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Beckwith Head Road cycle route

Shared use path by Beckwith Head Road

Shared use path, Beckwith Head Road, Harrogate

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 route.

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.

N Yorks v Denmark bike infra

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 odd compromise.

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 south).

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.

Beckwith Head Rd junction with Otley Rd

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 Beckwith Head Road

First side road (give way) on Beckwith Head Road route

Soon after is the second give way point, the entrance to Harrogate police station.

Entrance to Harrogate police station

Second give way point (entrance to Harrogate police station)

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.

Beckwith Head Road 'end of route' sign

Third give way point and very odd 'end of route' sign

The next give way point is at the fenced-off entrance to a field of sheep.

Give way to a field of sheep, Beckwith Head Road

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.

Sheep by Beckwith Head Road

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.

Give way to future business park entrance, Beckwith Head Road

Fifth give way point to a future business park entrance

The path reaches Lady Lane, where the route actually does end, and there's an 'end of route' sign.

Beckwith Head Road cycle route ends

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 countries like 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 them.

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 time

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 and rider, Beckwith Head Road

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

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.

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Cycling UK poll

5th June 2018

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A poll of 2,000 British adults for Cycling UK reveals the top reasons why more people don't cycle. They include sharing the road with large vehicles and close passes. What would encourage more people to ride bikes? Find out about the Cycling UK poll.

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