Response to Chris Batley of Smithers, Harrogate

25th June 2020

Westminster Arcade, Harrogate
Westminster Arcade, Harrogate

Chris Batley of Smithers, Westminster Arcade, Harrogate, has written a letter to the Yorkshire Post objecting to positive changes to the town centre proposed by Harrogate Borough Council.

Mr Batley's arguments

Mr Batley says the needs of the "cycling minority" are a tail wagging the dog, to the detriment of business and the car-using majority. He claims that it is unfeasible for people on business and "ladies who lunch or have hair appointments" to walk or ride a bike in "the depths of winter".

He believes that HBC's plans for the town centre amount to an intention to "...stick the eco-knife deeper into the heart of business and commerce." He wants as much parking as possible and as cheap as possible.

A response to Mr Batley's arguments

These are the reasons why I don't agree with Mr Batley, and why his arguments don't reflect the facts.

1) Bike paths are not for "cyclists"

Yes, going to town by bike is something only a few of us do at the moment, but safe, convenient bike routes are not intended for "cyclists" - they are for everyone. I'd love it if riding into town was completely unremarkable, but to achieve that you have to take the danger away. Not many people are prepared to put up with being intimidated and frightened by traffic, so until there's physical separation and protection it's not an option for most.

To be clear, bike routes are needed because of vehicles and their drivers. When there was hardly any traffic in late March and April, did you see how many people used their bikes on the roads?

2) A majority in favour of better walking & cycling routes, not a minority

A majority want better walking and cycling routes. The Harrogate Congestion Survey found 77% of 15,500 respondents in favour of better walking and cycling infrastructure and facilities.

Harrogate Congestion Study response to question about better walking and cycling infra

Those against (6%) or strongly against (4%) are a small minority.

3) Driving into town and parking will not be banned

Building safe bike paths won't stop people driving into town and parking in the centre.

There are loads of parking spaces in Harrogate - if you look, there are cars absolutely everywhere. Replacing a small number of spaces with protected bike lanes will have no significant impact on parking.

Parking isn't a problem anyway, according to the Harrogate Retail Inquiry.

4) Traffic puts people off cycling

I don't know if "ladies who lunch" can't ride bikes or walk; I'm sure some of them can. Those who still want or need to drive into town will be able to.

It may not be hair appointments putting ladies off getting into town by bike. According to DfT figures, 69% of women think it's too dangerous to cycle on the road with traffic. That's higher than the equivalent figure for men (56%).

When someone argues against safe bike routes, in effect they are trying to stop most travel by bike - they're trying to make sure that conditions remain too hostile. I feel that's mean-spirited. Why can't they live and let live? Drive, but let other people cycle if they want.

Those who attempt to kibosh safe bike paths do a great disservice to young people, amongst others. Under-17s can 't drive; in countries where there's a network of cycle routes they can and do get around independently instead of relying on mum and dad for lifts. That's a great benefit that's denied to young people here.

5) Bikes and business

Why can't people on business ride bikes? They can. Bikes aren't suitable for everyone and all journeys: if you have to go to Skipton, or transport a fridge, or transport a fridge to Skipton, I don't suggest you do it by bike; if you're making short, local journeys, why not?

In the Netherlands, 36% of people report that the bike is their most frequent mode of transport, and 45% the car. This high bike usage is enabled by excellent cycling infrastructure.

6) The "eco-knife"

The idea that what's good for the environment is bad for money-making businesses is rapidly becoming discredited. All well-informed people know that we're using up resources at an unsustainable rate and rapidly changing our climate.

Making changes is essential, not an optional luxury. Siberia is currently experiencing a heat wave with unheard-of temperatures of 38C, and it's not only the Arctic where there's extreme weather - there are plenty of examples closer to home.

In the latest National Travel Attitudes Study 74% of people agreed that 'everyone should reduce how much they use their motor vehicles in urban areas like cities or towns, for the sake of public health', and 76% agreed that 'for the sake of the environment, everyone should reduce how much they use their cars'.

Most of us realise we need to change our travel habits, and no "eco-knife" - or any other type of cutlery - will change our minds.

7) The "eco-knife" and business

There's no evidence that more walking and cycling is bad for retail - on the contrary, TfL research shows the opposite. Walking, cycling and public realm improvements can increase retail spend by 30%.

TfL graphic with information about active travel and retail spend