New guidance which could see cyclists allowed to use pedestrian areas in Wales has been criticised by a group of charities who say such a change may prove dangerous for disabled people.
The Design Guidance for the Active Travel (Wales) Act 2013 sets out how authorities in Wales should plan and design walking and cycling routes. The aim is to prioritise walking and cycling for short journeys.
However, the section of the guidelines relating to what are referred to as ‘vehicle restricted areas’ (VRAs) has caused controversy. Guide Dogs Cymru, Disability Wales, RNIB Cymru and Wales Council of the Blind say that allowing cyclists in busy pedestrianised areas could increase collisions and the chance of injury.
Andrea Gordon, Engagement Manager for Guide Dogs Cymru, said:
“We cannot support the current proposal because it puts people at risk. We have significant concerns about cycling in busy pedestrianised areas and believe the proposed guidance would endanger disabled and older people and young children.”
Guide Dogs Cymru were involved in the consultation process and put forward alternative ways of providing inclusive access for cyclists and disabled people. Gordon feels there has been a lack of compromise and that the guidance is therefore questionable.
“There is a legal requirement for an Equality Impact Assessment to be conducted before guidance can be implemented. Therefore, we believe a policy which fails to take the safety and freedom of blind and partially sighted people and other disabled people into account could be challenged under the Equality Act.”
Ceri Jackson, the director of RNIB Cymru, expressed similar sentiments and feels that the needs of blind and partially sighted people in VRAs have been ignored.
The guidance was announced by Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, Ken Skates, who feels it serves an important purpose.
“We are committed to giving people better opportunities to walk and cycle, making them more active and healthier as a result. This also brings added benefits to the environment and will reduce the traffic on our roads.
“This document is an important part of our vision for more active travel. It provides the information and support needed for authorities in Wales to get the work of planning and designing suitable walking and cycling routes underway.”
A Welsh Government spokeswoman said that efforts had been made to achieve a balance between allowing cycling within pedestrianised areas while also protecting the safety of disabled people. "This isn’t the end of the process and our guidance requires local authorities to consult at the design scheme stage and consider carefully the safety both of cyclists and disabled pedestrians.”