Disabled cycling through Wandsworth Bridge works

Wheels for Wellbeing have been working with Wandsworth Borough Council and their contractors to improve access for Disabled people, including Disabled cyclists, over Wandsworth Bridge while structural works are ongoing.

Campaigns and Policy Officer Kate took the chance to visit on Friday 28th July to see how things are working on the ground. Her account is of her ride across the bridge:

Signs that times are changing!

I was really pleased to see signs at both ends of the bridge saying “Cyclists dismount unless a mobility aid”. As a Disabled cyclist who can’t walk pushing a bike, it’s great to have this clear message that riding slowly over the bridge using a cycle as a mobility aid is permitted.

These signs help me feel that if I’m challenged about staying on my bike, the people running the site will support me.

Yellow sign with black text that reads "Cyclists Dismount Unless Mobility Aid"
Signs like this improve Disabled mobility options

More good bits…

The permanent drop kerbs which let you on and off the pavements step-free have been kept. The turning circles are a bit tight, but as the carriageway is closed, you can swing as wide as you like to approach, which helps.

The minimum access width is about 1.2m – only checked one way by me. There are a couple of sections where changes in barrier types and barrier feet make the access slightly narrower but it should still be wide enough for most cycles, except for side-by-side tandems.

And the bits that could be better

The surface is pretty uneven in many places – like a lot of London pavements! At walking speed this was manageable for me, but not comfortable. If you get a lot of pain with bumps, this route is likely to be problematic.

The narrowest section has the white raised paint line which divided the old pedestrian and cycle sections of pavement right down the middle. People (like me) riding wider cycles will have to balance right on the ridge of paint- which was difficult even in dry weather. I wouldn’t fancy it in wet or icy conditions. It would be great if contractors could remove the paint line to give a more level, safer surface.

Barriers through bridge works: The path narrows to 1.2m between large concrete blocks with high fencing on either side. There is a white ridge of paint down the middle of the path.
The narrowest section of the route over the bridge

I was still asked to dismount, despite having a wheelchair attached to my bike. The whole thing was resolved in one sentence – and testing this was a big part of the reason I was there! To try and reduce these kinds of access challenges, we’ll talk some more to project managers and try to ensure marshals have understood the guidance around mobility aid cycling. Changing from the standard “cyclists dismount” message to this new, fairer rule that Disabled cyclists can stay mounted through temporary works is going to be a learning curve for everybody.

If I was cycling without my wheelchair attached to the bike (which I often do, if going places where I won’t need to walk more than a few steps), I’d feel more concerned about a marshal challenging me, especially because there’s no nearby alternative route. I’d want to have a copy of the marshals’ guidance with me, either as a printout or on my phone – so here it is in case anyone else feels the same:

Wandsworth bridge guidance for marshals in docx format

Wandsworth bridge guidance for marshals in pdf format

If you need this guidance in a different format, please email info@wheelsforwellbeing.org.uk or contact us via Twitter or Facebook @Wheels4Well

Video of crossing Wandsworth Bridge

In this video I’m riding a Brompton bike with a Swytch e-conversion kit crossing Wandsworth Bridge southbound. My wheelchair is attached to the back of the Brompton which means I’m moving and steering pretty much like a tricycle. I can’t dismount and walk – and I can’t reverse either, so it was really important for me that the bridge access route was wide enough the whole way across!

Video of crossing Wandsworth Bridge in mp4 format

Final thoughts

It’s fantastic that this bridge is open for Disabled cyclists, and the route should be usable for most people, perhaps with some help from the marshals, who were very friendly and approachable.

Riding over the first half of the bridge at walking speed was a real challenge to me due to the narrow space combined with the uphill slope to the middle of the bridge – then the paint line ridge!

If you’re local to the bridge and making a short journey, it’s likely to be your best option for crossing the river, even with the current constraints. For Disabled cyclists coming from further away, my advice would be to plan a route via a different bridge for the duration of these works – unless you (completely understandably) want a look at current best practice for Disabled access through unavoidably narrow temporary works!

Overall, I think this is a great example where expectations of fair access are being developed and ideas of best practice are being improved. Wandsworth have made a small but really important change that shows everyone involved in street works what can be done: Now, we need to see walking-speed access for Disabled cyclists on every scheme!

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