The Leeds-Bradford Cycle SuperHighway

poor side road junction design Because the cycling community has been mostly negative about the cycling superhighway I was expecting something pretty awful when I finally did the route from Bradford to Leeds. In the event I didn’t think it so very bad. It’s usable with care but for a hard core roadie it’s not got much to offer and they will, reasonably, stay on the road. Unfortunately car drivers will see the bike route and think, in their unsubtle way, that’s where you should be so it won’t improve tempers.

It’s not a great feat of engineering. The worst feature is that there are many points where the route winds around to cross side roads where it shouldn’t, for both safety and efficiency reasons. Even on my few trips I saw how hazardous this is – three bikes, at the entrance to MacDonalds at Thornbury, using a raised crossing on a side turning and a car turning into the side turning, and BOTH, of course, thought they had right of way. There’s no clear indication of right of way for either. The use of raised crossings of side roads is combined, in the official design specs, with stop lines before the raised crossing for vehicles approaching the raised crossing from the main road. At the entrance to MacDonald’s this hasn’t been done and so it’s dangerously unclear about rights of way at one of the busiest side roads on the route. The picture at the top of this post shows another dangerous crossing where, positively, they have this time added a give way line before the raised crossing, but why does this swerve away from the road at all? It means that cars emerging from the side road will simply assume they have right of way. It’s only a one way bike lane and was going sensibly alongside the main road. There’s no problem of space, no two way bike lane, to complicate matters. The bike lane should, of course, have continued straight on right next to the road. It’s poor design and I’m sure it will generate some injuries and even a slow speed collision can be dangerous. I saw cyclists simply jumping off the cycle path and onto the road for a hundred yards to avoid these hazardous junctions (especially on the numerous swerves that the path takes heading towards Bradford on the long straight to the Thornbury roundabout) but that has another set of problems. And, yes, the path is absurdly narrow at some points, especially where it goes past bus stops. To an extent this is the problem of retro-fitting a dense urban area with a bike route but there’s obviously a desire to not take much space from the motorised carriageways, which in all fairness are pretty heavily used. There are points where the route puts pedestrians in danger from bikes because neither the pavement nor the bike lane is wide enough.

The route dumps you on the road occasionally which means it isn’t really a fully segregated route, so fearful souls may be surprised to find themselves in the traffic (roadies like me will suddenly feel at home!). I did the route between 7am and 8am, so not too busy, but later it might be more of an issue. The surface of the bike route is OK but often not road like – it ain’t all smooth. How did they do that tarmac? Evidently some of it was done in a patchy way without proper rolling. But it cost a lot so where did the money go? I suspect more money was spent on marketing than on making it, one of the diseases of the modern world. There’s street furniture in hazardous places, but that’s common in the UK and we’re ready for it. On a dark night it’ll claim some victims…

At the end of the route you are in the middle of central Leeds with all the lack of provision for bikes that that location currently implies. So at the end there’s a bit of a surprise awaiting you and you are going to have to either walk or get on the road.

There’s the occasional bit of glass, there’s evidently some deliberate smashing of glass on the route since it’s much more glassy than the pavement next to it – but it must be being swept regularly though it is still more littered than the main road. I would recommend a good layer of kevlar or similar within your tyres, or very thick tyres. Having ridden the route, I immediately ordered a gatorskin hardshell (for the front, to match the one at the back). It’d be nice to do the route without feeling very vulnerable to glass and the like. No-one wants their morning commute disrupted by puncture repair / switching tubes over. It’s always raining when that happens…

It’s not a SUPERhighway, it’s just a basic bike route that gives a spatial nod towards doing your commute by bike. In a country that has treated bikes in urban areas very badly, this is a small but welcome improvement. Is it safe though? Well, pretty safe if you go slowly and carefully or if you are a very aware urban cyclist who knows where you’re going. Just don’t hurtle along near the bus stops, badly merged side roads and odd bits of street furniture. In terms of getting you to work without having to be very very awake and pumped up with adrenaline, it succeeds. If you are very very awake and an adrenaline junky (that’s lots of road cyclists) then you’ll stay on the road.

Does anyone actually use it though? On the few occasions I’ve used the superhighway there were few bikes using it. In mitigation you don’t turn around the oil tanker of car focussed transport policy in a year or two and it may well pick up, especially if the worst bits of the design are corrected. Perhaps it does better when the school run is under way, that was outside my usage times.

What does it need to be more usable? All side road junctions should give clear priority to the cycle route, which should not swerve off around raised  chunks of side roads or have Toytown stop lines painted on them. It should without exception be just part of the main carriageway reserved (and often, even mostly, segregated) for bikes. Currently there’s too  much button pressing for pedestrian crossings. In some places space needs to be taken from the motorised carriageway, especially where bus stops make the bike route unacceptably narrow. The bits where the tarmac is uneven need to be redone. Some weird bits of street furniture (telecomms boxes, signposts and many others) need moving out of the bike route.

Cyclists going from Bradford to Leeds have two significant advantages – the prevailing westerlies mean that in the morning, when you are probably still a bit slow and sleepy, you get a tailwind; and it’s mostly downhill too. After Thornton, on the edge of Bradford, it’s predominantly downhill to Leeds. Coming  back down into Bradford on a sunny day can even get within a whisker of being pretty – you can see the moors above Oxenhope in the distance at one point. If the wind is still blowing from the west you may well find yourself going uphill against the wind a bit on the way home. Signposts in Bradford claim a time of well under an hour (45 mins from the Otley Road roundabout) to get to Leeds. That’s optimistic. It’s taken me about 50 mins at least to get to my office, and I would not recommend trying to hurry it – there are plenty of minor hazards (as said, side turnings, street furniture, narrow lanes, pedestrians). They should put the mileage, not a time, since the time will vary according to the legs of the individual. No doubt it’s more encouraging to say ’45 mins to Leeds’, someone might just try it, rather than 10 miles. The funny thing is that if you didn’t use the Superhighway but just biked along the road, you could be there in 30 mins.

The best bit of the route is in Armley where it goes straight along the side of the road, mostly segregated and reasonably wide, with a good surface and you don’t have to join the pedestrians in pushing crossing buttons every few hundred yards.

There’s another point where the word ‘MERCKX’ is visible, but it is quite worn graffiti. Why was this written on a railway bridge in Leeds? Perhaps a drunken moment of enthusiasm, but since Merckx retired in 1978 this was a very retro moment of enthusiasm…. it can’t have survived forty years can it?

I’m a bit sleepy in the mornings so a segregated route, given the density of the traffic (in  more ways than one), suits me more or less. I’ll reserve my adrenaline for use coming down the lanes off Ilkley Moor…

[Later] Ah, if you use the cycle route besides all the usual clobber remember to carry a couple of bungees – the ancient but waterproof pannier I’ve been using just fell off, after the bolts gave up the struggle after one too many jolts… Connected it tightly to the seat post using some of its many straps and that kept it lying on the pannier rack.

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Bernard Charbonneau and Technology

I’ve just finished Charbonneau’s famous (in France, amongst the literate Greens) Le Systeme et le chaos, published back in 1967, revised in 1973, and recently republished. The basic thesis is very like the views of Ellul on technology – that technological change is now self-sustaining and broken free of being significantly determined by the improvement of human lives. It’s a view that would echo the warnings about the military – industrial complex,  that the process of technological change is self-sustaining and largely unrelated to human good.

The interesting difference between Ellul and Charbonneau is that the latter was an agnostic and so did not set his views on technology in any particular connection with theology. From reading Le Chaos one effect of this is that the view is, at heart, that bit bleaker. For anyone familiar with the work of Ellul this may seem a bit unlikely, he has a pretty bleak vision. But this difference is indicated in the title. There are, then, really only two options in our relationship to tech that have any likelihood of being realised – a chaotic breakdown where technology so ignores the need of human for a liveable world that the ecosystem in some way fails (war, pollution) or else technology integrates the human world into its ‘system’ and human freedom disappears in anything but a trivial sense. Charbonneau notes many of the mechanisms that tech uses to prevent out disquiet about technology having any real effect – various sorts of compensation. So the holiday and leisure industry helps to overcome our fears about the loss of wilderness by giving us a ‘sort of wild’ experience, a manicured nature that calms our fears. Charbonneau does hint that it’s conceivable, but unlikely, that the we might prefer our human liberty and our planetary diversity to our current technologically imposed ecological slumber, but even back in the 60s he was clearly not optimistic. What would he say now, now we can ignore the natural world around us in favour of life through a mobile device?

Charbonneau is quite a bit funnier than Ellul, rather more inclined to viewing modern technologically enhanced living through the eyes of a Jacques Tati, with a surreal and satirical eye. In this line, see in particular Charbonneau’s Hommeauto. But which has the truer vision? Both are excellent, both have a subtlety of vision and a detail of analysis that the years have not made stale. Ellul’s theological dimension is wonderful and makes him, in my view essential reading for any spiritually awake person in the 21st Century. Charbonneau? Well, perhaps more readable and funnier. I think we need to read both.

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TransAm Third Anniversary

It’s three years since the last TransAm – crossing the Southern Tier! It was a great ride, starting from the quiet sunny roads of Florida, edging around the Bay of Mexico, before taking on Texas and then mountain range after mountain range, with a quick crossing of the Grand Canyon thrown in before a few moments snowbound in Nevada.

The Northern Tier is a great attraction – the Great Lakes, the big spaces of the prairie, then the Rockies, perhaps even Canada and Vancouver Island. It’d need to be during the northern hemisphere summer and we’d very  likely join various Adventure Cycling Association routes.

Talking of Lakes, we went cycling in the Lake District last weekend. The tide was in at Morecambe Bay so it felt properly coastal. St Patrick’s Chapel was surrounded by Spring flowers, a ruin on a rocky outcrop. I didn’t realise that St Patrick was a Cumbrian according to a major tradition, not Irish by birth. The ancient chapel, St Patrick’s, at the end of the Bay dates back to 1000AD perhaps earlier, and is believed to be at the place where St Patrick landed from Ireland. Although we had to do a bit of biking on the A6, not ideal, it was a great day’s ride from Arnside to the very end of Heysham by the grey bulk of the nuclear power station, with a distant view just of offshore wind turbines (the past and the future ways of generating energy). The circuit around the southern end of Windermere is hilly but has some gorgeous views of the mountains. Spring flowers too, and a pleasant ferry crossing at Bowness. The photo is from the ferry.

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New Year, Same Route over the Moors

Nicely mild and a little bit foggy last weekend. Occasionally drizzly, and fewer people out than recently. But the sun did shine briefly during the afternoon. Sunlight on distant hills is a wonderful thing, as is the mystery of trees in the mist. I did notice one tree starting to produce blossom, perhaps this is a sign of climate change – it has been a remarkably mild winter so far. Just for once I tried the Cavendish Pavilion Tea Room, which was, unsurprisingly perhaps, much more expensive than the Farm Shop cup of tea (‘A Good Idea’) that I normally have. Prefer the farm shop and I missed the robin that hops around looking for a crumb when you sit outside the farm shop. The cycling fraternity looks so much healthier than the average person in the tearooms, pretty much an advert for cycling.

Having fun choosing Jane Austen DVDs – which is the best version for each of the six major novels? Some people worry about the production standards, other people about the characterisation and authenticity (to the novels). Chose a few for my mum going for authenticity rather than big names or high snazzy production values. In the end Austen is about a subtle portrayal of the human heart and if that is not central then it has no life. A bit like seeing the countryside from a bike, in all its subtlety, versus a high budget version of the countryside from the seat of a posh car. What a shame Jane Austen lived before the age of the bike – though I believe she used a very ordinary dog cart for heading to the shops, something practical rather than showy (I remember seeing it at the Jane Austen house in Chawton, Hampshire…).

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Road Etiquette, Winter Cycling

A car driver, and non-cyclist, was bending my ear about how the cyclists on the back lanes are not particularly friendly or polite. It is true that courtesy is required from both bikes and cars, which is mostly the case but not always. Allowing cars past is the key courtesy required from cyclistsd, slowing down or stopping when meeting cyclists and not hassling anyone when overtaking is the key courtesy required from cars. Both of these can be missing, though obviously cars have the added issue that they are considerably more dangerous than bikes and a lack of courtesy there is not merely irritating, it’s potentially lethal. A lot of small lanes have seen big traffic increases and I think that’s put a bit of stress on cyclists who think, I believe correctly, that cars should push off onto the nearby A roads unless they are willing to drive slowly, stop repeatedly, be in no great hurry at all. Basically lanes are now predominantly recreational facilities for bikes, walkers and horse riders and any use of them should bear that in mind. No problem about using them otherwise, but don’t expect to have the lane to yourself and it is likely to be a lot slower than using the nearest A or B road. The chief place where cyclists lack courtesy is when cycling on the pavement amongst pedestrians. It’s usually illegal but, as with so many traffic laws, there’s no enforcement.

Although the last post supposed that I might have done my last bike ride up the Dales back in October, in actual fact Burnsall was reached as recently as 4th December, with the ride stopping due to lack of light at Bingley (train home). The lane from Otley to Ilkley to Bolton Abbey, on the north side of the Wharfe and so avoiding the heavy traffic on the A road, is great for bikes and understandably very popular. Beyond Bolton Abbey the lane continues up Wharfedale to Burnsall and beyond. After the heavy traffic, and occasionally stupid drivers, of Bradford it’s a great thing to get into the pretty and quiet back lanes.

Having provided a car sharing scheme and built a basic, but mostly usable, bike superhighway to Leeds, Bradford Council thought that the endless build up of traffic on Bradford’s roads would calm down. Surprise, surprise, it hasn’t! Fancy that! Imagine a car driver opting not to share their car and not to start cycling in the depths of winter? Add to that the recent preference for diesels and you’ve got a serious particulate problem – hence the recent story in the local paper about the increasing number of breaches of mandatory air standards for air quality. The obvious answer is that proposed by Greenpeace and others – banning diesels from cities, and in particular from city centres. It’s all very well to drive your car but if it’s claiming the lives, through asthma attacks and chronic bronchial disease, of the people past whom you’re driving, then it’s time to stop.

The picture is perhaps familiar – from the track across Ilkley Moor in late November. I think that white stuff in the distance is snow…

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Late Summer Bike Rides

Probably the last bike ride this year up into the Dales this weekend.  When the clocks go back it’ll be a bit of a short day to get as far as Burnsall. I need to spend some time sorting out my bike – the cogs – the same ones that did the USA just over two years ago – are now a bit worn and starting to slip. I’m going to try a Stronglight front triple, slightly lighter than the rather basic and heavy one that’s on there now.

The yard is still flowering: Jasmine, Honeysuckle, Rudbeckias, Fuchsias, Mints, Petunias, still going even now, and my Bishop’s Children Dahlias. Oh, and the Hebe that’s pictured with a bee on it.

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Back home…

On the way back we visited Liverpool’s U Boat Story Museum, which has a remarkable U boat cut into sections for easy viewing. The U boat is the U534 – I’ve linked in the wikipedia article. Fascinating because it was never captured but was deliberately sunk at the end of the war, leading to all sorts of exciting rumours about missing Nazis and gold. Doesn’t seem like any was found. It’s pretty rusty but really gives a sense of the size and power of these things – and we saw a British one coming back from France, so it was a nice contrast.

The floral side of our holiday was something I’d not thought about – all those fuchsia hedges, crocosmia, hebes and honeysuckle. And unexpectedly warm and sunny at the end too so swimming was a pleasure in such a clear sea. As usual, evenings were spent reading. I read Charlotte Bronte’s The Professor, reading the free ebook on Gutenberg. A book which has a rather ethnic focus, Anglo Saxon values triumph, and is oddly rude about the Flemish. I’m not sure how successful is the attempt to think through a male role by a woman author, in this instance. The idea of writing a novel where people have to make a living is pretty good, this isn’t Jane Austen so no-one can rely on a decent thousand a year plus a carriage and four (so there’s less pleasurable fantasy than there is with Austen!). The Yorkshire element is a delight and very believable, sadly Bradford hasn’t changed that much. Well worth reading. I also read Patrick O’Brian’s The Nutmeg of Consolation, a set of historical novels set during the Napoleonic Wars and around which I’m circulating – 4th read through at the moment. They are brilliant. I left The Benn Diaries behind due to weight considerations (hardback, 800 pages).

The picture is not Liverpool of course, it is the Five Fingers of Inishowen. As you can see, it was getting a bit late when we got there, and we were not yet at the Sandrock Hostel so we were in a hurry. But it was worth a detour. A rather moody view, on a late Summer evening.

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Monday 31st August 2016 – From Slemish Barn to Belfast, c. 40 miles.

We left about 10am and pushed on along lanes up over the moors near Slemish. We were high up on Carnalbanagh when I took a 360° video of slemish, moors, distant sea. even Scotland way away. then down, down, down to Ballyeaston where we got a bit lost and had a four mile detour before we reached Ballyclare. At Ballyclare while Guy was shopping in Lidl a slightly drunk man discussed the best routes to Templepatrick. It’s a bank holiday so slight drunkenness is understandable by midday. He was a former racing cyclist and said that the area has the disadvantage that if you want to go east there’s the sea and west there’s Lough Neagh. I thought of suggesting windsurfing or canoeing. Bradford has the problem that Leeds prevents much pleasure when cycling east, and the south you soon have to wobble between Hudds and Halifax, etc. Anyway, we reached Templepatrick via Doagh (pron. dawg) and saw the National Trust Mausoleum for the Viscounts of Templepatrick (impressive as funerary architecture goes and great ) then a quick visit to the National Trust Spade Mill (water driven via an enclosed turbine into which pressurised water is injected). Amazing how much thought can go into making a spade, and spades in Ireland are pretty crucial – think of all that turf to be cut for the peat fire!

Then we found the Lisle Hills Road which was a bit busier with lorries (quarries. dumper lorries) than expected. But soon it was down and down into Belfast via the Crumlin Road, the Shankill, then the Falls Road.We visited Gaelic Language Centre on the Falls Road – Scots gaelic as well as Irish. Guy gave it the thumbs up and bought books. They had James Graham’s first CD which is a marvellous bit of traditional singing in scots gaelic. Sounds heart achingly full of longing and melody tho’ it’s usually about a lost cow or such. A voice. Then Wetherspoons and the boat, two or three miles out, past the seaman’s church with it’s half Rialto Bridge, out to the endless shipping offices and docks…

We achieved our ambition of getting to Malin Head from Belfast, as well as circumnavigating Lough Neagh on a pretty decent route. My bike’s gears need replacing but it’s been a delightful fuchsia and hebe strewn bike ride.

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Sunday 28th August 2016 – From Ballycastle to Slemish Barn, c. 45 miles.

Slemish is a volcanic plug that you can see from the road about half way between Carnlough on the coast and Ballymena. Slemish Barn is a very comfy hostel nearby, specifically at a place called ‘The Sheddings’ on my map, tho’ the eponymous pub was closed. We set out from Ballycastle about 10am got to the coast road, and then turned off that on the Corrymela lane that goes closer to the coast and past the Corrymela community that was famous for its reconciliation work during the troubles. Coastal lanes are scattered with fuchsia, wild roses, honeysuckle and even, just occasioaly, Hebes.  The fuchsias show just how mild it is here, they are six feet and more tall. Then from Ballyvoy we went over the hills to Torr Head. A slightly lost cyclist on a super carbon bike, though with a creaky seat post, asked where Torr Head was  – tho’ we met him coming the other waya few miles before we reached Torr Head so he must have been very near! We then reached the National Trust village of Cushendun designed by Mr Williams-Ellis of Portmerion fame, which showed in the quaint windows and style of the village houses and, indeed, the Big House (not so big) – tho’ there’s no herbaceous borders or entry to the house. It’s a pity, Northern Ireland could do with more in the way of NT gardens. Perhaps it’s planned…

We pushed on over the next headland on a small lane, avoiding the main coast road and reached Cushendall. It has a great beach, where I swam in cold (no-one else was swimming), clear water, shallow for quite a way out (otherwise I guess it’d be even colder). Wonderful on a hot day. You can see Scotland while you are swimming – the Mull of Kintyre looms out of the haze about 12 miles away. Then we pushed on along the coast past Waterfoot, saw an old faery tree in the ruined church (tied about with votive objects – pretty odd ones, like a ‘new car’ air freshener). Then along the sea, the water lapping at the road, past high cliffs inland, hot sun, rocky shore. Then finally to Carnlough – a pretty seaside town, where I bought dulse (seaweed) and postcards. The dulse is a dark salty edible seaweed and it’s to be tried out with tonight’s pasta. A sort of salty slightly elastic, marine flavoured kale. Then up Ballyvaddy road, climbing up and up to eventually reach the hostel. Excellent – a musical (there’s a piano), comfy, spacious place. We were sad to see the local pub closed but tried the Halfway House about a mile along the road – evidently very lively on a Sunday evening but faced with rather ordinary beers we took a pack of Guinness Extra Stout back to the hostel. It was also getting dark.

Guy discussed Brexit with the hostess – since it seems all the Northern Irish have joint Irish citizenship Brexit won’t alter their own rights in relation to the EU but the recreation of borders and tariffs are not helpful, of course. I wonder if you can just apply the tarifs and so forth at the border on the British side – at the port – and have no additional tariffs in the entirety of Ireland? No doubt Merkel and Junkers would be down on that like a ton of eurocrats… [this seems quite likely actually - currently no passport or checks are carried out until you cross the sea back to England... so perhaps it'll stay like that]

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Saturday 27th August – From Bushmills to Ballycastle – c. 45 miles.

Given that it is only about 12 miles between our start and our finish today, by a direct route, it is all the more impressive that we managed to add over 30 miles to that! We achieved this by going to the severely touristed Dark Hedges – famous apparently from some Game of Thrones TV faux medieval boobs and bimbo fest which I’ve luckily managed to miss. But the Dark Hedges are wonderful trees, ancient (300 yr old, which is old for a beech) trees, and put up with excessive motor cars and people parking over their roots. We got a bit lost getting there and then we had to get to the Giant’s Causeway, but we reached Ballycastle before we reached Carrick y Rede ropebridge – this was ludicrous really, people paying £6 to do a nice bit of coast and walk over a short ropebridge – and there were queues!

Then the Giant’s Causeway – great but £9.50 for non-Nat Trust members. It’d be nice to remove all the car parks and visitor centres and let people find this place by  walking the coast path unaided by road or audio guide… Then a circuitous route back, trying to avoid the dreadful traffic – many vehicles find it difficult to overtake a bike because their vehicle is a huge thing that struggles to fit on the road, the road itself is windy and sometimes narrow, and there’s a continuous stream of traffic coming the other way. Not so good, you feel in the way. Makes you doubt the wisdom of the whole mega tourism phenomena, doing a hyped set of tourist experiences without too much in the way of rhyme or reason. Anyway we wound back very circuitously indeed, ending up lost, to Ballycastle where we rapidly found our hostel, shopped and ate. Ballycastle was in party mood, it’s a bit of a seaside funfair sort of place today – indeed the funfair was right by us. and the Lammas Fair starts tomorrow, but we’ll be cycling out of town…

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