Troubled project: Why Harrogate cyclists should not expect major changes to Otley Road's new cycle lane Phase 1

Cycling campaigners joined representatives of North Yorkshire County Council and the project’s design consultants on a walk-through of the first phase of the new cycle path on Otley Road on Monday - and came away with a list of hoped-for revisions.

By Graham Chalmers
Friday, 11th March 2022, 10:29 am
Updated Friday, 11th March 2022, 10:34 am
The much-delayed Otley Road cycleway is intended to be a core part of the overall cycle network in Harrogate.
The much-delayed Otley Road cycleway is intended to be a core part of the overall cycle network in Harrogate.

The much-delayed Otley Road cycleway is intended to be a core part of the overall cycle network in Harrogate, linking to Beech Grove, Victoria Avenue and the Station Gateway schemes.

The county’s transport leader Coun Don Mackenzie has long argued the project was about improving transport links as a whole, rather than being purely focused on cycling needs.

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But to members of Harrogate District Cycle Action, the biggest problem so far with the project is the actual quality of the cycle path on Otley Road which has still two phases of construction to go.

Speaking after last Monday’s walk-through of Phase 1 John Rowe, vice chair of HDCA, said: "Several members of Harrogate District Cycle Action walked Phase 1 of the new Otley Road cycleway from Pannal Ash Road to Harlow Moor Road on Monday 7th March with representatives from NYCC and WSP, the design consultants.

"The aim was to identify areas needing immediate improvement and also any lessons that could be applied to the next stage of development from Pannal Ash Road to Beech Grove (Phase 2).

"The discussions were constructive and the council took away a long list of suggestions for improvement."

Among the concerns raised by Harrogate District Cycle Action were:

It is far from the high-quality scheme that it had hoped for and that is needed if we want to see significant shift in journeys from cars to bicycles;

The scheme was designed before the current good quality national design standards were introduced (LTN1/20) and there has been little willingness to adopt good practice from elsewhere in the absence of these national standards;

The cycle path width is very narrow and many areas are shared with pedestrians which is far from ideal;

The design is heavily constrained by the need to avoid removing the mature trees along Otley Road;

It should be noted that at least eight trees were removed for the carriageway widening at Harlow Moor Road junction for motorists and only a single tree is planned to be removed for the cycleway design;

The design for the corner of Harlow Moor Road has yet to be completed with purchase of Yorkshire Water land enabling the path to be substantially widened here.

Harrogate District Cycle Action has been pushing for the cycle path project to follow LTN1/20 standards - a comprehensive national design standard introduced in early 2020 by the Department of Transport, which sets the bar for cycle infrastructure proposals by local authorities and seeks to embed them in local highways design standards.

Part of Harrogate District Cycle Action's disappointment about Phase 1 of the Otley Road project lies in its failure to create a fully segregated, safe path for cyclists caught in the melee of road congestion, school traffic and people walking into town.

North Yorkshire County Council's executive member for access and transport, Coun Don Mackenzie admits phase 1 does not fully meet LTN1/20 standards but defends the choices the council has has to make with the brief set by the Government's funding stream and the layout of Otley Road, itself.

Coun Mackenzie said: "I understand that the cyclists challenged the decision to invest in the now completed upgrade to the Harlow Moor Road junction, which used to be a bottleneck for traffic. Why favour motor vehicles at the expense of cyclists?

"The NPIF (Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund) which we bid for and were awarded was for travel and transport improvements for west Harrogate, and I remain confident that this junction work helps to keep traffic flowing to the benefit of all, including air quality.

"The cycling group made clear their preference for LTN1/20 standards for the whole cycle path.

"Our officers explained that remains very challenging in view of the narrowness of the Otley Road corridor, the restrictions imposed by the Stray Act, and the presence of highway trees."

Further answering the points made by HDCA, Coun Mackenzie said, in fact, that "only two trees have been lost for the cycle path and will be replaced elsewhere."

And, Coun Mackenzie added, the cycle path project had to meet the needs of many people, not simply cyclists.

He said: "The concerns about trees which have also been expressed by the Stray Defence Association demonstrate why North Yorkshire County Council has to achieve a balance between its demands and those of the cycling groups.

"There are also the restrictions imposed by business and domestic access to driveways, several bus stops and controlled pedestrian crossings."

Harrogate District Cycle Action remains hopeful alterations can be made to phase 1 to improve its usefulness as a cycle path.

Vice chair of HDCA, John Rowe said “Our overall impression is that the scheme can be made workable although it is far from the high quality scheme that we had hoped for and that is needed if we want to see significant shift in journeys from cars to bicycles, reducing long term congestion, pollution and carbon emissions."

But Coun Mackenzie's comments on the matter suggest major changes may not be on the table.

He said: "Following the walk-through the highways team will be making some relatively minor changes to signs and their location.

"There will also be minor remedial work to the painted lines and surface condition."

Melisa Burnham, North Yorkshire County Council's Area Highways Manager said the Otley Road cycle project would bring benefits overall.

She said: “Once all phases of the scheme are finished it will help to improve safety along the entire length of the Otley Road corridor.

"The aim is to accommodate all users – pedestrians, cyclists and motorists – to aid sustainable travel, ease congestion and support the future growth of Harrogate.

"We recognise the new cycling guidance and the benefits this brings to users.

"Where there are such constraints along Otley Road we use the guidance as a starting point to create a safe route."

As for the national standards for new cycle path being met - or not - the county council's Area Highways Manager said: "Since new government guidance on cycle lanes was introduced in July 2020, highways teams have been revising plans for the next phases of the scheme.

"The guidance, which was introduced after the plans for phase one were designed, recognises that there may be areas along a route where practically the guidance cannot be fully applied."

Melisa Burnham said the county council stood ready to listen and act over potential improvements to the project and further public consultations were imminent.

She said: “We are always ready to take on board the experience of users which is why we walked through the route with the cycle group and designers to understand if any further improvements to phase one can be made now it is complete.

“We are already committed to moving the wall back at Harlow Moor Road to widen this corner for the cycle way and there are a number of other remedial elements such as signing and lining that will also be addressed by the contractor.

"The route is safe and we will be carrying out a third safety audit in the next few weeks.

“We will also be holding further workshops with key stakeholder groups to review designs for the second and third phases of the cycle way scheme in light of this new guidance.”

As for the timetable for construction, North Yorkshire County Council now says the first phase of the Otley Road cycle path scheme was completed in January, with the second phase due to begin within the next financial year.

Phase three relies on developer funding from the West of Harrogate urban extension.

Plans are currently being worked on which will then lead to more detailed planning, including a feasibility study.