How 11 Big Changes Have Transformed Transport in Leeds

· Andrew Porter-Emery · Transport

We’ve come a long way in a short time.

Headrow Leeds

Connecting Leeds is Leeds City Council’s transport strategy, building better connections in the city centre and beyond, with bold plans for the future. Find out more.

Transport continues to be one of the hottest topics in Leeds, and a heck of a lot has been happening.

A few years ago, we wrote a piece about the changes that needed to happen to the transport system in Leeds – the things that had to be done to match our modern, vibrant city’s ambitions. Congestion, air quality and navigating the city were just three of the issues. And you know what? A lot of the changes have happened, transforming the face of transport in the city, with yet more projects in the pipeline. Call it an update, call it a report card, but here are the things that have happened to our city’s transport picture recently.

We’ve got a new park and ride

Stourton Park & Ride

They promised a new park and ride in Stourton, to help commuters in the south east of Leeds, and that’s exactly what they’ve delivered. It opened in September 2021 and has room for 1,200 vehicles, along with EV charging points and motorbike bays. More remarkably, it’s a completely solar-powered station, served by a fleet of zero-emission electric buses, a great leap forward in greening the city’s transport infrastructure.

The two other park and rides in Leeds, Elland Road and Temple Green, have both been expanded to meet growing demand. Temple Green saw new facilities added in March 2022, including 391 additional parking spaces, along with the addition of electric vehicle charging points. The ongoing success of the trio of park and rides means that more are being considered, with funding and planning bids in already.

New bus corridors will be just the ticket

Connecting Leeds Bus Corridor

Much of the work over the last few years has been undertaken with the aim of tackling traffic congestion, but also getting people switching to greener modes of transport and improving air quality. The creation of five new bus corridors are part of this, with plans to speed up bus journeys and make commuting by public transport easier, quicker and more pleasant. The corridors are prioritised and will be added in stages, with the A647 already complete. The A61 South is also complete from Leeds along Pontefract Road and Wakefield Road towards Stourton Park & Ride.

This Stanningley Road corridor (A647) saw the existing high-occupancy 2+ vehicle lane converted to a bus lane alongside segregated cycle tracks, while a new lane was created for those same transport types on the way to the Ledgard Way junction. Other improvements, including smart technology – with traffic signals giving bus priority – and cycle infrastructure, have made the route more accessible and notably safer. The aim of reducing bus journey times from Leeds to Bradford by 7 to 8 minutes during peak periods is already showing great results.

The Headrow has had a historic makeover

The Headrow Leeds

© Copyright Leeds-List 2022 by Ellie Hodgson

The Headrow has long been one of the most important and busiest thoroughfares in Leeds, so it was a huge moment when it was promised a complete overhaul as part of a huge £20.7 million investment. Well, that’s one you can tick off as ‘completed’. After public consultation, the work was carried out and the difference is plain to see, having already made a significant impact on both transport and environment issues.

Cars have largely been removed from The Headrow, with priority given to both cyclists and buses – it has become a safer and more pleasant place to catch a bus or disembark from one, with dedicated bus gates and new shelters. Pedestrians have got a good deal out of the changes too, with wider pavements and safer crossings, more greenery and street furniture, making it a much more enjoyable place to pootle.

Cycling into the city is safer and easier

Connecting Leeds Clay Pit Lane Cycling

It continues to get easier to access the heart of the city on bike. After the opening of the Leeds to Bradford Cycle Superhighway, more routes have been added, along with ongoing improvements as part of the work on the new bus corridors. In 2021, Leeds Olympian Alistair Brownlee was one of the first to ride along the Clay Pit Lane bike scheme that links the north of Leeds with the city centre, a completely segregated route.

In the same year, Leeds United striker Patrick Bamford attended the opening of the new Elland Road cycle lane. This 1.5-kilometre route boosts green travel by linking the Elland Road Park & Ride with the city centre, also boosting the options for people commuting to and from South Leeds areas such as Holbeck and Beeston. Work continues on connecting the cycle network in the city too, with more infrastructure for cyclists on the Holbeck Gateway, Crown Point Bridge Gateway and more to come.

Ultra-low emission – and electric – buses are here

Leeds City Buses

© Copyright Leeds-List 2022 by Ellie Hodgson

The ultra-low emission buses you’ll have seen on the city’s streets are one of the main factors in the improvement in the air quality in Leeds. Plans were announced in December 2017 to spend £71 million on 284 of the new buses before the end of 2020. So, where did they get to? Well, they smashed the target, and that’s just the start. There’s now a fleet of zero-emission electric buses in Leeds operating route 5 for First Bus. The nine buses will save over 400 tonnes of carbon emissions per year.

That’s just one achievement in what has been a real period of sea change for the city’s bus network. The introduction of the colour-coded Leeds Core Bus Network map, along with new, more reliable bus stop screens providing live travel information and a much-improved onboard experience have transformed the service for the better. There are more ways to pay, while improved seating, free wifi and USB charging points have also made commuting much better. Over 2,300 bus stops have had a facelift, improving the user experience.

Air quality improvements are helping you breathe easier

First Bus Leeds

© Copyright Leeds-List 2022 by Ellie Hodgson

Back in 2019, there was lots of concern about pollution and air quality in Leeds, with a huge focus on the main contributor to that issue – road traffic. Plans were drawn up for a Clean Air Charging Zone. So, what became of that? Happily, it was never needed! A dramatic shift to cleaner, lower emission vehicles took place throughout the city, a result of steps taken to prepare for the Clear Air Zone, but outpacing the transformation expected. The use of Euro VI engines in over 90% of buses is one of the main factors.

While the significant improvement in air quality has been impressive, the powers that be aren’t resting on their laurels. A new strategy is now in place to meet even tougher air standards which will also support the push towards net zero. What that will mean in reality is a transition to zero emission vehicles, continuing infrastructure improvements in Leeds and promoting pollution-free ways to travel both in and out of the city centre. The ambitious targets aim to improve health outcomes in the city, and ultimately to help save lives.

The South Bank is coming to life

Meadow Lane Leeds

The regeneration of the South Bank had only just begun in 2019, and the ambitious plans to expand the city centre and deliver a whole new raft of public spaces were somewhat delayed by a certain pandemic. But the difference is already stark, with new walkways and cycle lanes just part of the story. The main difference has been the work on Aire Park, the huge green space that’s coming together on the South Bank.

This massive project that will occupy part of the former Tetley Brewery site and Meadow Lane has already hit a couple of its key milestones, and is en route to being the largest new city centre park in the UK. Former road space has been repurposed for some of the park, which will link to the city centre via the traffic-free David Oluwale Bridge. There’ll be wildlife habitats, a public events area, a playground and a cafe all helping to reshape this side of the city.

The new East Leeds Orbital Route is open

ELOR Leeds

The East Leeds Extension has been earmarked for a while as a key expansion site for the city. And vital to that is the opening of the East Leeds Orbital Route, which would help provide a more efficient transport network for all the new homes planned across Whinmoor, Cross Gates and Swarcliffe – there could be up to 5,000 developed by 2028. Happily, this new 7km-long two-lane dual carriageway has just opened.

It connects the the Outer Ring Road at Shadwell – the A6120 – to Manston Lane, and includes five new roundabouts, as well as 14km of dedicated cycleways, pedestrians routes and equestrian pathways. It opened just in time for Leeds Festival weekend in August 2022, which meant it could make an instant impact on traffic arriving at Bramham Park. It represents the largest infrastructure project that Leeds City Council has taken on in some 50 years, and it should help with easing congestion in Cross Gates and beyond.

Rail network improvements are on their way

Connecting Leeds White Rose CGI

However, the city’s two other new train stations have most definitely moved forward. Construction work has already started on the White Rose Rail Station, which is expected to cost £26.5 million. Situated on the Transpennine Route between Cottingley and Morley, it will help support South Leeds investment while also improving ways for commuters and consumers to get to the office park and White Rose Centre. It’s still on track to open in 2023.

Thorpe Park station isn’t quite as far along, but there’s still progress being made on this new East Leeds transport node which will help to support the retail park and booming commercial space in this area. The business case for it has been made, and the process of land acquisition has already started, so development work is carrying on behind the scenes. When finished, it will also offer park-and-ride facilities.

The train station is transforming

Leeds Station

It’s the north’s busiest train hub, so Leeds Station was well overdue an upgrade. That work has been going on since 2018, with an overhaul of the concourse, a new roof and freshly-glazed facade really breathing new life into it. It now offers a first-class welcome to the city for both commuters and visitors. But the changes weren’t just cosmetic. The work also included the addition of platform 0, updated layouts for platforms 4 and 6, as well as the largest track update the station has seen for two decades.

That has reduced congestion and provided room for passenger growth, while the work on the ticket barriers has dramatically improved the flow of customers in and out of the station. But the work hasn’t stopped. The station’s main entrance and surrounding area is going to see further improvements in the coming months, with a £39.5m investment to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment. That includes a new stepped entrance and two large passenger lifts between New Station Street and Bishopgate Street.

New airport access is still in the works

Connecting Leeds Airport CGI

The ambitious plans to improve connections to the region’s major airport have been put on something of a back burner. Passenger numbers plummeted during the pandemic, which led to other priorities being pursued, not helped by the uncertainty around the airport’s expansion. After a period of public consultation, there were also plans to build a new link road to the airport, but this was scrapped in favour of a new train station.

That hub, the proposed Leeds Bradford Airport Parkway station, would be situated south of the Bramhope tunnel, and would help to reduce traffic around the airport, complete with a 350-space car park. There would be a shuttle bus service to the airport terminal, as well as park-and-ride facilities. So far, there have been two rounds of public consultation around the project, with feedback taken on board to inform the future plans for the station.