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Beech Grove cycle route, Harrogate

Beech Grove, Harrogate

Beech Grove, Harrogate, by Hedgehog Cycling

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.

Beech Grove cycle route, Harrogate: why it's less than ideal

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:

  • *overtakes which are too fast and too close due to the limited space
  • *vehicles coming in the opposite direction and passing too fast and too close
  • *when riding past parked cars, some drivers don't understand the need to for the bike rider to leave space to avoid getting 'doored'
  • *some people driving cars assume that they always have priority over anyone on a bike

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: 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. I'm told that occasionally the cycle lights fail to work. If that's the case the fault should be corrected.

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.

Cycle path across the Stray

No cycling sign on Stray footpath

A limiting factor here is that 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 best solution purely in terms of creating a good cycling route would be to have 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.

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.

Protected bike lane uphill

Other than a path across the Stray, an obvious way to improve conditions for cycling on Beech Grove would be to remove car parking, and replace it with a protected bike lane on the left when going uphill away from town.

Car parking is a very emotive issue for some people. The parking here is free, time-limted disc parking, and I guess it is handy for those who use it. Still, 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?

If removing car parking is not found to be desirable, is there anywhere else could space be found? The footpath next to the road is around 2 metres wide for much of the length of Beech Grove, so that might be a possibility.

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 could be changed to one third for walking, one third for driving, and one third for cycling.

I anticipate that a protected bike lane wouldn't be popular with all the residents of the buildings on Beech Grove. 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) who would benefit from a safe cycle facility.

Filtered permeability and 20mph limit

Filtered permeability, Rossett Drive, Harrogate

Filtered permeability, Rossett Drive, Harrogate

Since creating a protected bike lane is not uncontroversial, filtered permeability could be considered. 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 well 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 could be combined with a 20mph speed limit.

One advantage is that no parking would be lost. Another is that it would be easier for people to cross Beech Grove on foot, and safer. Using that part of the Stray would be more pleasant and safer without fast traffic along the edge of the park. 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 a very 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.

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.

While on this point, I'll mention that 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 might be an objection to this on the basis that it would slow traffic on Otley Road, but there isn't a strong case against a crossing. 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? Plus, the interests of the people of Harrogate should be given at least as much weight as the interests of people driving through Harrogate. In any event, getting past the end of Beech Grove faster in a car almost certainly just means arriving at the next traffic queue sooner.

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

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A Country in a Jam

28th September 2017

Traffic on Otley Road Harrogate

In August this year, the LGA produced a report called A Country in a Jam, looking at innovative solutions to congestion being employed by local authorities. This includes investment in active travel in Bristol. The report calls for more powers for councils to deal with traffic jams in various ways. Read about A Country in a Jam.

Inspiration from Dutch cycle infrastructure

Bikes in Zandvoort

Bike lanes in the Netherlands are designed with thought and intelligence to create a joined-up, easily  usable network. I took a few photos of cycle infrastructure in Zandvoort, and I've added some comments about the intention of the planners. In the UK, we should pay particular attention to the way they give bike routes continuity, instead of making them give way to every side street.

Read about inspiration from Dutch cycle infrastructure.

Cyclist & traffic, Beech Grove Beech Grove, HarrogateTraffic lights for bikes, Beech Grove

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