Here in Cardiff, at least in 2017, we’re a little short of cycle routes. Truth be told, we only really have three but hopefully that’ll change soon.
We have the Taff Trail, the Ely Trail and the Bay Trail. The Taff Trail is part of the National Cycle Network, the Ely and Bay Trails are Cardiff Council’s own.
Slalom Courses & Weight-lifting Stations
One common feature of these routes, as well as NCN Route 4 that runs through Rhondda Cynon Taff and Caerphilly, is the access barriers. These barriers are intended to stop the illegal riding of motorcycles along certain stretches of these routes, but unless you have a road bike with drop handlebars, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll stop you too.
If you have a mountain bike; a Dutch-style bike; a recumbent tricycle; a cargo bike; a wheelchair or anything wider than shoulder-width (for an average size human), chances are you will have to stop and lift your bike over. This is assuming that you can lift your bike or wheelchair. If you have a cargo bike with a young child or a load of compost for your garden; you use a bicycle as a mobility aid (something for a future post), or you use a wheelchair, you are probably going to want to turn around and go the other way.
The Blame Game
Unlike the road and motorway networks which are often designed and funded by councils and central governments, active travel networks until the Active Travel Act came into being have been the preserve of the charity Sustrans.
Sustrans works in partnership with governments (both local and national), businesses and schools to develop active travel solutions and advise on policy. However, it survives mostly on grant funding for specific projects, such as the Active Journeys programme and the Cymru Travel Challenge –plus donations from supporters like you and us.
Unfortunately, being the guardians of the National Cycle Network and arguably the most visible body in the UK for Active Travel, it does take an awful lot of stick when things go wrong. Some of it may be deserved, but often it isn’t. Their policy on these infernal barriers is quite clear.
There should be a presumption for paths to be open to all legitimate users with minimal or no access controls. If some form of access control is necessary, a single row of bollards (or other features, such as rocks or planters) leaving 1.5m gaps and with clear visibility of other users can be effective in many locations. On the approach to an intersection signs and markings should normally suffice; if it is considered necessary to reduce the speed of people on bikes two rows of staggered bollards are preferred.
If we think this through, these barriers can be found in a few places on the Taff Trail. We’ll focus on the Taff Trail for now, but route 4 through Caerphilly also has its fair share too.
From the south, the Taff Trail (NCN8) runs across the barrage, past the Millennium Centre and along the front of the Pierhead. You then head along the Graving Docks and across the St Davids Hotel and into the nature reserve.
You’re then taken along Hamadryad Park to emerge at the end of Clarence Embankment. Last time we visited here there was a humdinger of a barrier to navigate your way out of the park. However, from that point, with the exception of Blackweir Bridge, the Taff Trail is fairly plain sailing in terms of barriers until you reach the bottom of Iron Bridge Road in Tongwynlais. Here you will find a slightly narrower barrier than you will have passed at either end of Hailey Park, but it’s still wide enough to fit most bikes through.
It’s only really when you reach Rhondda Cynon Taff, particularly the crossing of Caerphilly Road when the route briefly becomes NCN route 4 until Coedpenmaen. It is here where the access barriers go into overdrive, with the sorts of barriers that will be touch & go for anyone not on a road bike, or anyone a little wide at the shoulder.
Given that the proliferation of these infernal barriers appears to vary across county lines, perhaps it is safe to assume that this is less of an NCN/Sustrans issue than it is of the councils that are connected by it? If that is the case, what are the alternatives?
Let’s fix this…
To its credit, Sustrans has a document that lists a number of alternatives that councils could try. It suggests various forms of surveillance including those by volunteers, the police and by remote surveillance (CCTV). It also suggests cutting back vegetation to improve oversight of the paths from nearby properties.
However, perhaps the most interesting suggestion is to increase usage of the path.
Increased legitimate use of a path can also increase natural surveillance and thus deter misuse. In Cardiff, access controls have been removed from various locations on some of its more popular paths to improve accessibility for wheelchair and mobility scooter users and those with pushchairs. It is understood that there has been no notable increase in the misuse of these paths. (emphasis added…)
This sounds like a bit of a chicken & egg situation. In order to remove the barriers we need to increase the usage, but in order to increase usage of the trail you need to remove the barriers that prevent entry in the first place. On the basis that the only people who can use the paths where barriers exist are pedestrians and otherwise able-bodied people on road bikes with drop bars, we’re not sure that this is a particularly effective strategy.
With that said, the barriers need to go and if Cardiff is a useful case study for removing them, doing so appears to lead to no notable increase in misuse. What we need now is for readers living north of the border, particularly in Pontypridd and Caerphilly, up into the South Wales Valleys, to write to their local councillors and ask that the barriers are removed.
Finally, thanks to our twitter friends @wiardsterk and @maidstoneonbike for the photos.