Congestion in Knaresborough and Harrogate

From 15 April to 8 July 2019 we asked for your views on congestion in Knaresborough and Harrogate. Over 15,000 people filled in a survey.

The complexity of the area’s traffic issues means they are unlikely to be addressed by a single solution so, for illustrative purposes, we developed two indicative packages which combined a range of measures. These were not fully defined or developed.

The measures were specifically selected as having the potential to help alleviate the issues identified in the local area.

Map of Harrogate study area

Download a  map of the Harrogate study area. (pdf / 2 MB)

A lot of people commute into and out of Harrogate

A lot of trips are made into and out of Harrogate, with people living in the town travelling to work elsewhere (particularly to York and Leeds) and those working in the town often living elsewhere where property prices are lower. This leads to high levels of traffic, and resulting congestion, on the main routes in and out of Harrogate.

The existing road network wasn’t designed to deal with so much traffic

Key routes through Harrogate and Knaresborough (A59, A61 and A661) carry much more traffic than they were designed to. For a variety of reasons, such as the Stray, in most cases it is not possible to improve the existing roads to provide for all this traffic, so it is necessary to look at other ways of addressing the problem.

Our research shows that journeys in the morning and evening are the main cause of the traffic issues but there are problems throughout the day

Unlike many places, research shows that Harrogate and Knaresborough experience traffic congestion issues on some  main roads throughout the day as well as in the morning and evening peak hours. There is a considerable variation in journey time depending on the time of day. Journey times can be up to 145% longer in the peak hours (8-9am and 4.45-5.45pm), with average speeds as low as 5.5mph; this means that, not only are journeys slow, but they are also unpredictable, which can cause issues for commuters and deliveries.

A lot of journeys are very short, made within the towns themselves and made by car

Almost half of the trips being made in the busiest periods both start and end within Harrogate and Knaresborough. These trips are short (less than 1.6miles on average), are generally commuter trips and are mostly made by car.  These trips are the ones most easily shifted to more sustainable modes (walking, cycling or public transport); this would make a big difference to the level of congestion on the roads.

There are currently low levels of cycling

Cycling is a great alternative to the car for short trips, yet levels of cycling in Harrogate and Knaresborough are low. Accident data shows a relatively high number of pedestrian and cyclist casualties. This has been considered when developing the possible measures to help with congestion; if cycling can be made safer and more convenient (through better provision such as cycle lanes and by reducing the number of cars on the roads) there is potential to encourage more people to travel by bike.

Bus use in Harrogate is low

Only 6% of the short commuting trips made within Harrogate are on a bus - and this  is decreasing year-on-year despite having premium services like the 36, which offers comfortable seating, phone charging and free Wi-Fi. As with cycling, measures to make bus use more attractive are included  to try to encourage people to make better use of existing services.

There are air quality issues in the area

High traffic flows and resulting congestion are a key contributor to air quality issues on the main routes in the area. This has led to the need to declare a number of ‘Air Quality Management Areas’, which correspond to some of the junctions where, according to our research, congestion is worst.

The number of cars on the road is expected to increase

The population is growing. Housing developments and employment sites planned for Harrogate and Knaresborough mean the population is expected to increase significantly. These people will need to travel on the local network. Whilst smaller scale local improvements might address the direct impacts of this development, in the longer term extra traffic will add to congestion, delays and longer journey times.

Congestion is impacting the economy

There is an aspiration to grow Harrogate’s economy. It could be difficult to attract developers to an area that is difficult to get to because of congestion, which would have repercussions for the growth and diversification of the economy.

Doing nothing doesn’t mean nothing changes

Housing and employment growth in and around Harrogate and Knaresborough and further afield will continue. Travel patterns and behaviour will change over the coming years. The nature of the British economy is likely to change.

National traffic forecasts suggest that traffic in Britain will grow by between 17% and 51% by 2050. Nothing suggests that this will not be reflected in Harrogate and Knaresborough. All this means that traffic and therefore congestion in Harrogate and Knaresborough is likely to continue to get worse.

Over the last 30 years, since the Harrogate Southern Bypass was built, the County Council has undertaken numerous relatively small scale measures to help manage congestion. These have included junction improvements, providing new cycle routes, upgrading and updating traffic signals, providing facilities for bus passengers, making improvements to local railway and railway stations and promoting safe and sustainable transport. We will continue to do this, as part of our role as local transport and highway authority.

The packages that are agreed on as part of the engagement will, subject to funding being available, offer a more joined up and comprehensive approach to congestion reduction in Harrogate and Knaresborough.