I have covered barriers before, but there has been some more discussion on Twitter over the last couple of weeks and so I thought it might be worth revisiting the issue by way of a live scheme, warts and all.
My thoughts stem from a little job we did at work to build a short path from a quiet residential street to a shared-use unsegregated cycle track along a Transport for London trunk road. The scheme was a little bit of sideways thinking, coming from a request made by a local school for children with learning difficulties (many relying on motorised wheelchairs). The school often takes small groups of children to the local superstore to improve their life skills, but the route was quite long and the dropped kerbs in the wider estate poorly laid out or non-existent.
The problem we had (as usual) was a lack of funds and correcting many pairs of dropped kerbs just couldn't be done (of course, it is a sad state of affairs when money is always found for a parking scheme, but I will leave it there). One of my colleagues surveyed the area to see what was needed so we could make a funding bid, but it turned out there was a short cut over a grassed area to a hole in the fence separating the estate from the main road. We had an answer to the problem; remove a section of fence and build a proper path as it would provide a great short cut for the children, plus the cost of the path was a fraction of upgrading lots of dropped kerbs.
To give credit to TfL, they agreed to fund half of the scheme as it would improve access to a bus stop on their main road and we found the rest by nicking little bits from lots of other schemes. Yes, that is what our budgets are like now. We had to get permission from our housing department to build the path as it was on their land which might be developed in the future for housing, although (with agreement) the path is being dedicated as public highway using S228 of the Highways Act 1980 (a handy little piece of legislation!)
We decided from the start that we would allow people to ride bicycles along it as it would connect the residential road to the cycle track on the main road. Although not a state of the art layout (i.e. not a separate track) it would do a fair job given the space we were allowed to use and the meagre funds available. One other issue was that of safety (subjective really). We had this little issue gnawing at us and that was the potential for someone to overshoot the path and end up in the 50mph main road. There is no evidence that people actually do this of course (people don't go lemming on us at side roads for example) but look, we are trying to unlearn decades of thinking.
We were going to put a very short (3m) section of guardrail kerbside on the main road to allay our own worries and we were going to put some signage on it to direct people to local destinations. However, TfL decided against it (their network) but they wanted us to slow people on bikes down because of existing complaints about behaviour on the main road path. The compromise was a pair of staggered barriers.
The reason TfL has complaints about the main road is that the cycle track is shared-use (unsegregated) and quite narrow. The main road has two lanes in each direction and a proper cycle track in this case would require the loss of a traffic lane or acquisition of land. It is not at all busy with riders or pedestrians, but I can see how people would feel intimidated. The barriers are 2.5m from each other and 0.5m apart (as you look directly at them), as well as being set back from the edge of the main road path. In practice, I have no problem getting through with my bike and I was delighted to see (at a distance) a group of pupils passing without apparent problem today (all using wheelchairs); although we will still be seeking feedback when the scheme is complete (we are waiting for a new lighting column to be connected and the highway process to complete).
Yes, the barriers are perhaps there more to satisfy the concerns of those of us involved in the scheme and this continues to play on my mind. We will keep it under review and perhaps they can come out in the near future; a central bollard might be the answer here (there is one to the right of the path in the first photo we could shift).
It's one thing to put in barriers to slow people down (I think our scheme is accessible to all despite the barriers), it is another thing to deny people access completely. If I cannot get through on my bike (the handlebars are touching the barrier in the photo to the right), then mobility scooter users and most wheelchair users will not get through (not to mention hand cycles and other bespoke bicycles). This style of barrier is often used as an attempt to stop motorbikes getting through, although it denies many people access completely. If the issue is anti-social use of motorcycles, then the police need to be brought in to deal with the problem.
We don't need to block everything up, we can stick in the odd bollard which will deal with the main issue and that is people taking cars through those places we have built for walking and cycling. Our collective designer brains need to change and we need to let go of these long held "solutions" to problems which probably didn't exist and open things up properly, our little path included.