Travelling to and around York’s city centre should be simple for disabled residents who use cycles as mobility aids. Unfortunately, access restrictions and inadequate cycle infrastructure mean this is rarely the case. Senior councillors from three of York’s political parties saw these obstacles in person, when they joined York Cycle Campaign for a ride highlighting the difficulties disabled cyclists face in traversing and accessing our city centre.
Councillors Peter Dew (Conservative; Executive Member for Transport & Planning), Janet Looker (leader of the Labour group) and Denise Craighill (Green councillor for Guildhall) all attended the event, along with two Campaign members who cycle with disabilities and use recumbent tricycles to do so. It began with a ride across York’s centre, followed by a chat over coffee at the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall to reflect on the experience. Cllr Dew and Cllr Looker each took to their bikes for the ride; Cllr Craighill joined everyone at the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall cafe.
The route started at Fishergate Bar with one simple mission: to reach the City Art Gallery on St Leonard’s Place via Bootham Bar, before doubling back to the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall. Before the group set off, the disabled cyclists were invited to give their thoughts on how they would reach various landmarks in York’s city centre such as Marks and Spencer (“impossible, unfortunately”) and the streets they would have to take, such as Stonebow (“a nightmare”). Then it was off, first heading up George Street, before being forced by the one-way restrictions on Fossgate to join the busy Piccadilly via Dixon Lane.
Finally the ride reached the City Art Gallery, where again everyone was asked to share their thoughts on how they had found the ride thus far. Once finished, it immediately became clear that no one was sure if we could cycle through Bootham Bar. Cllr Dew was sure we could, because the sign only prohibited motor traffic, not cycle traffic, so we followed his lead (literally!) by first waiting in the ASL on St Leonard’s Place before turning right on the green light through Bootham Bar.
After some confusion as to whether or not the signs on St Saviourgate meant we could use it, the group finally made it to the Merchant Adventurers Cafe. There, we were joined by Cllr Craighill,and the disabled cyclists were again asked to recount their experiences of cycling through York’s centre. One person expressed frustration at those able-bodied people who assume every cyclist can simply walk through pedestrian areas, and has the ability or strength to push their cycles, since this is very much not the case. Another disabled cyclist said they were most likely to detour a long way around town to get from one side to the other, as they found cycling through the centre near impossible. A further disabled cyclist said that cycling on a recumbent requiring doing so confidently to ensure you are seen, something that can be intimidating when one has to share the road with lots of buses in areas like Stonebow.
We think it’s fair to say that the ride was an eye-opening and educational experience for all involved. We’re very grateful to all the disabled cyclists who were willing to come out and demonstrate the issues they face, and to Cllrs Peter Dew, Janet Looker and Denise Craighill for each giving up some of their time, listening to the concerns of our disabled members, and approaching this sadly overlooked issue with an open mind. We’re hopeful that this will lead to more inclusive transport decisions in York in the future.