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Complaints from disability group shows little concern for disabled users of cycle paths

— Objections to standard designs hinders rather than helps with achieving the best outcome.

Comment & Analisis / long read: Robbie Sinnott, co-ordinator at the Voice of Vision Impairment, wrote to Dublin City Council councillors to outline that the group has serious concerns over two cycle routes, the Trinity to Ballsbridge and the Clonskeagh cycle routes. But what are these concerns?

For context to this, it’s the view of the Voice of Vision Impairment that pedestrianisation is “disablist” according to their website:

“Like you, we have a Human Right to access our community and environment on an equal basis with everyone else. This means that we must be able to access all areas, whether by blue badge private vehicles, taxi, or bus, etc. Anything else (e.g., pedestrianisation) necessarily constitutes a disablist planning zone.”

This goes far further than most disability groups which normally seek our good access provision and measures such as tactile way-finding to avoid people with visual impairments from losing their way in larger open spaces.

Segregated cycling infrastructure allows a range of people to cycle, from the very young to the very old. Of course, not everybody can cycle, but where cycle paths are built well, they are also used by people who use a range of mobility devices including wheelchairs and electric mobility aids.

As this video from BicycleDutch outlines, when Cycling For All designs are used, the people who benefit from cycle paths include:

  • Young children cycling with their parents
  • Children cycling independently
  • Teenagers cycling independently
  • Elderly people cycling
  • Elderly people using mobility devices
  • People with disabilities using a range of mobility devices
  • Disabled people using adapted cycles, including wheelchairs with handcycle attachments.
  • Disabled people being cycled by others
  • Footpath users who have an extra buffer between the footpath and the road

There are already people as described above using Irish cycling infrastructure — the number and range of people using such will grow when Cycling for All designs are implemented.

In his letter to councillors ahead of the South East Area Committee meeting last week, Robbie Sinnott of Voice of Vision Impairment wrote that they have “serious concerns” regarding the Clonskeagh or Ballsbridge interim cycle route plans.

“We met with the Active Travel Programme Office (ATPO) about a month ago, and were assured that they took their obligations towards DPOs (i.e., disability-proofing) seriously. However, nothing in their presentations shows any interest in disability proofing regarding either the Clonskeagh or Ballsbridge plans,” he claimed.

Questions from Sinnott: 1: Allowing motorists to drive on cycle paths to access footpaths

He said: “Many visually impaired people are extremely limited in their ability to participate in active travel modes. As such, they need to be able to have door-to-door journeys, whether by SPSVs such as taxis, by blue badge vehicles. If visually impaired people cannot be dropped off at a door of a particular service, then this service becomes out-of-bounds to them, since they cannot locate it independently on foot. Conversely, visually impaired people living in the affected areas need to have SPVs [taxi, hackney, and limousine] and blue badge vehicles pick them up at their door.”

In line with the above, Sinnott asks a series of questions, including: “Will SPSVs and blue badge vehicles be able to pull into the footway kerbs in all places in order to drop off or collect disabled people who have limited or no practical use of active travel modes?”

The request — if implemented — basically would mean that cycle paths would be never separated properly and there would always be a way for motorists just mount a cycle path to access the footpath beside it. How does this fit in with Cycling for All and the users listed above?

The reality is there are many roads and streets you cannot pull into for different reasons, including busy continuous car parking along a footpath.

There will still be a number of possibilities regarding drop-off points including at the parking which is planned, at side streets, at at leading bays or bus stops.

2. Parking Protected Cycling Lanes.

IMAGE: An extract from CyclingForAll.ie which advocates for parking-protected cycle lanes.

Sinnott wrote: “Since the introduction of the first of these schemes in New Brunswick and Lombard Streets in 2018, apparently an import from New York, visually impaired people, and other disabled people, have been shocked at the disablist nature of such planning. Our members report that their drivers deliberately avoid parking at parking-protected cycle-lanes because of the extra complications of guiding a visually impaired person across these lanes.”

‘New Brunswick’ is a reference to North Brunswick Street. And the layout has been in place for well over a decade, at least as far back as 2009.

I’ve previously been accused of lying about how long the layout has been in place on North Brunswick Street — so, in case that claim is made again, this is the evidence:

Why is this important? The parking-protected cycle path/lane layouts have been in place for ages and have been in place in other parts of Dublin for years now. It’s not new and it’s not experimental. It’s just that Dublin City Council started using it more extensively in recent years.

Claiming it’s new and experimental adds fears — of course, careful and better design is still needed, especially, around blue badge parking spaces.

Sinnott wrote: “The road hierarchy is supposed to be pedestrian (and especially vulnerable pedestrian) first, but this design is 100% cyclist before pedestrian (including vulnerable pedestrian). As such, the inclusion of parking-protected cycle lanes belies the claim that the aim is to have ‘Safer, inclusive, and more sustainable’, or to ‘improve safety for vulnerable road users’, when it is doing precisely the opposite.”

The hierarchy of road users (see images below) is supposed to “promote and prioritise sustainable forms of transportation”. It doesn’t mean any road user has “100%” priority over another at all times. Just because people walking are at the top of the hierarchy doesn’t, for example, mean they instantly have priority over public transport or motorists when crossing every single road.

The hierarchy is a principle of what modes to consider first when designing streets — how we design streets and allocate space should not be set in absolutes. It’s a balance.

The hierarchy doesn’t stop local authorities from building segregated cycle paths. This is — again — Sinnott suggesting in a roundabout way that cycle lanes should never be segregated. His suggestion would mean that cyclists would have to cycle between parked cars.

Sinnott then asks how can any “planner with a conscience stand over such a reckless and disablist design?” This video shows the reality of placing people — including people who are disabled — cycling between the driver-side door and where motorists drive:

VIDEO: Video shows dash cam footage from a taxi showing a man cycling between parked cars and moving traffic. A driver in one of the parked cars swings their door open and this knocks the man off his bicycle and onto the ground in the path of the taxi. The taxi driver stops before the man was caught too far under the taxi.

Island” bus stops

The design of having segregated cycle paths at bus stops are also known as “island” bus stops. This is just a basic if a city wants segregated cycle paths suitable for a wide range of people including disabled people, children, elderly people and basically anybody who doesn’t want to brave it out mixing with buses pulling into and out of bus stops.

One of the most striking things for me about the combination of cycle paths and bus stops is the contrast between (1) videos shared online by anti-cycling groups in the UK and (2) the reality when you stand at one in Ireland, London or the Netherlands.

Most of the time they are boring. It’s really questionable how many hours of footage the UK anti-cycling groups have put together and how this has been highly edited to make the design look dangerous. The videos from anti-cycling groups in the UK are fairly clever in merging a few odd cyclists behaving badly relating to the design with other road users doing illegal things near the bus stop — shake and stir and you have hours or maybe days of footage merged together in seconds. It’s classic scaremongering which is toxic when something new is being introduced into a street.

But Sinnott writes: “An island bus stop is planned for Ranelagh Village (in the Clonskeagh Plan). These are even worse than the parking-protected cycling, since visually impaired bus passengers are not generally likely to have the option of sighted assistance in crossing the cycle lane to get to the bus stop. Once again, this is the opposite of universal design. It puts cyclists above vulnerable pedestrians in the road-user hierarchy, and it is reckless planning.”

It is however not the opposite of universal design and Sinnott is discounting the vulnerable road users including disabled people who are users of segregated cycle paths. Here are just two examples of such from the BicycleDutch video which is included at the start of this article:

Sinnott writes: “…in the case of the C2CC bus islands, this solution has many problems when compared to the original direct access approach, namely… cyclists are prone to breaking traffic lights at the best of times, and especially when they don’t have heavier vehicles to think about.”

The idea of traffic lights to regulate people walking and cycling is not realistic — this is something I agree with Sinnott on. International experts are a bit stunned that Irish authorities are trying it. But Sinnott’s alternative is very hard to agree with.

He writes: “Consequently, the only safe solution for island bus stops is to have cyclists dismount at sluicegates or at platformed pedestrian crossings sloping from 100 to 160mm.”

It’s not clear what “sluicegates” means, but we know cycle paths are used by people with disabilities. So, how could such barriers, which push people to dismount, be compatible with universal design? It seems to be the case that Sinnott is happy to call for “universal design”, but only where it suits his thinking.

We should seek to try to get the design of cycle paths at bus stops right. This will include raised crossings areas. But it will also include understanding human behaviour better, including that most people will not use the designated crossing. It also includes that adding measures aimed at cyclists, including acute angles on cycle tracks or tactile kerbing at inappropriate places, such as at ramps, might result in elderly or disabled cyclists falling from their bicycles.

Removal of parking

On the removal of parking Sinnott writes: “What measures are to be taken to ensure that those (including vulnerable people) who depend on four-wheeled transport, are not going to be discriminated against by these plans, or even effectively excluded from the affected areas?”

Nobody is going to be excluded from the areas. This type of over-the-top language is designed to induce fear. There will still be parking, there will still be access, and not a single disabled space is planned to be removed.

Junction of Milltown Road / Eglinton Road

“Re pedestrian safety claim at Milltown Road / Eglinton Road… We are told that there is to be a New protected cycle tracks junction-tightening to improve pedestrian safety. Any claims to pedestrian safety are not credible unless close consultation with and active involvement of relevant DPOs have been effected from the concept stage. …How does the ATPO expect that the newly designed junction at Milltown will be safer for visually impaired people, and on what basis/authority do they make such an assertion?” said Sinnott.

This is one of the most astonishing acts of arguing against everything which Sinnott undertakes. There is no mixing of people cycling and walking planned at this junction where these comments relate to, the Clonskeagh Road junction with Milltown Road and Eglinton Road.

The junction tightening via segregation of the cycle lanes and via a buildout are measures of a proven type that slow down motorists when turning and that will at least somewhat increase the level of safety.

But the design isn’t safe or accessible for any pedestrian, including visually impaired people, especially not at the mouth of Eglington Road.

But that’s nothing to do with cycling provision. It’s because of Dublin City Council’s refusal to (1) add a pedestrian crossing as part of this quick-build scheme and (2) remove at least the slip turn from Milltown Road (the Eglington Road slip turn might be harder to remove given the acute angle of how it meets the main road.

Other local authorities have added crossings as part of quick-build projects and it is the norm across other countries too to add signals as part of quick-build projects.

The way our streets and roads are designed is often what truly disabled people with disabilities. Designers of schemes should also be aware not just how poor designs can be disabling, but how change can be more fear-inducing and harder to adapt to for people with disabilities.

But it also has to be accepted that people with disabilities use “active travel” but as pedestrians of some type and in a range of ways on cycle paths, and that both the hierarchy of road users and universal design support cycle paths. So, when disabled access is talked about, we have to look at the full picture of how to balance the design of streets.

Cycle lanes should be segregated as much as footpaths should be. When people accept that cycle lanes can and should be segregated, then we can start talking about how best to do it in a way that impacts other vulnerable road users and access as little as possible. Objections to standard designs hinders rather than helps with achieving the best outcome.

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6 comments

  1. Great article, Cian. It’s understandable that people with disabilities have fears and anxieties that those more abled can’t fully appreciate. I was on a crutch last year and it was hairy walking down Ranelagh road as is – other pedestrians gazing at their phones, not giving me space, potholes, uneven surfaces. So it’s very important not to dismiss all fears as ungrounded.
    Still, nobody would suggest that abled pedestrians be asked to get onto a busy carriageway to avoid compromising those less abled – though in practice, because of narrow/inadequate footpaths, this does happen.
    I agree that it’s the idea (not practice) of segregated lanes that people find most challenging because it has never been properly rolled out here. I had a robust discussion with a pal a few years back, the usual stuff, cyclists not being respectful etc, but when I pointed out that every other road user has their own dedicated road space, it really landed with my pal. No arguments since.
    I would hope that ‘bad’ cyclist behaviour (eg running reds or cycling on footpaths) would evaporate once people cycling feel safe and seen in their own spaces. IMO many people run (safe) reds because they don’t feel safe starting a balance-sensitive machine next to a big, lethal machine that might cut across their path. Similarly cycling on footpaths can feel safer to being close-passed by someone driving at 80km/hour. Merrion Road prime example.
    Wobble/balance issues are a big untalked about ‘disability’, especially for people over 50 who are not cis-male-gendered. Add in heavy grocery loads and it’s even more challenging.
    Perhaps a piece on this?

    Reply
  2. In response to Mia’s comment above: I used to live in NL, and I don’t think I ever ran red lights. The reason is because they have a proper network of safe segregated cycle-infra. Because I cycled everywhere, and because the cycle network enabled me to do that, I was very grateful for it, and as a result I felt that I personally had a stake in it. For the same reason I also felt compelled to not do anything which would seem anti-social. In addition all the stops and junctions were safe for me on a bike. There are a couple of reasons why I might go through a red light here in ireland, but one of them is that it’s often safer to do so, than sit in front of drivers who may well drive over me if I stay there. Such conflicts never happened to me in NL and thus I never had a need to go through a red light to protect myself. Another reason why I might go through a red light here is because the overwhelming majority of urban space is designed for the benefit of drivers, and so I might have to sit and wait on my bike at a red light that just makes no practical sense for me to do so. This was another thng that I didn’t really encounter in NL.

    Reply
    • Thanks – yes, that’s my experience too. I lived for a short while in Leuven and felt safe and valued on a bike. In Blackrock two years ago, I waited 8 minutes for a green to go right onto the main rock road into town. After 8 mins I dismounted and used the pedestrian crossing.

      Reply
  3. In April 2021, Dublin Cycling Campaign held a virtual public meeting on the topic “How can cycling enable mobility and independence?” The 4 presenters spoke about their lived experiences as disabled cyclists and how vital their cycles were to their mobility, independence and general well-being. During the Q&A session after, Robbie Sinnott, apart from misrepresenting data (whether deliberately or not only he knows) from UK research, dismissed their stories and claimed cycling was a lifestyle choice.

    Reply
  4. Cian, or should I pretend to be a journalist and just call you Ginty, Your ignorance or misrepresentation of universal design (as a non-disabled person) can be easily shown up for what it is in open debate.

    So, I challenge you to open debate on the topic on pedestrianisation and segregated cycle lanes.

    If you think you can stand up what you’ve said about VVI’s arguments, then you should have no problem with that.

    Dr. Robert Sinnott

    Reply
  5. Robert,

    Not only can I stand up what I have said, I have done so in the article above and you have not challenged a single point.

    Your letter to councillors was not the first time you showed little concern for disabled users of cycle paths. Previously, in a webcast which shared the experiences of disabled people who cycle, you had the audacity to reply a man who uses a wheelchair and say cyclists should dismount — the video of that webcast shows you’re clearly unable to listen to view points that differ from yours: https://youtu.be/CvXByVHvKM0?t=4591 …so, what would the point be in debating you?

    Regarding you comments in that webcast that cycling is recreational: That’s again an example of you being unwilling to listen to disabled people who outlined that cycling is what gives them their independence and health.

    Universal design is not what you think it is. It doesn’t give any one group a veto on making streets safer for a wide range of people. You’re a smart person and you’re well aware of the concept that streets are a balance and that there are competing rights.

    Regarding your comments and apparent thinly vailed attempted dig at me — not only are you unable to dispute a since point I have made, you keep making presumptions about people. You know little about me or my life experience.

    Regarding my journalism — I have a BA (Hons) in Journalism from DCU and HDip in Print Journalism from BCFE, and I have written for a number of national newspapers, national and international websites and other publications, including on the issue of journalism. My journalism doesn’t stop being journalism because you don’t like it.

    If these is a singe incorrect point or any kind of inaccuracy in my article above, you can contact me directly seeking a correction.

    Regards,

    Cian

    Reply

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