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Hedge-blog: the case for recreational cycling in Harrogate

1st July 2015

Cycling statistics released by the DfT show that Harrogate comes seventh in the table for recreational cycling (at least once a month) in England. Richmond-upon-Thames is top:

1x/month 1x/week 3x/week
Richmond-upon-Thames 19.9% 13.2% 2.4%
Rutland 18.8% 10.4% 2.1%
South Cambridgeshire 18.6% 10.6% 2.1%
Forest of Dean 17.9% 5.8% 1.8%
Charnwood (Leics.) 17.8% 12.9% 5.8%
Stroud 17.4% 9.6% 2.1%
Harrogate 17.2% 11.3% 3.8%

Too often over the last few years, politicians have focused exclusively on work and money. No speech from Conservative or Labour representatives is complete without a reference to hard working (or hardworking or hard-working) people, or families, or (thanks to The Thick of It for this) families of people.

I have no objection to people working hard, even if it has to be me from time to time. I just don't want to be defined by how hard I work; I don't want to be oppressed by politicians telling me that I have to work hard all the time; and I don't agree that money and the economy are the only things that matter.

Cycle campaigners have written about trying to 'de-Lycrafy' cycling. This is misconceived and inaccurate shorthand for something else altogether - encouraging more people of all ages and backgrounds to cycle, including in ordinary clothes when going to work. They talk about de-Lycrafying cycling, but it's almost certainly not what they mean. Their objective is to be inclusive not exclusive. They almost certainly do not want to dissuade people from wearing Lycra to cycle, nor are they trying to persuade people who wear Lycra for cycling to stay at home or get the bus.

Harrogate's cycling delivery plan focuses on utility cycling in the town centre. That's correct, because it's in town that congestion is worst; it's where most journeys are made; and where there's the greatest potential for conflict between road users. 

The plan doesn't ignore recreational cycling completely, because it mentions a possible Nidderdale Greenway extension. (Incidentally, the league table above shows that when you give people safe, pleasant places to cycle, protected from traffic, they use them. Richmond has its park, and South Cambridgeshire has high-quality, segregated cycle infrastructure. Harrogate has the Greenway).

One thing the plan doesn't deal with is improving conditions for recreational cyclists on country roads, such as Penny Pot Lane. My message to those driving the cycling delivery plan is keep up the good work, but don't forget about recreational cyclists, who currently outnumber utility cyclists in Harrogate. 

Recreational cycling may not reduce congestion, but it does help the local economy through spending in bike shops, and by attracting visitors. (According to a 2012 Harrogate district profile report, 'the tourism and visitor economy represents around 25 per cent of the district's total economy, contributing £500m annually and supporting some 23,000 jobs' - p.15). 

Even more important, cycling for fun makes people fitter, healthier, and happier. Recreational cycling in Harrogate should be valued and catered for.

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