South London’s physically challenged community is turning to bikes for their regular commutes. Started in 2007, Wheels for Wellbeing is a South London-based charity that has been encouraging cyclists to join a caravan of bicycles, tricycles and hand cycles, championing inclusion.
According to a recent study by Transport for London, 78 percent of disabled people are able to cycle. In South London, 26 percent of disabled people’s commutes are by bike, and cycling’s total share of trips to work is 32 percent, which the highest of any city in Britain. However, South London’s physically challenged community still stumble upon forks in the road that hinder their movement.
“Cycling facilities are built on the assumption we can all stand up,” says Isabelle Clement, the Director of Wheels for Wellbeing. “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?”
The ones responsible for the urban planning and infrastructure of South London are able-bodied, who may not realize that bollards, speed bumps, curbs, and steps can be difficult for physically challenged cyclists to surmount. Cities should consult disability representatives at a strategic level, argues Clement.
A similar initiative came out of Portland, U.S.A.’s marathon, coming to fruition last August in an initiative called Adaptive Biketown. In 2016, Portland’s physically challenged community was appalled by the city’s bike-share program, which included a thousand orange bicycles without any consideration to those who could not join due to their physical impairment. “This is the way that a lot of these kinds of programs go,” said a well-known member of the Portland cycling community, Jeremy Robbins, who rides a hand cycle because he is quadriplegic. “But I would have thought that the city of Portland would have a greater vision of inclusivity and equality.”
Portland’s bike-share program learned from its mistakes and launched an inclusive event the following year. There are more than 17,000 workers in Portland who cycle to work, which represents 7.2 percent of the city’s commuters. The bike-share program offered different kinds of tandems, hand cycles, and three-wheeled bikes for rent per hour, and was a collaboration between Portland Bureau of Transportation and Nike. The city spent $35,000 coupled with $10,000 coming in from Nike. Other bike-relevant organizations joined the bike-share program last year, like Kerr Bikes and Different Spokes.
Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that Wheels for Wellbeing is based in Cambridge. It is in fact based in South London. The correction was made on 6 May, 2018.