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Why Harrogate relief road is a terrible idea

12th June 2018

Harrogate relief road

Bilton Lane now, and how it could look if made into a relief road

A so-called Harrogate relief road is being promoted by North Yorkshire County Council's Business & Environmental Services Executive ('the Executive'). The Executive includes Councillors Don Mackenzie and Andrew Lee, and Corporate Director David Bowe. A crude map with coloured routes shows, roughly, the different possible routes.

At an Area Committee meeting on Thursday 7th December 2017, councillors voted 14-2 against continuing with the road proposal, but the vote was ignored by the Executive, who decided to push ahead with it.

Most of Harrogate's traffic is short, local journeys. In fact, 93% of traffic in Harrogate is from journeys that begin or end in Harrogate, or are entirely within Harrogate; only 7% is through traffic. It's the people of Harrogate who are responsible for this situation, not outsiders.

This helps explain why the name 'bypass' has not been chosen for the unwanted road. A bypass option to the north of Harrogate that only keeps non-local traffic out of the town would have little effect.

Proponents of a new road would like to build it close to Harrogate, through Bilton. They claim that it would cause a 20 to 40 per cent reduction in traffic in Harrogate town centre.

Why Harrogate relief road is a terrible idea: a fatal flaw in the reasoning

Sparrow, Bilton Lane

A sparrow sings on Bilton Lane

There's a fatal flaw in the reasoning of the would-be road-builders. According to them, if you create more road space, you reduce congestion. The idea has a certain simplistic attractiveness. But is it true? We've been building roads since the 1950s, and what has happened to congestion? It has increased.

Andrew Gilligan exposed the logical weakness of a similar argument in his foreword to Human Streets, a report in March 2016 at the end of Boris Johnson's term as Mayor of London.

'Much of the opposition to cycle schemes is based on a belief that motor traffic is like rainwater and the roads are drains for it. If you narrow the pipe, these people say, it will flood. If you block one route, they say, the same amount of traffic will simply flow down the next easiest route. But that seldom or never actually happens in practice. Because traffic isn't a force of nature. It's a product of human choices. Our surveys tell us that huge numbers of Londoners will choose to cycle if they feel safe doing so. If we open up that choice, even more people will take it.'

Why Harrogate relief road is a terrible idea: Paris

Cycling in Paris

Cycling in Paris, by Jean-François Gornet, Licence CC BY-SA 2.0

On 7th June 2018, Paris reported a reduction in motor vehicle traffic of 6.5% in the first 5 months of 2018, compared with the same period in 2017. The percentage reductions in rush hour traffic are even greater. These reductions are added to a 3% reduction per year between 2003 and 2013, and 4% per year between 2014 and 2016.

The reduction in traffic is having an impact: air pollution down 30% between 2003 and 2013.

The reductions in congestion and improvements to air quality in Paris haven't come from opening up more space to private motor vehicles. Parking charges have gone up, there are some car-free days, cycle lanes have been built, and more cycle routes and pedestrianisations are planned.

In Paris, the idea that reducing traffic reduces air pollution is succeeding. In London, the Mayor is imposing restrictions on polluting vehicles with an extension of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone.

Why Harrogate relief road is a terrible idea: a congestion generator road

What is the Executive's solution for Harrogate? Build another road to improve air quality and reduce congestion! Does anyone actually believe it will work?

What happens in practice is that a new road generates more traffic, which spills over onto existing roads and junctions, and exacerbates existing congestion and air pollution problems. When the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England looked at bypasses built over the past 20 years, they found exactly that: road schemes generate traffic. They also result in a highly car-dependent pattern of land development.

Harrogate residents currently make short, local journeys by car. The fact that everyone else is driving everywhere means that the roads are too hostile for them to consider cycling. It's a Catch 22 situation. There is some provision for cycling, but it's a million miles from being a safe, convenient, complete network of cycle routes.

We are finally seeing enlightened changes to transport systems in some towns and cities around the world. What about us in Harrogate - do we have the imagination to see how our town and borough could be, if it were less dominated by motor vehicles?

The Executive wants to continue with the failed model of the past. It wants to destroy a much-loved place, Old Bilton, and turn the delightful Bilton Lane into a major road carrying 1,000 cars an hour. Where now there is wildlife, peace, tranquility, recreation, walking, and cycling, they want thousands of vehicles generating noise and pollution - and inevitably increasing Harrogate's congestion problems.

It mustn't be allowed to happen.

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Cycling UK poll

5th June 2018

Closed road cycling in York

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.

Roe deer, Bilton Lane Traffic jam, HarrogateSparrow, Bilton Lane

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