Benefits of Good Infrastructure

Isabelle Clement speaks out, in the Guardian, for disabled cyclists

Objectors to new bike routes in London and elsewhere often cite the needs of people with disabilities. They’ve missed the point

Whenever bike infrastructure is debated, it’s never very long before someone objects by saying: “But what happens to people with disabilities if you build cycle lanes?” They have forgotten one very important thing: a lot of disabled people cycle, and benefit even more than most from quick, safe cycle routes.

Such arguments are seen around the country, but are particularly prominent right now in London, with a new mayor being elected next week, and where objectors to proposed cycle superhighways say these will harm disabled people, “who are reliant on their cars”.

They, and others, simply assume disabled people cannot and do not cycle, meaning cyclists and disabled people have opposing needs and agendas. But the premise is wrong.

By Transport for London’s own reckoning, around 15% of disabled people in London actively cycled for transport in 2014, compared to 18% of non-disabled people.

By this measure, you could be forgiven for thinking that disabled cyclists must be well represented in London’s cycling policy. But here you would also be wrong.

If Boris Johnson’s 2013 Vision for Cycling is anything to go by, it is clear that much more needs to be done to improve the visibility of London’s disabled cycling community. Visual images representing cyclists often depict competition and sport rather than mobility, utility and transport, and fail to include the variety of trikes, handbikes, tandems and tag-alongs which can make cycling a possibility whatever your impairment. The mayor’s follow-up document last month, Human Streets, showed little change on this.

We had a little jig in the Wheels for Wellbeing office, however, when we read in the recently published Department for Transport’s draft cycling and walking investment strategy. “We will also work to increase awareness of the use of cycles as a mobility aid,” it said. Things might at last be starting to get through, and high time too.

We were thrilled because a change in attitudes is crucial at this point, when increasing numbers are using the supposed views of all disabled people to object to cycle infrastructure, like the planned new cycle superhighways in London. We have seen this recently in letters to London newspapers about the new bike routes, and comment pieces by the likes of Janet Street-Porter.

In fact, many find cycling easier and safer than walking. Disabled and elderly people have the most to gain from cycling becoming a safer active transport option, as they exercise the least and are most at risk of additional health complications.

Cycling provides door to door transport. It can be done solo or in tandem and if cycles are recognised as mobility aids, just like mobility scooters or wheelchairs, we can mix and match cycling with getting on the tube and other modes of transport. Perfect! I myself discovered cycling in my mid-30s and have never looked back.

More than this, anything which brings a reduction in the numbers of cars will improve the walking, driving and breathing experiences of disabled and older people, as it will all for pedestrians, cyclists and people living along the proposed routes.

The majority of Londoners are currently excluded from cycling in London, not because they are physically unable to ride a bike or trike, but because the road conditions favour the fit and the brave. Creating wide cycle tracks, and removing the need to cycle alongside buses and lorries will give new opportunities for active travel for us all.

I was able to experience the comfort of some of the new cycle superhighways. What a contrast to the general stress of fighting drivers for a bit of space!

In the run up to the London election on 5 May, Wheels for Wellbeing is campaigning to raise the voice of disabled cyclists in London: we want cycles to be recognised as mobility aids; cycling infrastructure to be fully inclusive; and for disabled Londoners to have access to local inclusive cycling hubs where they can find information, outdoor sessions and specialised cycles.

We will also be working with other disability groups to make sure the needs of disabled pedestrians and cyclists are not pitched against each other. Instead we will aim to find shared solutions which can be used by planners and policy makers.

We believe London can become the most inclusive and accessible city in the world, where disabled people can choose from a range of integrated transport options. We know that more disabled Londoners can and do want to cycle; given the right opportunities, resources and support and a willing mayor in 2016, they will.

Isabelle Clement – Director of Wheels for Wellbeing

As Director of Wheels for Wellbeing and an urban commuter handcyclist, Isabelle has extensive experience of what it takes to create the right environment so that everyone can cycle. She has initiated #BeyondTheBicycle, an alliance with parent cyclists and cargo cyclists who encounter many of the same issues as disabled & older cyclists. She aims to bring an understanding of cycling to disability groups and of disability to cycling groups.

Wheels for Wellbeing works with 1,300 disabled and older people per year in South London, supporting them to discover that they can cycle and helping them grow their cycling ambitions. They have drafted key principles of inclusive cycling infrastructure and cycling policy. They work with cycling campaigners & professionals so they realise disabled people do cycle and fight to see Inclusive Cycling becoming the norm in the UK.

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