Demonstration in favour of segregated lanes validates mayor's cycle-friendly stance

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Following a 100-strong demonstration in support of a proposed segregated bike track on a gyratory in Leicester, the City Council says it’s still committed to encouraging cycling in the city, and to sweeping away “1960s road building mistakes”.

Leicester City Council wants to double everyday cyclists by 2018. A trial removal of a traffic lane on a four-lane gyratory on Welford Road in the city centre is currently underway, and if successful, a two-way track could give cyclists a safe route into town from the south.

Campaigners attribute Leicester’s success in implementing cycling and walking plans within a relatively short timescale to the city’s mayor, Peter Soulsby.

Leicester City Council’s Cycling Co-ordinator, Andy Salkeld, said: “Like Bristol we have got a cycle-friendly mayor who believes that building a people-friendly city is going to help the economy as well.

“The city mayor is effectively sweeping away the excesses of the 1960s road building mistakes, which were built for a different economy, at a different time. It is not going to make a blind bit of difference having motorways linking derelict factories, because a tertiary city economy is the future,” Salkeld said.

The demonstration was organised by local cycle campaigners in response to a petition against the plans. Salkeld said so far there is no evidence the lane closure has caused significant problems, and that 75 per cent of responses to the recent consultation on the cycle plans were supportive.

“Neither petition against the experimental closure or street demonstration to support the experiment have impacted the decision to assess the situation before making a decision. It is too early to say. The experiment is to help establish evidence of the likely impact of a permanent reallocation of roadspace to provide safer routes linking South Leicester suburbs (Saffron, Eyres Monsell & Aylestone) to the city centre,” Salkeld said.

“Both petition and demonstration illustrate that people are engaged in the ongoing debate of how our city streets and public spaces are and should be shared in future.”

Leicester Cycle Campaign’s Eric Ludlow said that in 30 years of campaigning this is the first time he can remember cyclists organising a demonstration.

He said: “We are in favour of what the mayor’s doing in Leicester, particularly reallocation of road space from cars to cyclists and pedestrians.”

“[Welford Road] is pretty awkward for cycling as it is it is a three/four lane one-way thoroughfare. Taking space away from that means you could do a lot in terms of cycle infrastructure along an arterial route, which is one of our campaign aims.”

He added that  last week’s protest was timed for rush hour, and campaigners were surprised at how freely traffic was flowing.

“We were prepared to hand out leaflets to stationary traffic, but we weren’t able to as it was all moving. The only hold up, ironically, was when a couple of cars were parked in the bus stop.”

Leicester City Council’s primary target is to double everyday cyclists by 2018, and again by 2023, and for bikes to be 10 per cent of city centre traffic by 2024. Part of the city’s plan is to “deliver a network of high capacity, quality cycle tracks along main road corridors”, and to become a leading cycling and people-friendly city in the UK.

As part of the Connecting Leicester scheme, cycle tracks on arterial routes will link with the two miles of pedestrian priority streets in the city centre which, unlike in many cities, permit cycling.

On Newarke Road, which will connect with the Welford Road route, a traffic lane was already replaced with a two-way cycle track after a similar trial closure.