This article was published in 2016, in Newsletter 129.
Camcycle’s belief that cycling should be for all is a driving force behind our pursuit of the highest standard of Dutch-quality infrastructure. Not only do we work towards our cycling vision for Cambridge, scrutinising and holding planning applications and consultations to account, but we also participate in the wider national landscape.
Disability and the built environment inquiry
To this end Camcycle joined over 150 individuals and organisations in submitting evidence evidence to the ‘Disability and the built environment inquiry’, set up by the Women and Equalities Committee of the House of Commons. This aims to explore the needs of different stakeholders with reduced mobility, including those with permanent physical disability, mental health concerns or simply those of an increasingly ageing population.
Our response highlighted key points that must be considered in infrastructure design. A built environment that caters for safe cycling helps promote independent living for people with disabilities who walk, cycle, or use an electric-powered mobility aid by expanding significantly the area in which people can travel under their own power.
Protected cycle lanes
The main requirement to enable cycling for a wider demographic is protected cycle lanes and junctions, separated from both pedestrians and motor vehicles. In contrast, on-road cycle lanes discourage all but the fastest and bravest from cycling, removing options from those who would like to cycle but not in traffic. Many more people cycle, both in number and in demographic range, in countries which provide protected cycle lanes, and at junctions separate cycling movements from motor vehicle ones.
Cycling should be separated from walking: pedestrians do not like sharing with people cycling, any more than people cycling want to use the road. Vulnerable pedestrians, such as those who are slower or less stable or have sight impairments, are likely to be particularly alarmed to have people cycling next to them, and are less likely to walk in such environments. Shared-use paths often give up at junctions, and do not provide priority for crossing minor side roads, as someone cycling on the road would have.
Shared space, which we take to mean spaces without demarcations between walking, cycling and motor vehicles, are unsuitable for all but the quietest roads. Cul-de-sacs and other routes with no through motor traffic can be quiet enough for people to feel confident cycling with motor vehicles, but as soon as the level of traffic is increased, people cycling must feel protected from traffic, or they will not cycle.
In Poynton, Cheshire, shared space has been introduced on major through-routes. It has lower-than-average levels of walking and cycling even in the UK context, which shared space has done nothing to alleviate, nor has it widened participation. There are concerns that it has in fact made the built environment even more hostile to vulnerable users.
Providing for all kinds of cycles
Although some people with impaired mobility can use a standard or minimally-adapted bicycle, for others a tricycle, handcycle, tandem or recumbent cycle is necessary to be able to cycle. It is essential that facilities providing for cycling cater for all types of cycle, or they risk preventing cycling by those groups with fewer options. For example:
- chicanes or narrowly-spaced bollards on cycle routes will prevent use by non-standard cycles used as mobility aids
- requirements to dismount make cycling very much harder for those who struggle to walk.
- sharp turns should be avoided: tricycles are at risk of tipping over if required to make sudden turns, while longer bicycles have a greater turning circle
- transition kerbs must be dropped or flush, and should be safe to approach at a shallow angle.
The market for electric-assisted cycles in other parts of Europe has greatly expanded, enabling people to cycle later in life, and to cycle further and in hillier environments. Where people are used to cycling in a safe environment, they often like to continue cycling as they become less physically able, maintaining independence while still getting regular moderate exercise. In October the government announced measures to subsidise and support electric cars, motorbikes and scooters, while ignoring electric-assisted cycles. It is a huge oversight to support use of some electric vehicles on emissions grounds, while excluding from consideration those vehicles which have no emissions and also enable riders to maintain some level of physical activity.
Mobility scooters and cycle-only lanes legislation
Class 3 invalid carriages are not permitted to use cycle-only lanes. This is not the case in the Netherlands, where it is common to see people on mobility scooters using cycle paths alongside people cycling. The top speed of 8mph of a class 3 invalid carriage is incompatible with pedestrian spaces, but far too slow to be comfortable and safe using the road: using cycle infrastructure would enable faster journeys for those using mobility scooters. An environment designed properly for cycling, with wide lanes, smooth surfaces and transitions with dropped and flush kerbs, is ideal for use by mobility scooters as well.
Cycling is part of the solution to problems of congestion, air quality, health and transport independence, but only if we build an environment for cycling which is comprehensive, inclusive and makes people feel safe. The alternative is the situation much of England and Wales finds itself in today, where, as a result of poor infrastructure, cycling is largely excluded as an option from everyone except the fast and fit.
We would love to hear from anyone who would like to volunteer for the Campaign with a particular interest in cycling with mobility impairment and/or cycling on non-standard cycles.
London-based charity Wheels for Wellbeing promotes cycling for people with disabilities, and can provide further information on how to enable cycling for everyone. Its manifesto for inclusive cycling policy ‘Beyond the Bicycle’ was launched in July 2016. www.wheelsforwellbeing.org.uk
You Can Bike Too is a Cambridge-based organisation which operates out of Milton Country Park with over 20 adapted bikes and a team of Wheels for All instructors and volunteers. Contact Ruth Brannan firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. www.miltoncountrypark.org/ycbt/