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Hedge-blog: painted 'no cycling' signs on the Stray, Harrogate

22nd July 2015

Painted 'no cycling' sign, Harrogate Stray

The timing was unfortunate. It was almost exactly a year after the Tour de France in Harrogate that the council painted large 'no cycling' signs on some of the paths across the Stray. Why did they do it?

Rebecca Burnett, Harrogate councillor and cycling and walking champion, explained the thinking to Harrogate News. 'In 2006, it was agreed that some of the paths on the Stray would be widened for the shared use of cyclists and pedestrians on the agreement that the narrow paths would remain for pedestrian use only.' 

'Some cyclists have still been using the pedestrian-only paths and this might be because they are unaware of the agreement made at the time. Now we have good cycle signage indicating the cycle routes and shared paths, the council has, in response to concerns from some older and more vulnerable pedestrians, laid markings to designate the pedestrian-only paths.'

'I am the council's walking champion as well as cycling champion, and the safety of both cyclists and pedestrians is important to me. I will continue to do what I can to improve local infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians as we work to reduce congestion in the area by encouraging sustainable transport.'

I have mixed feelings about these signs. 

1) If some paths are designated as shared use, and others pedestrian only, then on the face of it there's no harm in putting signs up to inform path users. 

2) Given that the council has prohibited cycling on some paths, it has a corresponding obligation to provide a safe and convenient alternative. Cycle routes are being developed, but Harrogate is in the early stages only of providing a network of cycle routes.

For example, the cycling alternative to the path across West Park Stray is Beech Grove, and it isn't very good. The equation is this: narrow road with parked cars + reasonably heavy traffic + sometimes aggressive and impatient driving + driver assumption that person on bike should give way to them = not very good cycle route.

I'm an experienced cyclist, and I take Beech Grove, although it's not always pleasant, but for a cycle ride with the sort of party including young children described by Harrogate Cycle Action, it may be impractical.

In the Netherlands, they cater for walkers and cyclists. The photo below is from the Wilhelmina Park in Utrecht. The two-way cycle path is separated by a hedge from the footpath. It works - there are plenty of pedestrians, and loads of cyclists.

Bike lane in Wilhelmina Park, Utrecht

3) When walking across West Park Stray, I've occasionally been slightly surprised when someone on a bike has come past me. Feeling startled has been the extent of it - I've never felt in danger, and I'm not aware of any collisions or other accidents on these paths. The solution should be proportionate to the problem.

4) The signs are large and prominent - they are 'in your face'. As a result, even if they are technically correct, they jar with Harrogate's stated ambition for a cycling legacy from the Tour de France. I wonder whether they are proportionate and necessary. Perhaps more discreet signs could have been placed on lampposts? 

It's a shame nobody was asked before the council changed the facts on the ground.

5) I don't think these paths are heavily used by cyclists. As North Yorkshire Cycling point out, parents with young children learning to ride, and low-speed commuters, are amongst the main users. They don't cause acute problems. I would add that I've also seen teenagers on mountain bikes use the paths.

What now?

From what I've seen, not from any scientific study, the cyclists who used the paths before have carried on doing so. Some have been riding on the grass next to the paths more than previously. If people who feel they need to cycle on the paths quietly ignore the signs, while taking care not to scare pedestrians, perhaps that's the closest we'll get to an acceptable solution.

Although the signs are oversized and ugly, probably the whole thing is a storm in a teacup...or a storm in a glass of water, as the Dutch would say.

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