Working out the best route for getting from A to B by bike in a UK City you don’t know is time consuming and tricky.
A good route by bike takes into account cycle facilities, road details, traffic conditions, terrain, distance and junction details like priority, width and surface.
To help me find a good route I use a number of tools.
First my Garmin 705 bike computer with sat nav which is excellent for finding a route via back roads but knows nothing about cycle facilities. So sometimes the routes can be quite circuitous. It’s judgement about what is a quiet road can also be lacking (it routes me onto the A6 south of Leicester City Centre far too often).
Second local cycling maps. Such as this (pdf) for Charnwood District. However, note how few of the bits of cycling facility connect up. Note that Leicester simply say “Leicester City Council is in the process of updating its online cycle map section.” (and have said that for a long time). That leaves the Sustrans map which includes more detail than most be is slow to navigate and getting it from the web browser to a usable format while cycling is not easy.
So I combine the Garmin with checking the route on Google Maps and matching with the knowledge I am slowly gaining. Sadly local knowledge is vital, finding the best cross city route is not possible without it. Unfortunately, while the map may say there is an on road cycle facility the reality on the ground is often very different.
For example the “cycle lane” along Melton Road from the A607 roundabout by Thurmaston Shopping Centre towards Syston town centre demonstrates the feebleness of British cycling facilities. This could be critical as a safe route to Roundhill College and to the Thurmaston shops as well as a key part of a route into Leicester. There are some bits where it seems you are supposed to ride on the pavement but the start and end are not properly marked and there is no dropped kerb or any safety protection when leaving/joining the road. The sections with a painted dashed line on the road have numerous problems:
- cars are forced into the cycle lane at pinch points, or the lane just ends abandoning the cyclist at the most dangerous points
- for most of the length there are no parking restrictions so the lane is frequently blocked by parked cars
- there is no help at junctions which include 4 mini roundabouts
- judging by the way the over 30mph radar controlled light flashes almost continuously nobody is keeping to the 30mph speed limit
- the whole scheme ends before the bridge over the railway line before the town centre
From home going towards the city I have 3 main options:
- 1 mile route along the Melton Road to the Thurmaston Roundabout at the shopping centre along the A607. It is quick and the big roundabout at the A607 has one bridge (correct side when coming north). I can either go south through Thurmaston Village Centre which is pretty quiet or left to go past the shopping centre and then south along Highway Road.
- 1/2 mile down the Melton Road and then go the other way round the block to Highway Road (via Barkby Lane and Barkby Thorpe Lane). But it is very busy with cars as a rat run especially in the morning.
- 1 mile west along Wanlip Road to the northern entrance to Watermead Park. The road is not very pleasant with lots of parked cars on the first section, plus HGV’s, pinch points. Plus going south there is no way to avoid the kissing gate at Birstall.
I cycle to Birstall a lot. Currently there is no alternative but to try every route option. Sadly they are all cycle unfriendly in different ways with hazards such as kissing gates, unsurfaced tracks, narrow board walks, people walking dogs. narrow cycle paths alongside cars doing 80mph, busy junctions and pinch points.
For a cross city ride today I followed the Garmin for about 8 miles to the St Philip’s Centre for the training course I am on. It was not too bad, but I think I can improve on it by going down through Thurmaston Village Centre and along the cycle path at the side of the A607 until I can cut through into Braemar Drive then allowing the Garmin to take over again.
Leicester has some web pages claiming to be a Cycle City. However, the infrastructure I have found so far falls far far short of this. Real action needs to be taken to:
- fix existing cycle facilities (no kissing gates, properly marked on the road or pavement, speed cameras for on road sections, safe routes past pinch points, sign posting, some resurfacing).
- Connect up the routes so that every community around Leicester has a safe route to the city centre. Every school should have safe routes to it.
- Get everyone involved in planning for transport to go and see how cycling facilities are done in the Netherlands or Copenhagen
Essentially we need to upgrade our expectations massively. Leicester needs need high quality segregated routes with safe priority at all junctions, they need to be wide enough for bikes to ride side by side and I suggest there need to be at least 8 routes into the centre with three ring routes (on the North side that would be at the Central ring, A46 and half way between). There then needs to be secure undercover parking all over the city centre and at every school, college & university.
Then we would start to see significant change in the traffic and pollution levels as people will switch to cycling.