Walk, Wheel, Cycle, Vote is about removing barriers to active travel, whether that be on foot, using a wheelchair or using any kind of cycle. As we’ve learned from our events, barriers can come in many forms, some of them not always obvious, and can affect all manner of people.
We’ve had the privilege of spending time with some incredibly patient and generous people who have been prepared to take us out onto the streets of our major cities and share their experiences and answer our questions over the past couple of years. If every one of our politicians did the same, we think the world would already be a better place, but that’s sadly not possible, especially with social distancing still in force.
Instead, we invite you all to do the next best thing and take our politicians on a short video journey to help open their eyes to the sort of barriers you or people you know might be facing, especially ones which might not be obvious. It doesn’t have to be very long (indeed the shorter the better) and it doesn’t have to be very polished – just enough to make the point.
For instance, Sebastian (and his mum) explain why the local stretch of the NCN is not fit for all ages and abilities to use:
Claire encounters numerous obstacles on her walk to the shops in Corstorphine:
And Emily shows that you don’t even need to use video footage to show how she can use her bike and trailer to replace journeys you might think would need a car – but only if the infrastructure is right:
Finally, Cycling Dumfries have put together an ‘island-hopping adventure’ that shows just how painful a crossing can be if you’re not fit enough to just nip across in a gap in the traffic:
Inspired? Why not have a go at putting together a short video of your own. You can share it with us, but also with your local candidates for the coming election, so that they can see for themselves what people are up against and what they need to do to help.
Just put together a short film, or slideshow if you prefer, add some captions, and upload it to social media. Let us know – either by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or twitter and Facebook and we’ll share it too.
Even though it’s stories rather than statistics that change hearts and minds (and more on that shortly!) it can be helpful sometimes to have the evidence to back things up. But marshalling the facts and figures, and knowing which ones to trust can be difficult, especially for someone who’s not a full-time campaigner.
That’s where our briefings should come in handy. We’ve put together a set of easily readable documents that marshal the best and most recent evidence in one short two-pager for a range of topics.
The latter is important, by the way. Politics and planning policy can be difficult topics that raise strong emotions across the board. But sometimes it’s important to take a step back and consider what we often forget: the sheer joy of being human and getting about under your own steam, however you choose to do so. And who can argue with that?
After several weeks of behind-the-scenes work, our interactive candidate finder tool is now live! We’ve got the names of every single candidate standing in this year’s Holyrood election, along with any contact details we’ve been able to find for them so far.
We’ve also been contacting as many candidates as we can in the last week or so, asking them to support our three asks. So far we’ve had almost 60 respond – but there are over 800 people standing in this election, so we need to reach a few more!
So now it’s over to you: find out who your candidates are (both constituency and regional list) by popping in your postcode or clicking on the map, and then get in touch with as many as you can by whatever means suits asking them where they stand on active travel for everyone, and specifically our three asks on accessibility, infrastructure and investment.
We’ll leave it up to you to put it in your own words – we know from politicians we’ve spoken to that they pay more attention to a message that someone’s written themselves than an automated one. Depending on what contact details we have, you can contact them through Facebook, Twitter or email.
The more people candidates hear from, the more they’ll realise this is something that matters to their would-be bosses: you, the electorate. This election is unlikely to see much doorstep campaigning or live hustings events, so raising the issue on line is the best way to do it.
We also need your help to keep our records up to date – if you hear from your candidate, positively or negatively, let us know (with their permission, if it’s not a public message) so we can update our database. Also, if you know of any contact details that we’re missing (again, that are public knowledge – we don’t want to be inadvertently broadcasting anyone’s private email address) then please do pass them on – we can be contacted by Twitter, Facebook or by email on email@example.com
There are lots of contentious issues at stake in this election – but we don’t think asks like enabling all children to walk, wheel or cycle to their school should be one of them. It only takes a moment to let your candidates know these issues matter to you – and find out if they matter to them too.
Welcome to our new look website and our new name which reflects our new priorities for active travel. Anyone who’s been following us as We Walk, We Cycle, We Vote for the last couple of years will be aware that we’ve been on a two-year journey of our own, learning to see, hear, and experience the barriers to active travel from everyone’s perspective, but especially those of disabled people.
Out of this we have not only found real common ground between us but we have come to see that once we start to place accessibility at the centre of how we look at and design our streets, then you will create conditions that are better for everyone (something that is true in many aspects of life, from chairs to potato peelers).
This understanding is reflected in our new ‘asks’ – the three points we’ll be asking candidates of all parties to sign up to in the coming Holyrood elections:
Accessibility: Ensure that our streets, paths and footways are accessible to everyone, whether on foot or using any form of mobility aid; by putting accessibility at the heart of our street design, we will create places everyone can use and enjoy.
Infrastructure: Create a long-term programme to rebuild our villages, towns and cities around walking, wheeling and cycling, with active travel infrastructure everyone can use – the initial goal should be that every child who wants to can walk, wheel or cycle to their school.
Investment: Provide the sustained, long-term investment needed to start this transformation of Scotland into a country that enables active travel everywhere – starting from 10% of the transport budget, and rising to 20% over the course of the parliament.
But we realised we could not leave it there. By not including ‘wheeling’, our old name and logo excluded the many people who use a wheelchair to get about.
Hence our new name, new web address, and lovely new logo.
What hasn’t changed is our determination to keep active travel in all its forms to the forefront in the coming election campaign. Watch this space for news of how you can get involved. And if you’re part of an organisation that shares our aims, please sign up to become a supporter and help us transform Scotland into a country where everyone can walk, wheel or cycle in safety, wherever they want to go.
Over the past year, we have been working with a number of organisations and people to understand what we mean by active travel for all. This has meant a lot of listening, learning and discussion and has been a massive journey for those of us who have enjoyed good health and unimpeded mobility, to understand how the design of our streets and cities have prevented others from enjoying the same freedom of movement.
In October last year we ran a workshop, Active Travel for Everyone, which brought together a mixed group of people including wheelchair users and others with a mobility impairment, cyclists (including some who use their bike as a mobility aid), blind and visually impaired people. This explored a variety of topics and ended with a session on which we agreed a number of statements. Only statements which were unanimously agreed are included here. Nobody needed to explain or justify their dissent if they didn’t agree, but they could offer an alternative wording, and in some cases it took two or three redrafts before everyone in the room was happy with the statements below.
These are not intended to be exhaustive or even fully representative, but they do represent an area of common ground on which we can build.
We started with a general principle:
“We acknowledge that different groups of people will have different priorities based on different needs. We should not allow people to divide and rule us.”
The other 11 statements were more specific:
Pavements need to be maintained, level, and even.
We should design our streets and walkways to ensure that all people can move around safely.
The cycle network should be accessible to all cycles with no narrowings less than 1.5 metres.
We should allow fewer cars in urban centres.
Motor vehicles should not be given priority in urban areas.
Kerbs are important to allow blind and partially sighted people to safely navigate the streets.
When we build new infrastructure, spaces where people cycle, walk and drive need to be safely delineated to prevent collisions.
All cycleways and walkways must allow safe access for all to bus stops.
Pavements should be free from clutter.
We should actually implement the hierarchy of provision where those with the least propensity to cause harm are at the top and those with the most propensity to cause harm are at the bottom.
Given the implementation of the agreed transport hierarchy, this should be reflected in resources for maintenance and upkeep.
We commend these statements not as a set of rules or guidelines, but as as touchstones against which any proposals could be measured before they are approved.
The photo at the top of this post sums up our two Firestarter events held earlier this month in Inverness and Edinburgh: so many intense conversations being held that our group could not be moved on!
These events were very simple in their concept: pairing an able-bodied participant with someone who had a visual or mobility impairment and going for a short walk together through our city centre streets.
Listening is such a powerful tool, especially when we listen to someone whose voice isn’t always heard and that is what these photos show.
Afterwards, we asked our participants to capture on a postcard what had stood out for them among the things that they had learned – as this selection shows, the event was indeed eye-opening:
“It’s been very eye-opening to highlight the number of obstructions on the pavements – bins, A-boards, signs, bollards”
“Inconsistency! … e.g. tactile surface at some crossings but not others … some pavements have dropped kerbs, some don’t”
“I learnt from today how many features I didn’t know the purpose of & how many obstacles there are.”
“We need far more crossings available that are safe for blind people to cross (along with the rest of the public)”
“I found the streets very narrow and bumpy … the most relaxed part was the High St. & Inglis St. which are pedestrianised.”
“The wee wheel at the crossing point! (I never knew!). What an impact different levels / surfaces have on someone with a visual impairment – with increased risk of falls.”
We also asked our participants if they had any messages they wanted to send to local or national politicians based on what they’d learned. This is a big area, and there are issues of budgets and design guidance that can seem intractable. But as some of the responses pointed out there are small things that local authorities could do already, that would start to make a change – like looking at banning A-boards, or enforcing parking blocking dropped kerbs. Or simply tackling the imbalance in how our space is allocated, towards people:
“There is loads of space for vehicles, and so little space for pedestrians, wheelchairs, buggies, people with suitcases … this needs to be reversed.”
As we dive into another general election, you might wonder whether we’ll be organising lists of candidates and asking them their position on our three asks, as we did for the Holyrood and local elections in Scotland. The answer is that we won’t – transport is a devolved matter, and that means any MPs we send down to Westminster won’t have any impact on most of the issues that directly affect active travel in Scotland.
That doesn’t mean it’s not worth raising issues that affect you as someone who walks, cycles, and/or votes. Any candidate worth electing will listen to what is said on the doorstep and when they’re out canvassing, and now is the time when they will be listening hardest, so don’t let that opportunity slip! Whether your concerns around active travel revolve around the environment, health, the quality of the place where you live, the wider economy, or all of the above – if you don’t mention these to the politicians and volunteers campaigning for your vote, then they won’t know that it’s an issue.
Remember also that while your MP can’t directly affect issues like transport spending or street design in Scotland, they will be working with others in their party who can – your local councillors and MSPs will be out campaigning just as hard during this election for their own candidate. The concerns raised during the next few weeks will feed in to their understanding of local sentiment about a whole range of issues, not just the constitutional matters that will dominate the news cycle during the campaign.
So, while we’re not formally campaigning this time around, we do urge you to raise active travel issues, local or national, in person or online, now that we’ve got the nation’s politicians’ attention! And we would remind you to register to vote if you are eligible and haven’t already – it takes just 5 minutes online, and you have until the 26th November to do so.
Walk Cycle Vote: I walk, I cycle and I vote. I am also visually impaired or I was last week …this week the politically correct term is severely sight impaired (I think). Anyway I can’t see very well and I have a Guide Dog called Woody. He is gorgeous and my best friend. He is a Golden Labrador/Retriever cross. He is nearly seven years old, a great worker and behaves most of the time. he does have his naughty moments. This only makes him more endearing in my eyes.
While Woody and I are out and about we encounter some difficulties along the way. Some of the worst offenders are cars parked on pavements which force us to go into the road. This puts us both in danger. Wheelie bin day is a nightmare as they are left all over the pavements and again this can mean Woody has to take me into the road to avoid them. At least with wheelie bins they are big enough for me to see when up close. Another problem is the food waste bins which are small enough for me to fall over and even if people leave them in sensible places the wind can blow them anywhere.
I enjoy walking around with my dog and have an amazing feeling of independence and freedom. On the other hand going out with my cane is the opposite. I really don’t like using a cane, however there are times when the dog is sick for instance or I am on holiday or somewhere I haven’t been able to take him for some reason when the cane is my only alternative. My dog will take me round street furniture, scaffolding, roadworks, etc however with the cane I have to find my own way around. I often feel like I am in a pinball machine. I must admit I do get a little too much satisfaction and maybe strike out with my cane a little harder than necessary when I come across cars parked on pavements.
I am also a cyclist and love to be out on my tandem. This gives me an enormous sense of freedom and it is so great to be able to get out in the fresh air (obviously out of the city) and get exercise. I do get scared when cars pass too closely and get really upset when cars are parked in cycle lanes forcing us into traffic. As both a cyclist and a walker I feel entitled to say how annoyed I get when people on bikes go flying past my dog and I on the pavements. Both the dog and I get a fright and there is no need for it. I actually don’t blame some kids for being on the pavements as the roads can be terrifying, however it would be really nice if they slowed down when passing not only my dog and I but other pedestrians. Dismounting would be even better.
There is all sorts of raised paving which is meant to help people with sight loss navigate streets. I for one don’t understand which patterns mean what and I know that the planners don’t either as they are not consistent. Also, I’m not sure if there is a secret with regards to this paving…i have been registered blind (now severely sight impaired) for 25 years, trained with 5 Guide Dogs and had 3 courses of long cane training and in all this time no one has explained what the meaning of the pavement markings are. Maybe there is a course I need to go on that nobody has told me about. Another huge problem people with sightloss are encountering is shared surfaces where cars and pedestrians use the same area. The flaw is that people are supposed to make eye contact with the drivers. Can you guess how this could be a problem? Another issue is the new silent cars. Really, how is that meant to work for us?
Shona is a resident of Edinburgh and very independent and active. However, in her day-to-day life she comes across many barriers which can impede her mobility.
Freedom: That’s what mobility is. In the years that I’ve been handcycling and coaching handcycling I’ve met many people who say that handcycling is freedom. The sense of freedom is one of the most amazing feelings you can ever have, and when it’s taken from you it can be one of the most restrictive burdens you can experience. But, getting it back: that is truly stunning.
I’ve seen the evolution of that freedom. As an able-bodied person, I had an industrial injury where my mobility became more and more limited, and continues to do so due to Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. I’ve evolved from being able to walk, run, and ride a bike, to using a walking stick, then crutches, and then using a wheelchair. At each transition I had to reset my way of thinking about my ability and where I could go and what I could do, and it’s surprising how much mental energy that takes, and how often I got it wrong and get stuck.
But the problem with getting it wrong and getting stuck is rarely whether or not I can physically get somewhere under my own power. Sure, steep hills are a problem, but the big problem is the barriers that I, and others like me face as disabled people. In a wheelchair, a steep ramp, steps(s), uneven surfaces, and a lack of dropped curbs can all limit basic access. And these are all things that, when I was able-bodied, I didn’t give a second thought to because they didn’t slow me down at all.
A few years ago I took up handcycling and I went from that restrictive burden of being disabled to finding freedom all over again. But in the years I’ve been riding I’ve often had to give up that freedom again.
As a handcyclist, when I and my riding colleagues all over the country are in our bikes, these become our wheelchairs; and as cyclist, we are presented with even more challenges to accessing routes and paths. The bikes are low to the ground and can become grounded on seemingly simple objects such as steep or sharp road transitions and speedbumps. They are long and have exceptionally large turning circles so tight corners and chicane gates can prevent access. Similarly, handcycles are wide so bollards can also prevent access. And kissing gates, latched gates or any other obstacle that requires anyone to be able to walk or lift their bike… those are out of the question when you can’t get off and carry your bike. Even reaching the height of a button at a pedestrian/ cycle crossing can be impossible depending on your disability.
So, why would this be and who are handcyclists anyway? Handcycling is very much like traditional cycling except that you are sitting in a recumbent position and pedal using your arms and hands. People who generally take up the activity include (but aren’t limited to) those with paralysis, amputees, individuals with arthritis, brain injuries, cancer or people like me with severe chronic pain. And why do people take up handcycling? Pleasure, socialisation, fitness, rehab, commuting… in fact, handcyclist usually ride for the very same reasons as any other cyclist, we just pedal differently.
But the nature of our bikes and our disabilities, in combination with certain barriers in infrastructure design can often prevent us from cycling just as any other person would. But why should be concerned about access for handcyclists? Well, if you look at a small section of our riders you can find these stats:
According to Aspire, “Using the NHS’s own statistics, as well as data from other countries, the charities estimate that the number of people injured or diagnosed with a life-changing spinal cord injury in the UK is 2,500 per year, whilst the total number of people living with a spinal cord injury in the UK is 50,000.”
Between the years 1981 and 2013, on average 1,595 people had a lower limb amputation in Scotland.
800,000 people in Scotland are affected by chronic pain. In particular with Complex Regional Pain Syndrome one of two variants affects 1.2 children (5-15 years) in every 100,000. In adults, while the figures are vague, there are approximately 5.5 – 26.2 cases diagnosed per 100,000 people.
But what do all these figures mean? Even after looking only at a small cross section of potential handcyclist, we can see that the figures mean that there are a lot of disabled people out there, and potentially a lot who are candidates for handcycling. Interesting too, potentially, any one of these conditions from paralysis, to amputation, to chronic pain could affect any one of us at some point in our lives. I never thought I’d have CRPS, nor did I even know it existed until I started to experience it. I’m certain my paralysed or amputee friends never thought they’d be paralysed or have to lose a limb either.
Why is this important, particularly with cycling and cycling infrastructure? With so many disabled people out there, it’s important that they, we, remain part of society though social activities and remain fit though physical activities and cycling is an ideal way to do it. It’s well know that cycling is less physically demanding than many other outdoor activities, and the endorphins generated are hugely beneficial. Remaining both socially and physically fit is not only empowering but it has the potential of reducing the reliance on the NHS for further health complications as well. But equally importantly, if we build our cycling infrastructure to allow access to disabled people, we build it accessible to all people; able-bodied, elderly, and children. And if you happen to find yourself in a position like me, where in the middle of your life your freedom is taken away… if the cycling infrastructure is already in place you can find your freedom again without even thinking.
Ken Talbot is a two-time world record-holding handcyclist and handcycling advocate.
In the second of our posts reflecting the issues raised by our forthcoming Active Travel for Everyone workshop, Kirsty Lewin explains how not every cyclist is able-bodied – or can easily get off and walk.
You’ll have heard it said. Or seen it written. Bikes as mobility aids. If you’re fit, you might have wondered about the mobility issue. How can someone cycle a two-wheeler but they can’t walk? Surely that doesn’t make sense. And why can’t they walk? Their legs are going around on the bike, aren’t they? There are all sorts of health issues that result in someone being able to cycle but not walk. And one of them is arthritis. I have severe arthritis in one knee. It’s a result of my leg being out of alignment for ten years following a major incident with a lorry. My knee is not red or inflamed. It is not hot to touch. I have full movement – in fact I can touch my heel on my bum which is more than most of the population. But the pain, when weight bearing, is unmanageable. And the painkillers I took to try and manage the pain gave me gastritis. Which means I am now living with arthritis without pharmaceutical pain relief.
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. And a journey that involves two or more buses often takes too long. Buying a car is not a solution either. It’s not worth the cost and hassle. And it’s not worth the impact on the climate and air quality. The bike, and in my case now, the ebike, is the most efficient way of moving through the city. But travelling around Edinburgh on a bike while suffering from painful arthritis is not as easy as it should be.
One challenge for us arthritis sufferers is trying to avoid exacerbating the pain. Putting my foot down on the road hurts, and putting it down suddenly hurts a lot more. 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. And of course, there’d be cycle parking where I live, in a tenement. You’re guessing where this is going.
There is no ‘blue badge’ scheme for people who use bikes and trikes as mobility aids. This is despite the fact that the bike is cheap to run, non-polluting, and aids physical and mental health. This lack of foresight means that when I turn up at an industrial estate, or a public building, or a shopping centre, or a cinema or theatre or art gallery, there may be no bike parking at all, or the parking might be on the other side of a large car park, or a distance down the street. A painful walk is then required. Sometimes the cycle parking requires pushing the bike up over a kerb. There’s a major hospital in Edinburgh that provides this particular joy. When you’re using an ebike for health reasons, pushing 25 kilos of bike over a kerb is quite a feat.
I have been under a moving lorry with a bike. Naturally, this has left me with considerable anxiety when cycling in heavy fast traffic. Every day my knuckles whiten as drivers pass me too closely, an illegal close pass, but they rarely get caught. Operation Close Pass in Edinburgh has limited resources despite its best efforts. Drivers veer across my path to turn left, or they pull out of a junction into my path despite having looked straight at me seconds before. And they regularly run red lights as I move out onto the road urged on by the safe ‘green cycle’ sign that I’ve been patiently waiting for. Every sudden stop in these circumstances means a foot hard down and agonising pain through my knee. And every close shave is a physical flash of fear. Thumping heart and sweaty palms. It doesn’t seem fair to have to suffer that fear, just to get from one place to the next.
Sometimes I cycle on the pavement. I do this when I’m afraid of the traffic, or when forced to by roadworks. I do it carefully, and stop to let pedestrians by. I ignore ‘cyclist dismount’ signs. I have to. But I’ve been abused by some pedestrians. One woman in Portobello looked me up and down and said I didn’t look disabled. If I wear my knee brace, I get a more sympathetic reception. But pedestrians are right to raise an eyebrow. In the UK, bikes are not listed as mobility aids in the legislation. Technically I shouldn’t be on the pavement at all. But how else am I supposed to get around? Even on shared-use paths, things can be challenging. Walkers and runners with dogs can be unpredictable. Of course, most dog walkers are responsible and careful. But if a dog runs across my path, forcing me to swerve or brake suddenly, the pain brings tears to my eyes.
Why does any of this matter? Well, I’m not alone. Osteoarthritis affects around eight million people in the UK, and arthritis is the biggest cause of pain and disability in Scotland. The most commonly affected joints are hands, knees, hips and the spine. There is no cure for arthritis, but regular physical activity is recommended by NHS Scotland to manage symptoms, strengthen joints, and relieve stress. Cycling is a wonderful way of getting the required amounts of physical activity, although other exercises are required too, for example those that involve strengthening and stretching. But many people with arthritis will not cycle if they are frightened. Or if physical barriers make it too difficult. Or there’s nowhere to put their bike at their destination or even at home.
We often talk about designing cities for children. Or designing cities for people with dementia. Let’s add general disabilities to the list and, at the very least, meet our obligations for people with disabilities under the Equalities Act. And get on with it, not just talk about it. It took me over ten years to get one kerb dropped to access the cycle parking at an iconic public building in Edinburgh. On that basis I may only get another two done in my lifetime.
There’s some fantastic transformational work going on in Edinburgh to facilitate cycling and walking. This will undoubtedly result in improved access and experiences for many disabled people who choose active travel. However, it’s not city wide and many of the smaller projects that could make a difference now are still not getting done. Cities that are designed and run for people who use bikes, trikes and adapted bikes as mobility aids to get around would be safe, practical, and fun for all inhabitants. What are we waiting for?