Tue 2 Jan ‘18 07.30 GMT
Cycle around Cambridge and you’ll see upright city bikes and hybrids, tricycles and four-wheeled cargo bikes. What may be surprising is that many of these machines are used as mobility aids: more than a quarter of disabled people’s commutes here are by bike.
“Getting around Cambridge on a trike is fantastic for me,” says Joanna Crosby, who has scoliosis, which affects her balance. “I can put all my shopping in the back of it and just go. Although I have tried a two-wheeler, I really never got the hang of it. I saw this lovely Pashley tricycle and saw it was the way to go.”
In the context of an ageing global population, mobility experts are increasingly seeing cycling as a way to help people with disabilities move around cities independently. A bike can act as a “rolling walking stick”; yet looking at its owner you wouldn’t know they had a disability: around 40% of disabled cyclists simply use a regular two-wheeled bike.
For two out of three disabled cyclists, riding a bike is easier than walking, easing joint strain, aiding balance and relieving breathing difficulties. According to recent research by Transport for London, 78% of disabled people are able to cycle, while 15% sometimes use a bike to get around.
“The biggest determinant of how many disabled people cycle to work is how levels of broader cycling are within that local authority,” says Rachel Aldred, reader in transport at the University of Westminster, who has researched barriers to disabled cycling.
In Cambridge, where 26% of disabled people’s commutes are by bike, cycling’s total share of trips to work is 32% – the highest of any city in Britain.
In cities with low overall cycle commuting levels of 0.4 or 0.5%, the figure for disabled cycle commutes would typically be just 0.2%. “I think that shows you there’s not some inherent limitation [for disabled cyclists],” she says. “It depends on how cycling-friendly the places are in general.”
Isabelle Clement is the director of Wheels for Wellbeing, a UK-based charity that encourages and supports disabled cycling. She says her life was transformed once she adapted her own wheelchair as a hand cycle. Many disabled people rule cycling out as an option, without realising the wide variety of machines that are out there for a range of different needs, she says.
Active travel can tackle inactivity, isolation, mental health issues and reliance on expensive private transportation such as taxis; yet disabled people are more likely to be inactive than non-disabled people (37.8% in Britain compared with 18.2%, according to Public Health England). Reduced transport options are also a common barrier to accessing work, healthcare and a social life.