Smarter Cambridge Transport

How ‘safety’ barriers can be discriminatory and unsafe

Barriers and bollards are an ugly feature of the urban landscape, but are they even needed?

Bollards mostly have one purpose: to stop people driving motor vehicles on cycle paths and pavements. Regular incidents of vehicles getting stuck in the Guided Busway car traps prove why they’re needed. There was even an incident of someone driving a car over the cycle/pedestrian bridge at Cambridge station when a bollard went missing. For as long as humans are in the driving seat, we’ll have to live with bollards. But they need to be carefully sited and clearly visible to avoid causing injuries.

You may have noticed how new junctions and pedestrian crossings are no longer surrounded by guard-railings. Instead of a ‘sheep pen’ in the middle of a two-stage crossing, there are just kerbstones. The reason is that railings don’t actually make people much safer; they can even contribute to death or serious injury if someone walking or cycling becomes trapped between the railings and a car or lorry.

Railings are intended to prevent someone stepping into the road without looking. Although that may seem sensible outside a school entrance, railings can actually obscure drivers’ view of children. Creating a School Street is a much better way to improve safety. Railings also restrict the usable width of pavements, reducing capacity and accessibility for wheelchairs and mobility scooters.

Staggered barriers are intended to force people cycling to slow down when approaching junctions. Current design guidance forbids them,[1] mainly because they block access to mobility scooters, tricycles, cargo bikes (including those used by parents of young children) and other types of cycles. Existing barriers should be removed or replaced by bollards. Safety issues, such as blind corners and junctions, should be designed out. After all, when a road junction proves to be dangerous, the council doesn’t install barriers; it remodels it. Why would we not do the same for unsafe footways and cycleways?

Rather than inconveniencing and excluding people who want to walk, cycle or use a mobility scooter, we need to allocate more space to pavements and cycleways to make them safe by design.

This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 17 March 2021.

[1] See Local Transport Note 1/20:

Summary Principle 16: Access control measures, such as chicane barriers and dismount signs, should not be used. They reduce the usability of a route for everyone, and may exclude people riding nonstandard cycles and cargo bikes. They reduce the capacity of a route as well as the directness and comfort. Schemes should not be designed in such a way that access controls, obstructions and barriers are even necessary; pedestrians and cyclists should be kept separate with clear, delineated routes as outlined in the principles above.

5.6.3: Deliberately restricting space, introducing staggered barriers or blind bends to slow cyclists is likely to increase the potential for user conflict and may prevent access for larger cycles and disabled people and so should not be used.

8.2.12: Measures can be used to reduce cycle speed which are broadly similar to those used for motor traffic, albeit at reduced scale, including horizontal deflection, sinusoidal speed humps and thermoplastic rumble strips. These traffic calming devices will inevitably also introduce potential hazards and discomfort for disabled users (both pedestrians and cyclists). They should be used sparingly and only in response to site-specific problems that cannot be addressed in another way.

10.4.19 On wider roads and at busier junctions, a staggered toucan crossing is often used to combine pedestrian and cycle movements and minimise delay to motor traffic. However, negotiating a staggered refuge can be highly problematic and sometimes impossible for those using non-standard cycles. It can also give rise to additional conflict with pedestrians in the confined space available. At pedestrian refuges, pedestrian guardrailing should not be installed as a default choice. The advice on the use of pedestrian guardrailing in Local Transport Note 2/09: Pedestrian Guardrailing, and Chapter 6 of the Traffic Signs Manual, should be considered.

Edward Leigh

Edward Leigh is the leader of Smarter Cambridge Transport, chair and independent co-opted member of the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Panel, chair of the South Petersfield Residents Association, business owner, consultant, and occasional blogger about making the world and Cambridge a better place to live.

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