Let me start by telling a joke…
For anyone that has joined Cycle Bath’s Facebook Group, you will be intimately aware of the work of Bath and North East Somerset’s Public Rights Of Way (PROW) team around Fieldings Bridge and ongoing river path improvement from Locksbrook to The Boathouse pub. For those unfamiliar here’s a quick history.
Fieldings Bridge Part One
- For the last 10 ish years the owner of the car park next to Fieldings Bridge has been asking the PROW team to sort out the correct path and prevent people crossing the car park.
- Bath Spa University bought the Herman Miller building and boarded up the one access route from the river to Fieldings Bridge while they redevelop the site.
- The PROW team then installed a very poor set of concrete steps from the river to the bridge despite numerous calls from people and organisations for a connecting level path.
- Car Park owner now has anyone with a push chair, mobility scooter, bikes, anything wheeled, using the car park and decides enough is enough and fences off the car park.
- After much gnashing of teeth and councillor intervention (Thank you Cllr Doherty!) PROW team eat humble pie and install a connecting level path.
Fieldings Bridge Part Two (ongoing)
- The council approves a significant number of student accommodation to be built on Lower Bristol Road, then the Lidl Retail Park, and the upcoming Bath Spa campus. It also helps develop and build the Two Tunnels which is a major tourist attraction and heavily promoted by Visit Bath. It’s also the beginning of National Cycle Network Route 244 and connects to NCN 4, y’know the Bath to Bristol Railway path and all the way to London.
- The council also publish an award winning Water Study that specifically highlights the issue of overcrowding on this bridge, how much worse it has become and how this bridge urgently needs replacing.
- There have been reports of a number of incidents of people cycling aggressively across Fieldings Bridge and colliding with people walking over it. That’s really sh*t behaviour. There have also been incidents of people blocking people cycling over the bridge and accosting them.
- PROW team removes the advisory Cyclists Dismount signs and replaces them with No Cycling signs. Job Done. Well but forgets to put one on the new level connecting path between river and bridge so any cyclist coming from the river has absolutely no clue that they are now illegally riding over a bridge.
- So now NCN 244 broken. The Two Tunnels Circuit is broken. Any disabled cyclist in a hand cycle can no longer use the bridge. I spoke with Visit Bath yesterday and told them they might need to inform any tourists about this. Sustrans are preparing a response.
Locksbrook River Path (ongoing)
- Notices goes out that the PROW team are going to be upgrading the footpath as it is unusable.
- Being a nosey busy body, I dive in and find out that the new bitmac path width will be 1m wide all the way as there are bits of the path that are that narrow. In parts the path is currently 2.5m wide and heavily used. You can see this due to the usage pattern. In fact I’d say most of it is 2m wide given the amount of smooth clay either side of the new 1m wide tarmac strip.
- I requested that, at a minimum, passing places are put in to allow two mobility scooters to pass each other and am assured that intermittent passing places will be installed.
- No specific intermittent passing places are being installed. The only widening is done where there is a river feature or bench. It’s a nightmare for mobility scooters with 100s of metres without a passing point with a good chance of one of them falling towards the river off the raised tarmac path.
- The PROW team have designed in immense conflict on an exceptionally busy footpath that is impossible to use by somebody in wheelchair. Mobility scooters could not even turn round on it.
We really do have a PROWblem!
So as far as I can work out, the councils PROW team has an immense hatred of cycling and makes sure as little wheel friendly new infrastructure as is legally possible put in place. This shafts wheelchair users, mobility scooters, push chairs, disabled friendly trikes, hand cycles etc. but hey at least you’ve tried to prevent those nasty bi-cyclists from using the FOOTpath.
There is something really wrong with a department that has such a clear anti-disabled bias operating within it. The PROW team should be all about creating wheel friendly infrastructure. Its core principle should be about tackling the social model of disability as part of its work.
The social model of disability is a way of viewing the world, developed by disabled people.
The model says that people are disabled by barriers in society, not by their impairment or difference. Barriers can be physical, like buildings not having accessible toilets. Or they can be caused by people’s attitudes to difference, like assuming disabled people can’t do certain things.
The social model helps us recognise barriers that make life harder for disabled people. Removing these barriers creates equality and offers disabled people more independence, choice and control.
Building 1m wide paths, only building steps, refusing to build level paths, and putting up No Cycling signs on an overcrowded bridge caused by planning decisions made by their own council, shows a department with some very big problems and completely out of touch. I would strongly suggest there is a need for accessibility training.
Prioritise People with Disabilities in all you do
It should not be for the likes of Cycle Bath to point out the obvious need for 4 season wheel friendly infrastructure and the, sometimes, life changing benefits to people with disabilities.
If you want to see a slow car crash in motion, just pop down to Locksbrook and have a look at the new path. Now imagine you’re on a mobility scooter and want to turn around on it. Of course, if you mention this to the PROW team, their response is likely to be “Well you do know it’s a FOOTpath don’t you?”