Updated 16 March to note Sustrans is auditing the south’s National Cycle Network routes for accessibility and other 2018 design requirements
The London Borough of Sutton has installed an anti-moped K-frame barrier on the Wandle Trail, part of National Cycle Route 20. As a consequence, many disabled cyclists are now barred from cycling on this quiet, off-road route between Merton and Carshalton.
To maximise the inconvenience, the barrier has been positioned beside a small bridge over a drainage ditch. There are 60cm between the upper plates of the frame, and 90cm between the lower uprights. This is narrower than the 1.2m defined in Highways England’s design guidelines (IAN 195) for non-standard bicycles used by many disabled people. The barrier is a problem for people using cargo-bikes, often used for taking smaller children to school. People using wheelchairs and mobility scooters will find that the barrier is a very tight squeeze too, and likely to prevent them accessing the trail.
No signs have been erected elsewhere along the trail to warn people that their access to the trail to or from Watermead Lane may be impeded.
The barrier can only have been installed following a decision process which blatantly ignored all cycling and design guidelines, and the requirements of Equality Act 2010.
The barrier was installed in early March 2018 at a cost of £2,684. The local councillors supported the installation in an attempt to hinder people riding mopeds along the riverside path. This is confirmed in the minutes of the council’s public realm report provided to 8 March 2018 meeting of the council’s Wandle Valley Local Committee:
The ward has three councillors, all from the Liberal Democrat party which controls Sutton Council.
- Hanna Zuchowska, (Twitter, Facebook) chairs the Wandle Valley Local Committee, and also sits on the council’s Equality and Diversity Committee. You might expect that Ms Zuchowska might have considered the Equality Act implications of putting barriers on a cycle path;
- Jason Reynolds, sits on the council’s Environment and Neighbourhood Committee which reviews transport issues in the borough. You might expect Mr Reynolds to have considered the transport implications for people with impaired mobility; and
- Margaret Court, sits on the Adult Social Services and Health Committee. Again, you might expect Ms Court to reflect on the implications of hindering transport options for people with impaired mobility.
Like all councils across London, there will be local elections in Sutton in May 2018.
There is extensive guidance stating that K Barriers are not to be used on cycle routes because they deny access to non-standard bicycles. Non-standard bicycles, such as tricycles and recumbents, are often used by people with mobility issues. Parents will often use cargo-bikes for carrying smaller children.
Highways England explicitly instruct highways engineers not to use K-frame barriers on cycle routes “because they cannot be negotiated by the cycle design vehicle” (ref IAN 195 Cycle Traffic and the Strategic Road Network).
Transport for London’s London Cycling Design Standards are explicit on the use of A and K-frame barriers as a last resort after all other measures have been tried. The extract below is from LCDS Chapter 4, section 4.5.15 Access Controls and refers to obligations under the Equality Act 2010:
The Wandle Trail is part of National Cycle Route 20, a network of cycle routes managed by the walking & cycle charity Sustrans. Sustrans has its own engineering consultancy, and its own design guidance (‘Controlling Access on Paths’, 2012) states clearly that K frame barriers are inappropriate for cycle routes.
The same Sustrans guidance explains the consequences of the Equality Act 2010. I believe that Sutton Council has failed in its duties under the Equality Act by removing the access that people with impaired mobility have enjoyed to date.
The Wheels for Wellbeing organisation, which campaigns for cyclists with impaired mobility, has published an excellent guide to what inclusive design for cycling entails. Alongside Highways England and Sustrans, WfW also recommends against K-frame barriers due to the problems they cause.
I understand the wish to prevent people riding mopeds and motorcycles on paths like the Wandle Trail. But installing barriers which stop people with a legitimate and legal reason to access and enjoy the trail just swaps one problem for another.
This barrier discriminates against people with impaired mobility, and all who use non-standard bicycles. This barrier must be removed.
Update 09:00, 15 March 2018
Several interested groups have replied to say they were not informed before Sutton Council planned, purchased and installed this barrier.
- The Sutton group of the London Cycling Campaign wasn’t consulted, and will use its channels with the council to complain;
- Wheels for Wellbeing organisation confirmed the barrier discriminates against many disabled cyclists; .
- The Wandle Valley Park Trust wasn’t consulted, and isn’t impressed;
- The managers of the national cycle network, Sustrans, confirmed they received no warning either, and have contacted the council to seek explanation.
I have received no response from any of the three local councillors who approved this decision. The three councillors are from the controlling Liberal Democrat Party.
The Labour Party candidates for the Wandle Ward have said they will seek to remove the barrier if elected.
The deputy leader of the opposition Conservatives, Neil Garratt, has responded to say he’s asked the council’s Chief Executive to explain non-compliance with the London Cycling Design Standards, and the Equality Act implications.
Update at 1800, 15 March
Sutton Council provided a response via its Twitter feed in three parts:
1/3 Response to @lastnotlost @WandleForum and others: The barrier has been installed in response to illegal mopeds accessing the site which pose a safety risk and damage property. Police were notified of the decision to install the barriers and supported this measure. (Twitter, 15 March, 16:03)
2/3 The barrier is adjustable so can be widened to accommodate cyclists, mobility scooters and double width buggies while still preventing incursions by mopeds. Alternative access is available and fully accessible via Peterborough Road, Poulter Park footpath and (Twitter, 15 March, 16:03) …
3/3. . .the new ramp or steps leading back down onto the riverside path. If users have any specific concerns about the width of the barrier we are very happy to look at this. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org (Twitter, 15 March, 16:04)
Some comments on the council’s response:
- The K-frame barrier is *not* adjustable, contrary to the second tweet/ paragraph. The only way the barrier can be adjusted in width is to unbolt and remove the upper plates using a socket set. This would increase the accessible width by approx. 18cm. That obviously is not feasible unless transit through this barrier is planned in advance and council staff are available to assist;
- Assuming you are cycling southbound and already on the riverside, the council suggests there is an alternative route using the nearby ramp and steps (picture to follow soon) from the riverside up to the main level of Poulter Park. These paths take you back out to broadly where you accessed the path to begin with;
- Sutton Council’s byelaws – applicable in Poulter Park – prohibit cycling except on designated routes:Para 17. No person shall without reasonable excuse ride a cycle in the ground except in any part of the ground where there is right of way for cycles or on a designated route for cycling.
Common sense would suggest that a disabled person would have a ‘reasonable excuse’ to ride a bicycle on a park footpath. But would the council’s officers be sympathetic to others using non-standard bicycles such as parents using cargo-bikes to carry small children?
- The fully-accessible alternative cycle route is away from the river and outside Poulter Park entirely: you stay on Bishopsford Road, Peterborough Road and Middleton Road. All three have 30mph speed limits. This route is signposted as part of the legacy London Cycle Network as LCN24, and the cycling infrastructure is a few bicycles painted on the carriageway. The dropped-kerb at the north-west end of Peterborough Road (giving access to the path to/from Bishopsford Road) is usually blocked by parked cars.
Sutton Council appears to be arguing that it achieves its Equality Act duties by providing an alternative, fully-accessible route via Peterborough Road. But the council has not installed any signs before or along the Wandle Trail to inform people using disabled or non-standard bicycles that they are effectively barred from the riverside and should seek an alternative route.
Sutton Counci’s message to people who can’t ride a standard bicycle: find an alternative route to National Cycle Route 20, Wandle Trail. You don’t get to enjoy nice things.
Update 1800, 16 March
- Sutton Council clarified its advice from 15 March to confirm that the barrier can only be adjusted by the installers, not by passing members of the public.
- The Conservative councillor, Neil Garratt, received feedback from the council’s Chief Executive that it accepts that the barrier does cause access issues. The council has asked the installers to return and adjust the barrier, possibly to add another 5cm between the stainless steel plates. Neil Garratt has asked that any decision on the width of the barrier must be after consultation with local cycling groups. The council’s next cycling forum is scheduled for 10 April.
- Charles Martin, who leads the Sutton group of the London Cycling Campaign, posted a thread of tweets listing the issues with the barrier and nearby alternative cycling infrastructure. In summary: either the barrier is removed and the River Wandle continues to be a cycle route, or the barrier remains and the cycle route designation is removed;
- This sentiment was picked up the several involved in Sustrans, which is the charity which manages the national cycle network. For several years, Sustrans has been working with land owners to remove A and K-frame barriers. Looks like Sustrans is gearing up for a proper review of the south’s cycle routes, with a key requirement being accessibility in line with Highways England’s IAN195 standard.
- Via Twitter, Adam Reynolds shared Oxfordshire County Council’s new cycling design standards, which draws on London’s and Highways England’s.
Adding 5cm extra between the plates on the barrier might help a few, but the fundamental problem with the barrier remains: it prevents a significant number of people who use non-standard bicycles from accessing the cycle route along the river.
The Sustrans’ audit using standards such as Highways England IAN195 is interesting. The neighbouring boroughs on the River Wandle, Wandsworth and Merton are each using are using Local Implementation Plan (LIP) funds from Transport for London (TfL) to improve the NCN20 route to a more inclusive Quietway standard. This has involved resurfacing the paths, adding discrete, low-lux lighting to many sections, and removing bollards and barriers to achieve the accessibility levels required by the London Cycling Design Standard (LCDS) and IAN195.
It would be very embarrassing for Sutton Council, under any political party’s administration, to lose its National Cycle Network rating on a key cycle path because it failed accessibility requirements.
Sutton’s K-frame barrier fails those requirements. The barrier must be removed.
(Updated 13/03/18 to include reference to TfL’s London Cycling Design Standards. Updated 15/03/18 to include feedback from local advocacy groups, and from Sutton Council.
Updated 16/03/18 to include feedback from Cllr Garratt, and links to Sustrans ongoing audit of the national cycle network).