Sheffield – clueless about cycling?

Is there anywhere in Britain that manages to make a bigger mess of its cycling policy?

I like living in Sheffield. It’s very friendly, an attractive place close to great countryside and the right size for a city. But sometimes I feel that it has the most inept approach to cycling policy of any town or city I know in Britain.

Spider Bridge other end crop small

If you want to approach Sheffield on the National Cycle Network you need to take Route 6 which follows the lower Don valley into the city centre, along a route known locally as the Five Weirs Walk, an urban green space created a few years ago.  It also provides a traffic-free walking and cycling route from the city to the vast Meadowhall shopping Mall and the extensive sports and leisure facilities along the Don Valley. All sounds great doesn’t it?

But as the photo above shows, Route 6 just doesn’t get you there, it’s blocked in at least two places through total neglect. The photo above is one end of the “Spider Bridge”. Two things stand out, the bollards all have an NCN Route 6 sticker, and the bridge is blocked by a crude temporary barrier which seems to have been there for more than a year. (NB Since I wrote this Simon Geller has told me that the bridge is now open again and he’s posted a comment below which takes me to task on a number of points)

Here’s why

Spider Bridge 3 800

The bridge which is suspended above the river while it snakes through a tunnel under the railway, has lost most of its stainless steel wire guardrails, stolen for scrap, more than once. This appears to be too expensive to repair.

Further along the route a long section is blocked for no reason. The gates installed to close it after dark now seem permanently shut.

5 weirs blocked 800

Elsewhere on the route there are signs telling cyclists to get off and walk, sections of road that are deeply potholed and when you finally struggle through to the city centre you are just dumped at the inner ring road with no idea how you might get into the city across a maze of busy roads and run-down areas on the fringe of the city centre. “Welcome to Sheffield, please go away!”

In previous years the Five Weirs Walk has been blocked because it was falling into the river. Its winding route (quite attractive) is much longer than the direct road into town, and it is closed after dark, so not of any value for commuters and other year round cyclists.

For cyclists, the answer is not to repair or improve this failed leisure facility. The Lower Don Valley has been totally rebuilt in the past 20 years and there was ample opportunity to create an excellent all-weather, all-hours, route for cyclists and walkers running parallel to the main road with some nice landscaping to soften the environment for everybody. Lots of people commute along this level route between Rotherham and Sheffield and the Lower Don Valley is a growing area for employment, shopping and leisure, for example it includes the big English Institute for Sport facilities plus an athletics stadium, indoor arena and ice rink as well as two big shopping areas, cinema, bowling alley and night clubs.

Even today there is space for some development for cyclists, here’s a section of the main road through the valley, probably the last section in need of redevelopment.

missed opportunity  1000px

You can see this is a wide four lane road and there is plenty of space to the side, The blue fence on the left conceals an undeveloped site and for most of the length of this road there would have been room to create a parallel track if the planners had been thinking clearly. Even today it might be possible but most of the really good opportunities to landscape something worthwhile into the scheme have been lost.

I’m not a big fan of off-road cycle paths, on most roads I would prefer that the design allowed bikes to mix with traffic, but this is a busy road on weekdays and a bit of a racetrack so it makes sense to give the cyclists some room to themselves.

All this fits in with other failures in Sheffield.

Decathlon 9 800px

This path leads down to an underpass which is one of the few safe places to cross the inner ring road. Note the two women on the left, they are walking across a flowerbed that the city council inserted, with dense shrubs, to stop people from doing what they are doing, but  hundreds of cyclists and pedestrians each day have forced a path through because it’s the logical direct route between workplaces, shops and university on one side and houses, football ground and student residences on the other. People have always used this route but, when the area was redeveloped to create more car parking for the Decathlon Sports megastore (which is where these two women were going), the planners deemed that walkers and cyclists should take a circuitous route which is at least 100 metres longer. That kind of thinking works for cars but is completely stupid for people.

Here’s a similar underpass nearby that is designated as a cycle route, again it’s one of the few places that you can cross the city’s 4-lane “ring of steel” without having to mix with main road traffic.

Right turn from underpass  2 800px

As you can see it’s pretty tight and cyclists have to take care when turning out of the tunnel, but that’s no reason for plonking a guardrail across to force an impossibly tight turn. Try that on a tandem.

When you rejoin the road you have to navigate this very tight dogleg to join the traffic, again the person who designed this clearly does not ride a bike. No reason not to design a smooth transition from the footpath to the road, it might need the planners to recognise that the cyclist should be protected from the cars by the road layout, rather than having to stop at this pointless junction. Planners like to make cyclists stop and get off.

Sharp turn onto main road 800px

Incidentally the cycle lane coming from the right is pointless because you can only reach it by riding round the deathtrap 3-lane roundabout on the ring road, if you can do that you really don’t need a bike lane.

But if you do find your way onto the on-road cycle lane, after a couple of hundred yards you come to this

pointless cycle lane finish 800

The (very narrow) cycle lane just stops and up ahead you can see the buildings of the main shopping centre, but the only way to reach them is to navigate another big roundabout. Personally I don’t mind mixing with the traffic but these cycle facilities are not aimed at people like me, they only make sense if they allow less experienced, less confident cyclists to feel they can ride into the city. Sheffield is riddled with barriers to all but the most confident and experienced.

Finally, here is the entrance to the main cycling route into the city centre from the southwest, according to the cycle route maps published by Sheffield City Council. If you look closely you’ll see the “except for cycles” on the “no through road” sign.

blocked cycle route 800px

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15 Responses to “Sheffield – clueless about cycling?”

  1. burntretina Says:

    Your comments are spot on, the Five Weirs Walk has become terribly worn down and cut off in the last couple of years, inspite of paths being restored every now and then.

    There are few options for cyclists not willing to tackle the absolutely terrifying roundabouts around the edge of the city centre. And that cycle lane on the 8th picture is one of many cycle lanes that just disappear into nothing for no reason at all.

    It’s all pretty shocking, and pretty disappointing considering the local council (old and new) seems to care diddly-squat about actually improving matters.

  2. chrisrust Says:

    Yeah, and people who drive around Sheffield see quite a lot of new bits of cycle lane and imagine that Sheffield has got its cycle infrastructure sorted (I’ve heard people say that).

    I met a guy a while back who worked for a big English local authority and his experience was that Councils are measured on the volume of cycle provision created, so they build these bits of track wherever it’s easy, with no thought for their network connections or usefulness, or even if it will still be there next year.

    Result is a lot of public money wasted, no real impact on cycling but the council can claim some impressive-sounding investment. I don’t think it’s cynical so much as pig-ignorant, they really believe they are doing a good job.

  3. Simon Geller Says:


    Although I appreciate your motives for writing this blog post It contains a large number of inaccuracies and false assumptions and I think it is counter-productive.

    Let me start by listing these inaccuracies.

    Both the cobweb bridge and the Thessco section of the 5WW are currently open and were open at the time you made this post. It is thoroughly bad practice to post assertions of this nature without checking on their accuracy.

    The cobweb bridge was not closed due to “total neglect”. It was closed due to vandalism and theft. The first time the steel cables were stolen they were replaced, and the replacement cables were subsequently stolen. It was plain therefore that replacing these cables was not ging to be sustainable, and an alternative solution was sought. It now has plastic cables which have the appearance of steel ones – these have been cut since they were installed but were not stolen as they have no value and hopefully the replacements will stay in place. A decision was made, which we agreed with, to keep the closure in place until there were inhabitants of the new office blocks and therefore there was more footfall in the area, the best way to police facilities of this nature being the vigilance of the public.

    The Thessco section was closed due to damage to the pergola caused by the June 07 floods, and was compounded by the need to ensure the security of nearby premises. It has re-opened but it is closed in the evening for security reasons, as has always been the case. This is the only section that is closed after dark.

    I am not aware of any sections that have fallen into the river, but the fact that it was severely affected by the June 07 and subsequent floods appears to have passed you by.

    There are no signs that say “Welcome to Sheffield, please go away!” but there are signs explaining that the route is unfinished at present.

    Sheffield does not measure its success in increasing levels of cycling by the volume of cycling infrastucture but the number of people who travel by bike. This is specified in the Local Transport Plan, the next version of which is upcoming That this has increased by higher levels than in London over the past few years suggests that not all is rotten in the City of Sheffield.

    So I think that covers the inaccuracies: Now for a few comments on the remainder of the text:

    There is a logical inconsistency in complaining about the closed sections of the 5WW, and calling it a “failed leisure facility” If it is so terrible why would you want to use it anyway? Sustrans Rangers, the Friends of the 5WW and the Riverside Development Corporation work hard to keep the route open for walkers and cyclists (& I would describe it as primarily a walking facility that cyclists can use) although I have not noted your presence at any of the workdays that take place.

    Re Carlisle St – ironically enough an off-road cycle route is planned to be installed at the location you have photographed, which is the site for a proposed Tesco Superstore. The Lower Don Valley Link Road was built by
    the Sheffield Development Corporation (see a quango set up by the the Tory government to redevelop the area following the collapse of the steel injury, and Sheffield City Council were specifically excluded from their plans. So I don’t think we can pin that one on the council. Although it would be possible to retro-fit cycle facilities to the road this is not always all that successful (see for example Penistone Rd) There are plenty of other ways to get between the City Centre and Meadowhall, for example Attercliffe Common, the canal towpath and the Woodburn Rd – Arena cycle route.

    Another logical inconsistency is your complaint about the facilities at the Moore St roundabout, when you then go on to complain that these facilities do not exist at Bramall Lane. Do you want off-road facilities at
    these busy locations or not? The railing you complain about has been put there to stop pedestrians from walking into the path of cyclists who are continuing straight on to Charter Row, and I think it is justified on these safety grounds. I personally have no problem with rejoining the carriageway on Charter Row, and I note the cross-hatching on the carriageway which ensures that vehicles are kept away from you as you make this maneouvre. Where the cycle lanes stop abruptly this is simply because the limit of this particular scheme has been reached – the next area to be re-designed will be Charter Square, but this has been put on hold due to the delay to the the Sevenstones development, a knock-on effect of the recession.

    At Bramall Lane, it is not planned that cyclists should take a circuitous route around the roundabout – it is simply thar the funds are not yet available to complete the scheme.

    With regard to the joining on-road lane, it is perfectly safe to turn left on-road from Hanover Way into Charter Row, although usually rather slow due to queueing traffic on the approach to the roundabout.

    What I would agree with you (although the picture is absent) on is that the closure of Cumberland Way without the provision of an alternative is inexcusable and we have complained bitterly about that. The site is earmarked for the new covered market and we will continue to press for a replacement route of high standard when the scheme is built.

    Turning to your other examples, I don’t think you can take a few specific
    locations and extrapolate them to a “failure of policy”. There are many examples of good practice in Sheffield, although I’m not going to list them here.

    I do take your comments personally since as the Sheffield CTC RTR rep I have worked hard with the council and other cycling orgainsations to create a cycle-friendly Sheffield and I feel we have many successes under our belt. Cyclists are consulted on just about every development that takes place in Sheffield via the City Cycle Forum, at which SYNDDA is notably absent, and the normal planning processes. However, there is always room for more campaigners so you may wish to take up the challenge of encouraging Sheffield City Council to create the cycle facilities you would like to see.

  4. chrisrust Says:

    Thanks for that Simon and I’m very pleased to know that the cobweb bridge is open, I took these photographs earlier in the year and yes, I should have checked, I suppose my experience of the 5 Weirs Walk has been so negative over the years that I didn’t imagine much would be done. On the day that I was there I met people who had found it closed months before and there was no indication on either of the closures why or for how long they were there.

    However I stick by my observation as a cyclist who rides in Sheffield every day that there’s no joined up thinking and I’m absolutely fed up with it. I’m glad there are activists who put effort in to working with the authorities but it would be a sad day if individuals could not describe the world as they experience it. If people with responsibility read what I have written they may get a better feel for what some citizens experience.

    Incidentally I have given specific examples but they are illustrations of a more general experience. I’ll leave it to others to decide whether I’m being contradictory in the way you say

  5. Gareth Dent Says:

    I think this is a fascinating post and while I do not agree with everything you say, I think the general thrust that Sheffield is not a welcoming city for cyclists is valid. This is despite Simon’s sterling work.

    I would add two points:

    1. No consideration of the challenges of cycling facilities in Sheffield is complete without mentioning cyclist/tram interactions. I have come to the conclusion that there is no safe way to negotiate Hillsborough junction or to cycle down Glossop Road across Hanover Way to West Street when the road is wet. It simply can’t be done.

    2. Despite all of this, Sheffield is better than some places in South Yorkshire. Cyclists simply do not figure in any transport planning decisions in Barnsley.

  6. Alan Padley Says:

    I took a trip on my newly acquired Brompton along the 5 Weirs Walk in Oct 2008, having travelled from Doncaster to Meadowhall by train. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip seeing parts of the city that I hadn’t come across before. The 2 sections mentioned by Chris were closed then, but it become part of the adventure to find detours.
    See here for pics:

  7. chrisrust Says:

    Thanks Alan, Great Photos.

  8. Philippa Says:

    Stumble across this blog whilst looking for nice cycle route round Sheffield.
    As a student cyclist – and an inexperienced one at that, I am finding that it’s rather difficult for me to cycle from riverside to sheffield uni. To someone who grew up in a small city where you can cycle anywhere, the busy roads here are incredibly daunting and the cycle paths a little confusing.
    I am also interested in non-road recreational cycling if anyone would be good enough to suggest any good paths near me. I looked up some of the places Simon mentioned on google maps, but they all seem really far away.
    I should maybe mention that I have dyspraxia – which affects balance and motor control – hence the un-confidence on a bike on busy roads :)

  9. dexey Says:

    I had a couple of days in Sheffield back in early September. Arrived by train with the Brommy in my hand and cycled out to meet a friend.
    It struck me that the cycling infrastructure was much the same as in many similar towns – disjointed.
    I believe the CTC approach of insisting that cyclists belong on the road is largely responsible for the poor state of cycling in England today.

  10. chrisrust Says:

    Interesting point you make about on and off road cycling. I feel it is vital that cyclists continue to ride on roads wherever possible, after all the vast proportion of roads are no problem and even in the Netherlands cyclists expect to ride on ordinary roads a lot of the time.
    The big issue for me is the relatively small number of busy roads which deter some cyclists and the tiny number of roads which are impossible for us. Most local authorities in the UK struggle to understand how to deal with those, where they do make an effort it is very often misguided and half-hearted.

  11. Wildnorthlands Says:

    You may be interested to note that this dialogue has attracted some attention :- see

    I’ve put a response to this up at

    Incidentally, CCWF says that it is indicative of how isolated my views are that I haven’t responded to people who disagree with me – that’s just because I never got round to reading these comments – sorry!

  12. chrisrust Says:

    Never mind Simon, there’s no such thing as bad publicity and he spelled your name correctly. I find myself in the middle on this as I can see where the Waltham Forest blog is coming from but, as my last comment on this post indicates, I have at least one foot in the vehicular cycling camp.
    And as you say, not allowing comments but whingeing when somebody you have criticised comments somewhere else is a bit rich.

  13. Gareth Says:

    Interestingly I find myself as one of the people quoted by CCWWF as showing how isolated Simon is – this is a creative interpretation of of my comment to say the least.

    CCWWF also claim ‘CycleSheffield includes links to Sheffield cycling blogs, but excludes those which think cycling in Sheffield is crap’ Again I think this stretches a point – there is a link to my blog, and I have been clear that there are aspects of cycling in Sheffield which are horrendous – most notably the areas of the city where interacting with the tram routes are unavoidable.

    I guess some people will always see debate as an argument

  14. dexey Says:

    Are comments allowed on your Cycleblog?

    Have I understood the graph correctly; over 10 years cycling Sheffield’s modal share has risen from 1% to 1.85%?
    Is that a rise from 10 in every thousand journeys to 18.5 in every thousand?
    That doesn’t seem a significant increase for the period of time and what does it represent in terms of actual numbers of riders?

    [Note from Chris, the graph that Dexey refers to was linked by Simon on his blog post – here:, also I assume that the question at the top is aimed at Simon who, like the Waltham Forest blog does not appear to allow comments.]

  15. dexey Says:

    Yes, sorry, it should have said the Cycleblog not your.

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