Blog post by Catriona Swanson
A lot of cycling campaigners are passionate about creating inclusive infrastructure that is accessible for all whether that’s disabled people, families with trailers or tagalongs or even cargo bikes. I've previously written about what inclusive cycling is and why it's something everyone should care about and inclusive cycle parking. This week I'm delving into more barriers to inclusive cycling.
Most people are well aware of the problems that barriers on cycle routes cause, namely that they exclude lots of legitimate users while often being pretty ineffective at keeping out motorbikes. This irony, unfortunately, seems to be lost on a lot of local authorities meaning new barriers are still being installed and it’s an issue campaigners have to spend a lot of mental energy on. This is despite the fact that barriers are effectively outlawed by the Equality Act.
However, while access barriers are a very visible, well… barrier to disabled people, there are other barriers that we should be aware of if we really want cycling infrastructure to be accessible to everyone. So, in this blog post, I provide a run through of some of the barriers to inclusive cycling that we should all be aware of when we’re designing or commenting on schemes.
As usual, Wheels for Wellbeing’s Guide to Inclusive Cycling is the go-to for the technical details and this blog post doesn’t aim to replace or duplicate that. If you’re involved in designing cycling schemes, please do head over and download, read and share the guidance.
So, in no particular order (and note that this is by no means an exhaustive list), here’s some of the barriers disabled cyclists face:
Yep, it’s an obvious one but it is the one that, arguably, causes the most trouble, especially as local authorities are still building really lovely cycle routes and then plonking barriers at entrances - and sometimes at many points along routes - making them completely inaccessible for many people. The list of people excluded by access barriers doesn’t just include disabled cyclists and non-standard cycles but also people who use mobility scooters and wheelchairs.
We’re starting to see more protected cycling infrastructure being built in the UK which is great to see. However, we’re also seeing history repeating with infrastructure that is simply too narrow still being proposed and built. This included much of the “pop up” cycle lanes implemented in response to Covid in 2020 with bolt down “light segregation” measures creating protected lanes that are too narrow for non-standard cycles and far below the recommended 2m width for one-way cycle lanes.
While narrow painted cycle lanes are annoying (and often worse than no cycle lane at all), narrow protected cycle lanes are even worse as it forces people riding non-standard cycles (which are usually larger, heavier and slower than 2-wheeled cycles) to use the main carriageway where there’s no protection and face the wrath of drivers who often don’t understand why people aren’t using the cycle lane.
The quality of surfacing is really important whatever type of cycle you use, with potholes, cobbles and speed humps being potentially hazardous for anyone who cycles. However, some issues can be particularly uncomfortable or even downright dangerous for disabled cyclists. Key issues include:
Potholes - it’s much more difficult to swerve to miss a pothole on a non-standard cycle like a handcycle or trike and it’s more uncomfortable for many disabled cyclists too as many won’t have the option to stand up out of the saddle.
Speed bumps - these can be problematic for a number of reasons. Similarly to setts and cobbles, they can be really uncomfortable for disabled cyclists who can’t stand out of their saddle, particularly square topped or really severe speed bumps. Some speed bumps are constructed from, or combine, setts, creately a double whammy of pain. And then there’s speed cushions which create unavoidable cambers and tipping risks for trikes.
Setts and cobbles - frequently used along canal towpaths and in conservation areas as heritage features, most people find setts and cobbles uncomfortable to walk or cycle on but they can completely exclude disabled cyclists.
Again, most people dislike steep gradients whether they are walking or cycling, disabled or non-disabled. However, for disabled cyclists steep gradients can pose a significant barrier to cycling as non-standard cycles are much heavier than 2-wheelers and a lot of disabled cyclists aren’t able to stand up on their peddles to get up an incline or to dismount and push.
When you start adding in access barriers or tight turns which means a loss of momentum, you have a recipe for a route that’s completely inaccessible.
The lack of dropped kerbs across the UK is shameful, in my view. Walk around most residential areas up and down the country and you will find many examples of side roads without dropped kerbs or tactile paving, even close to sheltered housing. Full height kerbs are annoying for most people (well, maybe not for some teenagers who see them as an opportunity to show off their mad skillz), but, again, they can make routes and places completely inaccessible for disabled cyclists who are not able to dismount and lift their cycle up or down a kerb.
Dropped kerbs that have been installed with a small upstand (often done on purpose by engineer to aid drainage) can tip trikes, particularly if infrastructure forces cyclists to hit the kerb at an angle rather than straight on.
Top tips for inclusive design
Knowing what the barriers are and how they affect disabled cyclists is the key first step to becoming an inclusive design champion whether you’re involved in scheme design or are a cycling campaigner. Here’s my top tips for avoiding the issues above and creating inclusive spaces and routes that we can all enjoy:
Be understanding - people generally aren’t trying to exclude people on purpose and are usually just uninformed about inclusive cycling and the needs of disabled cyclists. Its common for people to be fearful about motorbikes and its important not just just dismiss these fears but to explain why they are discriminatory and to discc other ways of dealing with the issue if it happens. Of course, the best deterrent to illegal motorbike use is lots of people legitimately using routes!
It's all bollards - if you need to prevent access by motor vehicles, that’s why bollards were invented (please make sure there is a gap of at least 1.5m between bollards are they are visible in the dark). When I was delivering my first traffic-free route, I ring-fenced funding that could be used to add further measures if needed to assuage the concerns of residents and councillors but we never received any complaints about motorbikes once the route was built (even though it was occasionally used by people on motorbikes).
Get informed - I really recommend reading Wheels for Wellbeing’s Guide to Inclusive Cycling and the new Cycling Infrastructure Design Local Transport Note (LTN1/20. These are the bibles for anyone involved in designing or campaigning for (inclusive) cycling infrastructure.
Experience it first hand - nothing can compare to experiencing cycling on a non-standard cycle as they can handle completely differently to a 2-wheeler. So, once they’re open again, I really recommend going to your local inclusive cycling centre (Cycling Projects have Wheels for All centres across the country) and asking to try out some of the cycles. This will give you a feel of the sheer range of non-standard cycles plus how they manoeuvre and how easy some of them are to tip. Space for Gosforth did just this and their blog post about what they found is really insightful.
- Engage with disabled cyclists - If you’re involved in designing cycling infrastructure, I really recommend getting to know your local access groups and disability cycling organisations and involving them in schemes as early as possible - ideally at the network planning or route selection stage. While there’s tools in LTN1/20 like the route selection tool that help you think about things like gradients, by talking to disabled cyclists in your area, you will tap into local knowledge that can really add value to schemes. This sort of engagement can also help demonstrate demand for inclusive cycling infrastructure that can be handy if you end up in a battle about barriers.
I'd love to hear people's experiences of designing or campaigning for inclusive cycling infrastructure whether it's creating new, inclusive routes or getting existing barriers removed. And if you think I've missed any key barriers, please let me know in the comments!
Supporting inclusive cycling
At In Tandem we're passionate about creating inclusive infrastructure which is 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.
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.