TAKE ACTION: help us remove dangerous new barriers to cycling in Cambridgeshire

barrierThere must be something about the start of the year, because yet again dangerous new barriers have appeared. This time it’s Highways England and Cambridgeshire County Council which have harmed people who simply want to use the newly-built active travel bridges over the A14 at Swavesey and Bar Hill. The officers have wasted money over the past few weeks by erecting dangerous chicane barriers that will cause people to slip and fall, stop many disabled cyclists from using the new bridges, create unnecessary conflict between walkers, cyclists and horse-riders, and force people into narrow and confined space during a pandemic when we’re all supposed to be staying apart. People in Cambridgeshire should not be treated so poorly just because they live outside Cambridge.

Camcycle will always stand up for true safety and inclusivity. That is why we must strongly oppose this rash action by Highways England and County Council highway officers. By installing dangerous barriers they have ruined a piece of the active travel network. They have excluded many disabled cyclists from using these bridges. They have done so for reasons that are clearly bogus upon examination. They have cynically cited ‘safety’ as a means of shutting down dissent and opposition. They have defied the law and direct government guidance by installing exclusionary barriers that are in contravention of both. Their actions are a direct threat to the entire existence of an active travel network in Cambridgeshire. Any other route could be next, including the proposed Greenways once they are built, or the routes you use regularly.

map with photos of barriers
Overview of the two bridges with inset photos of each barrier (map via OpenStreetMap).

This poor decision was made, without consultation, by officers whose actions do not reflect the widespread public support for inclusive active travel. We hear from many wonderful people in Cambridgeshire every week and we know that people who live here want to see high quality and fully accessible active travel routes that are suitable for people of all ages and abilities. They want to see infrastructure that lives up to the ideals and the possibilities put forward by the government’s Gear Change policy and Local Transport Note 1/20, forming a network of convenient, safe, direct, attractive, coherent and fully inclusive active travel routes that connect all of the towns, cities and villages of the county. That is why we are calling upon people to make their voices heard.

TAKE ACTION: sign our petition to Cambridgeshire County Council and then write to tell your county councillors that it’s time to stop making dangerous changes to active travel routes. Instead they should ensure that inclusivity and accessibility is the first and foremost thought, and that the county will commit to using Local Transport Note 1/20 from now on.

Continue reading for more details, including a thorough explanation of why the officers have made a mistake by installing these dangerous barriers.

False claim: the dangerous barriers were installed for ‘safety’ purposes

Some highways officers have claimed that these barriers were installed for ‘safety’ purposes. Here is a direct quote from one officer:

‘The main issue was regarding cyclists coming down the bridge at speed. It was dangerous when they joined the live traffic at both ends, they could’ve potentially gone straight into the carriageway if they lost control.’

They seem to expect that this response will shut down all discussion and dissent. Of course, we are entirely in favour of increased safety, which is precisely why we are strongly objecting to these dangerous barriers. It’s easy to show that the officer’s response is nonsensical.

barrier examples
Barriers at Swavesey (S) and Bar Hill (N) respectively.

Consider the cases of the barriers on the south side of the Swavesey bridge and the north side of the Bar Hill bridge. Before the barriers were installed, in the extremely unlikely and absolute worst case that somebody ‘lost control’ of their bike, they would have ended up in a grassy field, or possibly falling into a wooden fence. But now, thanks to the unwise insertion of dangerous metal barriers, people will risk clipping the barriers and injuring themselves on every single journey over the bridge.

curved and gentle ramp
The curved and gentle ramp leading to the Bar Hill (S) barriers, at which point the path is quite nearly flat and level.

Furthermore, the ramps approaching these barriers are already fairly shallow and curved. The paths were built to very modern standards and are of considerably higher quality than almost anything else like them in Cambridgeshire. For example, at Bar Hill (S), the pathway levels out at the bottom of the bridge ramp and simply continues straight along the ground for a while.

At Swavesey (N) the ramp levels out and ends in a T-junction with another active travel route that runs alongside a local access road. The dangerous barriers have made matters worse by forcing people to swerve closer to motor traffic when trying to make a left turn from the bridge pathway onto the roadside pathway. The barriers are also illogical here: if there was a real need for additional protection (which we do not believe is justified given the apparent lack of incidents) then the obvious location for a barrier would be in the space between motor traffic and people. But they did not do that, instead they chose to install a barrier where it would have a high risk of causing injury on every journey.

a tale of two junctions
On the left: the bridge ramp at Swavesey (N). On the right: Robin’s Lane. Both are used to access bridges over the A14. However the active travel-only route has been obstructed by a dangerous barrier, while the general-traffic road has a massively wide splay with nothing to prevent drivers from shooting out into the main road.

Therefore, the above claim by the officer has been shown to be false in at least two ways: (1) the ends of the above examples are grassy fields or level sections of pathway, not carriageways, (2) the descending ramps are gentle and already curved, and they are considerably less steep than many roads in Cambridgeshire where such barriers would never even be considered, therefore loss of control is extremely unlikely compared to the risk of collision with the new barriers.

The surrounding context of each barrier is quite varied, yet the claimed reasons for the barriers are all the same. That seems to indicate that the claimed reasons are bogus and were invented as an excuse for something else.

To us, it appears that the ‘safety’ excuse for the barriers is reheated leftover nonsense from the 1980s, a time when it was more customary to install difficult or dangerous barriers and there weren’t rules to prevent it from happening. Now things are different: when someone injures themselves on these dangerous barriers, they will be able to take the county to court and win damages, because these things were installed in contravention of law and modern government guidance.

Is Local Transport Note (LTN) 1/20 really applicable? What does it say?

Yes, it is applicable: LTN 1/20 is the Department for Transport’s official manual for the design of cycling infrastructure. Here is the introduction:

Local authorities are responsible for setting design standards for their roads‘, and it then goes on to say: There will be an expectation that local authorities will demonstrate that they have given due consideration to this guidance when designing new cycling schemes‘.

It also covers shared-use pathways such as these in the A14 scheme that are used by cyclists as well as walkers and horse-riders.

The guidance should be applied to all changes associated with highway improvements, new highway construction and new or improved cycle facilities, including those on other rights of way such as bridleways and routes within public open space.

LTN 1/20 explicitly forbids the use of dangerous chicane barriers:

Summary principle 16: Access control measures, such as chicane barriers and dismount signs, should not be used.

And in paragraph 8.3.3: ‘Access controls should not be required simply to control cyclists on the approach to a road or footway crossing. It will normally be sufficient to provide good sightlines and road markings so that cyclists clearly understand the need to take care and give way to pedestrians and other traffic at such points’.

The officers may be basing their decision on out-dated guidance or standards:

Use [of withdrawn guidance] could be held unreasonable and irrational through judicial review owing to failure to discharge statutory duties, including the Public Sector Equality Duty, climate change mitigation, public health etc, and contradiction or obstruction of government planning policy and guidance.

How have the council broken the law with regard to the Equality Act and duty to provide fully accessible facilities?

Many disabled people are now excluded from cycling over the bridges. It is also possible that some mobility scooters cannot navigate these rather tight barriers. That makes these changes illegal under the Equality Act.

LTN 1/20 paragraph 4.5.11 states:

Local authorities are bound by the Equality Act 2010 in discharging their functions, which includes managing their road networks. Designers should provide infrastructure that is accessible to all, and the dimensions and other features set out in this guidance should help ensure that their designs comply with the Public Sector Equality Duty.

In paragraph 5.6.3 it also has very specific advice for the situation we find at the A14 bridges: ‘Deliberately restricting space, introducing staggered barriers or blind bends to slow cyclists is likely to increase the potential for user conflict and may prevent access for larger cycles and disabled people and so should not be used.

Any disabled person can file a complaint and easily win in court over this matter (please get in touch if you would like to pursue this course of action). It is easy to show that by not respecting LTN 1/20 the county has acted unreasonably.

But what if ‘they lost control’?

We note that the myth of the cyclist who ‘lost control’ has been cited by the officer, with no supporting evidence. This is unfortunately a common trope used to denigrate cyclists. It is completely irrational. There are many tens of thousands of junctions in Cambridgeshire where people cycle, including both on-road and off-road, and many with steeper approaches than these ramps. They do not have such strange and dangerous metal barriers on them, nor would anyone ever consider installing them.

However, we also note that drivers who lose control are an all-too-common cause of injury and death on our roads. One of the most common ways that people are injured happens when motorists fail to give way at a junction, especially a roundabout. Perhaps we would all be a lot safer if officers installed such gates on carriageways in order to slow down motorists.

what barriers would look like on a road
We think it is unlikely that the officers would consider installing such gates on Robin’s Lane to slow down drivers. We would like active travel routes to be given the same high level of thoughtfulness and regard that officers seem to reserve only for roads.

But what about the barriers on the guided busway bridleway and maintenance track?

The dangerous new barriers near the A14 have some similarities with the old barriers that were installed along the busway nearly ten years ago. However, the old barriers are very different in at least one respect: they are much, much further apart. In several of these locations the barriers have already been removed or left open, and there have been no problems as a result — showing that the rationale for the barriers was baseless from the start.

junction at Swavesey on guided busway
Segregated crossing along the guided busway track: the left side is for equestrians, the right side is for pedestrians and cyclists. But even these barriers have been unlocked and opened, because they are unnecessary and obstructive to equestrians too.

It is true that a couple of other locations still have barriers, although they are not anywhere near as severe as the ones on the A14 bridges. Despite this, the busway barriers do cause problems: for some they remain an exclusionary obstacle, they lead to conflict between different users on a busy pathway, and they force people to squeeze together at a time when we are all supposed to be staying 2 metres apart. A Camcycle member, Heather Coleman, reported that when she took her ageing parents on a ride to St Ives: ‘my mum had to dismount at every barrier as she couldn’t manage to steer around them as she wasn’t used to chicanes and barriers‘. Another member, Phil Carter, a handcycle user, wrote: ‘barriers for a handcycle are a nightmare, on the busway I’m always trying to avoid them‘.

LTN 1/20 paragraph 8.3.2 states: ‘Access controls that require the cyclist to dismount or cannot accommodate the cycle design vehicle are not inclusive and should not be used‘.

The busway barriers predate LTN 1/20 and, in fact, should be removed now that government guidance has been updated. At Camcycle, we have recently completed our access control policy and soon will be campaigning for the replacement of the old barriers along the busway with properly designed bollards, as we have done in other locations over the years.

Damage to the active travel pathways’ surface

damaged surface

We note that the installation of these barriers was done hastily and crudely, and it has permanently damaged the surface of the active travel pathways. When these barriers are removed, these scars are going to remain and will need significant remedial work.

Conclusion

Following the publication of LTN 1/20 last July we thought that these kinds of dangerous barriers would go the way of the dinosaurs. After all, the manual explicitly forbids the use of such barriers. Yet here we are again: there’s been no warning, no discussion, no consideration of the needs of people who are walking, cycling, using mobility aids, or riding horses on these active travel routes. There is clearly a deep and systemic problem with the process of safety auditing and decision-making around interventions into the highway and public rights-of-way network. However, that is a matter for another article.

In the meantime, we’re starting a petition and a campaign to have these dangerous barriers removed. We’re also pushing the county council to affirm that they will use LTN 1/20 in all future active travel and cycling-related projects, to try and prevent this mess from repeating again and again every year.

TAKE ACTION: sign our petition to Cambridgeshire County Council and then write to tell your county councillors that it’s time to stop making dangerous changes to active travel routes. Instead they should ensure that inclusivity and accessibility is the first and foremost thought, and that the county will commit to using Local Transport Note 1/20 from now on.