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).
The photo above shows how ‘easy’ it is, from the website of manufacturers of K-barriers (Sheffield City Council’s preferred barrier supplier). Plenty of people and types of cycle can’t do this maneuver.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
Please get in touch if you know of others we’ve missed, and share your experiences.
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!