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Barriers to cycling - it shouldn't be just for the fit and the brave

Suzanne Forup's picture
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Since she’s been been back on her bike, CTC’s Suzanne Forup has noticed more barriers to cycling - and to just getting out of the house - than she ever did in her carefree/child-free days..
A barrier to cycling on the canal path
Ride leader Claire negotiating the first of many barriers

Getting on a bike, off a train and onto a cycle path used to be non-events. Now, with a toddler in tow, they can require careful planning, the kindness of strangers and good upper body strength. Like anyone who has tried to negotiate the London Underground with a small child, a push-chair and a large bag, it’s given me a small insight into the world that people with more significant mobility issues face on a daily basis.

Take last weekend: I was deliciously child-free, leading a Belles on Bikes Falkirk ride along with some of the Edinburgh Belles. We were using the fantastic canal path routes around Falkirk to explore Helix Park and get up close to the magnificent Kelpies. We were all riding solo bikes - two wheelers, not tandems or trikes - but still noted the difficulties in getting 11 cyclists through the cycle path barriers. Could we have got through with my son in his trailer or the Belle that uses a tandem with her sighted pilot? Probably not without dislodging the occupants and heaving the trailer or tandem over the barrier.

We certainly wouldn’t have got a tricycle through, let alone a larger adapted cycle. I tweeted out this concern and a local hand-cyclist responded, highlighting her struggles with steps and gates along the same section. A quick search online uncovered a couple of pages' worth of ‘barriers’ on the CycleStreets site, many on canal paths which can be otherwise suitable for all ability cycling.

No-one should have to cycle in a group because they can’t negotiate the physical barriers to accessing a path alone." Suzanne Forup, CTC Cycling Development Officer for Scotland

I realise that these barriers are probably in place to prevent vehicles accessing the paths, but are there better solutions that combine access with prevention of inappropriate use? I like to cycle with others but no-one should have to cycle in a group because they can’t negotiate the physical barriers to accessing a path alone.

Jayne Rodgers, CTC’s Inclusive Cycling Officer for the North West, spoke about these issues at the Women’s Cycle Forum I co-organised in Edinburgh in June. She highlighted tolerance as a key issue, but for me it’s about equity. We need to ensure that everyone can enjoy the benefits of cycling, not just the ‘fit and the brave’ or the independently mobile.

I’m right at the start of my learning journey about all-ability cycling, but after a recent meeting with Blazing Saddles (an all-ability cycling project run by FABB Scotland), I have a feeling I’ll be learning a lot more quite soon.

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rmthomas's picture

Welcome to my world!

I'm a disabled handcyclist using a recumbent handcycle and I've also come across these barriers. In fact I raised this issue with Britich Waterways about the Forth-Clyde canal back in 2002. Later I was invited to attend an access meeting that they convened but they seemed more intent on trying to restrict perceived illegal use by motor cycles rather than allowing legal use by all. Unfortunately, as you found, nothing has changed in the last 12 years.

It's not just BWA, I am extremely wary of all cyclepaths, even the Sustrans signed National Cycle Network. In 2003 I was involved with Sustrans Scotland when they did an excellent audit of the off-road cyclepaths to determine any barriers or other potential restrictions to general use. Unfortunately, despite the Sustrans policy of removing barriers on cyclepaths, I don't believe any of the barriers identified have been removed and they have recently endorsed restrictive access on new cyclepaths - just try to taking a trailer or tandem through Hopetoun House Quarry gate or around Dalmeny House also on NCN 76.

Barriers on cyclepaths are probably illegal, breaching the Equality Act (which has replaced the Disability Discrimination Act) but we need a test case to confirm this as without it things are unlikely to change.

In my case I've reached the end of my tether, now I nearly always just stick to roads, I rarely use cyclepaths as I can't guarantee that I can get through without meeting a barrier or two.

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