Aggressive direct action against barriers?

A little while ago I posted my thoughts about unreasonable barriers on cycletrails and why I thought Sustrans were not confronting the issue as squarely as they should.

photo of angle grinder vigilante

Angle Grinder Warrior or Anti-Social Vandal?

I’ve just had a comment on that post from somebody who calls themself F***Off (I’ve masked the offensive word) who says their email address is f*** (you have to give an address to post a comment)

I’ve deleted it of course since I believe in being open about yourself and somebody who hides their identity in such an aggressively rude way should not have a platform but the comment was interesting so I thought it was worth discussing. Here is the actual comment:

“Oh f*** off. If there is crap in your way and it has no reasoned basis to be there, get the bolt cutters/angle grinder out and remove same.”

So FO believes that direct action is the only or most effective answer and I have some sympathy. In some circumstances I have done just that if the opportunity arose. But this particular direct action is absurd unless I was willing to let it take over my life.

I could go out with an angle grinder and destroy cycle gates, however there is a huge number of them all over the country so it would become an all-consuming life’s work, especially as a cordless grinder and battery packs make up a heavy load to pull around on your bicycle and doing it in a car rather defeats the object. The planning and precautions I would need to avoid being caught would also be extremely burdensome. And if I did the barrier cutting in a sloppy way it could cause real danger to people using the cycle trail* That’s the difference between real life and the movies.

Alternatively I could go and carry out a symbolic attack on a few of these barriers near home but that would not actually alter very much, I and others would still face the struggle with the great majority of barriers remaining and the most likely effect is that local authorities would just regard this as mindless vandalism and use it as an excuse to do less for cyclists.

I don’t know what the answer is to this challenge but I guess I’ll keep on complaining and hoping that a critical mass of opinion will build so if there were to be some direct action it would be understood as a moral act by a significant number, not just an occasional crackpot lashing out. Where public support has accrued to direct action it is usually because a large number of normally reasonable people have decided to become unreasonable in support of a recognisably reasonable cause.

*In case you think this is just good old “health and safety gone mad” I should mention that somebody I know, while riding along a cycle trail in twilight, struck a difficult to see obstacle (quite a large boulder placed there by the authorities but blending in with the background) and ended up in hospital with head injuries that lasted for some time and could have had lasting conseqeunces. Something equally nasty could happen if you left part of a metal barrier sticking out of the ground, especially with a sharp cut edge. Afterwards a group of cyclists took direct action and painted that boulder white and I was pleased to lend a hand.

2 Responses to “Aggressive direct action against barriers?”

  1. Jeff Frost Says:

    FO’s idea feels good from a knee-jerk reaction perspective. But notice the last part of that word is JERK. Doing something like that would only create problems.
    If a large organised action was to be undertaken, so that hundreds of these barriers were removed in one giant act of civil disobedience, then it might be a very good idea, as it would bring the issue to wider attention. But removing a few would only be seen as a bit of vandalism, and hurt the cause.

    We have these barriers here in southern Ontario too, and they are a pain. But the biggest problem is that these trails are part of an active effort to move cycling into a pastoral past time rather that actual transit. These paths are something you drive in your car to, then slowly ride stopping frequently at every intersection and road crossing, then get back in your car. And of course it puts the cyclists out of view, thus reducing the visibility of cycling, reducing the political power of cyclists. Wider shoulders on roads, or even proper bike lanes and segregated bike roads within cities are far more valuable to the average cyclist, then these trails, with their intentional limited access.

  2. Simon Geller Says:

    You can do worse than go to Derby to see how cycle routes can be properly designed and maintained in the UK. Despite going through clearly not the most salubrious parts of the city, the Sustrans bike routes are direct, wide enough for all users, don’t have barriers, aren’t covered with broken glass or other litter, aren’t infested with off-road motorcyclists and are a pleasure to ride. Having met some of the people involved with building and maintaining them I would say that this has been brought about through a combination of an enlightened attitude on the part of the local authority, an enthusiastic volunteer force, pro-active paid Sustrans staff, and what is probably the most important aspect, community involvement and a sense of “ownership” of the paths. Cycling through yesterday I felt that I could almost be in Holland, except that the paths are shared use, so you would occasionally have to slow down for a family group ambling along. I’ve put some pix of my ride to Ingleby up at

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