Access to the island platform: ‘Something must be done!’

This article was published in 2012, in Newsletter 101.

The open wheeling channels on the new bridge at Cambridge station are almost universally ignored as bikes simply fall off when using them.
Image as described adjacent

Back in January there was a series of exchanges on one of our email lists about the ‘gutters’ on the footbridge to the new island platform at Cambridge station.

Excerpts from some of these are shown below.

‘Personally I would not even consider using the wheeling channel. With a full-sized bike and panniers it is much easier to lug your bike up the steps. I have yet to see anybody attempt to use them, everybody that I have seen carries.’

‘A few days ago I took my small folding bike (which with its lock weighs around 15kg) to London and found that I really couldn’t manage the footbridge ramp safely. It is too steep and too thronged with people coming in the opposite direction for someone of my age to deal with (I’m in my late 70s). Going down is worse than going up because of the concern that I might fall. Fortunately on this occasion someone helped me.’

‘The thing which I find most unpalatable is the waste in installing, and then modifying, cycle channels on the steps which are close to useless (to a significant extent, I suspect, because they are L-shaped and not U-shaped, with the result that you not only have to push – or hold back – the bike, but at the same time ensure that it stays on the channel). I quite agree that the channels are hopeless.’

‘I’m fit and strong and after struggling with my full-sized bike, with two panniers, on the way up, I decided that trying to use the channels on the way down would lead to the bike running away from me. So I took the lift…’

I sent these quotes, and some more, to contacts within the rail industry.

We had previously been told that the footbridge met guidance, although it was suggested that there were problems meeting both ‘guidance’ and the requirements of the Disability Discrimination Acts (DDA). Clearly our members thought the facilities were unusable.

So who has said something must be done? Is it one of the awkward squad amongst our members? No, in fact early in March we had an email from someone within Network Rail, who I believe is on the Cycle Rail Working Group. He wrote:

‘I have made some enquiries and it does seem that we should do something here.’

Discussions are to take place with the sustainability officer for the Association of Train Operating Companies and Abellio (Greater Anglia), who now operate Cambridge station. We will ask to contribute to this work, hopefully improving facilities not only at Cambridge, but also elsewhere.

Incidentally, we were told that our gateline survey of bike use done in March 2010 (was it really two years ago?) was ‘gold dust’ as no one has done anything like that anywhere previously.

Then there’s the lifts

The new bridge and new platform can also be reached through lifts, which are of course much more expensive to build and operate, although they are required as the only way for some people with luggage or with disabilities to reach the new platform. Lifts should also help elderly cyclists or some with disabilities who are stable on a bike but unstable on foot and unable to push their bike up the stairs, even if there were proper guide rails. This will apply to a number of Campaign members (and to my 86-year-old father). Unfortunately, the lifts are small (1.60 × 1.60m). An adult bike is about 1.80m long, so can be fitted into the lifts at an angle, but this is awkward and limits the lift’s capacity. These expensive lifts fail to properly cater for cyclists with disabilities, a despicable shortcoming of much infrastructure supposedly in compliance with the DDA.

Cycle channels on Amalienbrücke in Oldenburg, Germany. The slope is for people with pushchairs or wheeled luggage.
Image as described adjacent

Most airports have larger lifts with entrance and exit doors on opposite sides, avoiding users having to reverse out and thereby speeding up the unloading and loading process. Most train stations in Germany offer lifts with doors on opposite sides, too, a design that allows users to push a wheelchair or bike through, or walk straight on with roller luggage. Network Rail has invested in lifts that can carry 1,200 kg, so how much more would it have cost for cabins 20cm longer, with the capacity to properly fit a mix of users with luggage, wheelchairs, bikes etc?

As Monica Frisch wrote at the planning stage for the island platforms (Newsletter 91): ‘Better access resulting from larger lifts and wider staircases would benefit not just cyclists but all station users’

Jim Chisholm and Klaas Brümann