Motorcycle Barriers on Canals

Motorcycle barriers on canal towpaths and on off-road cycle routes around Birmingham are an issue that causes frustration for Push Bikes members and campaigners. They cause a lot of inconvenience to people riding common cycles, and are often impassable to people riding tricycles or recumbents, or towing a trailer. At the bi-annual Canal and River Trust (CRT) West Midlands Users group meeting, on 21st April 2015, we heard from Ian Darby who works for CRT and is running a Motorcycle Barrier Project.

In the West Midlands there are about 125 motorcycle barriers (MCBs) of which Ian estimated often only 50% are operational at any one time. It is very time consuming to continually repair these MCBs, and pulls CART's resources away from other projects. CRT receives a lot of complaints about MCBs, both asking CART to take them out and asking them to put them in, and there are also issues with getting them to comply with the Equalities Act while still retaining effectiveness as barriers for motorcycles.

Most interestingly though, he addressed an easy to make assumption that most people have: If you see an MCB and a motorcycle-free stretch of tow path, then it is natural to assume that the tow path is motorcycle free because of the existence of the MCB. This, however, is not true - the majority of the repairs to MCBs that CRT have to carry out are at the same locations. The people who want to ride their motorcycles on those stretches of canal are also willing to wreck barriers put up to prevent them, and MCBs are wrecked as quickly as they are fixed.

The solution to this problem is complex, and will involve co-ordination between CRT, local councils and the local police to effectively discourage motorcycle use through blocking off destinations they are travelling to, locating barriers where they are overlooked and less attractive to damage, and through targeted policing. But it should not require all the MCBs that we currently have across the canals in the West Midlands, and I am hopeful that we can get many more of these locked open or removed entirely over the next few years.