Cars must come second to buses if Harrogate’s vision of a less-congested future is to become a reality.
Explained - Harrogate council's response to traffic congestion
In a week which has seen the completion of a public consultation on traffic launched by the county council 12 weeks ago, Harrogate’s borough council is so keen on action it has decided not to wait for the results.
While happy to work with the county council, Harrogate Borough Council is calling for the impementation of a radical new approach to traffic in Harrogate town centre.
The new initiative would require a fundamental shift in the daily lives of Harrogate motorists.
Guide - what happens next on Harrogate traffic congestion
Among the ideas being floated by Harrogate Borough Council are:
* Pedestrianisation of the remaining parts of Harrogate town centre.
* Buses getting priority over cars at traffic lights.
* Bus priority lanes removing lanes for cars on Leeds Road and Wetherby Road.
* Tarmac devoted to cars being taken away for segregated cycle lanes.
* Grass verges and very wide pavements being taken away for cycle lanes.
* Higher parking charges to force people into other modes of transport.
Council leader Coun Richard Cooper said: “To give buses priority it will mean that tarmac currently devoted to cars will be devoted to buses.
“This will be difficult for some but it is time to stop talking about sustainable transport and time to start seriously implementing it.”
The switch away from cars is being supported by Harrogate Bus Company.
The firm’s chief executive Alex Hornby, pictured, said: “Buses have a key role to play in achieving the drop in congestion we’re all seeking.
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“More reliable buses with quicker journey times and better information will attract more people out of their cars.”
Its response calls for buses to play a key role to play in achieving the drop in congestion by the creation of new bus lanes, traffic light priority for buses and a park and ride on its number 36 bus route.
Perhaps, the most contentious of the many ideas outlined in the county council’s online survey is the possibility of a new relief road near Nidd Gorge.
Since the deadline passed on Monday, Harrogate politicians have been almost queuing up to predict that the results, due next month, will show the idea is now dead and buried.
Harrogate and Knaresborough MP Andrew Jones said: “While we do not know the outcome yet, if my postbag is anything to go by, there will be a significant number of objections to the relief road proposal.”
Coun Cooper said: “Nearly 15,000 people responded to the consultation and it seems likely the overwhelming majority have rejected the relief road proposal. I expect that the idea, in those circumstances, won’t go any further.”
Councillor Phil Ireland, cabinet member for sustainable transport, said: "Based on the evidence I’ve seen, I do not support the idea of a relief road. Instead of rushing to lay down new tarmac, there should be greater investment in measures which encourage people out of their cars.
"New cycling infrastructure and improved public transport – along with changes to some junctions – will help tackle the congestion which blights Knaresborough and Harrogate. It will also help us realise our ambitions on carbon reduction and climate change.
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"I believe a joint approach with us, the county council, other transport authorities and the private sector will have the maximum benefit."
One Harrogate-based county councillor has gone as far as to predict the result of one controversial part of the consultation which included a wide range of ideas.
Coun Paul Haslam (Conservative, Old Bilton), said he thought the results would show that the public were completely against the option of a new ‘Nidd Gorge relief road.’
He said: “I am confident that the public will overwhelmingly reject the relief road proposal in the Harrogate Congestion Study and I am confident that the county council will accept that judgement.”
Coun Haslam is now calling for the Nidd Gorge beauty spot to be given permanent protection by designating it as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).
He has written to Natural England Chairman, Tony Juniper CBE asking for his proposal to be considered.
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Harrogate Bus Company plans for the future
In a statement on the Congestion Survey, Harrogate Bus Company chief executive Alex Hornby said: "We’re moving more people in and around Harrogate and are seen as leaders within in our industry. This is despite the challenge of congestion which can affect all our services and despite a lack of bus priority infrastructure in the area.
"Reducing congestion will help us to offer a better service to our customers. But buses also have a key role to play in achieving the drop in congestion we’re all seeking. More reliable buses with quicker journey times and better information will attract more people out of their cars – something already proven in our operation elsewhere.
"We will keep investing in new buses, in our people and making more improvements and partnerships across the town. In turn we’d like to see the local authorities treating buses seriously as a solution to congestion - if you make buses move, you’ll make more people move.
"We hope to see quick action on the back of this piece of work which is why, as part of our consultation response, we’ve pledged to work alongside NYCC to deliver some key proposals for buses.
"We believe healthy towns thrive when access is good across all modes of transport and recognise that a successful local economy requires movement for everyone, including motorists. In participating in the conversation about congestion we hope that buses can be part of the solution in a broad range of initiatives."
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Some of the suggestions put forward by the bus company include:
* A park and ride on The 36 route – which can be delivered without an ongoing financial commitment from NYCC.
* Traffic light priority for buses - which could make a huge difference to bus timekeeping, and could be delivered quickly as the technology is already fitted to buses and lights.
* Bus lanes – which will be essential to achieving meaningful journey-time reductions along corridors which are congested at peak times.
* Improving bus shelters – to keep shelters clean, provide more real-time information and an altogether better experience for customers.
* Reducing the impact of Starbeck Crossing – which could also involve priority bus infrastructure for buses.
* Reviewing how parking spaces are priced – to ensure people have a balanced choice to make about how they travel into town.
* A review of how road space is allocated – particularly close to bus stops and around residential bus routes, to ensure they can always be accessed.
* An information campaign – targeted at workplaces, schools and new developments, but also generally across the town.
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What county council thinks
Coun Don Mackenzie, North Yorkshire County Council’s executive member for access, said: “Initial results indicate that the vast majority of people regard congestion as a problem, so then the question is what measures are they happy to consider to tackle it?
“The results will inform the drafting of a report for the Harrogate and Knaresborough Area Constituency Committee on August 29, before going to the Skipton and Ripon Area Committee.
The County Council Executive will then take a decision on which options, if any, should be developed further.”