As some of us try and make up for Christmas indulgence by increasing the number of steps we take each day, you notice just how much more of your surroundings you can take in when walking as opposed to travelling the same route by car.
I really enjoy looking at front gardens, but South Leeds is, of course, also full of history and the Leeds Civic Trust blue plaques provide a wonderful means of navigation.
For example, if you start on Leeds Bridge there’s a plaque there commemorating Louis Le Prince who took the world’s first moving pictures. Onwards to Holbeck you will find the plaque on the oldest Working Men’s Club in the country, before heading for the East Stand at Elland Road where Albert Johansson’s achievements for Leeds United are recalled.
If you’re feeling really energetic you could head on to Morley where the great Leeds cyclist Beryl Burton is remembered, before returning via 59 Cemetery Road in Beeston. That’s where Ivy Benson – saxophonist, clarinettist and bandleader – lived as a child. If you want to make it a circular walk then return via Temple Works – sheep used to graze on the roof there – before ending up at the Corn Exchange where Alice Bacon, the city’s first woman MP, held her advice surgeries.
We all owe a debt of gratitude to the Civic Trust for reminding us of our extraordinary history, and if you would like to find out more there is a great book Blue Plaques of Leeds: The Next Collection which has just been published. You can order a copy at: leedscivictrust.org.uk
Now, talking of walking, cycling and driving almost nothing gets people exercised quite so much as changes to our roads. This has come to the fore recently with a series of lively debates about what are known as active travel neighbourhoods. The Council is trying out road closures in an attempt to reduce rat-running and make our streets safer. The catalyst has been reduced traffic in the wake of the Covid crisis.
Plans for a scheme in Beeston on the north side of Dewsbury Road are in preparation, while the scheme in Hyde Park has led to quite a large number of complaints, although in fairness the Council has amended it a bit in response. The merit of using planters, as opposed to making expensive changes to the carriageway and putting up no entry signs, is that you can close and reopen a road fairly quickly.
Ironically, the reason why there has been less consultation than normal has been the way in which the Government made it clear to local councils that they had to spend the money ministers had earmarked for these schemes really quickly or lose it altogether. I don’t think this is a very sensible way to proceed.
Some people love the changes because they are better for cyclists and reduce the number of cars coming down residential streets. Others hate them because they make for longer and more congested journeys and cut off quick routes to and from work, school or friends.
To make a proper judgement on whether a scheme is working or not, I think we need to take a longer term view. Does it actually meet the objectives that were set? Has it reduced CO2 emissions rather than increase them because of longer detours? Does it reduce road accidents?
The ability to get around and do the things that matter to us and having a car gives us flexibility to travel when and where we want without being dependent on bus or train timetables.
On the other hand, there are many people who can’t afford to run a car and others who have chosen to give one up because they prefer to cycle or walk or use public transport which can, in some circumstances, be quicker than driving. And we all know that we’ve got to reduce dangerous air pollution and move away, in pretty short order, from petrol and diesel vehicles to zero emission ones.
There’s one really big thing we need and that’s a rapid transit system in Leeds. Look around other comparable cities in Britain and Europe and you will find that almost all of them have a tram system. Leeds does not. This simply isn’t good enough and investing in one would make a really good start to 2021.
Meanwhile, we can see the electric vehicle revolution beginning as more models are produced although people worry about their range and how they would charge a vehicle. And they are currently more expensive than other cars. But in 25 years’ time, the internal combustion engine will largely be seen as an historic relic as we all begin to feel the benefits of cleaner air and quieter roads in our towns and cities.
Happy New Year to one and all.