Uncovering travel plans aiming to make Sheffield easier to get around

Let’s say you need to get to The Moor before 9am one morning from Woodseats Road, a 2 mile journey. If you’re lucky, it’ll take you about 30 minutes to catch a bus, or a little longer to drive and find a parking space. Cycling should take 15-20 minutes to ride and park, while walking is about 5 minutes longer than taking the car.

Monday, 28th June 2021, 8:39 am
Cyclist near Broadfield Road.
Cyclist near Broadfield Road.

But if you do attempt that journey under your own steam, you’ll have to share the nineteenth century Little London Road with motoring congestion dodgers, scurry across blind junctions and take your life in your hands under a narrow railway bridge built when horses ruled the roads. (Or take a deep breath before heading out into the double the legal limit air pollution of Abbeydale Road.

“Elite athletes talk about the aggregation of marginal gains,” said Dame Sarah Storey, after nailing her 40th gold medal at the recent Paralympic World Road Cycling Championships.

But when people trying to use an old style active travel route (like Little London Road) face problems like badly parked cars, dangerous junctions, or routes impassable for pushchairs, wheelchairs and tricycles, “it’s the opposite,” she says. “It’s an aggregation of marginal losses, with every small compromise a barrier to someone.”

River Sheaf walk sign.

Over recent years, Sheffield has been trying to do better. Dame Sarah, the Sheffield City Region Active Travel Commissioner, was speaking on the international ‘Connected Places Catapult’ podcast, whose host noted that “Sheffield is positioning itself as a compelling model of what the future of active travel might look like in the UK.”

Since November, Sheffield council have published plans to make the city easier to get around in future. The idea is (in Sheffield and elsewhere), for most of us the ease of walking to the shops for a newspaper or cycling/e-cycling to visit your mates will make getting in the car for a one mile journey seem a bit mad.

Dame Sarah and colleagues in the Active Travel world say fewer people choosing cars for short journeys means those who need a car to get around, if they have a disability for example, will actually find their journeys easier with fewer cars on the road.

A stream of recent plans for the new Sheffield have won general approval on the council’s https://connectingsheffield.commonplace.is website. Improved routes from Nether Edge, Darnall, Attercliffe and Tinsley, a redesigned city centre and an ‘active neighbourhood’ in Kelham and Neepsend are signs of what’s coming, while the award-winning ‘Grey to Green’ landscape has already arrived, where people walk and cycle past city centre trees and flowers, and road design ensures drivers should feel like careful visitors.

Cyclist and driver on Little London Road.

Planning streets for people rather than cars won’t exclude drivers from ‘active neighbourhoods’, say city designers.

“Access for cars will be maintained, but maybe drivers will only have one or two route options, rather than multiple options,” says Sheffield Council Senior Transport Planner Paul Sullivan.

“Drivers will have to think a bit more, but the general environment people live in will be much better, it’ll be quieter, the air quality will be better and kids will be able to play outside.”

Dexter Johnstone, from Cycle Sheffield (who lobby for better facilities for local walkers and cyclists), added: “Driving will still be possible, but it might not always be the most convenient option in future. But that’s a change we need to make if we want people to travel more sustainably.”

Dame Sarah Storey and Pete Zanzottera on part of the Portobello active travel route in 2019.

After years of planning cities for motor vehicles, the government now realises the environment can’t actually cope with any more cars, says Paul Sullivan.

Consultations are coming soon for active neighbourhoods in Crookes and Nether Edge, and in the next week or so we should see plans for the first phase of a genuine active travel route near the river Sheaf (to be built by next spring), which will involve over a dozen ‘interventions’ to help walkers, cyclists and people with disabilities enjoy a safe journey to town.

This June is Bike Month, but with the country’s active travel planners watching the Outdoor City, perhaps we've outgrown the idea of one sunny month a year to think about cycling.“Every month is Bike Month,” says Paul Sullivan.

Runner finding her way past parked cars on Little London Road.
Dexter Johnstone of Cycle Sheffield.