The Social Business

A few immediate thoughts on Leeds Transport Summit

It was the Leeds Transport Summit this afternoon. I thought I’d try to share a few quick thoughts about how I thought it went – and some of the key themes that emerged for me. You can see what other people thought on #LeedsTransport .

I thought that generally it was a good event. The Council were keen to make the point that it was the start of a wider conversation – to be held with Leeds citizens over the coming months. And as a starting point, I thought it went well. I have a short attention span – and I stayed interested until then end, so that suggests it was pretty good. Here are a few quick reflections:

Agreeing and communicating the long-term vision is crucial
This was the key theme for me, and came out in various ways in the presentations from various people, including Peter Hendy (Chairman of Network Rail), Cllr Judith Blake (Leader of Leeds City Council) and Professor Greg Marsden from Leeds University. In different ways, each of them said we need to work out what the end-game is – why are we going to invest, over the long term, in transport.

Peter Hendy was pretty clear that it was about the economy. Other speakers, whilst acknowledging the key importance of economic growth, looked more broadly at the social and environmental benefits of strategic investment in sustainable transport.

Peter Hendy also made a key point around the importance of a strong vision – in that it helps you to win the short-term arguments around issues such as road-space reallocation. It’s never easy, but if people can see what the long-term goal is, they may be more likely to accept short term inconvenience.

Personally, I think we’re really going to have to work at this one. I’m not a transport expert, but I’ve read enough to know that assessment models for transport investment are far from perfect – and they tend towards valuing economic benefits over everything else. This tweet from Leeds’ Chief Officer – Economy and Regeneration, Tom Bridges, summarises the problem we’ve got very well. I do think there are senior people in Leeds who get the fact that we need to think beyond economic benefits – but we’re really going to need to get our act together and make a broader case for transport investment- beyond the economic case.

Re-allocation of roadspace is on the agenda
People like me who are into walking, cycling and public transport bang on a lot about the need to re-allocate space on our roads. Transport professionals talk about the Reverse Traffic Pyramid – making it clear that you prioritise modes of transport that make the most efficient use of limited space. Reallocating road space was discussed by several speakers.

Now, talking about it is the easy bit. The hard part is doing it, as, many would argue, has been demonstrated by the design of Leeds soon-to-open Cycle Superhighway, which has notably not taken much space from cars. So there’s plenty to do here, but I think it’s positive that it was at least talked about, without any hissing or booing.

Are we entering a golden age for the good old bus?

The politicians who spoke were keen to emphasise that all options are on the table – and they recognise the need to be ambitious. But I heard more than I expected about buses. Clearly there’s a strong political will locally to take back control of buses after what many (including me) would argue are years of pretty disastrous de-regulation. Park and Ride was talked up too (@LeedsJourno will be pleased).

As I say, today wasn’t about deciding or announcing what the money will be spent on, but I certainly came away with the feeling that buses are going to play a big part in the future of Leeds public transport. That may disappoint some people. But – if coupled with a significant reallocation of roadspace to speed up bus journeys – maybe it could be a pragmatic, relatively cheap and quick way forward for Leeds. Again, I’m no expert, but I read enough to know that much of the smart money in cities around the world is on Bus Rapid Transit – investment in decent buses, on main routes, with top quality bus lane & ticketing infrastructure. I wouldn’t be too surprised to see us go down this road.

Involving citizens is vital

To say Leeds people are fed up with how things are is probably a bit of an understatement. Feedback sent via email before the Summit apparently included a pretty loud and clear message: “Whatever you do, just bloody get on with it.” We need to really engage Leeds people in this process, and that’ll take some thinking through. It was mentioned that Community Committees will be central to the consultation process. I’ll be honest, I haven’t been to a Community Committee, but I think we’re going to need to work a bit harder than that to truly engage local people in this issue. I don’t have the answers, but I hope we can look elsewhere at how other cities, like Toronto under Jennifer Keesmaat’s leadership – have involved local people in thinking through the future of their city.

And maybe, just maybe, we could host a meal for 500 Leeds people on the Inner Ring Road one evening this summer – to discuss the future of our city? What do you reckon?

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1 Comment

  1. For what it is worth (not very much I know) what I have read so far on the transport summit is basically what I could have heard at any point in the last 25 years.

    Personally I am working on a transport programme for a scenario for approximately 20-30 ahead when I imagine that quite a lot of what are considered today are about as relevant as Motorway City of the Seventies.

    Broadly speaking then the city of today is in long term decline as a geographical place in which economic activity happens – this will become highly localised, regional, inter regional or virtual. The work spaces of tomorrow are not in the city centre but in my garden shed, at my local cafĂ©, at a peripheral business park or a motorway service station.

    If I need health care I will get it on line or at a not too distant “hub”; the city centre shopping experience is already not for my demographic so I buy on-line or shop locally. I guess the goods will arrive by drone.

    My cultural “footprint” is already at least regional if not international but how long this will continue is doubtful as travel costs increase – anyway I can see all I want already on the interweb.

    I will not own a car unless I get through the organisation I work for or am a registered disabled user – cars and driving will largely be regarded as smoking is today as a health risk to myself and others. The air in cities will be regarded as something to be avoided so there will be further pressures towards outward migration and peripheralisation.

    Of course old style civic leaders will try to keep their “brands” afloat by organising vacuous events which will be accessed only by forced by poverty and lack of opportunities to service what remains of low cost city centre retail and services – see sports direct. But by this stage economic, social and cultural life will basically be somewhere else.

    If any of this has any purchase on the future then the government did Leeds a favour by scrapping the trolley bus scheme but left the civic leadership with enough money to play about with schemes that will be of increasing marginality.

    Of course if you ask people what they want they will basically say a better version of what we have now – speculating about the future is just a waste of time.

    Kind regards


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