Access for all on the ‘Floop’
THERE’S a quiet revolution going on behind the tall trees and grassy slopes of the Fallowfield Loop cycle and walking path.
Until recently this traffic-free route which skirts around South Manchester had frequent railings and bollards, a typical feature of converted railway tracks up and down the country. But in the last few weekends, right along the eight-mile path, they’ve been open.
Back in the 80s and 90s when the charity Sustrans started to upgrade paths like these to cycle and walking routes up and down the country local authorities often stipulated barriers to discourage anti-social behaviour from motorbikes and scooters who use them illegally as a race track.
The reality is they also obstruct a group of people who would particularly benefit from using the path.
Many people with disabilities use converted bicycles, trikes or self-propelled wheelchairs to maintain fitness and independence, but often roads are not suitable or pleasant and some traffic-free paths are blocked by railings and bollards.
Mobility scooters, larger three-wheeler family bicycles, tandems or non-motorised trade vehicles are also restricted.
At the same time the barriers are never really effective in preventing determined motorbike riders getting on the paths. The sustainable transport charity Sustrans works to remove barriers, both real and perceived, to cycling and walking.
Over the last few months, with clearance from the Council and Police, Sustrans volunteers and the Friends of the Fallowfield Loop trialled opening up the barriers right along the length of the ‘Floop’ every weekend to encourage non-motorised vehicles of all sizes to use the path.
There are still railings at access points to the roads to put off the motorbikes, but once you are on it, you don’t need to stop to navigate through fencing and bollards.
Sustrans hopes to attract more people on bicycles regularly and spread the word to those who haven’t been able to use the path in the past.
Perhaps as everyone who wants to freewheel down this lovely treelined lane will now be able to get their bikes and scooters through, it will become a vibrant accessible transport corridor like we see in many of London’s parks.
The route would be busier, more people will use it to commute and there would be less opportunity for anti-social behaviour.
It’s already worked on other paths in Wales where communities removed barriers, so why not in Manchester?
This summer Sustrans and the Friends of the Fallowfield Loop will run a three-month trial opening of the barriers throughout the weeks of May 22 to August 21.
There will be a series of led bike rides and walks to celebrate the Floop’s new-found freedom. Just take a look at pictures of Copenhagen or Amsterdam and you’ll begin to see the exciting potential of traffic-free paths like this one.
You don’t necessarily need a car to get around if you have a disability or a family, but you do need more choices of bicycles, and a path without barriers.
Sustrans is a charity which created the National Cycle Network and works to help more people cycle, walk or use public transport for short journeys.
For more information look up www.sustrans. org.uk or check out local updates on www. facebook.com/ sustransnorthwest.
Find out more about opening up barriers on your local cycle route by looking up the Friends of the Fallowfield Loop’s feasibility study online.
●● A family cycling with a trailer