Free shipping UK £20 / Europe £30 / rest of world £50+

Making trials inclusive

Blog post by Catriona Swanson


In last week’s blog about the various barriers to inclusive cycling, one of the barriers I talked about was routes being too narrow and cited a pop up cycle lane that had been recently installed.

There was quite a lot of chat about this on Twitter so, in this week’s post, I’ll be expanding on that topic by looking at some other examples where trials and pop up infrastructure have not been inclusive and talk about what we should be doing going forward.

Pop up cycle lanes

Firstly, let’s look at pop up cycle lanes in a bit more detail.

I’m afraid that the unwelcome truth for cycle campaigners is that creating pop up cycle lanes is actually quite difficult. And creating pop up cycle lanes that are truly inclusive is even more difficult. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t build them but we do need to put some time and thought into planning and designing them to ensure they are safe and inclusive.

So, why are pop up cycle lanes difficult and why are they extra difficult to make inclusive? Well, as I wrote in the problem with trials, roads that are wide enough to have space for pop up cycle lanes tend to be big and horrible. And big, horrible roads tend to have big, horrible junctions which are difficult to make safe with temporary infrastructure like bolt down kerbs. They also tend to have side roads with big wide junction radii designed to enable drivers to turn on and off the big horrible road at speed to minimise the risk of rear-end shunts. However, this, in turn, increases the risk of drivers hitting cyclists when they turn, particularly if cyclists are protected until the side road or junction making drivers less aware of them. This means the protection ends at exactly the point where cyclists need it most. As with many of the barriers I wrote about last week, this is a problem for all cyclists but can be a particular issue for disabled cyclists who tend to ride bigger, heavier cycles meaning they are less able to ride defensively, swerve to avoid a collision. And dismounting to find a safe route through a junction may literally not be an option despite the ubiquitous “cyclist dismount” signs.

And, of course, big horrible roads tend to have a lot of traffic. This means that while they might be massive, taking space away from cars can quickly lead to queues and complaints. As a result, there’s been a few examples of councils installing pop up cycle lanes that are far too narrow in order to not lose any general traffic capacity. However, cycle lanes that are very narrow, don’t feel safe, even if they are protected; a bus or lorry passing within a metre of you at 40mph feels scary even if you have the odd chunk of plastic between you and the vehicles. And, as I wrote about last week, narrow protected cycle lanes discriminate against disabled cyclists as they are too narrow for many non-standard cycles, forcing them to use the main carriageway (or, more likely, not cycle the journey at all).

narrow pop up cycle lane

Pop up cycle lane that's far too narrow (Credit: Dr Kay Inckle)

Modal filters 

Modal filters should be really easy to make inclusive as it’s just a case of installing a few bollards or planters with a decent sized gap (at least 1.5m) between them. But we still saw at least one case where inaccessible modal filters were installed last year. However, the reason modal filters lend themselves well to trials is that planters can be (relatively) easily moved a bit further apart which is exactly what happened once campaigners flagged the issue.

We also saw a few modal filters being created using anti-terrorism barriers. I spoke to one of the companies responsible for these who reassured me that the product had been developed in consultation with disability organisations and that the gaps were wide enough for wheelchairs and mobility scooters and that the ramps weren’t too steep. Unfortunately, I don’t believe this is true; some of the gaps are only around 80cm which is far narrower than many mobility scooters and adapted cycles. Even more worrying is the risk of tipping on the steep ramps as the image below shows (the gentleman was, thankfully, ok but could have suffered a serious injury). 

A man luckily escaped unharmed after his mobility scooter tipped over as he rode through a terrorism barrier designed to keep out motor traffic (Credit: Neil Taylor)

Another issue that is overlooked by many is that the rapid introduction of modal filters can introduce new obstacles and street clutter that can pose problems for blind and partially sighted people, particularly if there is little consultation or warning of plans. It also demonstrates the need to engage with a wide range of stakeholders early on.

Closing roads to motor vehicles

We saw a lot of streets closed completely to cars last summer, both to create space for people walking and cycling to socially distance but also to enable bars, cafes and restaurants to spill out into the street. However, many were done quite clumsily creating issues for disabled people. This included:

  • Confusing, incorrect and contradictory signage - in some cases schemes were billed as walking and cycling schemes but the signage installed effectively banned cycling. For many disabled cyclists, their cycle is their mobility aid and they can’t just dismount. Pedestrianised areas where cycling is banned can be a huge barrier and I’ve heard dreadful stories of people - including security guards - accosting and even fining disabled cyclists for rolling at walking pace in pedestrianised areas. 

  • Blocking dropped kerbs and pedestrian crossings - last summer we saw a lot of clumsy schemes with an emphasis on big plastic orange barriers and little thought about placemaking. But one of the key issues was barriers blocking desire lines and, in some cases, even pedestrian crossings, forcing people to cross where there were no dropped kerbs. 

  • Inaccessible parklets and dining areas - parklets are great and I really hope one of the legacies of the pandemic is that councils are more willing to install parklets. However, there were lots delivered last year that weren’t accessible as they weren’t made flush with footways and ramps weren’t provided.

Pedestrian crossing blocked by barriers (Credit: Harrie Larrington-Spencer)

Widening footways

Widening footways was a particularly popular pastime for councils early on in the pandemic where there was pressure to be seen to be doing something. Footway widening was the obvious low hanging fruit as it’s technically easy to do (just stick out a few cones or barriers) and is relatively uncontroversial (compared to cycle lanes, at least). 

Again though, the needs of disabled people were often forgotten in the rush to deliver schemes and many didn’t include ramps so that people could actually access them.

They also often came at the expense of cycle lanes or put cyclists in greater conflict with motor vehicles. 

How to deliver inclusive trials

So, what should we be doing? Here are my top tips for designing and delivering inclusive trials:

  1. Consider all needs - engage early and meaningfully with a wide range of disability charities to understand the full range of issues and needs to be considered. Unfortunately the needs of someone who is blind can be quite different to someone who needs to use a tricycle meaning it can be difficult or even impossible to design a solution that is perfect for all. However, working with disability organisations from the very outset of the project gives you the best opportunity to find solutions and build consensus. 

  2. Trial the right things in the right places - if you’re going to go to the trouble of building pop up cycle lanes, you need to ensure you’re doing them where they are needed and will be used, ideally informed by your existing cycle network plan that’s evidence-led and has been shaped through public engagement. It’s likely that, to ensure the route is safe and inclusive, you’ll need to go beyond reallocating a bit of a really wide lane to cycling. You might even need to do things that really annoy and frustrate motorists such as filtering side streets and banning turns 

  3. Follow the guidance - there’s really good guidance available on how to design inclusive cycling infrastructure in the form of LTN1/20 and Wheels for Wellbeing’s Guide to Inclusive Cycling. There’s really no excuse not to follow it.

  4. Learn from mistakes - I don’t think for a minute that any of the issues described above were done on purpose to exclude disabled people. Even highway engineers are (allegedly) human and can make mistakes. The key thing is acknowledging mistakes, fixing them quickly, and learning for next time. 

  5. Build on good practice - this blog post has focused on examples of poor practice but there has been some great examples of really good schemes designed and delivered quickly that worked really hard to be as accessible as possible. This includes pop up infrastructure in Salford that included a new pedestrian crossing, tactile paving and all. We need to share and learn from these examples so we can roll out well-designed, inclusive trials in future. 

Pop up infrastructure in Salford complete with new pedestrian crossing (Credit: Harry Gray)

I hope you found this blog post informative. If I’ve missed any issues with trials or you have any other suggestions for making trials more inclusive, please leave a comment!


Supporting inclusive cycling

At In Tandem we're passionate about creating inclusive infrastructure which is why we literally wear the t-shirt! It's also why £1 from the sale of our "that's how I roll" t-shirts and art prints goes to support the work of Wheels for Wellbeing and Cycling Projects. Read more about it here.

 That's how I roll t-shirt

Note about the author

Catriona Swanson is co-founder of In Tandem and an Associate at PJA. She specialises in planning and designing active travel schemes and has delivered award winning inclusive cycling infrastructure including traffic-free routes, protected cycle tracks and low traffic neighbourhoods. 

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published