A bike is like ‘a rolling walking stick’

It’s also a great excuse to keep moving, but we need safe lanes for it. From MNN, October 2019.

Who needs a car when you’ve got a recumbent bike? (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

After Australian Madison Lyden was killed while riding her bike on Central Park West in New York City, a protected bike lane was finally approved. Then the owners of the multimillion dollar condos and co-ops sued to stop the project, citing as a main reason that “disabled and elderly residents who wish to enter Central Park will be in harm’s way by having to cross the bike lanes due to bicycle riders who often neglect to abide by the normal traffic rules.”

Every time a bike lane is proposed, one of the main arguments used to fight it is the concern that disabled and elderly people won’t be able to park. But in fact, for many older and disabled people, bikes could be mobility aids.

According to Laura Laker in The Guardian,

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.

dismount bike
Graffiti on sign says ‘Share the lane.’ (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

In Cambridge, England, over a quarter of disabled people commute by bike. There’s even a charity, Wheels for Wellbeing, which promotes bikes as mobility aids. They note that 52 percent of disabled cyclists use regular two-wheelers; the rest use tricycles and recumbents. They often run into situations where bikes aren’t allowed, or where cyclists are told to dismount and walk, as with the sign above. But that causes a new set of issues, as The Guardian explains:

Phil, who is 60 and originally from Preston, says: “I use my bike as a sort of rolling walking stick when I walk and I can cycle very long distances without pain. I therefore class my bike as a mobility aid. However, it is very difficult to have this recognised in certain situations – for example in parks or other large outdoor venues. All they see is a bike. It would be so easy to modify a ‘no bikes’ rule to say ‘unless used as a mobility aid’.”

Kirsty Lewin tells WalkCycleVote about her arthritis, which makes it almost impossible to walk.

Cycling with severe arthritis is not necessarily pain free. But for me, it’s much less painful than walking. By cycling, I keep active and fit. It’s generally good for my mental health. It’s often a fun, social activity. And it’s my only way of getting around. Buses are out of the question on a bad day. The walk to the stop and back is too painful…The bike, and in my case now, the ebike, is the most efficient way of moving through the city.

She then explains why cyclists, particularly older and disabled cyclists, need good infrastructure like the Central Park West bike lane.

In an ideal world, or a world designed for people who use bikes as mobility aids, there’d be seamless routes and infrastructure, routes that are segregated from motor vehicles, dropped kerbs, no barriers on paths, no narrow chicanes, and predictable careful drivers. There’d also be practical secure cycle parking by the entrances to all major destinations.

It inevitably comes back to parking

Back in North America, organizations like AARP don’t fight for parking spaces. Instead they “believe that communities should provide safe, walkable streets; age-friendly housing and transportation options; access to needed services; and opportunities for residents of all ages to participate in community life.” When New York Mayor Bill De Blasio rejected congestion pricing, one excuse he used was that it “would unduly burden senior citizens, who supposedly need their cars to get to doctor’s appointments in Manhattan.” Not true, the AARP’s Chris Widelo tells Streetsblog: “It’s expensive to have a car in this city, and we know that as many people get older, they tend to give up their keys.”

Here’s a pretty car with a disabled permit in a disabled parking spot — proof that we know how to provide specialty parking when we want to. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

There are many older and disabled people who do need cars to get around, so provisions must be made for parking, as is the norm in many shopping center parking lots.

That’s no kid on that scooter in Paris. (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

We know that exercise is good for older people’s minds and bodies, and in the new world of micromobility — the world of e-bikes and scooters — we have many other options besides driving. We also know that not everyone in the bike lane is young and fit. That’s why people of every age and ability need decent sidewalks and a safe, secure place to use these new driving alternatives.

In almost every fight over bike lanes, there will be those who fight to keep the status quo, to keep all those parking spaces, those who never ask the older or disabled people what they want or need.

Perhaps it’s time they did ask. They might be surprised by the answers.

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