Bradford’s Pop-up Cycle Lanes – A Brief Review

By | October 14, 2020

Blink and you’d miss it, but Thursday 8th October was Clean Air Day, so to mark it – we set out on a ride to check out the new “pop-up” cycling infrastructure that has been installed down a few roads in Bradford.  Bradford Cycling Campaign volunteers and Bradford Capital of Cycling staff came along for a small, socially distanced ride, along some of the routes.

What we know so far is that paint has been laid down on pavements up Manchester Road – a huge and fairly hideous road that leads out of Bradford and also measures have been installed on Wakefield Road where a lane of the traffic has been taken, and bollards placed along the left-most lanes, both ways, to provide space for cyclists to navigate their way in and out of Bradford centre.

We started outside Capital of Cycling on Hall Ings, and turned left up past the Interchange, to join Manchester Road.  Some new painted lines were evident on the pavement/walkway as we approached but there are no material differences to the route we would normally take, footfall across the busy ring-road being pretty low anyway on shared use pavements.

Up Manchester Road

We were not holding out much hope for a great transformation up Manchester Road to be honest, we’d seen pics online of a new white line dividing the pavement, and this is exactly what we found.  Whilst it may be better than nothing, the same inconveniences and general unpleasantness of the air quality have stayed the same.  You basically cycle on the pavement and although in places it is not too bad, the same junction priorities are there.  You need to be nimble in terms of sharp turns and need to wiggle around pavement furniture and to manage junctions and so on.  Given it’s easy to put a blue sign up with a picture of a bike and pedestrians on it anyway, we did wonder what the point of the paint was at some stages. 

My overall reflection was that Manchester Road is not a nice place to be for pedestrians.  The air quality as you would expect on a major arterial road is not good, and you need to give way at all junctions and really watch out for yourself, just as before.  Nothing has changed beyond the line of paint.  That’s not to be wholly negative – at least they’ve made an effort and you could take from the stencilled pictures of bikes that at least you’re allowed to be there.

If you know the area, and are familiar with the National Cycle Route 66 which crosses this road, you could take alternative – rather out of your way – routes across the big red bridge which Sustrans is so proud of and find your way wherever you need to go.  You probably don’t want to do it on a road bike as there’s a fair bit of broken glass around.  So in a nutshell – if you need to go up Manchester Road, you can do so, as before – if you have a road bike and are confident on the road, you’ll still be better just going on the road and tolerating close passes from HGVs just as before.  If you’re not a confident cyclist or are cycling with kids, the pavement’s now a legal option but you will have to do a lot of wiggling around street furniture, have puncture resistant tyres and watch out/take detours at junctions, just as before. 

If they were to improve this route, they might add some more dropped kerbs and change some junction priorities and make it easier for cyclists to cross.  More importantly, the experience for pedestrians is very poor when walking up this route – perhaps they would generally find a nicer route, but when sharing a footway, what holds true for pedestrians in the main part holds true for cyclists too.  Unless they’re going to plan a segregated route up Manchester Road, it is in the small details where the improvements would be made – smoothing surfaces, considering street furniture, better signage to nearby cycling utilities, access through the park at the top and so on.

We didn’t ride back down Manchester Road but I’m told there is also some new on-pavement painted lines on the other side as well – thoughts and comments on these welcome!

Ring Road (Rooley Lane)

When we reached the top of Manchester Road, we found we were pretty much on our own again.  We went along the Ring Road towards Wakefield Road – mainly on the pavement – some of which was already signed as shared use, but there were no additional features we could find – although some welcome signage to other utilities was evident, presumably pre-existing.

Anyone who knows the ring-road and the roads themselves would get an inkling of the fact they’re fairly horrible places to hang out.  They might be okay to whizz down in an SUV when it’s not rush-hour but walking to school across them or cycling around them just isn’t pleasant.

Wakefield Road – Pretty Good!

So, onwards to Wakefield Road!  Noise, smell, pollution, degraded public realm, litter etc… All the things one expects next to a wide and busy road on approach.  When we got to the top of Wakefield Road, this was the frame of mind we entered it with. 

We weren’t at first sure if there was any infrastructure or not on the downward slope so we edged down the slip-road pavement to have a look.  And – to our surprise, here was a fully taken lane for the benefit of cyclists!

Yes – not bad – not bad at all in fact.  We rode down it a bit, feeling somewhat embarrassed by our lack of faith and at the amount of space we seemed to now be entitled to!  I stopped to take a few pics on the way.

Most people would now feel a lot safer cycling on this road.  The limitations/risks perhaps were at junctions where traffic might turn across you, either entering or exiting Wakefield Road.  When heading downhill you could be going at some speed so you’re reliant on the drivers to pay attention.  Perhaps as part of this scheme some additional signage or traffic calming measures could be introduced.  On several of the junctions the turning angle for vehicles to exit the road would be fairly sharp so that would slow them down a bit but still – some of the wider junctions could still leave you feeling a bit exposed.

Also there were a couple of junctions and roundabouts that you still had to cross on the pavement and navigate accordingly – but these issues I guess you would learn to manage if you were using the route regularly, rather like some of the oddities you might encounter on the Leeds-Bradford ‘superhighway’ cycle route.

So, marks out of 10 = 6 or 7, which isn’t bad at all considering the speed with which this has gone up.  I just hope some people will use it. 

The limitations will be access to and from local destinations – do people know it’s there and how to get onto it on a bike?  Maybe some work needed there, some navigation issues at roundabouts and junctions which could be a little improved – but overall, a big well done on this one to Bradford Council. 

The mandate was set nationally but it took local implementation and vision to do this.  The funding provided was not large and it wasn’t really provided ‘up-front’ without bureaucracy to the extent you might hope, so credit where credit’s due.

City Centre Modifications

As we cycled back into the city centre, we were able to cross the inner ring-road with relatively little fuss and come down the bus lane by the Interchange. 

We noticed when we got to the bottom, joining Hall Ings that there are some extra bits which stretch part-way along the road to and from the Telegraph and Argus offices – these are similar bollard segregation measures to the Wakefield Road stretch but shorter.  Welcome to see but not transformative really – they’d help you navigate the junction and then join the usual painted cycle lane further along Hall Ings back to Capital of Cycling.

One of the bollards was fallen on the floor, they are quite flimsy, I slotted it back into place.  We’ll have to wait and see how well they last.  Again, this has been done so rapidly, it’s welcome overall.

The pedestrian crossing island on Hall Ings by Capital of Cycling has been widened a bit with the use of barriers, and the road made single lane.  There’s no active travel gain here though as you still must cross just as before and if anything, the barriers get in the way of desire lines where you’d normally walk.

There may be some other bits we’ve missed but this is what we noticed on the ground so far.

Shay Lane Closure

The other modification that has been shared in the media is the wholesale closure of a section of Shay Lane – a quiet country lane/rat-run, race-track, fly-tippers’ road behind Heaton Woods and above Shipley.  We cycled up here to take a look.  UP is the word – there is a serious hill to contend with before you get there. 

As you approach from the Heaton End there are signs warning cars of the closure and then two massive concrete blocks preventing anyone mowing through. 

Once you’re on Shay Lane – ah peace!  It’s really nice.  The closure continues until the first set of houses.  And after this there’s no traffic really because it can’t get through.  Any cars that bothered to drive down would be the residents, so it’s fine.

I do feel a bit sorry for the residents having had their route taken away from them driving-wise, I imagine I would be a bit narked.  A possible solution that would please everybody would be to use raising bollards that just residents have access to, and for service vehicles like road-sweepers or council refuse collection vehicles.

The main beneficiaries to this road closure will be walkers, and people making use of the woods and surrounds for exercise, I can’t see Shay Lane being used as a main commuter route for cyclists just because of the inclines and where it’s located.  It’s definitely lovely to be there, surrounded by nature and without the traffic but there’s already a bit of a ‘bike-lash’ judging by online comments, so a solution like bollards which could be raised for residents might help with this – as then everyone would benefit from the reduced traffic.

Overall Verdict

The Council has had to act quickly to implement these schemes and not through the usual glacial processes.  Manchester Road seems tokenistic and as stated, it doesn’t make much material difference to cyclists – it is what it is.  Take a look if you’re inclined.

Wakefield Road on the other hand is fab – a couple of extra features could be added to make it brilliant.

Shay Lane – it’s lovely if you can get there up the hill.  The main benefit will be to dog-walkers and joggers – and that’s fair enough.  I hope ‘bloody cyclists’ don’t get it in the neck as a result of the closure and we might want to consider measures that would allow residents to drive through – but this is not a priority for us, I’m just pointing out it might be worth considering.

City-Centre – some welcome additions on Hall Ings but of mixed quality and a bigger city-centre re-think is in the pipe-line – watch this space for info about the Transforming Cities Fund plans in the coming years.

Will these schemes enable more cyclists and pedestrians? Well I really hope Wakefield Road gets well used.  The rest of it doesn’t do any harm to us.  Shay lane will be brilliant for runners and dog walkers, cyclists can enjoy it too.

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