – least of all the residents of Leeds 6. Nobody’s interest, that is, except those who stand to profit from the construction contracts.
That the people of Leeds 6 should sacrifice their local shops, their park and mature trees for the minor convenience of people from elsewhere who can’t be bothered to use the bus is an outrage. That the council tell us that it is for our benefit is not just an outrage but an insult to our intelligence.