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Safe cycling is a disability rights issue

I had a bit of a moment on Twitter last week.

I shared the tweet below and added, “Indeed. I’m someone who can ride a bike 100’s of kms but can’t walk more than a single km. My bikes are many things to me but they are also increasingly mobility aids. Safe city cycling is a disability rights issue. “

Four hundred+ likes and dozens of retweets and lots of new followers later, the virtual dust settled. It seems I’d hit a nerve. The thing is safe cycling isn’t just about the young and the fit and the able bodied.

I’ve written about this before.

I started to notice it when my knee got really bad and I was walking with a knee brace and cane. On two feet I was definitely a person with a disability, recognizably so, but put me on a bike and whee, zoom! I started to ride between meetings in campus. I bike to work even though it’s just over 2 km.

Sometimes I explain when people express surprise that I ride when I live so close. Other times I just let it go.

This was all pretty natural for me. I’m a cyclist. It’s part of who I am. But I can imagine that for lots of people who pre-injury or pre-chronic condition didn’t ride a bike, it wouldn’t be obvious that cycling is a great way to get around. Lots of people, watching me walk, were shocked that I could ride a bike.

When I ride a bike for disability reasons, I feel like I’ve joined a community of people who wheel rather than walk. That includes mobility scooters and wheelchairs and tricycles. Walk your bike? Um, what if I can’t? No ramp? We’re all in trouble.

Since then I’ve bought a Brompton which I travel with so I can get around in other cities. I take it in places, folded, walking, but often it would be easier if I could keep riding. It needs an accessibility/mobility device sticker!

I see people with scooters like this one using them inside and I’m jealous.

A man with a blue shirt and khaki pants sitting on a mobility scooter.

What are the big takeaway points?

  1. Not everyone riding a bike is able-bodied in virtue of riding a bike. We often stereotype people on bikes as young and able-bodied. From this article on bikes as rolling walking sticks: “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. “
  2. If you have difficulty standing or walking yourself, you might be surprised at how much better riding a bike feels. In my case it takes the weight off my joints and relieves almost all of the pain. Plus, I’m mobile.
  3. For municipal planning, safe bike lanes aren’t a luxury. Lots of people need to wheel around rather than walk. Safe cycling is a disability rights issue.
  4. “Walk your bike” isn’t always a good thing. That assumes that everyone can walk their bike. That’s simply not the case.

Once I started to pay attention to bikes this way, I started notice that there are lots of different bodies, with lots of different abilities out there on wheels.

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