Redesigning and removing access control barriers can have a huge positive impact on active travel, accessibility and how people view public spaces. With that in mind, Sustrans temporarily removed access barriers at two sites in London to improve access for everyone. As part of the research project, we removed a set of barriers at an underpass in a residential area in Bermondsey and a barrier in a suburban park in Sutton.

The changes made to the sites as part of the research project were made in line with London Cycle Design Standards.

We undertook perception surveys with local residents and route users at both sites to find out what effects the barrier removal had on the community.

Following the redesign work, the site saw a significant increase in active travel and a substantial increase in cycling.

At both sites removing barriers created accessible routes, which opened them up to a wider group of users. This led to an increase in the number of people using the route.

Sustrans worked with members of the charity, Wheels for Wellbeing, at both sites to understand the impact of access control barriers on people who have disabilities.
Local perceptions of the routes changed for the better.

After the barriers were taken down, people viewed the routes as safer and thought the changes had helped to reduce antisocial behaviour.

Site one: Stevenson Crescent, London

The barriers underneath the road bridge on the site in Bermondsey were originally put in place to stop through traffic.

The original layout consisted of two barriers at the entries of the underpass.

Each was formed of staggered railings across the width of the street with a one metre gap between the railings to enable access.

In its previous form, people on cycles had to stop and dismount to negotiate the barriers. People who were walking were required to leave the footpath and enter the cycle route.

When Sustrans got to work on the site, the barriers were removed and replaced with a much more open layout which also included bollards to prevent cars from entering the site.

The redesign puts people who walk, wheel and cycle in the area at the forefront of the design.

Motorcycle speed humps were also introduced at the site, with the aim of deterring illegal moped and scooter users.

During a consultation the community had suggested illegal mopeds and scooters using this route as a cut through was a long-term issue.

Following the removal of the barriers lots of positive feedback was recorded by Sustrans.

One resident said: “I walk though it more than I walk around now.

"It’s much friendlier on the eyes, and now we have our own space to walk in.”

Another resident commented: “As someone who cycles and an impaired user, I find the changes incredibly helpful, removing obstacles and shortening the length of distance travelled.”

Site two: Watercress Park, London

We redesigned a spiral barrier at Watercress Park in Sutton which forms part of the Wandle Trail, a 12.5-mile route through green spaces and residential streets.

The barrier, which was initially installed by Sustrans, acted as both a piece of artwork along with the aim of deterring illegal moped and scooter users from accessing the route.

Initial consultation showed that illegal moped and scooter users were causing a problem in the area.

Despite the intentions of the barrier, it also prevented wheelchair users, people with pushchairs and people on cycles.

Users had to navigate a curved pathway which was one metre in diameter.

Sustrans and members of Wheels for Wellbeing tested a range of disability cycles at the spiral barrier to understand the impact on accessibility before removal.

These included a hand-cycle, two single person trikes, a two-person trike, and an adapted folding bike.

The barrier created a clear obstacle for each of these cycles.

The barrier was then redesigned to enable access for more users.

The chicane feature of the barrier was removed and the entrance to the route was widened to one and a half metres.

Following the redesign, feedback proved increased accessibility for all disabled users - due to the increased space and unrestricted access.

Following the changes, a larger shift in walking was recorded in the area.

A 55% increase in cycling and a 12% increase in all users was also recorded.

Key findings from both sites:

  • A 20% increase in users was recorded across both sites.
  • 64% of survey respondents said that they were more encouraged to use the space, and so had been using it more frequently.
  • 57% of respondents stated that the barrier removal had had a positive impact on the area, and no respondents stated that it had had a negative impact.
  • 100% of respondents felt that changes increased accessibility for all users.
  • Survey respondents indicated that the removal of the barriers led to increased footfall and a reduction in antisocial behaviour.
Blockquote quotation marks
Removing the barrier brought the community together. It connects people from each side of the road and brings them together. Blockquote quotation marks
A Stevenson Crescent resident

Improving accessibility and the perception of social safety

Barrier redesign on both sites in the city saw an increase in the number of people using the open spaces.

An increase in use by people using cycles and people who walk saw a positive change in people’s perception of safety in the two areas.

The changes made to each site improved accessibility for all, including people who use mobility aids, wheelchairs, adapted cycles, people with pushchairs, or those using a cycle that’s larger than a standard bike.

Our report concluded that managing authorities and designers should work in the presumption that cycle routes should be barrier-free and open access for all legitimate route users.

But when putting barriers in place is necessary and there is very clear evidence for doing so, then delivering benefits to legitimate users and accessible routes for disabled users should take priority.

Going forwards, authorities should review existing physical barriers on walking and cycling networks, and when physical barriers have an impact on accessibility, they should be removed or adapted.