Blog post by Catriona Swanson
Welcome to our second blog post!
In this edition we delve into the thinking behind our most popular design: “that’s how I roll”. It features a selection of non-standard cycles: a tricycle, handcycle, recumbent cycle and a cargo bike, the phrase “that’s how I roll” and the hashtag #BeyondTheBicycle.
The idea behind our design is that, for many people, bikes and non-standard cycles give people more transport options and independence so the phrase is quite literal: enabling people undertake journeys by bike that may not otherwise be possible. This may be due to a disability or, in the case of cargo bikes, because they have children, shopping - or even freight! - to carry.
(Quick note about us: at In Tandem we're passionate about inclusive design and enabling safer streets where everyone who wants to can walk and cycle. That's why £1 from the sale of every mug and "that’s how I roll" t-shirt and art print goes to disability cycling charities Wheels for Wellbeing and Cycling Projects). Read more about our commitment to good cases here.
The need for better infrastructure
Non-standard cycles are quite a rare sight on the streets of the UK despite there being a whopping 14.1 million disabled people (that’s 1 in 5 people in England and Wales) and that’s before we get onto the topic of cargo bike deliveries and the exponential rise in packages being sent (2.8 billion in 2019/20). And, actually, all types of cycles including boring old two wheelers (otherwise known as bikes) are a relatively rare sight on our roads compared to cars, right? In fact, only 1.7% of all trips in the UK are currently made by cycle compared to 27% in the Netherlands (and the figure is far higher in cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht).
At this point you might be asking yourself, if the picture is so dire, should we even be talking about non-standard cycles or should we just be talking about enabling cycling more generally? And you’d have a point: why focus on groups that are underrepresented when more than 98% of people aren’t cycling? Shouldn’t we just focus on upping cycling more generally and let that increase cycling levels in underrepresented groups? The answer is a resounding “no” but I’ll get onto that later.
Who is cycling infrastructure for?
One of the key misunderstandings about cycling infrastructure is who it is for. I’ve read so many articles and letters in newspapers and responses to consultations over the years which read something like:
“this cycle lane is a waste of money as I never see any cyclists around here! The money should be spent filling the potholes instead – what are we paying our road tax for!?”
There’s obviously quite a few things wrong in that short sentence but the key one is the idea that cycling infrastructure is for people who already cycle. It absolutely isn’t. Cycling infrastructure is for all the people who don’t currently cycle, particularly people who currently drive (or are driven).
The mad/brave few who currently cycle (yep, I'm one of them) will benefit from new cycling infrastructure, sure, but they’re doing it anyway. Everyone I know who’s involved in planning and designing cycling infrastructure (and I know quite a few) have their sights firmly set on people who currently drive (or are driven) and particularly the very short car trips that are done by car that could be easily walked or cycled instead. The obvious target is the school run, not just because of the chaos caused on our streets by it (congestion, pollution, road safety) but because children often have no choice in the matter and would much prefer to walk, scoot or cycle to school with their friends - or even their parents! – than be driven.
The wonderful work done by Sustrans through their Bikelife project demonstrates that the public support better cycling infrastructure and understand the need for road space to be reallocated away from cars to create safe space for cycling. Indeed, the lack of safe cycling infrastructure is cited as the key reason for not cycling and 68% of respondents support building more protected cycle tracks even when this means less room for motor traffic.
Barriers to cycling
So, what’s all this got to do with non-standard cycles and inclusive design? Well, back to those 14.1 million disabled people in the UK. Even if not every one of those 14.1 million wants to cycle – and I’m sure there’s some that don’t – there must be loads that do, right? Well, thanks to Wheels for Wellbeing, we don’t have to guess because they’ve brought together all the key facts and stats in their brilliant Guide to Inclusive Cycling. This shows that in London 12% of disabled people already cycle (compared to 17% of non-disabled people) so there’s clearly demand and cycling should be treated as an important mode of transport for everyone. However, disabled people are twice as likely to be physically inactive and more likely to be socially isolated than non-disabled people and are more reliant for day-to-day travel on driving or being driven. So, making cycling more accessible would clearly be of huge benefit in terms of physical health and independence (and I’m sure you can think of lots of other benefits too).
So, what’s stopping disabled people from cycling and how is this different to non-disabled cyclists or would-be cyclists? Well, for disabled people, not only is there the lack of safe cycling infrastructure, but there is a lack of accessible cycling infrastructure. Which means even the small amount of decent stuff that’s out there often isn’t accessible to many disabled cyclists. Non-standard cycles are often wider, longer and heavier than a standard bike meaning routes are often too narrow, include barriers that exclude non-standard cycles or are surfaced in unsuitable materials like gravel.
Added to this, disabled people face a number of other barriers to cycling that non-disabled people don’t: non-standard cycles cost more. Sometimes a hell of a lot more. Plus, cycle parking is normally designed for two-wheeled bikes so might be inaccessible by non-standard cycle. For example, the cycle stand might have been installed too close to a wall or other obstacle or it might be located at the top of some steps or on a build-out that doesn’t have a dropped kerb. And anyone who lives in a terraced house or an apartment who’s had to lug their bike up into their home will quickly realise that storing a trike would probably be impossible. And, beyond infrastructure and cost, there’s burdens that society puts on disabled cyclists that non-disabled cyclists are often totally unaware of such as cycles being banned in pedestrianised areas. Where cycles are used as a mobility aid, this can lead to whole swathes of town and city centres that are totally inaccessible or means disabled people facing hostility or even fines for going there by cycle.
The case for inclusive design
So, we know that we need to do better in terms of cycling infrastructure generally and that there is widespread public support for doing so, even where we need to take some space from cars. And we know that there’s disabled people who’d like to cycle but can’t because of a lack of infrastructure. So let’s kill two birds with one stone by ensuring all new cycling infrastructure is inclusive and accessible. Yes, it really is that simple and is what we should be doing on every single scheme every single time. If someone tells you that there’s not enough space for inclusive cycling infrastructure, they’re basically arguing for sub-standard cycling infrastructure. In the words of a certain Ranty Highwayman, “The street is not too narrow, your imagination is”. Between Wheels for Wellbeing’s Inclusive Design Guidance and the new local transport note on cycling infrastructure the design guidance (LTN1/20 for the nerds) is there which, if followed, will mean all new schemes are inclusive.
And the great thing about inclusive design is that it really does cater for everyone and benefits everyone – even those who drive. For example, a cycle track that’s designed to be accessible by a tricycle with its forgiving kerbs, generous width, gentle gradients and smooth surface is also perfect for young children on balance bikes, parents with child seats and tagalongs, older people on electric bikes and sociable side-by-side riding. It also means that as cycle use grows (which with high quality infrastructure it should), there is space to accommodate everyone. It benefits people walking because safe, inclusive cycling infrastructure will give them their footways back as people cycling will no longer need to use footways to keep themselves safe. And drivers? Well they benefit from quieter roads as everyone who can and wants to will have got on their… cycle!
Note about the author
Catriona Swanson is co-founder of In Tandem and an Associate at PJA. She specialises in planning and designing active travel schemes and has delivered award winning inclusive cycling infrastructure including traffic-free routes to protected cycle tracks to low traffic neighbourhoods.