Problems caused by barriers on cycle paths

Sheffield Council install access barriers on some cycle paths. The intention is usually to prevent motorised vehicles accessing the path.

Older barriers tend to be ‘chicane’ style or ‘A’ frames, while newer ones are ‘K’ frame style (below).

Showing how easy it is, from the website of manufacturers of K-barriers (Sheffield City Council’s preferred barrier supplier).

What’s the problem?

They’re inconvenient for everyone

Even if you are physically able to get through them, any kind of barrier is a cause of inconvenience, making a walking or cycling journey less convenient and appealing. They are especially awkward and can be frustrating for people with pushchairs, shopping trolleys, crutches, walking sticks/frames, or holding children’s hands. This discriminates against more vulnerable people and isn’t what Sheffield needs when we are aiming to increase the amount of physical activity people do daily.

They’re impassable for some people

Narrow barriers are obviously obstructive to people cycling who are less physically able to lift and squeeze their handlebars through the gap.

Both chicane-type and K-type barriers can prevent use of paths completely for users of larger and less nimble cycles like tandems, some recumbents, various trikes often used by disabled cyclists, and cargo bikes. They also create access issues for wheelchair users, mobility scooter users and people with prams and pushchairs.


They don’t work

The barriers are not effective at preventing motorbikes and mopeds from accessing cycle paths. The new barriers on the Thoresby Road path (fitted in 2016) can be easily bypassed (also see photo at the top, showing the only way to get a cargo bike, which was funded by SCC, past the barrier) and so appear to have been a token gesture rather than a serious attempt to prevent motor vehicles from accessing the path.

They’re a waste of money

New barriers cost around £5000. Given the council’s limited budget for cycling improvements we would much rather this money was spent on better provision to allow more people to cycle rather than making cycle paths less accessible.

They may be illegal

There hasn’t yet been a test case to set a clear legal precedent, but it is possible barriers like these could be breaking the Equality Act 2010.

Alternatives

A better design of barrier?

We know of no design in the world which could do the job. Since motorcycles and various types of pedal cycles have similar dimensions, motorcycles cannot be physically prevented without also preventing legitimate cycle users (and inconveniencing everyone).

The London Cycle Design Standards (see page 73), recognised as the highest quality standards in the UK, recommends against the use of all barriers, because of the accessibility issues they create.

The latest cycle design guidance for Highways England (who are responsible for trunk routes, and cycleways associated with them) goes further and requires that barriers, specifically K type barriers as favoured by Sheffield Council, shall not be used (paragraph 2.3.8):

Bollards

Bollards with a 1.5m gap are the simplest way of preventing access by cars and other larger vehicles. They do not prevent motorbikes, mopeds etc from accessing the paths, however, it is clear that neither do barriers.

Enforcement

It is illegal to ride motorised bikes, scooters etc on cycle paths and if this is a regular problem then this should be addressed by South Yorkshire Police. There are powers available to seize vehicles, which are used in other areas.

You should report anti-social behaviour to the police on 101 or online.

Greater Manchester Police using Section 59 powers to enforce against illegal vehicle use

Campaigning for the removal of barriers

We have raised the issue with council officers, and Sheffield Council’s cycle champion Councillor Steve Wilson.

The only suggestion from the council has been that they could consider replacing chicanes with K barriers, despite the accessibility problems which these still cause.

They get knocked down…

The chicane barriers at both the underpass by Netherthorpe tram stop, and on a bridge over Mosborough, were removed this year by Sheffield council contractors. This was to improve pedestrian flow for the Tramlines festival for the former, and to allow resurfacing of the path for the latter. We asked the council not to replace them afterwards, but they did.

We have collected the locations of some known barriers on a map. Sustrans volunteers for the Trans Peninne Trail have also made a map showing the barriers along this route.

Please get in touch if you know of others we’ve missed, and share your experiences.

Finally…

Sometimes they just don’t make sense.

It appears that Sheffield City Council are so keen on the K barrier brand that they are encouraging developers to fit them to paths by default. This saves the council from paying for them later, but means they’re placed without any existence of motorbike issues… or apparently much understanding of what the barrier is even meant to do!

5 thoughts on “Problems caused by barriers on cycle paths”

  1. I quite often come across these and am struck by the lack of consistency in design (even among those from the same manufacturer eg ‘Fearne Truck Bodies’ – slack Friday afternoon was it?)

    However, I think you could allow access to *most* cycles, while denying access to *most* motorbikes, by simply paying attention to handlebar width. If the gap was made to be *consistently* somewhere between 65-70cm, the standard(ish) 60cm bar found on hybrids and older mountain bikes would fit just fine. Some of the more extreme ‘jump’ or downhill bikes might have a problem but I’m going to assume anyone riding such a bike is reasonably fit and able-bodied – enough to hold the wheel off the ground with the bars turned and shuffle through like I somethimes have to anyway.

    The only other approaches I can think of might involve using the difference in tyre width (bad news for ‘fatbikes’) or weight (complex and not as much difference as one might think). I can understand the council’s efforts to keep motorbikes off these tracks but they don’t seem to have made the effort to find an intelligent solution…

  2. I also used to find these barriers restricted me as a pedestrian when I carried my child in a backpack. The narrow width at the top doesn’t take sticking our legs and small wellies into account. They don’t solve anything. If someone wants to ride a motorbike on a routeway illegally they will find a way of gaining access.

    1. The alternatives are all more expensive:
      – Police patrolling
      – Cameras that detect motorycles through different means* and trigger alerts, possibly issuing tickets automatically if a license plate is detected

      * eg. pattern recognition, license plates, noise pattern, induction loop

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