Charity for visually impaired fights plans to let cyclists ride in Cheltenham's pedestrianised zones

CTC says banning bikes encourages car use, points out collisions between pedestrians and cyclists "very rare"

by Simon_MacMichael   January 5, 2012  

Cheltenham Municipal Offices (picture - Saffron Blaze, Wikimedia Commons)

A charity that works with visually impaired people has teamed up with the Mayor of Cheltenham to fight proposals by Gloucestershire Highways to allow cyclists to ride in pedestrianised zones in the town. National cyclists’ organisation CTC however insists that banning bikes from such areas encourages car use and points out that collisions between cyclists and pedestrians in those zones are “very rare.”

According to the Macular Disease Society, some 250,000 people in the UK, mainly aged over 60, are registered as having the condition, which causes loss of central vision as a result of damage to the macula, a small part of the retina. It says that a similar number suffer from the condition to a lesser degree.

The charity, supported by Barbara Driver, the Conservative Mayor of Cheltenham, insists that removing a ban on cyclists from pedestrianised areas of Cheltenham will force disabled people to avoid the town centre, reports the news website, This is Gloucestershire.

Currently, cyclists are banned from a pedestrianised zone stretching between Pitville Street and Winchcombe Street on the High Street, and between Crescent Terrace and Imperial Circus in the Promenade. Gloucestershire Highways is currently considering proposals to allow cyclists to ride in those areas.

Mrs Driver told This is Gloucestershire: "If changes go ahead, those with a disability will feel like second class citizens who no one from the council will listen to. They will be driven out of the town centre because of safety concerns. If you cannot see or hear cyclists and you have a mobility problem, you cannot move out of the way fast enough, or at all."

Genevieve Matley, leader of the Macular Disease Society’s Cheltenham group, insisted that it was not anti-cyclist ahead of a protest to be held outside the town’s municipal offices at lunchtime today.

"People should be able to walk in the area feeling safe and not worried about traffic of any kind," she explained.

Peter Godwin of Gloucestershire Highways said that it was reviewing whether to permit cyclists to ride in the affected areas after receiving requests from the police, Cheltenham Borough Council and local residents.

Owen Parry, head of integrated transport and sustainability for Cheltenham Borough Council, added: "As part of the ongoing consultations, the council is continuing to feed back the concerns of residents and community interest groups to Gloucestershire Highways."

In 1993, the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) published a report called ‘Cycling in Pedestrian Areas,’ the key findings of which were set out in a Traffic Advisory Leaflet published by the Department for Transport the same year.

That leaflet highlighted in bold type the finding that “Segregating cyclists from pedestrians is not always necessary or desirable.”

It also summarised the report’s main conclusions.

The first was that  “Observation revealed no real factors to justify excluding cyclists from pedestrianised areas, suggesting that cycling could be more widely permitted without detriment to pedestrians.”

Also, the report found that “A wide variety of regulatory and design solutions existed to enable space to be used safely and effectively in pedestrianised areas. These varied considerably in response to local circumstances.”

According to the report, as summarised in the leaflet:

Pedestrians change their behaviour in the presence of motor vehicles, but not in response to cyclists.

Cyclists respond to pedestrian density, modifying their speed, dismounting and taking other avoiding action where necessary.

Accidents between pedestrians and cyclists were very rarely generated in pedestrianised areas (only one pedestrian/cyclist accident in 15 site years) in the sites studied.

Where there are appreciable flows of pedestrians or cyclists, encouragement to cyclists to follow a defined path aids orientation and assists effective movements in the area. At lower flows, both users mingle readily.

Referring to the proposed lifting of the ban in Cheltenham, CTC told road.cc: “Research and evidence show that there is no good reason to exclude cyclists from a pedestrianised area.

“This just forces cyclists to use busy roads, it also puts off many people who would otherwise cycle to the town centre and encourages them to travel by car.

“Accidents between pedestrians and cyclists in areas closed to motor vehicles are very rare.”

14 user comments

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This sounds ominously similar to the campaign by the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) against cycling in pedestrianised areas in Woking, Surrey. It transpired that RNIB has a sizeable lobbying/pressure group section about half of whose staff were full-time dedicated to opposing cycling in shared-use settings!

All the same, whatever the merits of the argument, how can you win against a disability charity?

posted by Paul M [306 posts]
5th January 2012 - 17:55

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I'm not sure what the significance of Paul M's observation is. It would be helpful to have an explicit explanation.

My worry is that the main article hasn't addressed the point made by Mrs Driver that some vulnerable people will choose not to go into shared areas. I think the study of Elwick Square in Ashford provides a little support for her suggestion: http://eprints.uwe.ac.uk/16039/1/Shared%20Space%20-%20Implications%20of%...

It seems reasonable to suggest that in a newly shared area people with restricted eyesight (or hearing) will be put at an increased disadvantage relative to cyclists whose visibility cannot be assumed and whose audible warnings cannot necessarily be heard. Most cyclists will be considerate and attentive, but the vulnerable pedestrian can never be sure when the one inconsiderate cyclist (there is always one) is going to pass too close and too quickly for comfort.

As an able bodied pedestrian I do not enjoy walking on paths shared with cyclists. I find shared areas of Bristol where I live uncomfortable and find that I cannot relax and admire the surroundings. As a cyclist I am always happiest on a dedicated cycle lane, but even then the fact that I am cycling forces me (quite rightly) to pay much more attention to my route and to the safety of others.

posted by Sam Saunders [20 posts]
5th January 2012 - 18:49

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Any competent responsible cyclist when using shared facilities will slow down/dismount/use their bell whichever they deem appropriate. Meanwhile the ninjas will sail through the shared area with no regard for the pedestrians. I find pedestrians worse than car drivers due to the randomness of their walking and their determined refusal to step out the cycle lane on a shared path. I will always give way to a pedestrian but sadly not all who use two wheels will! The type of cyclist that the Mascular Disease Society is concerned about is also the same individual who will cycle into the town on the pavement. As Paul says there is no way cyclists can win this argument. And the sad thing is, the ninjas will continue to terrorise the elderly and infirm on ALL pavements and the same pedestrian precinct that the Gloucestershire Highways is wanting to open to cyclists Sad

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posted by giff77 [1039 posts]
5th January 2012 - 18:54

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The Promenade ban is a joke anyway as there is a "route" through this section marked by bollards which is used by police and council vehicles. I have even seen buses go through as a diversion to road works - if it is safe enough for them to use with care then it is safe enough for cycles. Especially as the designated alternative for this section for cyclists travelling north is a narrow single width back alley which is often blocked by delivery vehicles and is permanently littered with broken glass.

I cycle through on my evening commute home but avoid at busy times like Saturday mornings when the whole of town seems to be considered a pedestrianised zone whether it is or not!

posted by saw442000 [1 posts]
5th January 2012 - 19:42

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As another Cheltenham resident, I agree totally with saw442000 comments on the Promenade section, which clearly demarcates what is effectively a 'road' for permitted vehicles.

The crying shame about Cheltenham is that the town centre is strangled by a one-way dual carriageway which is notorious for gaining regional fame amongst the 'cruiser' set, who use it for racing! It is extremely hostile to cyclists. What's more, the town is also approached at all 4 points of the compass by wide and fast roads, making cycling into the centre an unpleasant experience.

On the positive side, Cheltenham's MP (Martin Horwood, Lib-Dem) did actually stand up and ask for a proper cycle metwork in Cheltenham. No sign of anything happening yet but at least he spoke up.

I have a lot of sympathy for the opinions of the visually/hearing impaired where cycling in pedestrian zones is concerned. If we had the balls and the motivation to create a proper cycle network (and reverse some of the totally car-dominated road designs) then there might be no need to open up the two suggested zones as cycling through routes. It simply wouldn't be necessary.

posted by don_don [149 posts]
5th January 2012 - 20:08

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If there is concern about blind people vs. cyclists then why not do the following:

1)Designate minimum 3m width for a two way cycle route. A single bollard either end should exlude most motor vehicles.

2)Place standard road kerb-stones, bordered by textured slabs, either side of the route.

3)Excluded cycles from the rest of the footway.

You could even have raised zebra crossings where pedestrians could cross this route, althought this wont really be necessary

posted by dand_uk [4 posts]
6th January 2012 - 0:28

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Personally I would point out that the charity is potentially shooting their members in their collective feet. macular degeneration is a progressive loss of sight and many with this condition retain the ability to 'see' but (if they obey the law and have the correct medical guidance) they will have their right to drive a motor vehicle withdrawn.

At this stage they will be in a position that around 80% of 'blind' people find themselves in - and I know a fair number of 'blind people who continue to enjoy independent personal mobility through the fact that they can continue to ride cycles. The Simpson brothers in fact are UK champions for getting tandems carried on trains, coaches and buses as they are both registered blind, but manage to run a small business with the tandem effectively a company vehicle, for many journeys.

Thus we should be showing the MDS is that their members are actually missing out on the valuable benefit of being able to cycle when the shutters come down on their driving, mitigating the shock of the often sudden and abrupt end to the ability to make local journeys which are tedious and tiring to walk, especially when carrying a load of shopping or luggage. That cycling will quite likely be best enjoyed riding through shared space streets which have been thoughtfully laid out to discourage speed for all wheeled vehicles that use them. I often find it displays supreme bivalence for a cycling ban to be in place whilst delivery trucks are allowed to roam through the crowds without a vanguard on foot to prevent pedestrians from straying into the danger zones and alert the driver to such hazards. If delivery trucks are permitted there is no real argument to exclude cycles. Not knowing the current regime (although at one time a resident of Landsdowne Crescent, sticker at the Suffolk Inn and drinker at The Restoration) I would say that if there is no ban on delivery vehicles then there should be no ban on cycling.

However there is one glaring void in the provision of road signage and law where this has not caught up with the real world. We need a clear road sign that spells out an unambiguous message that pedestrian movements have priority over all wheeled vehicles and failure of any wheeled road user to yield to a walking pedestrian could be cited as an offence

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

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posted by A V Lowe [471 posts]
6th January 2012 - 4:22

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PS you are not going to stop people cycling through the former streets, you will deliver confrontation through trying to enforce an unenforcable an blunt byelaw. Far better to recognise a demand for cycling responsibly through the area and manage that activity.

47 years of breaking bikes and still they offer me a 10 year frame warranty!

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posted by A V Lowe [471 posts]
6th January 2012 - 4:27

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In Oxford, we have one of our main E-W roads, Queen St, which is shared space for pedestrians and BUSES, but from which cyclists are banned. Utterly insane. Apparently we are more dangerous to pedestrians than 20 tonnes of metal.

Edgeley

posted by Edgeley [156 posts]
6th January 2012 - 10:36

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Excellent post by A V Lowe. "Age-related" Macular Degeneration is the most common form of macular disease, its a disease not an injury hence the name of the society. I think that the age related bit is probably the problem here as a lot of older people are just totally anti mixed use cycle paths and MDS supporters tend to be older people. I have to add not all older people are anti cycle paths as I'm hitting 60 and a youngster compared to a lot of cyclists in my area. Also there is a lack of logic shown by the MDS. Macular disease causes loss of central vision. In my own experience the main problem with mixed use paths is cyclists coming up from behind pedestrians. The pedestrian then sees the cyclist first with their peripheral vision which still works with most macular disease sufferers. On a more general note this is another case that shows that there is a need for cyclists to have a politically active and astute lobbyist for their interests. When your in a minority it costs nothing in votes for politicians, like those in Cheltenham, to use you as a scapegoat.

Paul W

posted by PaulVWatts [111 posts]
6th January 2012 - 10:48

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Why do cyclists want to ride in a pedestrianised area? I don't know Cheltenham town centre well though have had the misfortune to cycle through Cheltenham a couple of times. Why not just dismount and walk? What is the driver (pun intended) for staying on the bike?

Really, though?

posted by workhard [357 posts]
6th January 2012 - 11:45

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workhard wrote:
Why do cyclists want to ride in a pedestrianised area? I don't know Cheltenham town centre well though have had the misfortune to cycle through Cheltenham a couple of times. Why not just dismount and walk? What is the driver (pun intended) for staying on the bike?

Cheltenham is perhaps unusual in that is has a rather long and very wide main shopping street running East-West. A significant length of this is pedestrianised (which is great), but it is also the most direct and easiest route E-W through the centre. The only other alternative is the cycling hostile ring road.

Madly, cycling is permitted on most of this pedestrian zone except for a short section, which of course most cyclists ride through anyway.

Having said that, the problem could I think be solved by developing proper infrastructure, to allow riders to bypass the pedestrian zone if they are travelling through.

posted by don_don [149 posts]
6th January 2012 - 13:17

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this happened in Woking - allegedly the RNIB bused blind people into the town centre the day councillors would taking a tour.

Woking has had a shared space trial for a while with no incidents.. but despite this councillors still voted to stop cycling at certain times...

posted by rootes [39 posts]
6th January 2012 - 13:38

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This is a really interesting issue, which, at Wheels for Wellbeing we know well (www.wheelsforwellbeing.org.uk). We are the voice of disabled and other non-traditional cyclists in London and we understand both sides of the argument. It is very important to remember that there are a lot of disabled cyclists out there (whether they use a standard bike or a trike, handbike etc) for whom the bike is their mobility aid and therefore they cannot dismount and push the bike through a pedestrian area. They also cannot access the shops and other ameneties on offer in the pedetrianised zone without their bike. We are very clear that promoting cycling is of benefit to all and that all cyclists (like scooter riders, wheelchair users, pram pushers etc) must be responsible and aware of the needs of blind & partiallly sighted pedestrians as well as those of deaf pedestrians. Articles and debates like this one help remind us all that pedestrians, cyclists, drivers etc. do not come in one shape or size and we are all the safer for it.

posted by I. Clement [3 posts]
6th January 2012 - 14:33

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