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How Do We Get More People With Mobility Issues Cycling?

Posted by Martin Hewitt on August 27, 2020

the image shows a man riding a trike in a field

Photo by Peter Fleming from iStock

With the world appearing to teeter on the brink of environmental doom, long before we lost control due to Coronavirus, the need to rethink how we travel has never been greater.

One way is for more of us to jump onto a bike!

Of course, on paper, it’s a great idea to encourage pedal power – and therefore green power – as a means of getting from A to B. And, because of COVID-19, some of us have suddenly realised the work commute we once thought needed a car is actually possible without! It’s also usually more pleasant to coast into the office on a saddle, instead of a crowded tram, train or on the tube.

According to Open Access Government, just 6% of Britons use a bike to get to work. Of the 39% of us who would like to cycle, 34% cite the dangers of cycling on UK roads as the main factor stopping them.

You only need to think of the woefully inadequate cycling networks in major cities like London and Manchester to understand the fears. This is despite local governments consistently promising improvements. Nevertheless, it’s hard to argue with the incentives. Cycling is carbon neutral, and it’s great exercise, and in a time-starved world, getting a workout in without hitting the gym is appealing. More so in this pandemic era, when avoiding packed transport has become a necessity. And this is even before we’ve mentioned the financial aspect.

The average person could save over £100 a month if they stop buying travel cards or tickets. For Londoners, that’s more like £130 a month – hardly insignificant! And clearly, if politicians and planners took their responsibility to develop safe cycling routes more seriously, more of us would be riding bikes to the office, factory, shops – anywhere!

But how can we encourage people with disabilities to get involved?

The national Cyclesheme gives us some answers to the above question. This year-round initiative helps employees buy bikes and cycling kit at a reduced price, with no upfront cost and payments taken over time from their salary, providing the employer is on board.

Perhaps the most important thing to understand is that certain schemes do not necessarily mean bicycles – which are strictly defined as two-wheel, pedal-powered vehicles. The scheme includes adapted cycles, or non-standard cycles, many of which are aimed at people with mobility problems and others who are unable to use a standard 2 wheeled model. Wheelchair cycles, tricycles, recumbent tricycles and go-karts are all covered under the term ‘cycle’, as set out by these initiatives. Therefore, it’s possible to take advantage of discounts if you need to buy an adapted cycle, or non-standard cycle, giving you a great start into the cycling world.

Cycling commutes are actually becoming increasingly common among people with disabilities. Or at least, that’s the case in some corners of the country. The Guardian ran a piece back in 2018, looking at why so many people with mobility issues are using adapted cycles to get to work and university in Cambridge. More than a quarter of the world-famous student city’s disabled community were using cycles to get about town at the time the article was published. The area also claimed the highest number of overall cycling commutes – with 32% of residents preferring pedal power.

When compared with other UK cities, Cambridge is remarkably bike-friendly. This makes a huge difference and gives some idea as to what uptake might be like if other urban areas took the same steps to improve, expand and develop cycle lanes and provision. The point being, the vast majority of Britain seems to be missing a pretty big trick that could transform lives by speeding up traffic flow, reducing pollution, improving health and increasing overall accessibility.

Given that Transport for London’s research revealed that 78% of disabled people in the capital can cycle, but just 15% use a bike to travel, you really understand the obstacles are not related to ability, but safety and infrastructure. Wheels For Wellbeing’s 2017 survey of disabled cyclists in the UK backs this up confirming that 2 out of 3 people with disabilities actually find cycling easier than walking.

It’s only by maintaining and increasing pressure on local authorities and the Government that this situation will improve. And the best way we can do that is by getting involved in the pedal-powered revolution ourselves.