New Otley Road blow: First delays now disappointment over new cycle path in Harrogate

The leader of Harrogate’s long-delayed Otley Road cycle path project says the scheme is still on track amid quiet disappointment at the  results of its first phase - ironically, partly from cyclists themselves.

By Graham Chalmers
Friday, 18th February 2022, 3:46 pm
Part of the new cycle path on Otley Road, Harrogate. (Picture Gerard Binks)
Part of the new cycle path on Otley Road, Harrogate. (Picture Gerard Binks)

Despite concerns over key aspects of what is meant to be the first link in a new chain of cycle paths across the town from residents, North Yorkshire’s transport leader Coun Don Mackenzie says the new infrastructure does, in fact, meet the brief and will serve to improve traffic congestion on Otley Road and promote bicycle use to and from town.

“The package of sustainable measures will help to improve safety and alleviate the levels of congestion currently experienced along the Otley Road corridor, accommodating the existing traffic and future growth of Harrogate as recognised in Harrogate Borough Council’s draft Local Plan,” said Coun Mackenzie.

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“It should be remembered that the Otley Road project isn’t just about a new cycle path, it includes many other improvements, not least a major upgrade of the Harlow Moor Road junction, which has in the past seen long queues of traffic especially for cars stuck behind a vehicle waiting to turn right.”

Part of a package of improvements being delivered as part of the Government’s £4.6m award to North Yorkshire County Council from the National Productivity Investment Fund for sustainable transport in the west of Harrogate, phase one of the cycle path project runs in a stop-start manner from Harlow Moor Road to Arthurs Avenue.

Built by Hull-based PBS Construction in a contract worth £827,000, the new stop-start green-coloured cycle lane on Otley Road has not exactly been met with a fanfare.

Shops and traders annoyed by the disruption during the construction of phase one remain fearful of more of the same when work begins on the final two phases.

Residents are worried cyclists and pedestrian sharing so much of the same pavement is confusing, inefficient and potentially dangerous.

Meanwhile, the town’s leading pro-cycling group, Harrogate District Cycle Action, which has been liaising with North Yorkshire County Council throughout, is urging everyone to hang fire on judging the new cycle path until it is completed in full.

The independent pressure group has long been critical of what it described as “chronically slow progress” by local authorities towards creating a first-class cycle network in and around Harrogate, though it did express optimism when work finally started on Otley Road last September.

Despite remaining keen to work in a spirit of cooperation, its Winter 2022 Newsletter posted at the end of December on the HDCA website contains its own “Otley Road Cycleway Phase 1 Review” which turns a critical eye on the project and how phase one benefits motor vehicles as compared to cycling and walking.

The main area of contention is the lack of dedicated space for cyclists, in particular at the Harlow Moor Road junction where the road has been widened to improve traffic flow while narrowing for pedestrians and cyclists.

Coun Mackenzie told the Harrogate Advertiser, the county council was now working with the land owners Yorkshire Water over the situation at the junction.

“There are concerns regarding the pinch point at the signalised crossing on Harlow Moor Road,” he said. “We are working with Yorkshire Water regarding the use of the land and the movement of the wall. This is not a commitment that Yorkshire Water could give until later last year, but is now in place.

“Once agreements are in place this element of the scheme will be amended.”

But, he added, while he understood people’s current reservations about the new cycle path, its design had been thoroughly audited and it was unlikely that there would be any major alterations to the shared use of space.

“I do not expect any fundamental changes to the shared use sections. In my own electoral division of Saltergate there are shared-use paths, along Jenny Field Drive, for example, and I am not aware of any history of accidents.

“Of course, all road and path users should drive, cycle and walk with consideration for others.”

To many, the present situation is the latest example of a pattern of problems to afflict the project over the last four years which have included negotiations over the use of Stray land on the route, utility works, Covid, storms Arwen and Barra and, most recently, even mistakes in the signage of the new cycle path.

North Yorkshire County Council now says it has given instructions to the Otley Road contractor to rectify the errors on two of the signs “with immediate effect”.

In the early days of the project, Harrogate District Cycle Action issued a warning: “If the new cycle path is not of a high quality and built to the recognised standards then it will not be used and it will be a waste of money.”

For the moment, cyclists and residents are keeping their powder dry.

The chair of Harlow and Pannal Ash Residents Association’s chair, Rene Dziabas, said the group had asked the county council for clarification on a number of points in relation to the Otley Road cycle path.

And Kevin Douglas, chair of Harrogate District Cycle Action, said more discussion was still needed.

Cycle paths: What happens elsewhere

Cycling UK says Britain, like Spain, has low levels of daily cycle use compared to northern European countries such as Holland and Denmark.

But, it argues, where good quality cycle lanes are built, people use them, reducing the number of cars on roads.

In London where the Mayor’s Transport Strategy has set a target for 80% of trips to be made by public transport, walking and cycling by 2041, as compared to 64% now, City Planning Transport for London has found that safety and the perception of safety, is the main reason given for why people do not cycle more.

It says the evidence from leading cycling cities abroad is that properly segregated cycle lanes do work.

For example, Copenhagen has introduced mostly segregated cycle lanes over the last 25 years and the risk of serious collision has reduced by 72% per cycled kilometre.

Otley Road cycle path phase one: How motorists are also benefitting from the changes

Although the Otley Road cycle path project aims to encourage cycling to and from Harrogate town centre, many of the changes involved in phase one, at least, have been about improving the flow of vehicular traffic.

The design included junction upgrades at College Street, Harlow Moor Road, Hill Rise Avenue, Hill Rise Close, Pannal Ash Drive and Pannal Ash Road.

he junction of Harlow Moor Road with Otley Road has been widened and a left turn lane into Harlow Moor Road created to address the impact of queuing traffic in the short term. In the longer term, it aims to provide road capacity for the growth of traffic identified in the Local Plan.