The Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy – what’s in it for disabled cyclists?

This summer, the Department for Transport (DfT) will publish its first Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS). Currently in draft form, the Strategy sets out a number of admirable aims, including doubling cycling by 2025. But in its efforts to raise England’s status as one of the world’s most cycle-friendly nations, has it neglected to consider the needs of disabled cyclists?

In the 48-page draft document, which was published in March, the words ‘disability’ and ‘disabled’ make just four appearances: once in relation to health; twice referring to disabled people as pedestrians. Only a solitary reference is made to disabled people as cyclists. But perhaps we shouldn’t be overly critical. This is only the draft version, after all. And we might even go so far as to commend the DfT for at least mentioning disabled cyclists; something Boris Johnson’s Vision for Cycling (2013) failed to do entirely. Some progress has been made, at least.

Indeed, despite its omissions, the CWIS does include some positives for disabled cyclists. In particular, we were encouraged to see a specific reference to the need to increase awareness of the use of cycles as mobility aids. This is an issue that Wheels for Wellbeing have been campaigning on at length, and it is pleasing to see the DfT finally taking steps to place non-standard cycles on a level playing field with ‘invalid carriages’, such as mobility scooters and wheelchairs. However, we have asked the Department to go further and ensure that there is full, legal recognition of cycles as mobility aids; without proper legal enforcement, those who use their cycle as a mobility aid will continue to face the injustice of being forced to dismount in places where cycles are prohibited. At this stage, the Department’s commitment is little more than tokenistic.

That being said, others positives can be unearthed in the Strategy’s commitment to continue to promote the use of electric cycles. E-cycles are integral to ensuring that cycling is made accessible to all, regardless of ability, and we would welcome greater investment in this area. Not only do e-cycles enable elderly people to stay active in life for longer, but they also provide a form of transport and exercise that is accessible to people who may find cycling easier than walking – such as those with poor balance, frailty or breathing difficulties – or who may be unable to weight-bear. Alongside handcycles, tandems and tricycles, they are a key part of any inclusive cycling strategy.

However, despite these few encouraging signs, it is clear that the CWIS must have greater ambition for disabled cyclists. First, there is infrastructure: cycle routes that adequately meet the needs of disabled cyclists remain few and far between, and there appears to be little consensus amongst policymakers, planners and designers as to what fully inclusive infrastructure should, and does, look like. Second, there is the issue of parking and storage for non-standard cycles (something that is currently non-existent). We have asked the Department to give this serious consideration, with a suggestion to pilot a ‘blue badge scheme’ for oversized and non-standard cycles. The logic is simple: if you know that you’re unlikely to find suitable parking for your non-standard cycle at the end of a journey, then you will be unlikely to undertake that journey in the first place. For more disabled people to want and be able to cycle, standards must first be agreed that ensure the full integration of transport modes; journeys for disabled cyclists must be continuous, unhindered, and accessible every step of the way.

Finally, greater awareness is needed of the fact that disabled people cycle. This might sounds obvious, but it is surprising how little academic research and literature is available on the subject. In light of this, we have asked for more to be commissioned. What’s more, there is a significant lack of images – in policy and design publications – depicting non-standard cycles. If more disabled people are to be encouraged to cycle, then they will need to know that it is possible; that people are already doing it; enjoying it; benefiting from it. Seeing is believing. So we have urged the DfT to create an image bank of non-standard cycles, which should be made available to local authorities for training purposes.

In sum, we remain unconvinced that the CWIS goes anywhere near far enough in promoting the needs of disabled cyclists. We know more disabled people want to cycle. By taking the simple steps outlined above, the DfT will unleash a new cycling revolution, led by disabled cyclists – one not yet fully recognised or realised, but waiting to explode.

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