‘Cycle around Cambridge and you’ll see upright city bikes and hybrids, tricycles and four-wheeled cargo bikes. What may be surprising is that many of these machines are used as mobility aids: more than a quarter of disabled people’s commutes here are by bike’. So wrote Laura Laker,in the GUARDIAN on the 2nd January 2018:
What is not generally realised however, is that many cyclists are disabled in a way not obvious to the casual observer. With an ageing global population, transport experts are increasingly coming to appreciate the value of cycling in helping people with disabilities move around our towns and cities independently. A sort of ‘walking stick with wheels’. It has been estimated that around 40% of cyclists with a measure of disability ride a standard two wheeled cycle, this figure is likely to have grown significantly with the burgeoning growth in the sales of ebikes in recent years.
“Getting around Cambridge on a trike is fantastic for me,” says Joanna Crosby, who has scoliosis, which affects her balance. “I can put all my shopping in the back of it and just go. Although I have tried a two-wheeler, I never got the hang of it. I saw this lovely Pashley tricycle and saw it was the way to go.”
Rachel Aldred reader in transport at the University of Westminster, having researched barriers to disabled cycling, believes that the major determinant of how many disabled people cycle to work is how levels of broader cycling are within that area. In Cambridge for example where 26% of disabled people’s commutes are by bike, cycling’s total share of trips to work is 32% – the highest of any city in Britain.
In cities with low overall cycle commuting levels of 0.4 or 0.5%, the figure for disabled cycle commutes would typically be just 0.2%. “I think that shows you there’s not some inherent limitation [for disabled cyclists],” she says. “It depends on how cycling-friendly the places are in general.” In Cambridge cycling has a modal share of 32% in relation to other modes of transport
Cycling facilities are built on the assumption that cyclists possess all normal faculties in full, such as seeing clearly, standing upright, and walking without difficulty. Whereas some can barely stand or walk a few paces, and others need to proceed with caution due to, for example, tunnel vision, brittle bones, neurological or cardio vascular conditions that inhibit normal functioning.
Part of the problem is that most urban infrastructure is built by able-bodied engineers, who may not realise that bollards, speed bumps, kerbs and steps can be insurmountable for disabled cyclists. In terms of infrastructure they judge the coherence and utility from a static perspective, with little regard to the dynamics of cycling velocity and motion. Impacts that may be of little importance to a pedestrian, may be life changing trauma for even the fittest and most observant of cyclists
“Cycling facilities are built on the assumption we can all stand up,” says Isabelle Clement of Wheels For Wellbeing. “That cyclists all ride on two wheels, that we can all lift our cycles, can carry our gear … otherwise how can we get over the steps on that bridge?”
Shared space – where pedestrians, cars and cyclists interact – can be difficult for visually impaired pedestrians and disabled cyclists. As Dr Jamie Wood, a biology lecturer at the University of York, explains: “I find shared space with pedestrians very intimidating as a disabled cyclist. I end up stopping in very random places and find it very difficult to get going again.”
“I would urge every town and city to have at least one inclusive cycling hub,” says Clement. “That is the entry route to cycling for many disabled people and it’s a very clear signal by cities saying, ‘We believe that we should invest some of our public resources, in partnership with others, to ensure people have the option of cycling.’”
Cycling imagery and language often excludes disabled cyclists, say campaigners. Better representation, along with “disabled cyclists permitted”, or “cycles as mobility aids permitted” signage in otherwise non-cycling areas would help raise the profile of disabled cycling. That said, cycling with a companion, disabled or otherwise, is widely appreciated and sometimes essential. So if cycling is prohibited the reasons need to be publicly stated and the evidence available for inspection and challenged when appropriate.