(Installing) barriers to active travel

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.

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.


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!

23 thoughts on “(Installing) barriers to active travel

  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…

    1. A standard width trail mountain bike handlebar is now around 760mm. They’ve generally got a lot wider as they’re thought to give more control.

      1. These type of restrictions to rights of way should be made illegal. They create issues with disabled people and I also know a man who went to access the trans pennine trail and was thrown off his mobility scooter and split his head open on the ground. The cause? K barriers! As he tried to get through, which he is legally entitled to do, got caught on the arms of his seat and tipped the scooter backwards! Absolutely disgusting and they do sod all to stop motorbikes they are not fit for purpose

  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.

  3. Hands waving… but, but, but… we have to do something….. hands waving

    Other than real thought of course.

    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

      1. And what about the benefits forgone of fewer people cycling or walking thanks to these barriers?

  4. My area is plagued by illegal dirt bikes and motorbikes/scooters using the public footpaths. I’d take these barriers in a flash and have petitioned for their installation to no avail. As a cyclist myself I have no issue passing these barriers and as always, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
    These bikers drug run through the paths to avoid the police on the roads and put every pedestrian at risk. If a little inconvenience to a minority of
    public footpath users is what it takes to thwart the problem then I’m all for it.

    1. The barriers don’t stop dirt bikes, scooters, quad bikes or motor bikes. They are a waste of money and block access for legitimate users.

    2. totally agree. I am presently trying to find design solutions to combat trail bike access to a coastal bird sanctuary without excluding all other users entirely. The damage sustained by trail bikes is severe, and without control the migratory bird population s are at risk. Yes it may be slightly inconvenient for some, but perhaps they need to look at the bigger picture and try to understand the necessity. If access of all areas is a priority, perhaps selecting a more agile vehicle when purchasing a replacement would provide greater freedom. When I had a pram, I purchase a small one for this reason. Sometimes community good has to come ahead of the personal freedoms of the individual.

      1. You shouldn’t have to pay to replace something you own because of barriers! Hire a mobility scooter for a week and pretend you cannot walk far, you’ll see the problem first hand, and think about the people who genuinely can’t walk far and need that scooter so they aren’t trapped in their own home

    3. You have no trouble passing barriers but people with wheel chairs mobility scooters push chairs proms etc do but that’s ok because only you matter and your alright only you have the right to use publicly funded paths , as long as your alright jack, the paths are not just for cyclists they should be accessible to all

    4. You have no trouble passing barriers but people with wheel chairs mobility scooters push chairs prams etc do but that’s ok because only you matter and your alright only you have the right to use publicly funded paths , as long as your alright jack, the paths are not just for cyclists they should be accessible to all

  5. Agree with everything said here. I’ve had to negotiate those bars under Netherthorpe Road many times, and they’re a pain, especially if you have panniers on the bike. Particularly annoying for all if bikes and walkers are trying to pass at the same time.

  6. I’m so glad to read that you are onto this issue. I had always found barriers slightly annoying as a commuting cyclist in a hurry, however I hadn’t considered how discriminatory they are.
    I have recently been able to get back into cycling again thanks to using a cargo bike that I can carry my kids in. We are obviously trying to avoid really steep and busy roads and it’s very tricky working out routes when we are also barred from many cycle paths due to barriers. I will email the council about this. We really need to get more parents off the road and out cycling. At the moment it is so difficult for parents to make good choices – parents with a kids in a seat on the back or with a trailer will certainly be impeded by barriers too.

  7. I don’t know how far you have got on this?

    I had an A-barrier to my local park removed, which the buggers have replaced with a also illegal K-barrier. I have now discovered one on the safe walking route to my local primary school for most of the pupils.

    They are illegal under the 2010 Equality Act and that seems to be the fruitful angle of attach – some have had success forcing removal of some of these. See the work of the Heavy Metal Hand Cyclist (who has now passed away) on They Work for You for some examples.

    1. hi Matt, the barriers on routes which the Transport dept at the council are responsible for should all eventually be removed, it is the cost of removal which is holding things up rather than the principle. The parks dept at the council still seem to think there are legitimate uses for the barriers which is obviously not the case but we don’t have as much dealings with them as transport.

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