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‘A rolling walking stick’: why do so many disabled people cycle in Cambridge?

Cycling may be easier than walking for two-thirds of disabled people, but disabled cyclists often remain invisible to society. Many don’t realise that more than a quarter of disabled commutes in this university city are made by bike

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “‘A rolling walking stick’: why do so many disabled people cycle in Cambridge?” was written by Laura Laker, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 2nd January 2018 07.30 UTC

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.”

Cyclists ride through central Cambridge.
Cyclists ride through central Cambridge. The city has a cycle modal share of 32%. Photograph: Alamy

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.

False assumptions

Research shows that minority ethnic people, women, older and disabled people have a disproportionately higher need for protected cycling infrastructure and direct routes – something Wheels for Wellbeing seeks to address in its new Guide to Inclusive Cycling.

Part of the problem is that most urban infrastructure is built by able-bodied engineers, who may not realise that bollards, speed bumps, kerbs and steps can be insurmountable for disabled cyclists. Clement argues that cities should consult disability representatives at a strategic level.

“Cycling facilities are built on the assumption we can all stand up,” says Clement. “That cyclists all ride on two wheels, that we can all lift our cycles, can carry our gear … otherwise how can we get over the steps on that bridge?”

Shared space – where pedestrians, cars and cyclists interact – can be difficult for visually impaired pedestrians and disabled cyclists. As Dr Jamie Wood, a biology lecturer at the University of York, explains: “I find shared space with pedestrians very intimidating as a disabled cyclist. I end up stopping in very random places and find it very difficult to get going again.”

The size and expense of specialised cycles is another factor. Narrow cycle lanes and chicanes are unusable for many non-standard bikes (side-by-side tandems can be more than a metre wide), while a third of disabled cyclists report being unable to park or store large bikes.

Isabelle Clement of Wheels For Wellbeing.
Isabelle Clement of Wheels For Wellbeing. Photograph: Jonathan Bewley/photojB

These bikes often cost as much as a secondhand car (tricycles can cost up to £3,000), an issue that can be addressed nationally with tax breaks such as the UK’s Green Commute Initiative, or at city level with accessible cycle hire.

After much criticism that its bike share scheme excluded disabled people, Portland, Oregon, piloted a programme called Adaptive Biketown in July – offering tandems, handcycles and tricycles for rent.

“I would urge every city to have at least one inclusive cycling hub,” says Clement. “That is the entry route to cycling for many disabled people and it’s a very clear signal by cities saying, ‘We believe that we should invest some of our public resources, in partnership with others, to ensure people have the option of cycling.’”

Although public transport may claim to be accessible, in practice this isn’t always the case. In Lisbon, buses have ample space for cycles, but in UK cities they don’t. Some trains can’t carry larger adaptive bikes, or don’t have a policy relating to disabled cyclists at all.

Meanwhile, those who do use bikes as mobility aids may be asked to dismount on pavements or station concourses, in the way someone with a wheelchair or mobility scooter wouldn’t be.

Cycling imagery and language often excludes disabled cyclists, say campaigners. Better representation, along with “disabled cyclists permitted”, or “cycles as mobility aids permitted” signage in otherwise non-cycling areas would help raise the profile of disabled cycling.

In January, London will launch a pilot scheme which recognises bikes as mobility aids, permitting disabled cyclists in pedestrian-only areas around the city.

“We don’t know how it will work,” says Will Norman, the city’s cycling and walking commissioner, “but we need to pilot this and take a step towards it. If the pilot is successful, [I’ll] share that data and the experience behind that with other cities so they can make up their own mind whether that works for them.”

Neil Andrews of Wheels for Wellbeing says there are “some examples of good facilities and infrastructure out there” but “by and large they are few and far between”. “Without consistently good inclusive infrastructure and facilities, disabled cyclists are unable to complete a journey,” he says. “That means many people simply won’t attempt a journey in the first place.”

Disabled people are the canary in the coalmine for healthy streets – if disabled people are using your streets in high numbers, you are doing something right.

Follow Guardian Cities on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to join the discussion, and explore our archive here

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Philip Mountbatten, the rakish naval officer who captured the heart of a young Elizabeth Windsor and became the lifelong consort to the British queen, has died aged 99.

The death ends the longest marriage of a reigning monarch in British history, an enduring alliance that outlasted the Cold War, war and peace in Northern Ireland and the painful divorces of three of their four children.

Reacting to the death, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said;

“Prince Philip earned the affection of generations here in the UK, across the Commonwealth & around the world.

He was the longest serving consort in history & one of the last surviving people in this country to have served in WW2.”

Prince Philip never held the official title of Prince Consort, but he was Queen Elizabeth II’s closest confidant, most reliable political advisor and the undisputed master of the royal household for more than six decades.

Philip was known equally as a curmudgeon and a charmer who could quickly put nervous guests at ease with an easy one­liner.

The Queen, on the event of their golden wedding anniversary in 1997, said of her husband: “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.”

The Duke is survived by his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, and his children Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Prince Andrew, Duke of York and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.

While Elizabeth presided over affairs of state, Philip championed dozens of charities, including the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which has promoted self­reliance, physical development and other personal accomplishment for more than 6 million youths all over the world.

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The Biden administration is expected to repeal the ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military, multiple people informed of the decision told CBS News. The announcement is expected as soon as Monday, one senior Defense official and four outside advocates of repealing the ban told CBS News.

The senior Defense official told CBS News the repeal will be through executive order signed by President Joe Biden. The announcement is expected to take place at a ceremony with newly-confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who will order the Pentagon to go back to the policy enacted in 2016 by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter that allowed transgender Americans to serve openly.

The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The new order will direct the branches of the military to outline an implementation plan. 

The ban was announced by former President Trump via a tweet in July 2017. The ban took effect in April 2019 and barred transgender Americans from enlisting in the military.

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(CNN)— President Donald Trump has decided to pardon his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, in a last-minute decision made only hours before he is scheduled to depart the White House for a final time.

Officials cautioned CNN that Trump’s decision was not final until he signed the paperwork. Trump told people that after much deliberation, he had decided to pardon Bannon as one of his final acts in office.

Bannon’s pardon would follow a frantic scramble during the President’s final hours in office as attorneys and top aides debated his inclusion on Trump’s outgoing clemency list. Despite their falling out in recent years, Trump was eager to pardon his former aide after recently reconnecting with him as he helped fan Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election.

It was a far cry from when Trump exiled Bannon from his inner circle after he was quoted in a book trashing the President’s children, claiming that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” by meeting with a Russian attorney and labeling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.” Those statements from Bannon drove Trump to issue a lengthy statement saying he had “lost his mind.”

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Among Trump’s pardons earlier in his term were those for former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza and financier Michael Milken.

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