County fails to take action on A14 bridge barriers – for now

Cambridgeshire County Council’s Highways and Transport committee met on 9 March, with one of their agenda items being an update on the overall A14 project. We saw this as being the most appropriate topic under which to present our petition against the new barriers, which has gained over 660 signatories in just a few weeks.

view of barriers with grass beyond
The officer refused to acknowledge that the barriers have created a severe danger and risk of injury in a way that did not exist before. (photo: Bill Blake)

Unfortunately, the formal oral response to our petition was extremely disappointing and, to be frank, rather patronising. The officer simply repeated several myths that are obviously false and have already been debunked in our previous blogposts on the barriers as well as several articles written by member Bill Blake on his own blog (1, 2, 3). As a result, the bridges will remain unusable for the time being by families using larger cycles as well as many disabled cyclists who use adapted cycles. The council has left itself open to legal or regulatory challenges due to its irrational and unreasonable decision-making process.

It is a real shame. People in places like Bar Hill have been blocked in by high-speed roads for so long that it has become very difficult for those who may have been interested in using larger and longer cycles for their families or themselves to start cycling. Millions of pounds of public money was spent on new bridges but accessibility was suddenly taken away by ill-considered design changes. Now people and families interested in cycling with tandem, cargo or adapted cycles will have to wait even longer until the inevitable legal or regulatory action plays out.

A14 vs busway barrier comparison
The officer falsely claimed that the A14 bridge barriers were designed like the existing ones on the guided busway. In truth, it is very easy to see how the A14 barriers (left, 1.7m apart) are much, much more severe than the busway barriers (right, more than 4m apart). We also note that the busway barriers still cause problems for some people and should be replaced by safe bollards.

 

key design principles from government policy
The council stated that they were not following the official government policy that requires them to ensure that routes are suitable for users of all abilities, because of ‘safety’ even though safety is a key principle of the government’s design guide. The officer did not reveal what standards or guidance, if any, were used in the design of the unsafe barriers.

There are several ways that events may unfold from here:

  • As the county has failed to uphold its public sector equality duty, the barriers are subject to a challenge by any disabled person who is impeded from using the bridges. They are entitled to just compensation for their trouble. Furthermore, the county must then make reasonable accommodation to ensure that the problem does not recur. If you have more questions about this, please get in touch.
  • If someone unfortunately injures themselves on account of the dangerous barriers then they may engage the services of a barrister in order to receive compensation from the county (e.g. this recent case in Manchester). That will probably take the form of a settlement. There is adequate evidence now that Highways England and the county have been apprised of the dangers and disregarded it — not to mention the official government guidance on this matter.
  • When Active Travel England begins work they will be enforcing compliance with Local Transport Note 1/20 using the power of the purse. They will be ‘inspecting‘ highway authorities and ‘grading them on their performance on active travel and identifying particularly dangerous failings in their highways for cyclists and pedestrians.’ Their assessment of an authority’s performance ‘will influence the funding it receives for other forms of transport‘. We expect that they will take a dim view of highway authorities who explicitly disregard LTN 1/20.
  • Before any of the above possibilities comes to pass, the Highways and Transport committee (which may be reconstituted following the election) may have a change of heart, adopt LTN 1/20 and move to repair the damage done so that the bridges are accessible to all legitimate users. The officer did state that they would be performing a review of the barrier design in the coming weeks or months, and perhaps they will give better consideration this time around. That would be the best outcome, in our view.

Stay tuned.