At Trinity College Dublin, there are plans to install three disabled cycle parking facilities on campus later this week.
They’re similar to racks for ordinary bikes, but wider, says Declan Treanor, who directs Trinity’s Disability Service. “They can only be used for non-standard bikes.”
Roughly 10 percent of students in Trinity, or about 1,800, have a disability, says Treanor. “That we know of, and most are hidden.”
The needs of disabled people who cycle haven’t always been on the agenda in infrastructure plans around the city, but some say they should be.
Small changes like Trinity’s “will get people thinking”, which is enough for Treanor.
“I just want to make sure people who come to our college know we want them to come here,” Treanor says. “We have to think about everybody when we’re doing things, not just one type of person.”
Some Trinity staff and students use modified bikes while in rehabilitation after an injury or surgery, while others use them all the time. People who come into Trinity for an event “will know they can use them as well”, he says.
Cycling with a Disability
The word “bike” can encompass a broad range of things for people with disabilities, says Cathal Miller, the development coach for the Irish Paracycling Team.
There are trikes for people with cerebral palsy or neurological issues. Solo bikes work for others; Miller, who’s missing his right arm below the elbow, uses one of those.
There are recumbent bicycles, where the cyclist lies down and uses their legs to propel themselves. With kneeler bikes, the cyclist uses their hands to cycle. There are tandem bikes and wheelchair tandems.
There are also attachments that turn wheelchairs into handbikes, like Amy Fitzpatrick’s Firefly, and the Batec electric add-on handbike.
Most disabled people who cycle do it as a means of transport, says Miller, who also chairs the Clontarf Cycling Club.
“It’s a path to freedom and gives them an added option so they’re not stuck at home all the time. It gives them added confidence to get out and about.”
Some dedicated cycle lanes are safe for disabled people to use, says Miller. He lists those in Clontarf, St Anne’s Park, Malahide Park, the Phoenix Park, and Corkagh Park as some examples.
But the infrastructure isn’t there for disabled people to cycle in and out of town, he says.
“For someone with a disability in a wheelchair or on a trike, the infrastructure isn’t there to support them. To be honest, you could say the infrastructure isn’t there to support anyone.”
Go to the Source
Amy Fitzpatrick got her Firefly, an attachment that turns her wheelchair into a motorised tricycle, a year and a half ago.
“For years, I had to rely on someone to come in the car with me to do things,” says Fitzpatrick, who has muscular dystrophy and nerve damage. “With the Firefly, I can go off on my own.”
Fitzpatrick says she wouldn’t use her Firefly in cycle lanes, though. She’s tried a couple of times. “It’s not very safe,” she says.
She takes the footpath to her local park to walk her two dogs. But even the footpath can be a problem if it’s cracked or blocked by vehicles.
Fitzpatrick says disabled people are being left out of the conversation about a lot of things, not just cycle lanes.
“You’re not going to get everything perfect … but a bit more consideration wouldn’t go astray,” she says. “You have to go to the source. If you need to know an answer, you ask the person that it affects.”
Auditing for Inclusiveness
There’s an inequality in who’s using public space in the city, says Janet Horner, who’s on the committee of the Dublin Cycling Campaign.
“We need to look at how the design is perpetuating the inequality of usage,” Horner says. Public bodies should do gender and equality audits of their designs, she says.
“Are these designs going to make our public space more equal, more inclusive, enable people to independently move around their [city]?” she says.
Those kinds of audits would be particularly important for big infrastructure projects like BusConnects, Horner says. Public bodies have a duty to promote equality and human rights, she says.
Amy Fitzpatrick, the Firefly user, says the state of the footpaths – which are “dreadful” – is the biggest safety issue for her.
They’re chipped, broken, and blocked by vehicles, she says. The ramps to get on and off them are often too steep and too far apart. Dog poo is another problem.
Cathal Miller, who coaches the para-cycling team, says what’s needed is wider cycle lanes that everyone can use, with well-maintained surfaces.
“I think all cycle lanes should be free from cars, and that should be enforced rigorously,” he says.
While bike racks like the ones being installed in Trinity this week wouldn’t help Fitzpatrick – her Firefly stays on the wheelchair when she’s out – she says, “It’s a really good idea.”
Miller says the parking facilities wouldn’t help all disabled cyclists, but it could work for trikes.
“Putting in the racks is great,” he says. “It’s a start.”