Wheels for Wellbeing

This article was published in 2017, in Newsletter 135.

24 October 2016

Navigating London streets on a trike
Image as described adjacent

For our October monthly meeting we had special guest visitors, Isabelle Clement, who directs the Wheels for Wellbeing charity based in South London, and her colleague Alex Ingram.

The charity’s mission is to enhance disabled people’s lives by ensuring that anyone can access the physical, emotional, practical and social benefits of cycling. At one end of the scale that means helping people at an individual level to find the best approach, to figure out which cycle suits them best, to overcome barriers and reach a happy outcome. At the other end, standards need to be written and schemes need to be designed to enable inclusive cycling and access for all, whether it be on the street, within cycle parks or at homes, workplaces and shops.

Encompassing the whole range, Wheels for Wellbeing seeks a positive shift in social attitudes that fosters the values of independent mobility, and of being inclusive and accessible to all people regardless of ability or age. It is a user-led charity with practical experience helping people to discover the joy of cycling as well as participating in consultations that produce engineering guidance for inclusive cycling in new developments and road schemes.

Isabelle cycles along the recently widened shared cycle way between Jesus Green and Midsummer Common
Image as described adjacent

Isabelle made the most of her visit to Cambridge. She was interviewed on Cambridge 105 radio where she talked about her experience using a wheelchair in London: dealing with bumpy, obstructed and inconsistent pavements. Obtaining a hand-cycle allowed her to take to the smoother road and the newer protected cycling infrastructure being built in London, giving her a great deal more freedom to move around the city at will. Her organisation’s goal is to offer that same opportunity to every person, no matter their ability.

Her visit also provided the opportunity to bring a discussion group together at the Guildhall to talk about these issues, with participation from the city council, Camcycle, and You Can Bike Too. The topics ranged from the need for cycle parking standards that suit adapted cycles, developing maps that show inclusive cycle routes that can be safely traversed without barriers, finding ways to offer hire cycles in different shapes and sizes, and working together with other like-minded charities in the area.

Isabelle’s presentation at our monthly meeting that evening started with the music video ‘Beyond the Bicycle Anthem’ (vimeo.com/235095500) and then she busted various myths:

Myth 1: ‘Disabled people do not cycle’.

A Transport for London survey found that in London 15% of people with disabilities sometimes use a cycle to get around, not that different from the percentage of able-bodied people (18%) who cycle.

In Cambridge, census surveys have reported that 1 in 4 commuters with a disability were cycling to work.

Myth 2: ‘If you can’t ride a bicycle then you can’t cycle’.

In their survey, 25% reported owning a hand-cycle, 19% a recumbent, and 13% a tricycle.

Myth 3: ‘All disabled cyclists use an adapted cycle’.

In fact, 1 in 2 disabled cyclists are able to ride a bicycle, and in some cases do not show any outward signs of disability (though fatigue, pain, or weakness, etc might mean that inaccessible cycling infrastructure could stop them from cycling).

Myth 4: ‘If you cycle then you’re not disabled’.

Wheels for Wellbeing conducted a nationwide survey earlier this year and found that 69% of the people who responded and reported a form of disability said that cycling was easier than walking.

Myth 5: ‘You need two hands and two feet to cycle’.

Many amputees cycle, but being forced to dismount and/or carry a cycle may be impossible.

Myth 6: ‘Issues regarding non-standard cycles relate exclusively to disabled cyclists’.

Cycles which are meant for family, cargo or freight purposes often face the same problems because they are wider, longer, and have a larger turning circle.

Wheels for Wellbeing is putting together the ‘Beyond the Bicycle’ manifesto and coalition to highlight these shared issues faced by users of adapted cycles, family-friendly cycles and cargo-cycles.

Achieving fully inclusive cycling environments is crucial for disabled cyclists but is also very important for families and traders who cycle. Wheels for Wellbeing is very keen to convey the message that where disabled cyclists can go, everyone else can too.

Squeezing a trike between Sheffield racks
Image as described adjacent

Alex then spoke about his work with the charity responding to consultations and translating the values into concrete changes in the way authorities build cycling infrastructure and developers build cycling facilities.

Wheels for Wellbeing had input into the relatively recent Highways England Interim Advice Note 195/16 to help formalise the fair treatment of a diversity of types of cycle and to establish the ‘cycle design vehicle’ standard. This document is an amendment to the Design Manual for Roads and Bridges and is now used for designing new non-motorised user infrastructure in all Highways England projects. Other efforts include work alongside Transport for London to create design standards for inclusive cycle parking.

The charity is also exploring the development of some kind of ‘blue badge scheme’ for disabled cyclists. This is because, unlike disabled drivers, disabled cyclists currently have no way of proving that they use their cycle as a mobility aid and need to park very close to their destination (or may not be able to dismount in pedestrian environments such as station concourses, shopping precincts, etc).

A blue badge-type scheme could, for example, be required to keep the larger cycle parking spaces available for users who need them. This is in discussion and Wheels for Wellbeing would be very happy to receive people’s thoughts on how to make this work nationally.

Wheels for Wellbeing seeks a positive shift in social attitudes that fosters the values of independent mobility

Increasingly, Wheels for Wellbeing is working on issues of national importance, no longer limited to the London context. For example, there is a need for more recognition of the importance of cycling as a mobility aid, on a par with wheelchairs and mobility scooters. Also, it will be pushing for cycling infrastructure to be opened up (which it isn’t currently) to all mobility aids.

In the Netherlands, users of mobility scooters are free to take full advantage of the numerous high-quality cycleways in the cities and countryside, and often do so.

‘Wheels for Wellbeing is an award-winning charity that supports disabled people of all ages to enjoy the benefits of cycling. We do this by running drop-in cycling sessions across south London with our fleet of cycles and our team of dedicated instructors and volunteers. We also increasingly campaign for the recognition and removal of barriers to cycling for disabled people nationwide.’
Introduction to ‘Beyond the Bicycle’ manifesto’

But in Britain the law has perversely restricted mobility scooters from using cycleways, instead forcing people to choose, in principle, between moving slowly on the footway or attempting to mix with high-speed motor traffic on the carriageway (though they are, at best, limited to 8 mph). In the past this was a moot point because protected and accessible cycleways were so rare.

Trying out a hand cycle at one of the drop-in cycling sessions
Image as described adjacent

Now, in practice, as soon as the new generation of protected and accessible cycleways in London opened they were used by mobility scooter riders, because protected cycleways are a sensible and safe way to get around. It is hard to imagine that any police officer would be cruel enough to enforce the restriction, but it would be best to change the law and make it clear that cycleways are truly for everyone. This once more highlights that good cycling infrastructure is needed by a wide demographic, all ages and all abilities.

More generally, Wheels for Wellbeing hopes that imagery and text that promote cycling will be inclusive. For example, that could mean taking care to use the word ‘cycle’ instead of ‘bicycle’. Or featuring photographs of people riding various types of adapted cycles where in the past only bicycles might have been shown.

The charity has also prepared the ‘Beyond the Bicycle’ manifesto to summarise their policy demands, namely: better infrastructure that is accessible for all people, better facilities to help people obtain and use adapted cycles, and better recognition of cycling as an effective and empowering mobility aid for many people with disabilities.

Matthew Danish

‘Beyond the Bicycle’ manifesto wheelsforwellbeing.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Mini-manifesto-FINAL.pdf