By a Ripon Mum

Ripon has practically no cycling infrastructure, which may come as a surprise to Harrogate residents. There are virtually no cycle lanes at all; not on-road, and not off-road! Whilst it doesn’t take an adult long to reach quieter country roads and bridleways outside of the city, the lack of infrastructure in town means that cycling shorter distances with children is virtually impossible unless you break all the rules and cycle illegally on pavements and footpaths, or risk yours and your children’s lives using the roads.

Our route to school is no exception. School is approximately one mile away and with a 5 and 7 year old we are forced to cycle on pavements. Even then, there are many hazards along the route.

1) Our Street and North Bridge

Residential street, Ripon
Our Street

Cyclists use our residential street as a cut-through to the city centre as a quieter alternative to the busy North Road / Street. Unfortunately plenty of cars still do the same despite our proximity to alternative routes including the city bypass. Our street is an ideal candidate for some cycle infrastructure such as becoming a one-way street, or being blocked at one end to motor vehicles.

The kids have to cycle along the pavement to stay safe. We then have to cross the street itself (Keep looking left and right, keep your hands on your handlebars!”) to reach North Bridge. North Bridge was amazingly tranquil and fume-free during lockdown – we actually saw an otter sunning itself in the shallows below the bridge – but not any longer. It’s grim. The bumpy pavements on both sides of the bridge are too narrow in places to accommodate bikes and even pushchairs. At 8.30 a.m. school bus after school bus looms into view (“Cycle straight! Don’t wobble! Don’t look behind you! Keep going!”). Heart-stopping stuff.

Cycling to school across North Bridge
Negotiating the hazards of North Bridge

2) Ripon’s Only Cycle Lane (Under the A62 Bypass)

As far as I am aware, Ripon only has one dedicated off-road cycle track. And this is it. It runs for all of 100 yards alongside the river underneath the bypass bridge. It means that we can avoid the bypass and crossing the adjoining roundabout. It is a small mercy. However it doesn’t connect with anywhere at either end. You whizz down the track under the bridge (“Echo, Mummy, echo!”) and relish the break from the danger, the traffic and the car exhausts. I wish it was like this all the way to school.

Approaching the end of Ripon's only cycle lane
Approaching the end of Ripon’s only cycle lane

3) Crossing Sharow Lane/Dishforth Road

The cycle track ends abruptly and spits you out onto the Sharow/Dishforth Road, literally. “Brake, kids, brake! Stop!” Luckily the slight uphill means I can catch up with and grab the little one before she gets to the road. Then we stand there, like three frightened rabbits in a car’s headlights, poised, ready to dart across when there is a gap. The speed limit says 30mph. But the cars fly off the roundabout and notice us crossing only at the very last minute. Since one narrow miss, I scuttle across with one child at a time.

Crossing Sharow Lane
Attempting to cross Sharow Lane/Dishforth Road at the end of the cycle lane

4) Road up to Sharow

It starts well; under the trees the girls can cycle on the pavement illegally but comfortably (again no cycle lane) and I ride on the road alongside. We weave in and out of the leaves, fallen branches and conkers.

But soon the pavement narrows until it is only a foot wide. It is a disgrace. Wheelchair and buggy users are forced onto the road. In addition there are huge swathes of nettles which are never cut back. The kids inch along, avoiding the nettles and trying not to topple into the road. I have to walk or cycle in the road alongside because there is no space on the pavement next to them, forcing motorists to keep to the speed limit and at least give us a wider berth.

Narrow pavement on Sharow Lane/Dishforth Road
The pavement narrows and the nettles are vicious

5) Arrival at School

Finally the pavement widens. There is one single traffic island in the Sharow Road, a traffic calming measure which bemused everyone when it popped up last year, but it does actually succeed in breaking the traffic up and creating single files of traffic passing us rather than two-way traffic. I don’t think it was erected with cyclists in mind, but more traffic calming measures in a similar vein would be welcomed.

The school lane is the final nightmare (again no cycle lanes), because some parents insist on continuing to park on the narrow pavement rather than using the newly constructed, accessible car park.

Lane to Sharow School
Even the lane to school is not without hazards – on some days there is a line fo parked cars here

Once we get to school we park up at the bike racks. They don’t provide any shelter, so the bikes are left to rust in the rain – just one more barrier to cycling to school. Will NYCC do anything about this if I contact them? If they need ideas and have cash to burn there are some great eco-friendly examples of grass-roofed bike shelters outside Harlow Carr.

Bike rack at school
Poor cycle storage at school – the budget does not stretch this far

So there you have it. Next time you’re complaining about the lack of cycle infrastructure in Harrogate, spare a thought for Ripon which is so much further behind, unless you want to hang out on your bike (safely!) underneath the bypass.

Our journey to school is not just a single worst-case example; all of Ripon is like this. If you want to stay safe cycling with kids you are forced to use pavements, public footpaths, private lanes and cut-throughs, river walkways and canal tow paths.

It’s easier just not to bother; you can see why so many families depend on their cars for the school run, the shopping run, even visiting local attractions such as Fountains Abbey and Newby Hall. This situation is duplicated across so many locations in North Yorkshire. We have got such a long way to go, and sadly the change will come too slowly and too late for my kids.

Ripon street blocked by floodwater
Our street is blocked at one end by floodwater…but could NYCC block the street permanently to through traffic?
The Challenges of Cycling to School in Ripon

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