Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

OPINIONSocietyAugust 24, 2023

I use a wheelchair and I want more bike lanes

Image: Tina Tiller
Image: Tina Tiller

This may come as a shock, but disabled people who use transport care about more than just car parks.

It seems like nearly every week I am having arguments about how bike infrastructure is ableist. It’s not.

The disabled community is frequently impacted by non-disabled people speaking on behalf of us, using our narratives to further their own agenda and causing harm in doing so. Multiple centres around the motu are making long-overdue upgrades to cycle infrastructure, including the Let’s Get Wellington Moving initiative and Ngāmotu New Plymouth’s Your Way. The comments sections of every social media post about these upgrades are littered with insincere cries about the removal of car parks.

“What about disabled people?!” They cry. “Where will I- I mean THEY park?!”

In Berlin’s city center, this ‘pop-up’ bike path was added during the Covid-19 lockdown to help people commute to work without having to use public transportation. (Photo: Getty)

It is infuriating and painful to see people speak on behalf of disabled people when they are really only trying to protect their non-disabled car parks. Have you ever wondered where these people go when it’s time to fight for a building code that requires accessible universal design features like lifts, ramps and doorways of a decent width? Or why these same faces and names appear again to oppose the social housing initiatives in their neighbourhoods that would house disabled people? Or why they’re not advocating for more mobility parking at all?!

I have connective tissue disorder that means I often require the use of mobility aids, including a wheelchair and a rollator. I bike through my local park on days when I cannot stand or walk unaided but want to be in nature – reducing the pressure on my hips means that my bike can take me much further than my legs alone can. I have a permit for mobility parking, but there are many days when I cannot drive due to extreme brain fog or pain medications. I am very, very excited about the way that cycle infrastructure will better the lives of me and my three children, especially when I am having low mobility days. Here’s a list to set the record straight.

1. Many disabled people use bikes.

Shock. Horror. Disabled people leave the house. On wheels.

Bicycles, trikes, recumbent bikes and handcycles are all used by people with physical disabilities. A Transport for London (TFL) survey found that 70% of disabled people living in London said that they were able to cycle.

2. Many of us consider our electric bikes, scooters and trikes to be mobility devices.

They allow us to go further and access more freedom and more outdoors than we otherwise could. Zoom zoom.

3. Lots of people cannot drive due to physical differences, medications, vision impairments, cognitive difficulties or conditions like epilepsy.

These disabled whānau require safer forms of independent transport, and while many disabled people are car-dependent, it is also true that many of us would regularly utilise bike paths if they were available.

4. More people using cycleways means fewer cars on the road, which makes it easier for disabled and chronically ill people who use cars (as well as emergency services) to get where they need to go.

Get on yer bike and get out of our way, thank you.

5. Some of the daily commuters in your region are disabled.

“WHAT?!” I hear the uninformed sectors of society exclaim. “DISABLED PEOPLE HAVE JOBS? IN WORKPLACES???” Yes, and in Cambridge, UK, improving cycling infrastructure has allowed 26% of all commutes by disabled people to be made by bike.

6. It is true, however, that disabled people are overrepresented in unemployment statistics.

Providing us with more transport options will reduce barriers to employment.

7. As a disabled parent myself, I am all too aware that some people think parents like me are inherently incompetent and negligent. Every parent requires support, but disabled parents require support that looks different to other parents, and onlookers assume that we cannot provide support and care because of these differences.

The majority of issues that make it difficult for disabled people to parent are these very assumptions and how that impacts us, and structural barriers like the lack of inclusive infrastructure. If we had cities that were built to include disabled people, these assumptions would have no space to fester. The absence of accessible and safe cycleways is a barrier for my children and myself to get to school, after-school activities, the doctor, the supermarket and to see friends on days when I cannot drive. Our exclusionary streetscapes and government inaction are making it much harder for disabled people to parent, which we then get judged for. And I’m tired of it.

As long as cycle infrastructure is done with accessibility in mind, such as maintaining disability parking spaces and avoiding steep inclines, implementing adequate cycle routes does not harm the disabled and chronically ill community. In fact, the reverse is true. Well planned, inclusive and accessible infrastructure benefits all members of society, especially the marginalised. Lack of cycle infrastructure is negligent, ableist and ageist. Make sure you send this list to the next person you meet who claims this codswallop, and tell them to support local initiatives that remove barriers to active transport instead.

Keep going!