This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 146.
As we began the year launching our campaigning theme ‘Cycling for All’ and our policy volunteers were busy summarising our position on ‘Access controls and obstructions in cycleways’, suddenly it all started to look very relevant. Here’s the latest news on the war against barriers.
Installation of anti-terror barrier raises safety concerns for cyclists on King’s Parade
A street with one of the highest cycle flows in the country has been blocked with anti-terrorism barriers leaving cyclists only a single 1.2 metre-wide gap. Last year, we objected to this design and to the lack of consultation with the public and councillors; however, the installation has gone ahead.
On 9 January barriers and a gate were installed just north of the junction with Bene’t Street, with just one narrow opening to be used by cyclists in both directions. The 1.2m gap is right against the kerb, with cobbles and a gutter on half its width, leaving an uneven surface for cyclists. After a few false starts, the barrier went into operation on 16 January. It will be closed from 9.30am to 7pm every day for an 18-month trial period. Security ‘barges’ have also been installed on the pavement, further obstructing pedestrian space.
It seems all too obvious that all the barriers will do is to create exactly the kind of crowds that a terrorist would want to drive into – especially as the Corpus clock (the Chronophage), which already leads to large groups standing in the middle of the road, is outside the closed zone. If one was dead-set on attacking right in that iconic location in front of King’s Chapel, one would just have to wait until 7pm.
To add insult to injury, it seems that half the funding has come from the Greater Cambridge Partnership, whose mission is to encourage sustainable transport modes like cycling, not to obstruct them.
Facing criticism on the chaotic nature of the installation, the inappropriate design solution and confusing signage, the city council emphasised that the scheme was temporary and would be monitored with the intention of designing a permanent arrangement. This would be set into the ground, which should at least be less visually intrusive (in the TLS, Mary Beard called for imaginative bollards like those at the University Library, which are shaped like stacks of books). It’s essential that there is proper consultation at this stage, and that at least two wider cycle gaps are provided.
Biomedical Campus barriers gone after just 27 days thanks to strong local campaigning
On 8 January we started receiving reports of a new barrier appearing on the busy shared-use path beside the Busway which leads to the Biomedical Campus. The photos that emerged confirmed our fears: a narrow and inaccessible guardrail chicane had been installed across one of the most important cycle routes in the area. Shock spread quickly on social media as hundreds of outraged people posted photos, criticism or both. Local councillors revealed that they had not been consulted on the matter, and one of them began a petition that attracted over 1,600 signatures. Numerous people contacted public officials and local employers, and posted the responses online or emailed them to us. From this we gathered that the decision to install the barriers had been instigated by officials at the Biomedical Campus, who convinced the landowner Countryside Properties to install the barriers, with the blessing of one of the county council’s Busway officers. However, there was no further consultation, and several highways and cycling team officers confirmed that they would never have countenanced such an action.
The staggered barriers were made of sturdy grey metal and were almost invisible, even on a bright day, but especially at night. We received informal reports of at least two damage-causing collisions with them. They were of an outdated design incompatible with the Equality Act 2010 as it makes use of the cycleway more difficult for disabled people. They were very difficult to navigate with cargo bikes and trailers. People passing through the barriers needed to resume cycling, up a very steep hill, from a near standstill. They created a dangerous pinch point, further increasing conflict between people walking and cycling on a congested path and raising the risk of people falling onto the Busway while trying to manoeuvre through the barrier.
Camcycle volunteers counted people on the pathway: in one hour on a midJanuary morning, we found 516 people cycling and 125 people walking across the bridge. These peak-hour numbers probably correspond to an all-day count of somewhere between 3,500 and 5,000 people cycling and at least 1,000 walking. These numbers are sure to grow as more developments open up on the Biomedical Campus and the city depends more heavily on sustainable transport modes, not to mention that there is a good chance of Cambridge South station being built right next to this bridge.
At the county’s Highways and Infrastructure committee, we put forward the fact that much of the local authorities’ plans for transport in Cambridge depend on this key link and others like it. Then we asked: ‘are all those plans, with public money behind them, at the mercy of the whims of private developers, with no recourse nor consultation about what’s going to happen? For the sake of having a joined-up, inclusive and sustainable transport strategy, we need to find a way to ensure that this doesn’t happen again, here or elsewhere’.
In the ten days after the barriers went up, a consensus developed among councillors, officers and the public: the barriers must go. However, it took a further fortnight until they were finally removed by the landowner. We are grateful to all those who played a part in their removal. We need now to begin a conversation about how to deal with the problems at the Francis Crick Avenue junction, which was designed without sufficient thought for the numbers of cyclists and walkers, much less such intensive usage. By improving the extremely poor design here, further conflict and confusion can be avoided and the area can be made safer for all.
Local councillors act quickly to remove rogue bollard from the Jane Coston bridge
Near the end of 2019, a very strange thing happened. For the first time in 14 years, a bollard stood in the middle of the Jane Coston bridge cycleway, around the blind corner at the southern end of the bridge.
The bollard was there when the bridge opened; however, a year later, it was removed, presumably for the very sensible reason that it was in a very dangerous location around a blind corner and smack in the path of people cycling downhill who might not see it in time. A serious collision was also reported around this time.
The other bollards are not well placed either, one of the main problems being that the ‘cycleway’ side was and still is too narrow for people to cycle past each other when travelling in opposite directions, without encroaching on pedestrian space. Had the bridge been built to a decent width, perhaps all these woes and injuries could have been avoided.
However, what could have inspired the return of the third bollard late last year? Was it an outstanding maintenance request from 14 years ago? Was there a fresh piece of wood that needed a home? Was it the doing of the World Bollard Association (@WorldBollard) in time for World Bollard Day on 11 January? In this case, we can happily report that local councillors Anna Bradnam and Alex Markham acted very quickly to have the third bollard removed again, on 31 December. In fact, we have learned that this issue was caused by a stray repair request: the empty socket was reported as a slip hazard and a new highways officer, unaware of its history, thought that a new bollard would be just the thing to fix it. Now that it has been properly sorted out they will look to remove the socket entirely to take away that particular hazard.
Cyclist’s Report: Busway bollard injury sent me to A&E
I live on Royal Way in Trumpington and was doing my usual nursery drop-off with my two children in a trailer behind the bike. I cycled down the ramp to the Foster Road bus stop on the Busway, crossed and turned to use the Busway path towards the station.
I got distracted by the lights being on in the Clay Farm Centre, which reminded me that I had library books to return. The path was empty of people but not of the thin metal bollard near the crossing with Hobson Avenue. I spotted it seconds before I hit it. I probably managed to slow a bit.
The result was a trip to A&E with a gashed-open leg and a very bruised pelvis. I couldn’t bend my knee for two weeks which made life awkward and meant I couldn’t get to work in London or look after the children easily.
The monetary cost is a pair of jeans, a pair of waterproof trousers, a front fork, a brake set and a frame. The total is looking like £460.
I appreciate they don’t want cars travelling down the path but I’m not a fan of those bollards at the best of times. They don’t allow in their design for people bumping into them, which is pretty inevitable given their positions.