Yorkshire cycling website
Harrogate has a councillor who is cycling and walking champion. It was John Ennis, then Rebecca Burnett from 2014-2017, and it is now Councillor Phil Ireland.
North Yorkshire County Council also has a councillor who is a cycling champion, and it is currently Don Mackenzie.
Here, I'm setting out some general suggestions on how to improve conditions for cycling in Harrogate, and some ideas for improvements to specific cycle routes.
Much of the traffic in Harrogate is local - 70% of commuter trips are less than 5 miles, and most shopping trips involve short journeys, according to NYCC's bid for LSTF funding. From a consultants' report about a proposed Harrogate relief road, it has emerged that 93% of traffic in Harrogate Borough is local traffic - journeys that start or finish, or both, in Harrogate - while only 7% is through traffic.
It is a compact town, and most journeys could be made by most people on foot or by bike. At the moment they are not, and the result is constant traffic jams on many roads. The volume of traffic also puts many people off cycling.
It is generally easy to walk in Harrogate. There are good paths across the Stray, so you can perambulate in nice surroundings away from the traffic.
Cycling is more difficult. The roads are busy, and a large minority of people drive inconsiderately towards cyclists, failing to follow the relevant provisions of the Highway Code - in particular rule 163. This is mostly due to not knowing how to drive around cyclists, and impatience, rather than any malice. One person who passed me much too close told me, 'I had absolutely no choice, there was oncoming traffic.' It did not occur to him to wait until it was safe to pass.
In my experience, drivers are less considerate and patient at peak times (morning rush hour, school run, and evening rush hour) than at other times. Really, driving safely and considerately around people on bikes should not be dependent on the day and time. One negative aspect of this circumstance is that utility cycling tends to be at peak times, and hostile road conditions may put people off.
There have been some positive developments for cycling in recent years. The Nidderdale Greenway and the Showground Greenway have been built, and Slingsby Walk is open to cyclists. These are good quality routes away from traffic - but with the compromise (for all users) of being shared walking and cycling paths, not dedicated cycle routes.
It's right for councillors to be pleased with these achievements. On the other hand, the existence of these routes is of no use or consolation to people on bikes when they are travelling on other routes. The money which has been spent on them shouldn't be forgotten, but it can't be used as an answer to every question about whether other cycling facilities can be built or improved.
Anyone interested in improving conditions for cyclists in Harrogate should be looking at cycling facilities in Harrogate as a whole, and asking whether it's a cycle-friendly town.
What's meant by a cycle-friendly town? It's a town where you can go anywhere by bike on safe, convenient routes. In those terms, Harrogate is a long, long way from being a cycle-friendly town. I would previously have given the cycle network as a whole 1 or 2 out of ten, but after the signing improvements in early 2015, I would say it is now 2 or 3 out of ten. I do believe there is a genuine commitment to further improvements, though.
Some of the problems which need addressing in Harrogate are:
We have isolated stretches of cycle routes. They may stop because the money ran out, or because it became more difficult to fit a cycle lane onto a particular part of a road. Even if that makes sense from the council's budgetary or administrative point of view, it's of no help to the cyclist when a route just stops with a 'cyclists dismount' or an 'end of route' sign.
An example is the cycle path alongside the A59 from Knaresborough towards Harrogate, which stops at Harrogate Golf Club. Another example is a cycle path by the B6164 for the short distance from Grimbald Bridge to Saint James Retail Park in Knaresborough. I wanted to go further - to Mill Road bridleway - but the cycle infrastructure abandoned me completely to negotiate a busy road and a very busy roundabout at the junction of two major roads.
Pointless 'cyclists dismount' sign on Slingsby Walk, at the crossing of a road where there is no benefit to dismounting
People's journeys don't stop where the council decided it had to 'end' a route. They will cycle if they know that they can get everywhere they want to go conveniently and safely, as they can in the Netherlands. If there are stretches where they feel that their life or their personal safety is in danger, it can put them off cycling. What's needed is a coherent and complete network, not a selection of isolated routes.
Good cycle routes should be safe and convenient. As Chris Boardman says, it shouldn't require bravery to ride a bike. Too many of our cycle routes are not safe because they lack protection, or not convenient because of a lack of priority - people riding bikes are asked to give way and wait at all times, while motor vehicles are accommodated.
A lack of protection can be seen with the painted advisory lanes on Oatlands Drive and Hookstone Drive.
Unprotected, painted, blocked, advisory cycle lane on Hookstone Drive
Priority is a particular problem where there is a shared cycle and footpath, such as the one next to the A59 from Knaresborough to Harrogate Golf Club. The cycle path gives way to every side road, including the golf club and a gate into a farmer's field.
Shared path by A59 gives way to gate into a farmer's field
Even in 2017, North Yorkshire County Council is building new 'cycle infrastructure' to a failed model of pavement cycling, giving way to every drive and side road. An example is Beckwith Head Road. These routes do not meet the requirements of most people riding bikes, so they are ignored. Money spent on them is wasted.
If more cycle routes are to be built in the future, the issue of priority must be dealt with. A cycle route should be as convenient as the road, and should therefore have priority over side roads. If not, it will not be convenient, and won't be used.
Similarly, routes shared between people walking and cycling are not ideal for anyone, and should not be what we build in future unless there is no other option.
Most of the cycle routes in Harrogate to date are (I think deliberately) low key and inconspicuous. They take back routes and alleys. There is some logic to it, as these routes take people away from traffic, and don't cause controversy with non-cyclists.
However, another strategy could be considered in some places. Perhaps segregated bike lanes should be created alongside main routes - for example, along the Leeds Road from the junction with Leadhall Lane, via the Prince of Wales roundabout, and along West Park into town. It's the most obvious and straightforward way for many people from south Harrogate to get into town. It would be conspicuous. If people could see the route, and they could see it was convenient and safe, they may decide to use it.
Here are links to my specific suggestions for improvements elsewhere on the site:
Since the role is cycling and walking champion, not just cycling champion, I've put down a few thoughts on walking in Harrogate.
In general, people on foot are quite well provided for, with paths across the beautiful Stray. However, when it comes to crossing busy roads, there are not always enough crossings at convenient points, and where there are crossings, you usually have to wait a long time for the lights to change, and you're not given much time to cross. The message given is that people in cars are more important than people on foot.
1) There was only one pedestrian crossing in Harrogate where the lights changed quickly - outside the Coach & Horses on West Park. That one was brilliant. Unless someone had just crossed, the lights changed straight away. Apparently it was a malfunction, and North Yorkshire County Council have changed the settings, to make people on foot wait a long time before they are allowed to cross.
The default for traffic is 'go' - the lights are green. The default for people wanting to cross is 'stop' - you have to make a request to cross by pushing the button. Then you watch as twenty or thirty vehicles go past, until finally the lights change and you can cross. NYCC describe this as 'balance', but it is not. An accurate description is 'giving priority to people in cars over people on foot'. If we want people to walk more and drive less - which we should for many cogent reasons including congestion, pollution, and inactivity-related ill-health - this is the exact opposite of what we should be doing.
At all light-controlled crossings in Harrogate, you have to wait quite a long time. Here are some specific examples:
Drivers do not stop promptly at crossings. My experience of the crossing of Otley Road near Queen's Road is that when the light turns amber for traffic, a vehicle will go through every time; and when the light turns red, a vehicle will go through about half the time. People know that there is no policing and no sanction. The situation is unsatisfactory, and I suggest that between the town and county councils and the police, some action could be taken.
2) It's difficult to cross Station Parade from Albert Terrace to Waitrose. There are two busy lanes of traffic, accelerating towards the junction with York Place. Again, this sends the wrong message. People who choose to walk around Harrogate, instead of adding to the congestion, should be shown that they are valued, not made to dodge traffic because there is no provision.
3) A road sign obscures the view of people attempting to cross the Leeds Road at the Prince of Wales roundabout (heading west). Once you're half way across, you still have two lanes of traffic to negotiate, and you need to be able to make eye contact with drivers to see whether they are going to let you across, but there's a road sign in the way.
Do you have any more comments or suggestions?
A look at some of the cycle routes in the town of Harrogate, with
comments about how they could be improved, where appropriate. Read
about Harrogate town
centre cycle routes.
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