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  • Writer's pictureAdam Couldwell

Change The Commute

This post explores some ideas on town and city infrastructure, mainly regarding commutes and lack of incentives to cycle to work. It poses some questions, and some possible solutions to problems as well as trying to be humours at times, I will let you be the judge of that. It would be great to hear your thoughts regarding commuting in your own town and city. I will make assumptions and cynical statements so please challenge me! This is a work in progress and I will try to update it beyond my initial post.

After completing Harrogate park run on Saturday morning a conversation with a friend prompted me to write this piece. My friend works for a large British company that has many shops on British high streets. It employs around 56,000 people and has 2,500 stores in the UK; I was surprised to hear that the Harrogate store doesn’t have showers for its employees. As a company that employs a large number of people providing healthcare, I thought this was strange. Why don’t companies focused on the health and wellbeing look after its employees? You ask why am I making this connection to showers and health? Well my friend suggested he would cycle to work if his employer had showers, instead he jumps in his car and drives into town. He also suggested that his prior employer also based in the centre of Harrogate didn’t provide these facilities. I equally have experienced this working for a small employer and not being able to cycle to work as the facilities at the other end did not enable me to do this. I understand that there may be added costs to the business providing these facilities, additional cleaning bills, heating water, additional investment in leased buildings, but these are multimillion pound businesses we are talking about in many cases.

This is definitely not a new problem and one I am sure many people have questioned before. Do other people who work in Harrogate or other areas of the country experience the same frustrations?

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

We all know the benefits of exercising in the morning too, clearer mind (aiding mental health), wakes you up ready for the day. For employers this is an obvious benefit, no zombies walking in for the first hour, rather the latter fresh faced and energised employees! Could this claw back the investment in shower facilities at work places, and be the fix to the problems of the UK’s productivity deficit?

If you are from Harrogate you will know there is a large consultation going on, asking residence if the town is congested? After reflecting on this over the past few weeks I understand the biggest factor in modern western society is that people want their freedom/convenience and to be able to come and go as they like. Why public transport in many cases doesn’t work as you have to commit to a time and stick to it. If a person could cycle to work this both promotes a healthy life style but also means you don’t have to rely on public transport.

[Side note – councils are considering introducing congestion charges, if we all change our behaviour now maybe we could all prevent these “choice editing” decisions from being made.]

Take the commute from Pannal to Harrogate town centre as an example, on average it would take a person 1 hour to walk, 20 minutes to cycle, 12 minutes by train, 23 minutes by bus and 13 minutes to drive and even then you have to find somewhere to park. It’s obvious to see that cycling and using the bus are very similar. I know there will be people saying, well you haven’t taken into consideration the time it takes to have a shower at the other end or lock up your bike. However you gain something from cycling rather than losing the change from your pocket.

[Side note - Public transport, potential to discuss the positives – meet new people, talk to each other, be more social and outgoing, you never know you may meet your next employer, your spouse and I know what you’re thinking you may also bump into the countries next axe murdered but I do hope not.]

Back to the showering point, before I got lost on a tangent…

With Harrogate potentially on its knees due to traffic congestion and not to mention increased pollution. Should businesses not be incentivised to install showering facilities for its employees? Or even within one of those empty high-street shops in Harrogate. The media constantly talks about the dying high street… Why not open a “Shower Shop”, a place which provides a place to shower and change in the centre of Harrogate, located where people can lock their bikes and walk the 5 remaining minutes to their final destination. Is this madness or would people use this service? Could local businesses be encouraged to fund such an endeavour, on a trial basis? Alternatively to the “Shower Shop” to use existing private-infrastructure, could gyms based in the town centre be encouraged to open their doors to this service?


What are the criteria for the cycle to work scheme?

Does your employer have to provide shower facilities?

Can anyone tell me? As a cynic does it just assist cycling companies to sell brand new bikes that sit in people’s garages and sheds, maybe even on the living room wall?

What stops people from cycling to work?

Some assumptions: dangerous roads and traffic, pollution, lack of suitable infrastructure, no showering facilities at work, weather, terrain, distance, having your bike stolen. Can you think of others?

Many councils including Harrogate are introducing more cycle path infrastructure, if no one has the ability to cycle to work what is the point in having it there in the first place? Maybe it is a step to changing people’s perspectives?

[Other thinking - I understand that there are many charities that have “Open Door” policies for those on the street or living in substandard accommodation. But the “Shower Shop” service is aimed at the masses, aiming to change people’s habits. Before the councils come up with more ingenious plans to bleed us dry of anymore hard earned savings.]

Cycling Infrastructure Harrogate

As a prior member of pure gym Harrogate it frustrates me no end that it has no cycle parking and there is no sufficient public cycle parking in the immediate vicinity other than a few substandard posts in the Cotswold car park, enough to park 6 bikes at a push. Correct me if I’m wrong!

Lack of bike parking for Pure Gym Harrogate
Cycle parking Tower Street Harrogate

[Side note - Many people will know that the streets around pure gym Harrogate become congested with parked cars, I am a guilty candidate, driving to the gym if the weather is abysmal as it has been in recent weeks. I also feel this is the same for the rest of Harrogate, I can’t say I walk round Harrogate bumping into bikes.]

Is this the reason no one cycles in Harrogate, lack of final destination infrastructure? There is talk of implementing cycle routs, but who do these serve, the weekend “joy rider” (I am one myself from time to time.) who may decide to finish the 60km+ ride in the centre of Harrogate or the commuter?

I have had a quick look at Harrogate district cycle forum documents, however without having significant time to wade through these it didn’t offer too much detail on what work is being done other than some providing some code names.

Further Info >> on Cycling in the area.

Harrogate Congestion Engagement

More personal reflection

I have recently returned to Harrogate from spending three months living in Uppsala, Sweden. I feel we may have something to learn from the Swedes. I guess people may immediately say, “Well I’m not too fond of their tax system, or their population is only 10 million compared to our 66 million.” but I believe they are worlds ahead of us in terms of transport and dare I say it “green” infrastructure. Enough with that…

I just want to draw a few comparisons and maybe we could learn something from their cycling infrastructure and some of the challenges they are facing and also solving.

The population of Uppsala is 225,000 (2019) and Harrogate: 160,000 (2017), both of these town/cities are commuter.

In 2011 around 46,000 people commute in and out of Harrogate on a daily basis. (page 3, Harrogate District Local Plan: Transport Background Paper, Aug 2018)

Commuters Harrogate (2011)

North Yorkshire Area: 8,654 km²

Population: 601,500 (2014)

Uppsala County Area: 8,207 km²

Population: 353,600 (2015)

Advantages/Reality of Uppsala over Harrogate, 35 minute direct train link to Stockholm (Sweden’s Capital City) v.s. Harrogate’s once a day direct train to London taking three hours. Uppsala has 40 thousand people using this train link every day. Uppsala is pretty flat for cycling compared to Harrogate although it does have some hills. It has two University’s totalling 40,000 students. Their public transport infrastructure and cycling networks are something to be marvelled at.

Additional Observations

We talk about being hardy people in Yorkshire but, nothing compares to a -18 degree cycle in the heart of a Swedish winter. I regularly witnessed elderly residence winding their way through the snow, I understand that they get a regular snow shower maintaining the grip and generally dryer conditions than wet but come on, I think us Yorkshire folk may have become a bit soft and lazy. Using our cars to get from A to B.

Cycling in a Swedish Winter
Cycling in a Swedish Winter

If you’re interested in the developments and steps Uppsala Municipality are taking to change their city’s future have a look at the following links.

Bike map of Uppsala

Uppsala, Mobility Hub

Key infrastructure differences

Wide paths for cyclists, lots of bike parking, free bike pumps provided by the local authority.

I understand that Uppsala is in a completely different position to Harrogate, it is largely a modern city with a huge amount of investment clearly being made within the city. However I still believe that policy makers and those planning the infrastructure both in Harrogate as well as across the UK and the globe could learn a thing or two from them.

Specifically to Harrogate there is a huge and complex conversation being held on many levels and the council is trying to engage both the public and private businesses to provide feedback. It will be interesting to hear what the results and conclusions they draw from the information they gain. I believe the private sector has a huge responsibility to engage in the communities that they work within. They do provide work for citizens, maintain the life of our high streets in the heart of our towns and cities, but from the perspective of congestion, pollution and the daily commute maybe they are negative players. If businesses aren’t providing the tools for people to make easy life choices like cycling to work because you can’t have a shower, then why are councils looking at large infrastructure changes. A small fundamental change may be all that is needed have a wide impact on, climate change, pollution, congestion, mental health, productivity and I could go on.

Again it would be great to hear your thoughts on this subject, I know simply installing a shower in a workplace won’t be enough to change people’s habits but it could be a start.

Further Points for Discussion

Housing in Harrogate

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