Cheshire East has listened to calls for a rethink of its outdated Middlewood Way access points in Bollington and Macclesfield, taking action to remove discriminatory barriers.
This single change has immediately opened up easier access to no fewer than 7 miles of uninterrupted off-road path, which is exactly why I made it my prime target for pestering more than a year ago. Writing to several possible contacts, I shared the text online and urged others to do the same.
With so many inaccessible barriers littering our nation’s cycle paths, it can be demoralising making any inroads. Trying to focus very specifically on one very bad barrier, it seems through a combination of factors that we got lucky.
Cheshire East’s first response was that this was perhaps the fourth version of access controls here and that “keeping up with changing requirements is not always easy”. But (and a very big, positive “but” in council world) that they were happy to look again at what alternative could be provided.
True to this word, as I nudged them for action again in January, a remarkable turnaround had happened. As part of a planned minor upgrade to the route at Black Lane in Macclesfield, one of the council’s Active Travel Fund projects, they confirmed it had been agreed the similar metal hoops either side of Brocklehurst Way would be removed. Even better, they were now finalising plans for also including Grimshaw Lane in the improvements.
The removal of this barrier immediately provides a good, if not perfect, 1.1 metre gap between the wooden gatepost and the grass edging (perhaps stretching to 1.4 metres including the grass bump). Sustrans, who manage the National Cycle Network which includes Middlewood Way as part of Route 55, state any barriers should have a clear width of 1.5 metres.
Further work would still be welcome, and may yet be planned, but a barrier gone is a barrier gone. Not just cycles but people using wheelchairs, mobility scooters and pushchairs all now have easier access. Though the small hill is still relatively sharp (this used to be Bollington railway station, with a bridge spanning the road), not having to stop for a barrier makes negotiating it far less difficult.
The Bollington upgrade has also included removing the old “cattle pen” kissing gate to the south of the road, which was more than a little offensive to users and could actually be bypassed just by continuing up the parallel Clough Bank road.
Now, this access has a single bollard. Spacing is disappointing though, measuring only roughly 1 metres each side, confusing given the Sustrans design principles linked above.
Using simply a bollard on a road crossing is refreshingly user-friendly (looking at you, Sett Valley Trail spring-loaded gates), though the crossing itself is still poor with no tactile paving, kerbs with quite a bump and no priority over the road.
This location could now really use a shared parallel zebra crossing, a raised “table” hump or at least something to alert drivers to the existence of the concealed crossing point ahead.
In truth, the narrow bollard gap isn’t an immediate issue as the path to the south (which is itself far too narrow) then soon encounters that incredibly poor zig-zag wooden ramp, which only provides the same width. However, it feels wrong not to be designing for a future where that major barrier doesn’t exist.
The tight zig-zag ramp, where the old railway line was built upon, is a frustrating bottleneck and serious barrier, but is apparently nearly “life expired” and the council is actively looking at what alternative solution is feasible.
Although more generous in dimensions, the worm-like ramps doubling back and forth either side of the Silk Road bridge also likely don’t conform to modern standards.
Still more to come
As noted above, the barriers either side of Brocklehurst Way nearer Macclesfield, highlighted by the council’s cycling and walking champion, should be gone by the end of September.
It’d be as easy as just removing the metal hoops there to have an acceptable access, with some new signage added to the existing wooden posts (which, no joke, originally had side panels to form chicanes around the hoops). The spacing of these posts is roughly 1.5 metres on the left and 1.1 metres on the right.
At some point soon, the Active Travel Fund project, improving where the route currently fizzles out beside Tesco, will see pavements widened to a proper shared use width, creating a better link to the toucan crossing — though in many ways it’ll still be a less than ideal welcome to the town.
Still more to do
Removing the Grimshaw Lane barrier opens up 7 miles of nearly barrier-free access along Middlewood Way. Nearly because, annoyingly, on the other side of Bollington viaduct are two wooden entry points which could still pose a problem.
One of these is 1.1 metres wide but the other is only 80 cm and around a tight right-angle turn. These appear to exist only to ward off equestrians from accessing the viaduct, where horse riding isn’t allowed. Something that could surely just be made clear enough with better signage.
With the old railway line sitting in a cutting for much of the route, the next, rare step-free access isn’t until over four miles further north at Poynton Coppice beside Shrigley Road.
Here I don’t have an exact width for the shameful gap provided, but it is far narrower even than 80 cm and only just wide enough for a road bike’s drop handlebars.
Pushchair, kids trailer, cargo bike, tricycle, heavy e-bike you can’t lift? Sorry, no chance. The adjacent metal kissing gates are narrow, often overgrown and require a key to fully open.
Both are these are definitely something to raise when I thank those involved for the work so far — please do write and help keep the pressure on if you care too!
And then there’s Stockport
North of Middlewood railway station, the trail of course enters the land of Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council. Arriving at Wood Lane, Marple, legitimate users are potentially blocked from accessing the town by a metal A-frame barrier.
To continue just 500 metres to the end of the route at Rose Hill, a further two A-frame barriers must be negotiated.
However, roll back to Torkington Lane and there’s a wide open 1 metre-or-so level gateway to access the road, which may be handy to know and proves how unnecessary the other barriers are.
Earlier this year, Stockport launched a consultation on its Access Controls Policy. This aimed to set in council policy standard design principles for access to off-road paths, despite these already being set out by Sustrans and government guidance, but it left a lot to be desired — as can be read in detail here.
Results from this should’ve been due in the summer with a plan for action on existing barriers, but the whole thing was pushed back until September. I’d like to think this is because they’ve had to work through such a deluge of responses saying “just stop discriminating”, but more likely it’s just another attempt to delay and do nothing. We’ll see this month, perhaps.
So, while Stockport have wasted a year dawdling, Cheshire East officers have listened and acted, shown how easy change can be and pushed the borough towards the right side of history, so well done and thank you to them. The fight goes on but it’s worth fighting, and the motto to remember when encountering an offensive barrier is this: don’t just tut, get typing.
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