Transport CommitteeWritten evidence from Wheels for Wellbeing (DAT 45)

1. Summary

1.1 Cycling is a popular activity for people with disabilities, but the public image of cycling is largely based upon elite sport such as Olympic track cycling or the Tour de France. It is very difficult to persuade traffic engineers, land owners or service providers (such as train companies) to consider the need to make reasonable adjustments in their provision for cyclists with disabilities.

1.2 This should be addressed in guidance alongside the legislation. Local authorities are not service providers in relation to the public highway but should be specifically reminded of their public service duty to consider the impact of their activities upon all potential users.

1.3 Traffic engineers design cycle facilities on the basis of use by solo bicycles. They should be allowing for potential use by tricycles and handcycles (900 mm wide) and cycles up to 2.5 metres long (recumbent tricycles/tandems). This would not only be important for the minority of cyclists who have to use such machines because of their disability but also have immediate and lasting benefits for all cyclists by improving the general quality of cycle facilities.

1.4 Police officers and those in similar roles (eg Community Support Officers, parking wardens, security staff and railway staff) should be made aware of likely needs of disabled cyclists through training. Public and private bodies should give more consideration to the transport needs of disabled cyclists and possible reasonable adjustments in their policies.

1.5 There should be an easily recognisable and well-understood identification available for disabled cyclists who chose to use it: eg a distinctive tabard that drew the attention of motorists, police officers and other road users. This could be supplied by cyclist organisations at a charge to cover the production costs.

2. Background

2.1 Wheels for Wellbeing is a charity providing cycling opportunities for people with disabilities in south London and promoting cycling for people with disabilities across London and nationally. The charity and the informal volunteer-led project from which it grew have been in operation for about ten years.

2.2 There are no data specifically relating to levels of utility cycling by people with disabilities: the nearest proxy is the Active People Survey1 run annually by Sport England. Although it only records competitive and recreational cycling, there is considerable cross-over and regular cyclists are likely to engage in a range of on-road cycling including fitness training, recreation and utility general purpose cycling for commuting, shopping and social visits.

2.3 The Active People Survey has consistently shown levels of disability among regular cyclists (once a week or more) in line with the general population and second only to swimming as the most common physical activity for people with disabilities. AP5 (to October 2011) found that participation in cycling by people with disabilities had risen from about 8% to 10%.

2.4 Cycling is an attractive means of transport and exercise for people with different types of impairment, which accounts for its popularity:

2.4.1It is more comfortable than walking for many people with physical impairments, being non-load-bearing and putting less stress on joints and muscles.

2.4.2It avoids steps and walking to or from stops or at interchanges on public transport (and is often quicker, as well as cheaper).

2.4.3It offers a sense of independence and control for people with emotional, behavioural or mental health impairments.

2.4.4It is rhythmic and gives good physical feedback which is particularly welcome for people with autistic spectrum impairments.

2.5 There is no direct evidence of the balance of different types of impairment among disabled cyclists but it is likely that the majority have physical impairments, including cerebral palsies, amputations or other impairments resulting from traumatic injury or illnesses or genetic conditions such as pachyonychia.2 People with visual impairments (on the back of tandems), autistic disorders, mental ill-health and learning difficulties also figure.

2.6 There are substantial benefits from cycling for people with disabilities, including improved health and well-being and financial benefits both to the individual and to society:

2.7 Exercise can:

2.7.1Improve muscle-tone and reduce muscle spasticity, making people more comfortable.

2.7.2Improve respiratory function and clear the lungs of stale air and fluid, an important issue for people whose lives are largely sedentary.

2.7.3Improve mood and make people more cheerful, less disruptive and easier to care for.

2.7.4Preserve general fitness longer and reduce needs for care. On average a person taking regular exercise has the fitness level of somebody ten years younger who does not exercise and is likely to extend their life expectation by nearly three years.

2.8 Cycling for people with disabilities can:

2.8.1Create a sense of independence and control which may be rare in their lives.

2.8.2Improve safety and reduce harassment or bullying by making it quicker and easier for them to move around.

2.8.3Save money from often very strained domestic budgets.

2.8.4Provide quicker, easier and more reliable transport than public transport, taxis, community transport or Dial-A-Ride.

2.9 For the wider society there are public cost benefits from preserving individuals’ independence and reducing their personal care needs. Disability transport provision; such as taxi cards, community transport or Dial-A-Ride are expensive options.

3. Road Design

3.1 The majority of cyclists with disabilities ride standard bicycles, but a minority ride unusual cycles because of their disability. These include:

3.1.1Handcycles (tricycles) for people unable to pedal: handcycle users may be unable to stand or to walk.

3.1.2Tricycles for people with poor balance or unable to hold a bicycle upright when stationary

3.1.3Recumbent cycles or tricycles for people who find an upright cycle too painful or unmanageable.

3.1.4Tandems for people with visual impairments or autistic or learning disorders that make it unsafe for them to cycle on their own machine.

3.1.5Two-wheeled trailer cycles (tag-alongs) for older children who are unable to balance or manage their own cycle.

3.2 Tricycles and handcycles are typically 900 mm wide. Recumbent tandems can be up to 2.5 metres long (as well as possibly being a tricycle width). With new designs, the distinctions in dimensions between cycles, wheelchairs and mobility scooters are becoming increasingly blurred.

3.3 (Other cycles such as side-by-sides or wheelchair companion cycles are larger, but mainly designed and used in parks or other off-road spaces.)

3.4 Cyclists in UK cities are very exposed to other traffic and tend to cycle faster than continental cities where there are more segregated facilities, for their own safety (at up to 15–25 mph). Cyclists with disabilities are less likely to be able to manage these speeds and therefore more vulnerable to other traffic in unsegregated traffic.

3.5 Traffic engineers should take these factors into account when designing cycle lanes, pavement crossings, barriers and other cycle infrastructure, to ensure that they are wide enough, adequately surfaced, that curves have suitable radii for long cycles and that routes are as continuous as possible, to protect these vulnerable road users.

3.6 Applying the public duty under the Equality Act to properly consider the design of cycle infrastructure for cyclists with disabilities would tend to improve the quality of infrastructure which would benefit all cyclists, encourage cycling and serve public policy goals of increasing levels of cycling in the UK. In London it would help to meet the Dutch standards of cycle infrastructure design that the Mayor committed to in his re-election.

3.7 Traffic engineers should also consider providing rails and footrests for cyclists at junctions, as done in continental cities. This would be directly beneficial to cyclists with disabilities but also improve facilities for all cyclists, again helping to boost cycling levels.

3.8 Designing infrastructure for larger cycles would also help to “futureproof” the system for greater use of larger cycles by non-disabled users as cycling becomes more normalised. In Copenhagen, where cycling levels are substantially above those in any UK city, 38% of young families have a box tricycle (900 mm wide) or a cargo bike (approx 2 metres long) for carrying children, shopping or other loads. There are already signs of such cycles becoming more popular in parts of inner London, including Chelsea, Notting Hill, Hackney and elsewhere and this trend is likely to develop over time.

3.9 Cycle parking facilities need to be carefully designed with provision for larger or wider cycles in such a way that this will not be abused by other cyclists taking all the available spaces. High density cycle parking, particularly where cycles have to be lifted into position, will be difficult for cyclists with disabilities to use and where they exist there should also be provision for disabled cyclists, possibly under supervision, eg at a bike hub facility. Cycle parking provision that is evenly distributed around an area so that users should be able to park within 50 metres of their destination is the best solution for disabled users.

4. Pedestrian Areas

4.1 Pedestrianised areas can cause real problems for cyclists with mobility problems if they are banned from cycling in the area and forced to walk longer distances to their destination (even with the support of their cycle). Whether managed by local authorities or private companies, they should be considering their duty under the Equality Act and making reasonable adjustments such as imposing cycling speed-limits (with enforcement) rather than a ban. Eight mph would be a reasonable limit.

4.2 Cycling in pedestrianised areas is an issue that exercises pedestrians, especially where they have visual impairments or other disabilities. Proper management and consultation with users should be able to resolve any conflicts and improve conditions for all users.

5. Diversions and Road Closures

5.1 Highway authorities and statutory undertakers often do not give sufficient consideration to cyclists when signposting diversions or road closures. Very often a road that is closed to motor traffic may still be passable for cyclists, because it has been narrowed rather than blocked. All cyclists will be reluctant to follow a long detour, especially if follows a main road or a steep hill; disabled cyclists more so, unless they are certain that the route is really closed to them. On segregated cycle routes the diversion or closure may not be signed in advance and on a narrow route a disabled cyclist or hand-cyclist could be left with no way of turning round and extricating themselves from a dead-end.

5.2 Police officers managing temporary diversions or closures should be more aware of the fact that cyclists may not be able to walk around an obstruction and ready to offer alternative routes. A cyclist with a disability is likely to prefer a longer route that can be cycled instead of walking along a pedestrian route.

6. Cycles on Railways

6.1 Cycle storage provision on trains is usually very constricted and often badly designed. Staff expect that cyclists will be able to lift, hang or carry cycles and have not been trained or instructed by their employers about reasonable adjustments for cyclists with disabilities. This is a problem that needs to be addressed either with individual train operating companies, or through ATOC.

6.2 Walking at stations may be difficult for cyclists with disabilities, particularly on long-distance services where the cycle storage may be at one end of a very long train. Cyclists are benefitting from the continuing programme across the network to increase step-free access at stations, but it is still the case that there are stations with footbridges or subways where cycles have to be carried. Many disabled cyclists would prefer to use a different station and cycle the extra distance to their destination rather than carry their cycle and luggage up or down steps.

7. Identification

7.1 Road users are well-used to recognising that pedestrians with a crutch, a white stick or an assistance dog have special needs. Except in the case of a hand-cyclist or a very obvious prosthesis, this is not usually so clear when a cyclist has a disability.

7.2 One possible way to overcome this would be to promote a nationally recognised identification for cyclists with disabilities that drivers, police officers and others would understand. A likely choice would be a reflective tabard which the cyclist could choose to wear, in a distinctive colour or design.

7.3 Once a design had been agreed, cycling organisations could supply the goods and the cost of them would be paid by cyclists who bought them. The only additional cost would be in publicity to make people aware of the new arrangement, which should become less and less necessary as it becomes better known and understood.

7.4 A small trial was run by CTC, the national organisation for cyclists, in 2009, which showed that such clothing did not attract adverse behaviour from drivers. The cost was £15 a unit, as they were specified to a high quality but it should be possible to provide something suitable for much less than that.

7.5 It would not be possible to register and verify users of such a system without undue resources, so the system would have to be dependent upon the cyclist’s behaviour. A cyclist riding slowly and considerately in relation to the conditions should be able to claim benefit of a disability identification, whereas somebody riding without care and causing problems for other road users should not.

January 2013

1 The annual waves of the Active People Survey run from mid-October to mid-October. The survey covers competitive and recreational cycling but not commuting or other cycling purely for transport.

2 Pachyonychia is condition that causes hard keratinous plates on the soles of feet or toes and leads to intense pain in walking more than a few yards.

Prepared 13th September 2013