MobilityCyclingDismounted, Discounted: How to Make Cycling Inclusive For All Abilities

Dismounted, Discounted: How to Make Cycling Inclusive For All Abilities

Jo Helme
Jo Helme
I studied (and cycled) at the Universities of Cambridge, Nottingham and Vienna. My day involves squeezing information out of cycling advocates, experts and policymakers, and then writing all the juicy bits into articles. When the climate crisis gives you lemons, ride bicycles.

‘Cyclists Dismount’. An instruction that seems reasonable, pretty agreeable. It’s probably placed in front of a school, or in a park, or before a pedestrianised shopping street. Best not to scatter the crowd by pedalling through their unaware milieu of chatter and meander. 

Unknown to many urban planners, however, a significant number of cyclists are people with disabilities. In London, for instance, 12% of Disabled people cycle around the city (comparable to 17% of the non- Disabled population), with ¾ using their cycle as a mobility aid. Whether traveling by bicycle or less traditional cycles like tandems, handcycles, recumbent tricycles or wheelchair-cycles, these options give freedom to those usually restricted by mobility. 

‘Cyclists Dismount’. What was a seemingly agreeable instruction, suddenly seems exclusionary, pretty ill-thought through. If your cycle is a mobility aid, dismounting and pushing your cycle is not an option. 

Although unintentional, this kind of uniformed infrastructure decision removes the independence that cycling bought. It can ultimately nullify a Disabled individuals’ chances of getting out and enjoying exercise. 

Unfortunately, the ‘dismount’ sign is just one example of the many mistakes that cycling infrastructure designs are prone to. Placing signs too high, implementing steps up to cycle tracks or fixing bollards on cycle routes, are other exclusionary mishaps. 

Outmanoeuvring Mistakes 

In order to avoid these failings, the charity Wheels for Wellbeing created the first detailed guidance on how to make cycling infrastructure suitable for Disabled cyclists. More detail of the guide can be found here, but the key takeaways are described below. 

In order to make cycle paths inclusive, they should be step free, wide (at least 1.5m), uninterrupted and barrier free. If bollards are used to prevent motorists, the distance should be wide enough for non-standard cycles to pass through (again 1.5m). Signs should be visible to those on lower cycles, there should be an alternative safe route identified if a cycle lane is closed and surfaces should be even. Traffic lights should be prolonged, as Disabled cyclists may need more momentum to set off, particularly if pushing by hand. Bike locks should also be usable for non-standard bikes – half height stands or ground fixings are good examples. 

Barriers like this make cycling less accessible. Image credit: Wheels for Wellbeing

More generally, Wheels for Wellbeing calls for greater awareness of Disabled cyclists. A ‘Blue Badge’ for disabled cyclists could be used to identify the community and permit them to cycle through dismount areas or on pavements. More images of non-standard cycles should be used on signs or campaigns, and the word bicycle should be replaced with ‘cycle’ in policy briefs to acknowledge other types of bike. Non-standard cycles should be included within cycle to work schemes and allowed on public transport.

Living Examples 

Whilst these may be guidelines, real life examples are also flourishing in cities. In Bath, the city has deliberately colour-coded its cycling map to highlight routes which are suitable for non-standard bikes. Portland’s ‘Adaptive Biketown’ is a rental scheme which allows people with disabilities to rent various forms of adapted cycles to try out. It came after pressure was applied to the original bike share scheme, which initially failed to cater for Disabled people. 

Unsurprising, Denmark and the Netherlands also feature disabled-friendly cycle infrastructure. Parking spots reserved for Disabled people can be found around Copenhagen, whilst in the Netherlands children are taught at school that wheelchair users are also cyclists (see the card below).

How to In a Nutshell…

Ultimately, creating inclusive infrastructure requires urban planners to think beyond the typical bicycle. By holding the image of a non-standard cycle in mind, this will lead to wider, even surfaced and step free lanes. Not only is this form of infrastructure relatively straightforward to implement, it can be appreciated by all cycle users, from Disabled users to cargo bikes and children. 

Be mindful when planning cycling cities; try not to discount those who cannot dismount. 

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