New green active travel route could end Sheffield's cycle route to nowhere

The most comical of Sheffield’s historical ‘cycle tracks to nowhere’ was in Attercliffe, where for several years it literally ran into a brick wall.

Tuesday, 11th August 2020, 6:27 pm

But one of the most famous still exists by the River Sheaf, where pedallers are beckoned along a wide red track by an encouraging hand sculpture, until a few picturesque twists and turns later they’re faced with a perplexing fence and an expanse of brambles.

This wouldn’t happen on a ring road extension, say the baffled cyclists.But in the new world order, it won’t happen on active travel routes either, as the Sheffield City Region confidently wait to see if they’ve been awarded £7 million (or more) for high-quality continuous routes for walkers and cyclists from the G overnment’s next round of emergency active travel funding.Should the funding arrive, a ‘substantive’ route along the Sheaf Valley will be completed by next March, from Woodseats Road to Sheffield station.

But how will it get there?“We have a concern that in the past we’ve had bits of cycle route put in along parts of the Sheaf and then apparently due to a change of policy, not continued,” says Viv Thom of the Sheaf and Porter Rivers Trust.

The cycle path to nowhere, running by the side of the River Sheaf

“There’s a lot to be said for finishing what you’ve started, but to the new improved standards.”Much of the route could be achieved off road by improving parts of the existing Sheaf Walk, says Viv.“None of us are against repurposing road space, but if the city’s aim is to create a viable continuous active travel route along the Abbeydale Road corridor as quickly as possible, and if the route is pleasant, with better air quality and away from conflict with other traffic by following the river and quiet roads, surely that would be even better?”Part of the Sheaf Valley route was annexed over recent months by local families.“The Virgin Gym car park became our beach,” says Steve Frazer.

His family brought picnics down from Meersbrook to cycle, scoot and skateboard around the flat car park, with other lockdown families a few metres away.“We spoke to so many people who said how wonderful it was not to have traffic noise and pollution, and to hear the wildlife, before we released the world back to the car again.

" So I think it’s important to make changes now while we still have a memory of how good it can be.”Steve is a landscape architect for local company Urban Wilderness, and says the national mood in favour of improving cities for walking and cycling gives us the chance to do so much more too.“This is an opportunity to improve spaces more generally so we can transport people around in an efficient and pleasant way, while maximising the space’s potential in other ways too,” he says.

A cyclist about to cross the River Sheaf on part of the existing active travel network near Heeley Baths

Planting to help wildlife, drainage for flood alleviation, seats and play areas, for example, like the successful Grey to Green spaces in the city centre.“If we make these linear corridors a nice place to be, if you make them quiet, rich in wildlife and more palatable to people, it will encourage more people out of their cars to use them.”Simon Ogden, chair of the Sheffield Waterways Strategy Group, has been saying this about our river routes since he and his colleagues began the Five Weirs Walk project a generation ago.Our rivers were the city’s source of power from the 1500s, he explains, so when coal and steam arrived the builders of the city’s turnpikes (which eventually became modern highways like Abbeydale and Penistone roads) chose cheaper land away from the old riverside workshops.Deindustrialisation now makes that riverside space available for the walks and routes that couldn’t be built when the rivers made cutlery.“We now know the impact active travel has on urgent factors like public health, mental well-being, climate change and the need for activity,” says Simon.

“The Five Weirs Walk took more than 20 years to complete, but progress can and must be much quicker than that now."If we want them, we can have quiet, dynamic travel routes full of wildlife and people enjoying themselves, says Steve Frazer. “What’s not to like?”

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A runner moving into the road to avoid parked vehicles on Little London Road

Nancy Fielder, editor

A creative use of a road surface during lockdown
A walker on the active travel route on Broadfield Road near the River Sheaf
Children using the empty Virgin gym car park to play on their bikes