Wednesday 13 January 2016


I'm returning to a well-trod subject this week and it is the issue of barriers on cycling (and indeed) walking routes. I'm prompted yet again by a minor Twitter-spat over a set of barriers placed on a Greenway.

The offending photo.
A contractor involved with the project tweeted the photo to the left, presumably showcasing their work and was immediately tried and judged  by the Twitterati and at least one on-line cycling magazine.

We don't know what the contractor built - was it the whole Greenway or just the barrier? We don't know if the contractor designed the barrier - they may have, but most likely followed the local authority's requirements (and I am assuming the local authority is the client). 

Yes, I had a little pop myself when I tweeted "this sort of stuff fails any basic consideration under the Equality Act", although to be fair I did muse "is it down to [the firm] or the person/ organisation who ordered this access nightmare". I've not named the company involved, they have had enough of a public kicking in my view. I did email the contractor for a comment, but so far, I've not had a reply.

Lisnahull Road in August 2009, according to Google.
Actually, I've worked out a bit more than I have just let on! I am not a journalist, but I have done some research and I know that the location in the photo is Lisnahull Road in Dungannon. For my eye, the only thing to have been changed is the dropped kerb and tactile paving (which is not as wide as the path and the kerbs not flush); the green surfacing has been redone and the controversial barriers look like that they have simply had a lick of paint and they are not new at all (one can see the repairs in the path surface to barriers which have long been removed in the 2009 image and the current one). Oh dear, a savaging of the company which isn't justified when the barriers predate their involvement it would seem.

So what motivates people to put these works of steel art in our way? There are two main reasons. First, it is about preventing unauthorised access by motorcycles (sometimes quad bikes) and cars. From a legal point of view, it is possible to restrict the use of highways to prevent motors, but it is often the case that Greenways such as the example above never end up with proper highway status which make such possible; they are routes through parks or across land not managed by the highway authority, although park bylaws can apply (it's just they are pretty difficult to enforce).

The routes really need to be "adopted" by the local highway authority as proper highways. It would then (in theory) allow the highway authority to place a traffic regulation order on the route and sign it correctly meaning a motorised vehicle user could then be prosecuted by the police or by fixed penalty by the highway authority if moving traffic contravention powers have been taken on. In essence, no barriers or bollards needed. Other than highway laws, there are other laws and regulations which can be enforced, but it all takes resources. If there were a big problem with anti-social behaviour on the roads (more generally), I like to think the police might act, so why are "roads" for people walking and cycling treated differently? Of course, the police soon turn up when someone is seen walking or cycling on a motorway!

Simple and legible. Open to walking and cycling and people know
where to walk and cycle.
Sadly, there is never enough enforcement and so the metalwork gets deployed. We can use bollards with a minimum clear space of 1.5 metres between them (1.8 metre centres stops car access) and set back about 4 metres from any turn so people using all types of cycle configurations can use them.

There are forgiving bollards on the market which are not immovable should someone cycling crash into them, but are sturdy enough to keep cars out (although I am still searching for the forgiving and fire-brigade lockable UK bollard!). What bollards won't do is stop motorcycles and quad bikes and that's why we end up with the obstructions which led to this post.

The second reason often cited is for slowing cycles or to stop kids running out into the road, which seems to be an obsession of some authorities and designers. The image above shows a cycle track which runs at carriageway level between two streets. The carriageway of the streets at each end have nominal priority and so there are give way road markings at each end of the track. This simple and uncluttered approach suggests to people cycling (who can see where they are going to be in a few seconds' time) that they probably might want to slow down and prepare to stop if necessary; if the road at each end is clear (and there is visibility), then just carry on.

Sometimes compromises are needed to get stuff built.
For pedestrians walking towards us in the photo above, they reach a corner formed by the footway running left and right. Most people walking can see this ahead and for people with visual impairment, they have cues from the kerb edge and tactile paving when they need to cross the track. No guardrail, no fuss and accessible to all. There is no need to slow people cycling down and kids are not leaping into the roads. 

I have yet to read any research on the subject, but we often do this type of thing because we are worried about people overshooting into a road. If you think about it, this is probably just silly as we simply don't put barriers across the end of every footway in every street where it meets another footway in another street. Even a compromise can still be kept accessible enough.

I have covered this in another post I wrote about the same subject, but it is worth repeating some of it. The photo with my black bike shows a short shared-use cycle track (managed by the local authority) meeting another shared-use cycle track running along a 50mph dual carriageway. Again, users can see what is happening in front of them, but the trunk road managers (not the local authority) required something to slow people cycling as they approached the main road. We had to do it get permission to connect and so there are sometimes compromises. For people cycling, they can ride into the road at the other end (it's a cul-de-sac) and there are no barriers. The barriers are short and well apart and I have easily ridden them with my trailer, so it works. We have now attached directional signs to them, so at least there is a bit more use for them!

You don't have to be on Twitter too long to see the impact off barriers on people trying to travel. The photo of the gate blocking the bridleway by Kevin Hickman is a perfect example. OK, jump off your cycle, open the gate and ride through you might say. Except many people can't. Cycles are a mobility aid to many people who cycle for miles without a problem, but cannot walk very far or at all. This makes "cyclists dismount" less of an inconvenience and more like direct discrimination.

When he took this photo, Kevin was using his 3-wheel recumbent. Apart from being more difficult to climb out of than an upright cycle, Kevin uses crutches and so it is a double issue to deal with a gate. Kevin describes the approach to such a gate as this;

Sprung steel levers there, need to get up and out of trike, 'spring' gate open, get in back in, reverse while trying to pull gate, then ride through, assuming gate not on spring that automatically swings it shut.

If one cannot reach the gate latch or the gate is heavy (or heavily sprung), then it's game over. If the gate were replaced with properly spaced removable bollards, then vehicle access is managed and access is maintained for all walking, cycling and also wheelchair and mobility scooter users.

I've often said that sooner or later a set of barriers or the policy of a local authority will be tested in the courts using the Equality Act 2010 because their use, in many cases, constitutes the direct discrimination towards disabled users. Organisations, including local authorities (and by implication highway authorities, parks departments and so on) have a duty to make reasonable adjustments so disabled people can access goods and services. Presumably this must extend to the ability to use the public highway. The other really useful thing to remember is that if we make something accessible to all, we pretty much always make things better for everyone else.

So, I have two messages. First, to users. It is really easy to tweet a photo of some crappy barrier layout and laugh/ moan/ weep at the scale of the ineptitude (I have my hand up as guilty). Perhaps every so often, you could send the photo to the local authority or organisation who operates the piece of infrastructure and explain that the layout is not accessible to all, that they are very likely to be in breach of the Equality Act 2010 and point out they have a duty to ensure that disabled people should be able to use the piece of infrastructure as right and they should be making reasonable adjustments. It doesn't actually matter if you consider yourself to have a disability and the infrastructure owner can't make the assumption. Keep it short, respectful and to the point.

Second, to designers. You are making conscious decisions on infrastructure and you really need to understand that you are not designing for people with full-mobility and people who can dismount from their cycles. You are designing for people whose mobility might change daily, who's mobility might prevent them from being able to open gates, who's mobility means they cannot stand up and fiddle with complicated gates. You are designing for people who are riding cycles which bear no resemblance to a racing bike in terms of number of wheels, saddles, width, height and trailers. You should be designing for all and if you don't understand, then ask as there are lots of us out here only too willing to steer you in the right direction.

I have a couple of final points to chew on. I attended an excellent talk some time ago about inclusive cycling and in combination with my professional (non work) activities around walking, I have a vague idea to write some guidance on the subject. I have some studying I need to finish first and so this is not something I'll get onto soon. If you think it would be helpful, let me know; I will be trawling round my professional networks for a little help at some point! Second (and linked to the first), I had an idea that access issues were getting quite mainstream, but I still think there is a way to go in the highways sector and again, I have the vague idea of putting together some training; so in both cases, watch this space and always feel free to tweet issues and ideas or use the questions page of this blog.


  1. A thought occurs: re-the penultimate photo.

    In fact I do know of one case where a child DID cycle on to the main road and get killed, although this may well be exceptional. What would you think of a barrier in between the footway (or shared use footway/cycle path as in this case)and the main road carriageway instead of the two separated barriers? That would address the possibility of an inattentive cyclist going straight into the carriageway, although not slow down the cyclist for any actual or supposed conflict with pedestrians? Just a thought, your opinion welcome,

    Bob Davis

    1. Or, as many pedestrians are killed whilst on the footway, and it's a 50mph road, perhaps a proper, sturdy, crash barrier to protect pedestrians and cyclists on the shared use from errant drivers and their tonnes of steel?

    2. Bob, we suggested a pedestrian barrier along the kerb edge of the main road which deals with the theoretical risk of an overshoot from the side path, but the other authority didn't want clutter on its network! As I stated, it probably happens, but any more than people overshooting at a junction and we don't barrier those.

      Al, by that implication, we need crash barrier at every situation like this. The road is straight and I would say the risk is low; plus there are crossings at signalised junctions and we can't barrier those off!

    3. A barrier along the kerb edge of a main road may make sense in some circumstances, but in others is just a nuisance. See here, for example.
      The barrier has been added on a cycle route, forcing cyclists to weave along (far too narrow and sometimes quite busy) shared footways to use the toucan. The dropped kerb beneath the barrier indicates this was not always the case so presumably it was added because the previous arrangement was considered dangerous to cyclists and pedestrians existing the park.

    4. to my mind having an unprotected footway next to a 50mph dual carriageway means the network is fundamentally really rather flawed- though I appreciate that's not easy for today's engineers to fix.

    5. It's easier than you think to deal with this. Just make some bends in the cycle path. Bend it left or right, then in the other direction after a few metres of going in the other direction. Make sure there is enough of a bend out, a sharp enough corner radii, 2-4 metres should be good for this purpose, and there being some space between the two bends. It makes it safe. So safe of a design that 19 of Assen's roundabouts (the other two are too new to have statistics for) in all of 2007 to 2012, inclusive, which are quire busy, with crossings designed in the way I just described, produced 2 minor cyclist injuries.

    6. Your Foot - the answer here is to close that little stub of St Fillans Road to motors and have the crossing running between it and the park to people can walk and cycle without zig-zagging!

      Cycling in Edmondton - even with my little scheme (with the photo of the black bike) we would have locally widened the track on the main road (bent in/out) and then put in the barrier opposite the side path to stop overshoot. Unfortunately, the funding was very limited and so wasn't an option.

  2. The story interests me because Dungannon is where I got my grammar school education, though in all those years I never once rode a bike there. At the end of my street in London the local council installed similar turnstile gates at each entrance to a small local park, thereby rendering it a no-go zone for the many mothers with buggies and prams in the surrounding area. As well as being a green, pleasant and quiet space with playgrounds, the park provides a useful shortcut to shops, schools and transport links for a huge number of local residents in the many residential streets around it.

    Later the council replaced these barriers with more substantial railings with gates that could at least open wide enough for mums with buggies (and others with bikes) to pass, but after a year of 24/7 access, padlocks were added and now the gates are locked shut at seemingly random times in the evenings.

    I imagine the reason for all this experimentation is to prevent kids partying in the park at night, keep people away from a potential muggers' paradise and also cut off handy escape routes for young scrotes using it as an escape route from police. It just seems a very heavy handed way of controlling an area that is otherwise a valuable community asset. But rather than think of solutions that prioritise safety while maintaining function, all the council can do is erect barriers.

    1. Sooner or later there needs to be a legal challenge to this poor practice; I think it is worth spending 5 minutes emailing the local pointing out their duties; perhaps I need to sort out a template.

      Closing of parks is a different but allied issue, all about stopping anti-social behaviour; my LA closes a local park at night which contains a greenway route, rendering it useless. In terms of antisocial behaviour, the play equipment was torched. Yobbos can climb fences - who knew?

    2. The anti social problem has other solutions. Drug war solutions like the Dutch perhaps, and a criminal justice system like theirs or Norway's. Add lighting to things like parks and it seems like that makes people not want to go hang out there. Just giving a person a house, good medical care and a bicycle, plus safe and efficient and fast places to use it for transportation, could give a huge amount of freedom to the homeless, who would become, well, what's the antonym of homeless? Homed? That is a social safety problem. The Dutch have solved this so well that a child can walk around outside at night with parent's not being worried.

  3. My partnet rides a trike and cannot use a section of NCN12 in Hatfield, so feels very discriminated against. Meanwhile in Luton, they have extrterestrial threats to deal with on their cycle routes:

    1. Nice bit of humour of course, but that barrier blocks access and needs to come out. Have you more location details on NCN12 - I lived in Hatfield for 4 years (although without a bike).