Beech Grove cycle route Harrogate

Beech Grove, Harrogate
Beech Grove, Harrogate

Walking around part of Harrogate just to the south of the centre at 8/8.30am, I noticed that none of the kids going to school by bike were using the roads. They were pushing their bikes across busy junctions, then riding on paths and pavements - in the absence of protected cycle routes. The lesson I draw from this is that we are failing them by not providing safe bike routes.

Beech Grove is a road which is marked as a cycle route on the map attached to the council's 2013 Harrogate & Knaresborough Cycling Implementation Plan. While it is better than the alternative of Otley Road/West Park, it is not a good cycle route; it is a bad cycle route, which often feels dangerous.

Summary (tl;dr): how to improve or replace Beech Grove as a cycle route

Beech Grove is a key part of Harrogate's official cycle network. It often can't be avoided when going to and from the town centre, but it is a bad cycle route. I've set out why and what to do about it in more detail further down the page. This is a quick summary of suggested solutions.

  1. Remove the car parking on Beech Grove, and create a two-way bike lane with kerb protection from the traffic, or if not
  2. Create a cycle path across West Park Stray, parallel to the footpath; replace the Stray land taken with other grassland, for example from Coach Road, or if not
  3. Put bollards on Beech Grove to prevent it being used by through traffic, reduce the speed limit to 20mph and enforce the limit, and put in traffic-calming measures; take the parking spaces for replacement Stray land if needed

Beech Grove cycle route, Harrogate: why it's a bad cycle route

Cyclist & traffic, Beech Grove Harrogate
Cyclist & traffic, Beech Grove Harrogate

Beech Grove isn't as busy and intimidating as Otley Road and West Park. Nevertheless, there is quite a lot of traffic during the morning and evening commutes, with some vehicles going quite fast.

Conflict is built into Beech Grove, because it isn't very wide, and there are always parked cars on one side. On the narrower sections, there isn't space for vehicles travelling in opposite directions to pass, so one has to wait while the other or others go first. This also means that there's limited space for people on bikes, and there are interactions and 'negotiations' with vehicles, which can feel dangerous.

Parked cars on Beech Grove, Harrogate
Parked cars on Beech Grove, Harrogate, by Hedgehog Cycling

The specific issues when cycling on Beech Grove are:

A person on a bike is more vulnerable when going uphill, away from town, than downhill, towards town. This is because the ability to go faster downhill enables you to better keep up with the traffic and gives you more options.

Beech Grove cycle route, Harrogate: how to make it better

Beech Grove, Harrogate - footpath

If there is to be a high-quality, protected bike lane on Otley Road, it makes sense to have good quality cycle provision on Beech Grove, which links to it. These are my suggestions, starting with what I think is the best option.

1) Protected bike lane to replace car parking

Car parking on Beech Grove
Car parking on Beech Grove

An obvious way to improve conditions for cycling on Beech Grove would be to remove the car parking, and replace it with a protected two-way bike lane - on the left when going uphill away from town.

The parking here is free, time-limted disc parking, and I guess it is handy for those who use it. Still, the roads are primarily there for getting about, not parking. Nobody driving a car is afraid to use Beech Grove because of bikes, but plenty of people won't use it on a bike because they are afraid of the cars; if more cars, parked ones this time, are preventing a safe cycle route from being built, can that be right?

There's car parking on both sides of West Park, and on both sides and up the middle of Victoria Avenue, so it's not as if spaces are in short supply; and residents on Beech Grove all have their own car parks (for the flats) or driveways (the houses). The exception is the eight houses nearest Otley Road, where there are double yellow lines anyway; they can park on Park Avenue, just the other side of Otley Road.

Don't take space away from pedestrians

There is a wide footpath on Beech Grove, but I don't think it's right to take space away from pedestrians.

In creating a cycling network in Seville, the principle adopted was to take space away from cars, not people. I think that is correct: if your town is spoilt by too much traffic, and you want to encourage people to use active travel for short, local journeys, trying to cram people on bikes and people on foot together into a small space is not the right approach.

Currently, space allocation (road and pavement) is roughly one third for walking, one third for driving, and one third for parked cars. This should be changed to one third for walking, one third for driving, and one third for cycling.

Persuading residents

I anticipate that a protected bike lane wouldn't be popular with all the residents of the buildings on Beech Grove, but I hope this wouldn't be an insurmountable problem. Even if some residents don't cycle themselves, they may have friends or relatives (including families with children who wish to cycle to school or into town) who would benefit from a safe cycle facility. Plus, their view of the Stray would be greatly improved by removing all those vehicles cluttering up the place.

2) Cycle path across the Stray

No cycling sign on Stray footpath
Path across West Park Stray

The Stray is a public amenity which is much-valued by local people including me. It is not desirable nor legally allowed to reduce its area. There's a path diagonally across it which meets the Otley Road by the end of Beech Grove, but that is for walking only, and it isn't wide enough to accommodate cycling. Harrogate BC painted 'no cycling' on the path in enormous letters.

The council could create a good cycling route by laying a second path across the Stray, parallel with the walking path, and with some sort of dividing line (eg plants) between the paths. That's what the Dutch would do - and it's what they have done, for example in the Wilhelmina Park in Utrecht (see this video, at about 5 minutes). If grass is removed from one part of the Stray, it can be compensated by increasing the grassed area elsewhere. One suggestion is to return Coach Road to Stray grassland.

In a poll for Cycling UK in May 2018, 45% of respondents said that more cycle paths away from roads, for example in parks, would make them more likely to cycle.

3) Filtered permeability and 20mph limit

Filtered permeability, Rossett Drive, Harrogate
Filtered permeability, Rossett Drive, Harrogate

If the council refuses to create a protected bike lane or a cycle path across the Stray, I suggest filtered permeability. Bollards would be placed about in the middle of Beech Grove. It would remain accessible to motor vehicles, but it could no longer be used as a through route.

This would make it more attractive and safer as a cycling route, because the volume of traffic would be reduced. The speed of vehicles could be lowered too, because through traffic is likely to be the fastest; vehicles of residents, and those just looking for a parking space, are likely to be going slower.

The measure should be combined with a 20mph speed limit and traffic-calming.

It would become easier for people to cross Beech Grove on foot, and safer. Using that part of the Stray would be more pleasant without fast traffic along the edge of the park. Reduced traffic would make the street nicer for residents. What's more, it would be cheap - just the cost of installing some bollards.

It would be important for residents to have their say. You could easily do it on a trial basis for 3 months, and see what people think. (I believe there are systems where certain people have a key or remote control to make the bollards retract, so they can pass. I seem to remember reading about such a scheme in Durham).

I suggest that filtered permeability is an effective solution, to make Beech Grove more attractive for people on foot and on bikes, a more pleasant street to live on, and to make West Park Stray even nicer.

Combine this with removing the parking spaces and turning that land into Stray when Stray verges are lost elsewhere and new Stray land is required.

Beech Grove cycle route, Harrogate: traffic lights for bikes

Bike traffic lights, Beech Grove/Victoria Avenue

Where Beech Grove meets West Park, there are traffic lights just for bikes, and a little lane that allows you to go straight on, onto Victoria Avenue. Vehicles are obliged to turn left on West Park.

This is a really helpful bit of imaginative design. I don't know who had the idea, or how long it has been there, but credit where credit is due, it is excellent.

Beech Grove cycle route, Harrogate: crossing at Otley Road junction

Junction of Beech Grove & Otley Road
Beech Grove meets Otley Road, by Hedgehog Cycling

Otley Road is often very busy. It can be difficult for vehicles to pull out of Beech Grove, and difficult and intimidating for people riding bikes.

It's not a good junction if you're on foot either. The path across West Park Stray brings you to this junction when you're walking away from town, but there's no crossing over Otley Road - and there should be. On foot, you have to walk further up Otley Road to the pelican crossing near Queen's Road. Even when you get there and press the button, you'll have to wait. There are sensors which detect if there's traffic or not: if there is, it gets priority; if not, you will be allowed to cross. (The lights will eventually change for pedestrians). This is North Yorkshire County Council's idea of balance, but most other people recognise it for what it is - prioritising people in cars over people on foot.

As part of any scheme to create a protected bike lane on Beech Grove, there should be a light-controlled crossing of Otley Road, which would benefit people on bikes and on foot. Better still, a cycle zebra crossing of Otley Road - then NYCC's usual policy of making people wait an eternity to cross a road would not apply.

There are lots of good reasons to make walking and cycling more attractive and convenient for local journeys. It reduces congestion, pollution, and is better for people's health. I have no interest in delaying traffic for no reason, but if it's given priority in all situations, how are we going to persuade people to make short journeys in other ways?

For these reasons, I suggest a crossing near the end of Beech Grove in addition to the crossing near Queen's Road.