Grey to Greenwash: how Sheffield Council missed an open goal for active travel

Grey to Green is a regeneration project in the centre of Sheffield, with Phase 1 completed in 2016.

Whilst it has created a visually attractive space, the scheme has still prioritised motor traffic over people walking or cycling, and failed to create any viable cycleway in a planned “priority cycle route”.

This is painfully at odds with the wonderful intended concept:

“Grey to Green… a linear green route for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport… giving streets back to people that were once dominated by the car”

Design image for Grey to Green

What is the problem?

We are not criticising the greening of the urban environment, natural planting or sustainable drainage – these are welcome, innovative achievements, which have been much celebrated, and we need more of this in our city. But this should not and need not be at the expense of walking and cycling provision, which have both been badly overlooked or misunderstood here.

Why does it matter?

The council has an ambitious target for cycling reaching 10% of all journeys by 2025 (currently this stands at 0.8%). This will require large numbers of people starting to cycle who currently don’t, so any new transport or road development needs to make cycle journeys easier through high quality cycle provision. There is no other way the council will hit their target.

Sheffield City Council have said “West Bar is proposed to be one of a number of ‘principal’ cycle routes in the city centre”. This redevelopment was the ideal opportunity to create this route. Instead, it has been left with no useful provision for people who would like to cycle, and it will be far more expensive and difficult to introduce later.

The council knew the designs were not suitable for cycling

Can you spot the person cycling? Is this what “giving streets back to people” looks like?

People can now either cycle on the road or on the shared use pavement. The Sheffield City Council development officer for this scheme, said:

“Cyclists have a high awareness of pedestrians in a shared space, tending to ride around them or give way …  These interactions reduce the speed of cyclists, thus minimising risk of incidents. However, we also know that for many confident / commuter cyclists who will want to get from A – B in the most direct and convenient way possible, this off road route will not be attractive.”

This shows the scheme was designed assuming two different, but imagined, types of people cycling – those wanting “to get from A to B”, and anyone else. It supposes people who want to make their journey by bike ‘directly and conveniently’ don’t mind being squeezed into road space designed for motor traffic.

It assumes people who would prefer not to mix with traffic (almost anyone) are happy going slowly, taking a longer indirect route, stopping frequently for crossings, and having to dodge pedestrians. This conflict with pedestrians is seen as desirable to slow down people cycling.

And despite the blank-canvas opportunity and large width of the redevelopment, no better solution was offered.

If Sheffield Council want more people to cycle then they need to provide routes which feel safe and are convenient, not one or the other.

Cycle paths suited for all kinds of cycling are standard in the Netherlands

Why is this bad for people on bikes?

There is no Space for Cycling. The volume of motor traffic on the road, particularly at peak times, means most people won’t feel comfortable cycling on the road.

West Bar is a major bus route into the city, so the “most direct and convenient” way to cycle is with heavy vehicles. This is not how to encourage people to start cycling.

Protected cycleways should have been included to provide comfortable, inclusive Space for Cycling which anyone can use.

Shared-use pavement isn’t good for people walking or people cycling

People on bikes do not want to share space with pedestrians and people walking do not want to share space with people on bikes, especially in the busy city centre. It creates unnecessary conflict, especially since the shared status of this path is almost totally unmarked. This is frustrating for everyone and can be hazardous, especially for visually impaired people. The 3.5m shared use pavement is only slightly wider than the minimum recommended by UK guidance.

It is inconvenient, hazardous or impossible to cycle to or from the shared path

The connections to the carriageway at each end of the shared use path are poor, particularly by West Bar roundabout.

The shared-use path and side roads/site entrances on West Bar are not linked. How do you access the shared use path from the side roads on the other side of West Bar? Or get to the side roads from the shared use paths (see image below)? Even the ‘less confident’ cyclist who is expected to use the shared use path will still need to use the road. Cycle movements have not been properly considered in this design.

And why is it bad for pedestrians?

Lack of continuous footway

Main roads, including the pavement, should have priority over side roads or site entrances. The main street will be carrying the larger flow of traffic and so should get priority irrespective of the kind of traffic. Grey to Green phase 1 has perpetuated old-fashioned street design where pedestrians need to stop, look and cross for every minor side street or entrance.

Road design should promote active travel by giving people walking along the footway priority over turning traffic, as in this example on West Street in Sheffield.

Inconvenient crossing still gives motor traffic priority

A two-stage, staggered crossing, surrounded by guard railings (a tell-tale sign of an environment designed for motor traffic not for people) has been retained. Compared to a direct, single-stage crossing, this is not a good pedestrian facility, and is an even worse shared cycle crossing. It serves only to minimise delays to vehicle traffic at the expense of  the convenience of people crossing, who have to wait and make two separate crossings to get across one road. This becoming a ‘toucan’ shared cycle crossing causes extra conflict with pedestrians due to the narrow space to pass and turn within the railings.

Pavement parking

The new wide pavements are regularly obstructed by parked vehicles. Neither the council nor the police, who are stationed immediately next to this scheme, have yet shown an interest in enforcing against this misuse of pedestrian space.

Creation of new rat run for motor traffic

The scheme has introduced a new right turn from Snig Hill onto Bridge Street – enabling a new rat run from Snig Hill to the Inner Ring Road. This was not possible with the previous road layout.

Cycle design standards would help prevent these issues

These mistakes have been made because Sheffield City Council have no cycle design standards. This means new schemes and developments can be approved with poor provision for cycling (or none at all).

Council agencies and private developers get no guidance on how to provide for cycling when they design schemes. As they have not made any standard mandatory, the council doesn’t challenge third-party developers when their proposals are inadequate.

We want Sheffield Council to adopt the London Cycle Design Standards, so all future developments are of a useful standard and contribute to their goal of enabling more active travel. To continue without any standards means Sheffield will continue to waste money on poor cycle design, and makes it harder to develop good provision in the future.

It needs to be made easier, safer, more pleasant and more convenient to walk and cycle in Sheffield. This scheme still puts the convenience of driving above walking and cycling. You can drive all the way along Grey to Green (Phase 1) and have priority all the way. You do not have this priority if you’re walking or cycling on, to, or from the shared path.

What it should have been like

The space for cycling in Grey to Green should look like this, offering separate, continuous routes for motor traffic, people on bikes and pedestrians.

Future phases will need to improve

In press releases Grey to Green sounds fantastic, and the intent of the scheme is ideal. But it’s precisely because the vision for Grey to Green, of “giving streets back to people” is so welcome that it is deeply disappointing for the reality to fall far short of this.

There are three more possible phases for Grey to Green. We hope that the designers and the council will take note of the problems with this first phase, and we look forward to the remaining sections delivering far more towards the goal of building a greener city genuinely shaped for people.

One thought on “Grey to Greenwash: how Sheffield Council missed an open goal for active travel”

  1. I cycle this every day. Pedestrians look daggers at even the most courteous of cyclists. I have been yelled at to get on the road despite riding really slowly. It isn’t satisfactory at all.

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