Barriers to Wheelchairing, Big Biking & Pram Pushing - Sun 7 May
+ Swifts, Peregrine Falcons and Ring Ouzels
Do you recognise the scenic cycling, walking and running route above? Looks ok for people with pushchairs and wheelchairs too, doesn’t it? Or people with disabilities using adapted trikes, or people in mobility scooters?
Well, no. Such people are excluded.
Today’s post is about how barriers on trails are barriers to people just trying to get about, and how those barriers are coming out - but only when funding allows.
We also have a brief news round up and our selected what’s on list. And my usual ask:
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Firstly, the Swifts are arriving back. Local Swift rescuer and expert Chet Cunago posted this week about how birds returning from Africa turn up at their old homes from last year, but if the owners have fixed their roof with plastic fittings, the Swifts may often injure or kill themselves trying to get back into a hole that no longer exists, as described in my earlier archive post.
A case this week resulted in nearby Swift enthusiasts drawing the homeless Swifts away from their old holeless home to new safe locations nearby, by using Swift caller machines. The Sheffield Swift Network want us to watch out for the birds over the next few weeks.
Secondly, the Peregrine Falcons on St George’s Church tower near Broad Lane now have four eggs, as noted in last week’s What to Look For In May post.
Thirdly, a few selected events for this week, including the Festival of Debate and Sheffield Environment Weeks. And please, if you have events coming up - let me know!
Sun 7th / Mon 8th - Storrs Woodland Makers Market
Mon 8th - Outdoors in beautiful Beauchief - walk and explore with Beauchief Environment Group (Sheffield Environment Weeks)
Mon 8th - King’s Coronation Volunteering Day (wildflowers and litter picking) at Chapeltown Park - (Sheffield Environment Weeks)
Tues 9th - Walled Garden, Hillsborough Park work day - (Sheffield Environment Weeks)
Weds 10th - Volunteer Work Morning : Carbrook Ravine Nature Reserve with SRWT
Weds 10th - Guided Walk at Longshaw (£5 / adult)
Thurs 11th - Festival of Debate - Doughnut Economics in South Yorks - Showroom / Workstation
Thurs 11th - Festival of Debate - The Nature Emergency: People & Communities - with Sheff & Rotherham Wildlife Trust at Dorothy Fleming Lecture Theatre at Sheff Hallam University
Thurs 11th - Family Walk and talk at Norfolk Park
Sat 13th - Dawn Chorus walk at 5am with John and Anne Robinson, Wadsley Common
Sat 13th - Festival of Debate - Who Owns The River Don? with the River Don Project at Kelham Industrial Musuem
Sat 13th - Plant Sale, Whirlow Brook Park
Finally, there were a few reports last week of dogs off their leads chasing sheep and disturbing nesting birds. Rangers and farmers reminded dog walkers that dogs on open access countryside must be on leads at this time of year, both to protect livestock and to prevent harm to nesting birds.
The Ring Ouzels at Burbage and Stanage are a rare species who visit this area every year but can be easily disturbed. Volunteers from the local Ring Ouzel group have now put signs up warning of nest sites, asking people to try and avoid those spots for the moment.
Access For All?
Last week I cycled along one of the city’s least known but most beautiful travel routes, the Blackburn Valley. The flat trail leads you from Ecclesfield, Shiregreen or Chapeltown to the Meadowhall train station and travel hub, along the Blackburn Brook, through a narrow woodland full of English Bluebells and Wild Garlic. (The route runs parallel and a couple of hundred years away from Woolley Wood).
But if you head to Meadowhall on anything other than a standard two wheeled bike, or if you travel by mobility scooter, or a wheelchair, you find you can’t actually get out again at Meadowhall, because there are bulky ‘K Frame’ barriers right at the end (or start) of a very practical and rather nice active travel route.
“Barriers. It’s in the name, isn’t it?” says Paul Sullivan. “Putting barriers in the way of people wanting to make journeys is discriminatory.”
Paul is Senior Transport Planner at Sheffield Council, and is doing his best to get rid of these barriers. There’s one cycle and walking route from Rother Valley to the Manor, he says, where he counted 20 barriers in the space of about 10km, theoretically to prevent use by motorcyclists.
“So you’d have to get off your bike and get on again about every 500 metres,” he says. “We don’t ask that of drivers or bus users, or people using any other transport mode.” He’s currently about three quarters of the way though getting rid of the blockages on that route, he says.
The hugely successful Cycling 4 All scheme that runs in Hillsborough Park has attracted hundreds of people over the years to try cycling with a range of adapted bikes and trikes. Scheme users often then try to travel outside the park on trikes or tandems, to make journeys around the city.
Rosemary Hill, who runs the project, sent me a video of one of these cyclists, who has significant disabilities, attempting to get his long tricycle through a maze of metal gates at Rother Valley Country Park.
It takes him several minutes, banging himself and his trike into the gates to try and get through, but he has to give up. He then has another video, showing another access path, where there are no barriers, just a series of staggered rocks that allow him to get through easily, but would prevent a joyrider or fly tipper driving a car through. He raises his arm and punches the air as he continues on his way.
“It’s not right,” says Rosemary calmly. “People should be able to easily access places. It’s such a shame it seems to come down to some people not wanting motorbikes on certain paths then directly discriminates against people with wheelchairs, prams, mobility scooters and adapted trikes and bikes.” Rotherham Council are now keen to sort out access to Rother Valley, she says.
A Frames and K Frames are a historical aberration, really, and these days no clued up builder of a travel route would consider them. Years ago, when a bike was a bike, their design theoretically allowed cyclists to just about get through, but prevented rowdy youths on motorbikes, who were often in the news in the 1980s and 90s.
But they never really worked, says Paul Sullivan. If you really wanted to ride an off road motorbike, you’d break down a fence or ride through a hedge onto the route. Rosemary tells me of some friends on adapted bikes who said they had to stop on their day out due to an old barrier, and while they were wondering what to do, three kids on motorbikes thundered straight through and continued on their way.
Transport professionals the world over now recognise that a bit of policing allied with increased use by other people is the best deterrent to anti-social off road motorcycling on trails, Paul says. No off road motorcyclist wants a route full of people with bikes and trikes and pushchairs.
Barriers were often put in by default, Paul adds, and when he asks local councillors or community groups, sometimes no one really knows why they’re there.
Bikes and times have changed, says Rosemary. The advent of motors to assist people pedalling means bikes and trikes can be built to suit people with all kinds of disabilities, from cycles with a wheelchair space on the front to arm-powered tricycles.
Meanwhile families are getting rid of their second car to get around on an e-cargo bike, and more businesses are choosing big bikes with electric pedalling to take their deliveries around the city. But these are not bikes or trikes that fit through ancient barriers to theoretically deter notional motorcyclists.
And people with disabilities, just like everyone else, are thinking of ways to drive less and exercise more. But often they can’t.
“We’re getting contacted by lots of people now asking if we can help them remove this or that A or K Frame on their route,” says Rosemary. Cycling 4 All loan trikes to people who want to try them out to get around their city, she says. But the lack of safe infrastructure, or the barriers still stopping them using a decent off road route, means some people just choose to buy a folding trike to put in their car and drive to somewhere safe to ride.
One of her determined friends tries to ride a mobility scooter from outside Sheffield to take part in the cycling sessions at Hillsborough, but because of barriers on his off road route, the journey takes him half an hour longer than it should do, and along busier roads.
“So that’s frustrating and also dangerous,” Rosemary says. “It means he’s not as independent as he could be, so that’s discrimination.”
Paul Sullivan wants to get rid of barriers, and has removed or ‘treated’ 19 so far on routes around the city, but there’s lots more to do, he says. Local councillors and community groups need consulting, and sometimes there are genuine problems with off road bikers, joyriders and fly tippers.
But there are ways and means, he says. There was controversy last year about a barrier at Forge Dam, with a bridleway horse step and A Frame preventing people with trikes, wheelchairs and adapted bikes from using the route, with some users saying bikes and maybe motorbikes haring down a steep hill would put others at risk.
The consultation was split between keep and remove, says Paul. But he believes a solution to slow down some, and allow access to others, can be found.
He tells me of a woman in the east of Sheffield who’d lost her husband at the same time she began to lose her mobility. She was a determined woman, and moved to a mobility scooter and wanted to make her way to the shops and to see her friends independently.
A nice flat off road route was available, but not to her, because of two barriers. So her family had to drive out and pick her up in the car to go to the shops instead.
When the barriers were removed, she could travel on her own, and found she could now also get to the local tram stop, so the city centre and train station became available, without asking her family to drive her there. And as yet Paul says he has received no complaints about motorcycling on the opened up route.
“You can’t stop legitimate use as as way of curtailing illegitimate use,” he says.
Funding from the likes of Sustrans, the sustainable transport charity, is helping remove more barriers in Sheffield, and the next routes on the list to be opened up include the Blackburn Valley.
But funding is an issue, Paul says, which seems archaic after Rosemary’s reports of the growing number of people who tell her they’re prevented from travelling independently by an antiquated bit of metal that doesn't really do a useful job anyway.
Bicycles and the cycling world have changed, says Paul. “These new bikes and trikes are important parts of making a city work. But at the moment we have a long way to go.”
• If you know of a (literal) barrier to independent travel contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
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