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Union Street Cycle Plans ‘disastrous’ for those with disabilities, charity boss warns

Concerns raised over the effect of proposed cycle lanes on disabled Aberdonians

By Josh Pizzuto-Pomaco

Buses on Union Street, on a grey Aberdeen morning.

This is the first in a series on disability access in Aberdeen City Centre. Join us tomorrow for Part Two.

It’s a rainy morning as I enter the offices of Abledeen, one of the Granite City's numerous disability-focused charities.

I’m here to speak to Katrina Michie, Abledeen’s manager.

We sit down on blue leather settees next to two large fish tanks. She offers me coffee.

‘Our whole purpose is to make sure that people with disabilities and any mobility impairment… can get out and about, maintain their lifestyle, be a bit more independent and have some choice,’ Katrina tells me.

Abledeen manager Katrina Michie

According to the 2011 census, 16% of Aberdonians have a ‘long-term illness, health problem or disability’ which limits their work or daily activities. It is these people whom Katrina and others at Abledeen advocate for.

Charity chief hits out at cycle proposals:

You may have seen the shiny new proposals for Union Street cycle lanes, released by the Council last week.

Documents reviewed by The Gaudie show how the plans would effectively divide Union Street into two, with bus stops being on an island between cycles and cars/buses.

Proposed plans to introduce segregated cycle lanes on Union Street

Katrina, who supports the segregated cycle lanes, nevertheless believes the plans pose a safety risk to the people she represents.

‘The cyclists are going to have to bypass the bus stops on the pavement side. Pedestrians will have to cross an active cycle lane to get to the bus stop,’ she explains.

‘The bus stop is then on an island in between an active cycle lane and the carriageway… so you’ve got people corralled on an island in between two sets of moving traffic.’

A rendering of the street layout. Abledeen has taken issue with the bus stop island in the middle of the street.

‘It’s a safety concern,’ Katrina adds. ‘We are worried that people who can’t get out of the way will be forced to go into an active cycle lane…’

‘A better way’ could be possible:

Council officers thought up a number of potential plans, including several which would see segregated cycle lanes along either side of the carriageway.

Despite being judged feasible by officers, these plans were not brought forward to councillors.

Abledeen's preferred option would provide cyclists with segregated lanes while ensuring pedestrians don’t have to cross moving traffic to get to a bus stop.

Abledeen's fleet of motorized wheelchairs at their flagship office in Union Square.

‘The plans are coming from a good place,’ Katrina adds.

‘The Council has recognized that cyclists need to be kept safe. Of course they do. Nobody’s arguing the point there. But it shouldn’t be at the expense of vulnerable people…’

Council poised to approve plans next week-

Campaigners with the Aberdeen Cycle Forum were at the centre of the push for segregated lanes, with many highlighting the dangers of cycling amidst heavy traffic on Union Street.

When the plans were announced earlier this week, SNP Finance convener Alex McLellan said: ‘We are driving forward with creating better public spaces, much needed segregated cycle lanes, as well as improved bus stops.’

Co Council leader Ian Yuill, of the Liberal Democrats, added: ‘Our partnership of Liberal Democrat and SNP councillors is committed to making Aberdeen’s roads safer for cyclists.’

Council officers have laid out a number of factors they say will help mitigate the effect of the plans on disabled individuals.

These include creating wider crossing points near bus stops, installing rumble strips, and ensuring bus islands are big enough to ensure 'comfortable congestion.'

Plans may breach Equality Act-

Yet, Katrina isn't convinced.

The charity chief, who is a member of the Disability Equity Partnership, believes the new lanes may be in violation of the 2010 Equality Act.

‘[Disabled people] are protected under the law. That should be enough. The Council [is] duty bound to not do anything, not to create anything that disadvantages people with protected characteristics. Disability and age are protected characteristics.’

Katrina admits her suggested alternative ‘might be mildly inconvenient for the cyclists.’

Yet, she contends that the current plans are ‘disastrous for people with disabilities.’

The Council's Finance and Resources committee will consider the proposal on 5 July.

It is expected to pass.

Join us tomorrow for more coverage of disability access on Union Street.


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