Commuting on 'river motorways' - why Leeds could become the Venice of Yorkshire

At times it can feel like there is nothing more frustrating than the morning rush hour.

Clarence Dock in Leeds. (Adobe Stock / Mark Graham)

The red lights, constant tailbacks and angry texts from your boss asking your whereabouts will probably leave you stressed out before you’ve even started your working day.

But one Leeds Council member believes she might have a solution, and it involves the city’s network of rivers and canals.

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Al Garthwaite is leading the charge for the city to start implementing its network of waterways to help commuters get to work. Her comments follow plans announced last year to build an inland port in Stourton as another route for cargo into the city.

Clarence Dock in Leeds. (Adobe Stock / Mark Graham)

She also has the backing of a Leeds-based academic, who has gone one further, suggesting some of the city’s roads should become waterways in the future.

Coun Garthwaite said: “There is a new inland port that will come for planning permission at Stourton that will being minerals on the canal, it is there to take freight and it’s got to take traffic off the roads.

“Why not use the river for passengers? This transport would get the commuters off the road.

“Although some people think it will take too long, it’s better than sitting in a queue of traffic and it’s better than traffic for the environment.

“I think it’s a question of looking at all possible options – it should not be seen as just a place of leisure and recreation – why not use them as a form of sustainable travel?

“River taxis have been running for a while now, and people do take that, but this would be a much bigger enterprise.

“There is a lot of interest but it’s at a very early stage.”

Earlier this year, Leeds City Council announced a climate emergency due to high levels of emissions in the city, and is already looking at dramatic steps to improve air quality over the coming years.

But Paul Chatterton, professor of urban futures at the University of Leeds has suggested that, not only canals, but entire roads could be utilised for water traffic in the future.

He said: “Can you imagine turning Regent Street, from Quarry Hill to Sheepscar, into a waterway where people canoe to work?

“This will have to happen if we are going to tackle the climate emergency – we are going to have to bring in new uses for our roads.

“It might seem ridiculous right now, but it is not beyond the realms of possibility to turn it into a river motorway.”

Prof Chatterton pointed to the Cheonggyecheon Restoration Project in Seoul, South Korea, in which a busy freeway was torn down to bring one of the city’s rivers underneath the road back into use.

He added: “We need to take small steps first – what are the quick wins? – we need to use the canals more and we need to extend Leeds’s waterways.

“But the big stuff in the future could happen within our lifetimes, over the next 30-50 years.”