Cycling should be accessible for everyone

We responded to the Department for Transport’s Accessibility Action Plan:

On behalf of Cycle Sheffield.

We are a voluntary campaign group with 1400 supporters in Sheffield. We campaign for fully accessible cycle transport to become possible in Sheffield.

We welcome the effort of the Department for Transport to consider accessibility of transport in as broad a way as possible. It is encouraging that there is endorsement of the social model of disability, and also of the reality that the characteristics which must be considered range widely and don’t stop at specific conditions, but include travel with (or by) children, older people, and those with temporary impairments like injury or stress. This is vital to see accessibility as not a niche or only special interest concern (necessary as these are) but really something which affects large proportions of the public and especially more vulnerable groups.

Wheels for Wellbeing

We would warmly endorse the work of Wheels for Wellbeing and encourage the Department for Transport to refer to them as a great source of specialist advice and experience about inclusive cycling.

Below we aim to highlight just some of the most relevant challenges and opportunities which we see from the experience of our members and in interacting with our local authority on road scheme design.

4.11 Shared Space

We are very concerned about the use of shared space designs which increases conflict between people driving, walking, wheeling and cycling. Where road, footway and cycleway distinctions are minimised or removed it is usually meant to encourage drivers to be more cautious. But this is only needed to mitigate the inappropriate presence of motor vehicles where the more difficult decisions to remove passing motor traffic altogether have been ducked.

It invariably results in pedestrians and cyclists being expected to stay out of the way – or move out of the way – of moving motor vehicles. This is more threatening, difficult and dangerous for people with many types of disability, including those cycling who may not be as easily able to react, swerve or jump out of the way of a dangerous driver. As this paragraph (4.11) notes, shared space is only suitable with very low volumes of traffic, but in practice it gets used even where there are no changes made to limit traffic volumes.

We would welcome specific guidance to prevent the use of semi or non-delineated approaches to street layout where motor traffic is present.

4.19-21 Cycle infrastructure

We welcome the updating of guidance on cycle infrastructure to consider the needs of all cycle users, especially larger cycles more often used by disabled people. The work by Highways England on the Interim advice note 195/16: Cycle traffic and the strategic road network is excellent and we would like to see this guidance like this to be required for all new cycle infrastructure. The way that design standards are currently only adopted voluntarily by local authorities leads to generally poor, usually inconsistent and often inaccessible schemes.

We would welcome a single cycle design standard for all local authorities to be required for use in all road schemes, based on the Highways England note above.

Action 34: Mobility Centres

We would welcome a range of suitable cycles also being made available through all Mobility Centres. These would likely include hand-cycles, tricycles, recumbents and step-through bikes, all with options for electric assistance. Especially when used on a well-developed network of traffic-free cycleways these provide a means of independent travel for many disabled people.

8.42-47 Mobility scooters

We would note that the freedom of travel which is possible by mobility scooter would be improved by creating high-quality cycle networks. Where these networks are well developed in Dutch towns and cities there is widespread use of mobility scooters on cycle paths. This allows them to be used much more freely than among pedestrians on busy footways, and they are well-suited to the lower speed vehicle environment of a cycle network.

We would welcome specific endorsement and encouragement of the use of mobility scooters on cycleways.

Action 39 Pavement parking

We welcome the action to consider how to make it easier for authorities to enforce against pavement parking. We note that this is a serious and widespread problem for all pedestrians, and that it also affects cycle users since parking partly on pavements in some cases obstructs cycleways and on-road cycle lanes too.

Actions 40, 41: Expanding evidence base – child travel

Support. Further to these areas we request that extra research attention is paid to the travel patterns and opportunities of children, especially active modes of walking and cycling.

Children are a group with significant access needs due to their developmental progress, and their independence is seriously affected by not being able to use road space which is dominated by motor traffic. Quality walking environments, and traffic-free cycling networks have potential to be highly beneficial to children. We believe there are large economic and social benefits to improving children’s mobility independence, from their own mental and physical health, to reduced need for ‘school runs’ and their resulting congestion.

Action 47 Training local authorities in the PSED

Strongly agree.

We note this should include the inaccessibility of most physical access control barriers used widely throughout the UK to attempt to deter motorcycling or restrict cycle speeds. Inaccessible infrastructure is the number 1 problem cited by disabled cycle users surveyed by Wheels for Wellbeing. This includes barriers which either stop or impede most legitimate users of paths, despite in most cases failing to prevent access by motorbikes, mopeds etc. Where motorcycling is a problem this needs to be addressed by the police.

9.5-7 E-Cycles

We welcome improved access to electric assisted bikes and other cycles as these are especially helpful for people with limited mobility or strength. Cost can easily be a problem though, and we would like to see electric cycles being subsidised alongside electric cars, vans and motorbikes in the ULEV scheme.

Other general comments

The need to reduce motor traffic

The biggest impact on accessibility of public space around roads, and moving around the urban environment, is simply the volume of motor vehicle traffic. While clearly a complex issue, reducing this should be considered a vital part of improving accessibility holistically. Excessive motor traffic negatively affects almost all areas of life, including it being easy for disabled people who rely on cars to drive around and park.

We strongly encourage considering measures such as road use pricing, congestion zone pricing, and reducing urban parking (each with exemptions for blue badges) as ways to improve the access and experience of our most vulnerable citizens.

No “cyclists vs disabled people”

We’re concerned about the development of a culture around accessibility which can present the needs of disabled people as conflicting with provision for cycling. It is important to pursue the opportunities for independent and active living for disabled people that are possible when cycling is made safe, convenient and enjoyable for all, rather than treating cycling as a threat to pedestrians (especially visually impaired people).

Avoid conflict by changing priorities

Where cycling can be pushed into conflict with pedestrians, problems are usually the result of reluctance to remove road space or priority from motor traffic, rather than something inherent with cycling provision. If a robust pyramid of mode priorities isn’t followed, with pedestrians and cycle users above private motor vehicles, the compromise is too often to sacrifice pavement space. We believe there needs to be more emphasis on shifting priority away from motor traffic rather than trying to squeeze extra cycle infrastructure into the status quo.

Photo: Transport for London, thanks to Wheels for Wellbeing

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