Opinion: Where are the parking spaces for all those who cycle with disabilities?

This article was published in 2020, in Magazine 146.

Robin Heydon (top); The ground floor area of the Cambridge station Cyclepoint is meant to be dedicated to people who are disabled or have cargo bikes, but is always full to the brim with standard cycles

Image as described adjacent
Image as described adjacent

I was cycling along the other day. It was cold with a light drizzle. I was getting slightly damp, and chilly. Of course, the remedy for this is to go a little faster, get the heart racing a little faster, and warm up on the inside.

I readily admit that I’m not the fastest cyclist on the planet. There are plenty of people who have more powerful legs, and less weight to propel along. This means that even on the coldest and dampest of days, even when I’m racing along as fast as my little legs will take me, I will get overtaken by others who don’t even look like they are trying.

The other day, a young woman cycled past me. She didn’t even look like she was trying. Her legs were barely moving. It looked effortless.

She was followed by a young man who didn’t even have any legs. Well, OK, he did have legs, but they were strapped into his wheelchair as he hand cranked himself along after this young woman at a significantly higher speed than I could manage.

Of course, it doesn’t surprise me that young people are fit, and don’t have knees that have been abused for many decades. It doesn’t surprise me either that some people with disabilities can cycle, sometimes with the help of adapted cycles, sometimes on a typical two-wheeler.

You may just see somebody cycling along, but do you notice the walking stick they are also carrying so that when they reach their destination they are still able to walk the last few metres? What about the person who has an electric bike because their legs are too weak to push very hard any more yet don’t want to lose the freedom that cycling has given them over the years? I’m sure you’ve seen some older folks push their cycle along the road, using it to carry their shopping as an alternative to a walking frame.

Recent data I saw showed that one quarter of all disabled people in Cambridge get around using a cycle of some description. For cars, there are dedicated disabled car parking spaces, but there aren’t any disabled cycle parking spaces. Even where such spaces are meant to exist, the people who ‘manage’ those spaces don’t.

Take the central Cambridge station cycle parking. There is a ground floor cycle parking area that is meant to be dedicated to people who are disabled, or who have cargo bikes for ferrying their family around. Yet, it always appears to be full to the brim with the cycles of people who perhaps don’t know that fact. Of course, not all disabilities are immediately apparent. Just because someone looks as if they could push a bike up a ramp doesn’t mean they actually can.

Where is the disabled cycle parking in the city centre? There is none in the Grand Arcade. None on any streets. None at Park Street, or the Grafton Centre.

Given that 25% of people with disabilities in Cambridge use cycles to get around, why do we have no disabled cycle parking spaces anywhere? Doesn’t that feel wrong to you?

Robin Heydon is Chair of Camcycle. This article was first published on 10 February in the Cambridge News and online at cambridge-news.co.uk, where you can read his column each week.

If you cycle with a disability, let us know what issues you experience in and around Cambridge? Are there areas where you’d like to see better parking installed for larger cycles or exclusionary barriers removed? Let us know by emailing contact@camcycle.org.uk.