National guidelines outline why it’s a bad idea to use staggered barriers on walking and cycling paths — such barriers tend to cause more conflicts than they solve. One user of a recently upgraded route in Galway was quickly given a first-hand example of this happening after barriers were unexpectedly installed.
Reg Turner, the chairperson of the Galway Cycling Campaign, said he has encountered issues when cycling his children to school on a cargo bike along the Eglinton Canal in the city.
The route has long been open to walking and cycling before it was recently upgraded by Galway City Council. The works included resurfacing the path and adding crossings where the route crosses streets. Barriers were then added to the surprise of campaigners and councillors.
Turner said when he was going by one of the sets of barriers, on an incline to a junction, he yielded to another user of the route and ended up struggling to manage starting off again in the tightened space on the incline.
“The upgrade of the canal is a super piece of infrastructure. It’s on our route to school and I have been using it with the kids in the mornings and on some evenings,” he said. But he said the barriers “are causing pinch points in the canal, and causing unnecessary conflict between users of the canal.”
“On Tuesday morning, as I approached these barriers, a skateboard user was approaching from the opposite direction. I stopped on the uphill section and was unable to get the bike moving again. I am an able-bodied cargo bike user. The bike was loaded at the time,” he said.
Turner said this week that barriers were installed on the path at the junction of Presentation Road and the junction of New Road without any notice and they did not appear on any of the project drawings for the scheme.
He added: “These barriers are not suitable for non-standard bikes. We need to be catering for all users in these schemes.”
Cllr Alan Curran (Social Democrats) said that the Eglinton Canal Active Travel Scheme is a “really positive addition to the city” and that the council’s “Active Travel team did a great job.” But he questioned why the barriers were put in place.
He said that the canal path in a central area of the city is a busy route for people walking and people on bikes, and these “gates will create unnecessary pinch points increasing the potential for conflict and collisions.”
Cllr Curran said: “At either end where the gates are present, there is a sloping gradient, which by itself slows those cycling. It’s actually going to be hard to navigate this route with a bike, especially a larger cargo bike, as you negotiate with pedestrians coming towards you as you approach the narrow barrier and the incline. Who goes first? Who waits? Can you easily get back on the bike?”
If you value our journalism, please subscribe today.
He said it wasn’t just for bikes that barriers like these can cause issues for people with buggies, those with visual impairments, people with mobility issues and people who run along the canal in low-light conditions given that the canal isn’t lit very well.
Cllr Curran added: “These were not contained in any drawings of this plan, so why was the need for these identified, and who identified this need? For me, they seem like unnecessary clutter. This lane has been here forever and there was never any issue. There was a single bollard at some ends which according to standards, is the first choice in filtered permeability.”
The new Cycle Design Manual outlines a position that barriers like the ones which were installed should be only installed where an issue is proven, not in anticipation of such.
The Cycle Design Manual states: “Speed control measures can be uncomfortable and difficult to navigate for disabled cyclists and people using non-standard cycles. They should only be proposed where excessive speeds have been shown to be an issue, where gradients or bends prevent minimum stopping sight distances being provided or where there is the potential for conflict such as junctions where these issues cannot be addressed in another way.”
“Staggered barriers should not be used to reduce cyclist speeds. Speed humps are preferable and should have a sinusoidal profile covering the full width of the cycle track. Rumble strips can be painful for cyclists who are unable to stand out of the saddle and should be avoided,” the manual outlines.
“Deliberately restricting space, introducing staggered barriers or blind bends to slow cyclists is likely to increase the potential for user conflict, creates a hazard (particularly at night) and may prevent access for disabled people and nonstandard cycles, and so should not be used.”
A spokesperson for Galway City Council said: “Risks were identified on the Eglington Canal Active Travel Project, that cyclists approaching the zebra crossings may have insufficient inter-visibility with pedestrians on the upcoming footpath and drivers on the upcoming roads. The staggered guardrails were installed for safety reasons and to mitigate the risks identified.”