North Yorkshire County Council built a cycle route on Beckwith Head
Road in 2017. It is a shared use path (walking and cycling) on one
side of the road.
The idea is that as Cardale Park business park expands, there will
be sustainable transport options for people working there. Beckwith
Head Road links to Otley Road, where there is to be a segregated cycle
In the past few decades, cycle infrastructure in the UK has been a
failure. Poor standards have resulted in routes that aren't useful
for people who are determined to ride bikes. The lack of safe and
convenient routes has meant that participation in cycling as a means
of transport has remained low: about 2% of journeys, compared with
27% in the Netherlands.
It is quite easy to find out how to build a good cycle route. We
know what works - all you have to do is look to the Netherlands or
Denmark. The lessons have finally permeated some parts of the UK,
and we've seen good quality cycle superhighways in London,
attracting large numbers of users, and resulting in mass cycling.
Photo collage: North Yorkshire design (left) gives
priority to vehicles; Copenhagen design (right) gives priority to
people on foot and on bikes
It's less easy to build the cycle routes, as there are always
constraints of space or other difficulties. We have to accept the
Unfortunately, the Beckwith Head Road cycle route makes almost all
the mistakes of recent decades. It's difficult to know the precise
reasons for the poor design - whether it's a lack of knowledge, or
the absence of a genuine commitment to creating a route that meets
the needs of users on bikes
If you build a cycle route that doesn't meet the needs of potential
users, they will ignore it. It will be a waste of money, and a
missed opportunity. It will also fail to attract new cyclists, and
therefore fail to reduce congestion by 'modal shift' (people leaving
the car at home, and riding to school, work, the shops, or to see
their family and friends).
Beckwith Head Road cycle route: map
The Beckwith Head Road route is shown in dark blue on the above
map. Click on the top left of the frame to see the key, and on the
individual route for notes to it.
Beckwith Head Road cycle route: the path
I looked at the route starting from Otley Road and going south to
Lady Lane. It's a shared used path (walking and cycling) on one side
of Beckwith Head Road only (the left hand side when travelling
At Otley Road, there's a 'end of route' sign and a dotted give way
line painted on the pavement. If you arrive here and you're turning
right towards Harrogate, you're on the wrong side of Otley Road, and
there's no crossing.
End of route at Otley Road
Heading along Beckwith Head Road you soon come to the first side
road where there are tactile paving stones and you have to give way.
First side road (give way) on Beckwith Head Road
Soon after is the second give way point, the entrance to Harrogate
Second give way point (entrance to Harrogate police
The third give way point is an entrance to Cardale Park business
park. For good measure, an 'end of route' sign has been added here!
I'm not even going to speculate as to the reasons. If you have a
cycle path with two ends to it, and you use three 'end of route'
signs, that is ridiculous. It should be removed.
Third give way point and very odd 'end of route'
The next give way point is at the fenced-off entrance to a field of
Fourth give way point at a field of sheep
The explanation for this is that there's to be a business park here
in the future. The designers of this route clearly want to make sure
that there's no question of anyone on a bike or on foot having
priority over someone driving a vehicle: cars must have priority at
all times, even vehicles not yet manufactured, carrying future
employees to a yet-to-be-built business park.
Pedestrians and cyclists, you are very important to
us...just not quite as important as a field of sheep
There's a fifth give way point, again to the entrance to a future
bit of the business park.
Fifth give way point to a future business park
The path reaches Lady Lane, where the route actually does end, and
there's an 'end of route' sign.
End of Beckwith Head Road shared path at Lady Lane
Beckwith Head Road cycle route: assessment
1) This is a shared use path, which is a big compromise
People walking and people on bikes don't go at the same speed, and
generally don't want to be asked to share a path. Successful cycling
the Netherlands have separate paths, not shared use paths.
What they do works, whereas cycle infrastructure in the UK to date
does not. I don't think anyone can argue that we know better than
For relatively little-used routes, or leisure routes, or where
there's really no other option, shared use paths can be considered,
but it shouldn't be what we aim for.
2) The path has no priority over side roads - you give way each
When cycling, you want a bit of continuity - to be able to get
going and keep going, not stop at every side road. If you're going
straight on, you should have priority over side roads; if you're
turning, give way. It's not asking for special treatment - just for
the same priority rules as for vehicles.
The alternative, glorified pavement cycling, is what has been built
on Beckwith Head Road. The message is: if you're in a car, you're
important, if you're on a bike, you're not. It won't encourage
existing cyclists to use the bike route, and won't attract new
people to cycling.
I'm not aware of any protected cycle route (ie one that's
not just white dotted lines on the road) in Harrogate that has
priority over side roads. Turning vehicles are systematically given
priority over bike riders going straight on. I suggest North
Yorkshire County Council's design guidelines need to change.
People vote with their feet, or in this case their wheels. If they
think infrastructure is no good, they just ignore it. That's what I
saw when I was looking at the Beckwith Head Road route early on a
Saturday morning. Three bike riders passed me altogether (and about
the same number of cars). An older gentleman on an electric bike was
riding on the road not the path, perhaps because the shared use path
was on the wrong side of the road for him.
Electric bike rider, Beckwith Head Road
Two chaps out for a Saturday morning ride came past me, heading
south, again ignoring the shared use path. I guess they if they had
thought about it at all, they wanted to ride along Beckwith Head
Road without stopping, rather than giving way five times.
Cyclists on Beckwith Head Road
They are doing nothing wrong by riding next to each other in order
to have a civilised chat. The Highway Code asks people to ride in
single file if the road is narrow or busy, and when going round
bends (Rule 66). That did not apply here.
There is no point whatsoever in being annoyed at people because
they are not using the path. It's a design failure. If you build a
route that is safe and convenient - that people can see, and
ride along without losing priority - they'll use it. If they ignore
it, it's for a reason.
Contrast Beckwith Head Road with a comment in Chris Boardman's Made to Move
report for Greater Manchester: 'I won't waste people's money or time
building a network that won't deliver a fundamental and cultural
change in how we travel.'
3) Volume of traffic
It's said that there will be more vehicles than bike riders, and
this is supposed to be an argument for giving priority to cars.
Equally, you could argue that if there aren't that many bike
riders, you could give them priority, and it won't inconvenience
anyone driving a car all that much or all that often. If there's
loads of traffic, bike riders will be inconvenienced significantly
when trying to ride along the Beckwith Head Road path.
The argument also amounts to planning for failure, and guaranteeing
failure as a result.
You don't think many people will use your bike path, so you make it
not very good, and because it's no good, nobody uses it.
And yet, we know that it can be done - people will cycle if
you give them safe and convenient routes. Just look at the
Netherlands, and even London's most recent cycle infrastructure. But
Beckwith Head Road isn't how it is done.