Milton Keynes-based delivery cyclist Steve Abraham has criticised the local council’s decision to install a growing number of barriers and bollards on the city’s cycleways and shared use routes, which the ultra-cycling legend says prevents the paths being used by delivery riders with large bike trailers – that were themselves supplied by the council.
Earlier this week Abraham, a cyclist known for his distance record attempts who works as an independent food delivery rider for companies such as Deliveroo and Uber Eats, posted on Strava a photo of a set of bollards at the exit of a canal crossing which – unless the rider attempts a tricky manoeuvre onto the adjacent grass – appear just wide enough for a cyclist on a standard bike to pass through.
And not at all wide enough, as Abraham noted on the ride sharing app, for cyclists on cargo bikes or towing large trailers stocked with food.
“Milton Keynes Council, in their infinite wisdom, have started putting up bollards that the trailers they supplied to us won’t fit through. Muppets,” the independent contractor posted on Strava.
Speaking to road.cc, Abraham says that, at the same time active travel charity Sustrans has begun to remove barriers along the National Cycle Network, “bollards and barriers are cropping up” throughout Milton Keynes in recent months, hindering the bikes he uses to deliver food as an independent contractor, an experience he spoke in detail about on a recent edition of this site’s podcast.
> “You're just collateral” — Ultra-cycling legend Steve Abraham on Deliveroo and the gig economy
The ultra-distance cyclist, who uses the trailers once a week, says the new bollards on their “usual” canal crossing were flagged by a colleague last week, and that when he attempted to access a previously used crossing on a different route, he “found more new bollards”.
“The bikes we use are Tern GSDs and we tow Carla trailers which are the biggest trailers I have ever seen,” he says. “They were supplied by the council (who bought 21 e-cargo bikes for businesses and charities to rent at an extremely good rate). Milton Keynes Parks Trust also have a few of their bikes too.
“There were a few barriers in places before we got the cargo bikes and they’ve been there longer than I have (25 years), so I avoid them on any bike, but wouldn’t be able to get through them on my tandem, let alone our monster Tern set up.
“A more typical cargo bike without the trailer would get through those bollards, but it’s tight and especially tricky if there's a gusty side wind.”
> Disabled cyclist accuses Stockport Council of trying to “worm its way out” of making sure that all cycling and walking routes are accessible
Steve says the new bollards, such as the ones he posted on Strava, have made it trickier for delivery riders to find efficient, accessible routes using the city’s redways, a traffic-free shared use network covering most of the city estates and stretching out to the area’s older towns, an example of active travel infrastructure that Abraham describes as “a bit of a local quirk that are good, bad, and misunderstood”.
“These new bollards are on canal bridges. There was already a barrier stopping us using one useful crossing. We now have lost three more options and have one left without a mile’s detour,” he says.
“There might have been one more crossing over the canal but I am not sure I would make it without a run up. It’s very steep and I would have to take a bend at speed to have a chance. Leisure riders often push their bikes over it because they get caught out in the wrong gear following directions from signs or phones. Shared use substandard paths aren’t for fast and efficient riding.
“Or we could just use the grid roads with 60 or 70mph speed limits. I’m sure that those drivers that complain about anyone ever cycling on the grid roads when we have these ‘wonderful cycleways all over the city’ will understand if they see us.”
> Steve Abraham back riding after driver knocks him off bike
Abraham also noted that he contacted the council to inform them of the areas where the bollards and barriers prevented the trailers from passing through, but that he never got a response.
“Overall, I would get rid of them all with a few possible exceptions,” he says. “They make crossing roads with oncoming pedestrians or cyclists also crossing a lot more awkward than necessary.
“They generally just make the redways that extra bit more awkward at best, or in the case of the bollards and barriers that some bikes can’t get through, they put a big limit on route options. And you also really need to know your way around because these things don’t show up on route planning apps like Google.”
He continued: “The barriers and bollards are an unhelpful waste of money that are one of the problems of the redways.
“They could be to slow people down where things are very badly designed. I find it ridiculous that we have grid roads that allow people to drive at the national speed limit and that’s seen as essential, but being able to cycle at speed on something that’s supposed to be specific for cycling is a problem.
“200 miles of cycleways that don’t meet minimum standards is a boast. The cul-de-sac I live in is built to a much better standard and I bet there are thousands of miles of those. A cycleway that’s about half the width of a typical residential road, with a good footpath on both sides and built to a similar standard with drainage would be the best cycleway in Britain.
“Instead, we get hazardous substandard paths. That probably makes me sound like a miserable old bugger and to be fair, I might even be one! So, I will say that Milton Keynes is great for me as a cyclist partly because of the redways.
“But that’s because cycling is fun by default and although it could be a hell of a lot better, all of the bulls*** and nonsense doesn’t ruin all of the fun, especially when you can escape criminal car drivers. And the redways are a better way of seeing the city than the soulless grid roads. Though I will usually use the grid roads to ride into and out of Milton Keynes.”
Milton Keynes City Council has been contacted for comment.
> Campaigners welcome council’s U-turn on installing “discriminatory” barriers on cycling and walking routes
The issue of barriers and bollards hindering access to cycle routes for people with disabilities or non-standard cycles has proved a growing concern in recent years.
In December, we reported that Stockport Council had backtracked on its plans to introduce more barriers on cycling and walking routes, a decision welcomed by campaigners who said that the barriers would discriminate against disabled people who use non-standard cycles, wheelchairs, and mobility aids.
Stockport Council had originally voted to install chicanes, bollards, and barriers on some cycling routes to tackle anti-social behaviour, a measure Labour councillor Dean Fitzpatrick claimed at the time was about trying to “balance everything for the whole community”.
However, the plans were heavily criticised by active travel campaigners who argued that the proposed barriers did not “meet the legal access requirements” and would prevent disabled people from using the routes.
“The very basic bare minimum the council should be doing, they don’t reach that, which morally is pretty disgusting. There’s a minimum and the council is trying to worm their way out of it,” Harrie Larrington-Spencer, a researcher at the University of Salford who specialises in inclusive active travel, said in response to the policy.
“It’s not about balance. Disabled people have the right to access these spaces. You should be able to use the same walking and cycling routes that non-disabled people can use. You are limiting who can access these routes, which is terrible.”
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