Inclusive Cycle Infrastructure Guide: Planting & Vegetation Management

Introduction to planting and vegetation:

All types of plants, from grasses and wildflowers to scrubland, shrubs and trees are valuable and necessary. We all benefit from living amongst growing plants.

Well-designed green infrastructure helps to provide shelter in windy, hot or cold weather, reduces flooding, cleans water and air, provides us with food and pleasant places to be and provides habitats for thousands of other species.

Spaces without sufficient, well-designed planting are often inaccessible due to extreme temperatures, flooding, air pollution or obstruction from plant overgrowth.

We need to include planting in all active travel designs.

We must ensure that all planting near active travel routes is well designed and well maintained for accessibility.

At Wheels for Wellbeing we’re releasing a series of guidance sheets for local authorities, NGOs, other organisations involved in decisions about walking, wheeling and cycling schemes and for anyone with an interest in active travel infrastructure. Hopefully, these guidance sheets will help explain the reasoning behind different aspects of accessible infrastructure design.

These guidance sheets are aligned with our Guide to Inclusive Cycling (5th edition due autumn 2023). They may be printed, electronically distributed or quoted provided credit is given to Wheels for Wellbeing.

Download the planting and vegetation management guidance sheet as a Word document

Download the planting and vegetation management guidance sheet as a pdf

Planting design and maintenance for inclusive spaces:

Useful design principles:

  • Include planting in all active travel schemes. Sustainable drainage options are especially important.
  • Design so that mature planting will not encroach on paths or sight lines including for people on low recumbent cycles, including if weeds (e.g. brambles) grow, intentionally or otherwise.
  • Consider factors such as toxicity, thorns, pollen, leaf size and fruits when placing species close to paths.

Useful maintenance principles:

  • Plan maintenance schedules so:
    • New growth is always cut back before it begins to narrow paths, especially at pinch-points and accesses. Consider growth rates carefully!
    • Seasonal leaf clearance is carried out promptly.
  • Monitor health of planting and ensure succession is built-in, for example consider planting new trees in avenues well before original trees need to be felled.
  • Check path surfaces regularly for root damage and have repair options ready.
  • Ensure everyone with responsibility for vegetation maintenance near paths, including private owners, understands these principles of access maintenance.

Planting 1:

Google Streetview screenshot shows attractive road of Victorian terraced houses with many young street trees and borders of low shrubs on the carriageway between on-street parking bays.

Well-designed planting is critical in developing attractive, climate-resilient places.

A wheelchair user and a child on a push scooter are just managing to squeeze down a narrow path between large privet hedges. The hedges are neatly cut but overhang the path almost to the point that the path is unusable.

Poor design and maintenance obstruct access & sight lines & can cause punctures: Plants must not overhang paths at any time in their growth.

Diagram shows a green overgrown bush on the left, a bush that has been cut back on the right and a path between the two. Labels show how the left hand bush should be cut to produce the correctly-cut right hand bush. Descriptions state that the plants should be cut back as far as possible behind the path edge to a minimum height of 2.7m

Cutting hedges next to paths and pavements

Legal & guidance position:

Equality Act (2010):

These duties are anticipatory: it is a legal requirement that reasonable adjustments to make a space accessible for Disabled people must be undertaken without any Disabled person having to ask for them.

Section 20: Requires those responsible for a space to anticipate and make reasonable adjustments to enable Disabled people access with no substantial disadvantage compared to non-Disabled people. This explicitly includes including altering and removing physical features which would otherwise exclude Disabled people.

It is not permitted to require a Disabled person to go a longer way around, ask for assistance or traverse a space much more slowly than a non-Disabled person would have to due to a physical barrier that could be removed.

Section 149 Public Sector Equality Duty: Requires public authorities to advance equality of opportunity for all people with protected characteristics, including Disabled people.

This goes beyond removing and minimising disadvantages, and additionally includes taking steps to promote equality by actively enabling Disabled people to participate in public life and activities, especially where Disabled participation is disproportionately low (e.g. active travel).

Cycle Infrastructure Design LTN 1/20:

Core design principles: “Networks and routes should be Coherent; Direct; Safe; Comfortable and Attractive”.

Summary principle 13: “As important as building a route itself is maintaining it properly afterwards.”

Access needs maintenance:

A traffic-free tarmac path is shown with a rising grass slope to the left and a wooden post and rail fence to the right. There is a concrete bollard about 1m high in the middle of the path. The white paint on the bollard is badly worn so the bollard is hard to see. The path edges have not been cleared for some time, so the left hand side of the path is deep with leaf mould while nettle and cow parsley has grown beyond the fence line on the right. In this early-spring photo, the cow parsley is not yet fully obstructing the right hand side of the path.

Insufficient maintenance narrows path to <75cm either side of a bollard. Spring growth on right of path will close the wider access within 8-12 weeks unless cut.

Well-designed planting between carriageways and active travel routes protects people from vehicle danger, dust and spray while keeping sight lines open.

References/Further reading/Resources:

  1. Equality Act (2010):
  2. LTN 1/20 Cycle infrastructure design:
  3. Wheels for Wellbeing Guide to Inclusive Cycling (4th edition, 2020):

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