The following was submitted to City of York Council’s Age Friendly York consultation.
Just under a quarter of our membership are aged over fifty-five, with two thirds of them cycling at least 4 times a week. For these members cycling remains the firm favourite with 84% saying its their preferred way of getting around the city, followed by driving (5%) and getting the bus (3%).
Rose, who is one of these members, has told us what being able to cycle means to her and the frustrations she faces.
“I am an older cyclist, and a disabled cyclist. I’m also late to returning to cycling after decades of depending on cars.
“Traffic in York is difficult and the air quality is poor. Even as we’re urged out of cars, bus routes are dropped, services cut and prices increased. To reach the GP would take 7 mins by car – or 40+ mins by bus. I am surely not the only one with such a choice. How can public transport compete with that? -Enter the bike.
“I had long wanted to try a bike, especially an e-bike, but at first they were difficult to find and now they are prohibitively expensive. Plus, it had been 40 years. With encouragement, a bike loan, and refresher training via the Bike Belles, I regained my ‘bike legs’ in less than a month. For now, it’s a pedal bike. I don’t have two grand (or secure storage) for an e-bike. Before I could be trapped at home due to traffic or a bad day, now (unless it’s an awful day) I can get out..“
Rose isn’t alone in wanting an e-bike; market research estimates that 70,000 e-bikes were sold in the UK during 2018, an 8% increase in volume over the year before.
Whilst e-bikes don’t do all the work they can take the strain out of cycling, particularly when accelerating, which in an urban environment where journeys are often stop-start. The ‘e-bike revolution’ is widely cited as allowing older people with reduced mobility to continue or return to cycling as a mode of transport, or even take it up for the first time as an adult. It’s not just e-bikes that are allowing older people to cycle if they have reduced mobility and increased accessibility needs. A wider technological revolution has seen a growing market for adapted cycles specialised for specific needs and even cycle manufacturers targeting new models and older riders with lightweight frames, low ratio gears and step through frames. E-bikes and adapted cycles can be prohibitively expensive for many however, with some costing more than a second-hand car, and lack of secure storage for the bikes at home can also cause difficulties.
No matter the style of cycle they can offer the rider huge levels of freedom, providing the infrastructure is there as Rose tells us;
“Unfortunately, my husband, 11 yrs my senior, has also tried biking but in his case it’s just too much like hard work. Poor cycle parking, pinch points and that he can’t get through town [by bike] are real issues all which would remain even with an e-bike. For now, despite being 70, he can walk faster than faff around with all the limitations imposed on bikes – which are MORE than those imposed on Blue Badge drivers and taxis (expensive) & buses (rare).
Many of the one-way routes built into the inner ring road, such as the Fishergate and Lendal Gyratories, are an unnecessary annoyance at best, and can cost precious energy at worst. At the very worse, the added distance becomes one more reason to stay home, or resort to the blue badge and add to traffic.”
On the main roads; cycle lanes are narrow where they do exist, and can suddenly vanish, and are often taken over by cars and delivery vans. At times close passes and driver aggression goes from intimidating to plain scary. I’ve had drivers (like yesterday) yank angrily around me as if fleeing the very clutches of Hell, only to slam to a halt at the next red light.”
Inconvenient routes such as Rose describes can cause major distance barriers to cyclists where energy is at a premium – the worst case scenario for Lendal gyratory can add an extra kilometre onto a journey. The two gyratories are not the only cases in the city where journey distances are extended longer than they need to be- rivers, railway lines and busy roads create barriers across the city that need to be identified and solutions found. A successful example is the recent upgrade of Scarborough Railway Bridge. Before the upgrade unless a cyclist had the physical ability to carry their cycles up and down a pair of narrow & steep steps, a difficult task for many older riders, they were forced to ride an additional 1.8 km to cross the river. Following the reopening of the bridge, the improved accessibility can be seen an additional 1,000 journeys made over the bridge each day.
Poor infrastructure is a constant bug-bear for many cyclists, but for older cyclists who may need longer time to re-act or be less stable than their younger counterparts being in closer proximity to fast moving, busy traffic can cause significant concern. The Sustrans 2017 Bike Life survey found that just 21% of people aged over 65 felt that their city was safe for cycling in. Well considered infrastructure improvements can make a huge difference in how safe people feel cycling along a route; whether it be cycle routes avoiding busy roads or segregated lanes to keep cyclists away from fast traffic, to calming measures on quieter routes and the prevention of ‘rat-running’.
“When I get to town there are few places to park a bike near the shops one wants to visit. It’s also a hassle to be forced to shove it through tourist-crowded streets. I feel shut out of the city centre: eg, ‘Cripples stay home’. I am also now essentially barred from easily using the Post Office: I can no longer blue badge drive and park on Coney Street, I am not permitted to cycle my bike, my mobility vehicle through the heavy crowds; and I have it much easier than someone in their 90s, or a moderately to severely disabled person. I would love to see a ‘blue badge biking’ scheme.”
When travelling by bike, the destination can be just as important as the journey to get there. If its not possible to park cycles close to the destination in a way that is secure and accessible journeys can often go unmade. Many cycle racks around the city centre spaced so tight that handlebars of two adjacent bikes will often entwine. Having such little room to park makes it difficult if not impossible to park larger adapted or if the rider has mobility issues. British Standard 8200-1 (Design of an Accessible and Inclusive Built Environment) recommends that where multiple cycle stands are provided some are positioned to allow for parking of adapted cycles. The London Cycle Design Standard, referenced by BS 8200-1, recommends that 5% of cycle parking is of this accessible type. Cycling charity Wheels For Wellbeing make the further suggestion that these extra accessible bays are marked with blue paint and signed as ‘Reserved for cargo and non-standard cycles. Priority to Disabled cyclists’.
Wheels For Wellbeing, like Rose and many of our other members, would like to see ‘blue badge biking’ schemes rolled out across the country. In their recently launched Guide To Inclusive Cycling, they call for local authorities, police forces and disability groups to pilot schemes which would permit eligible cyclists to continue cycling in areas where it would otherwise be prohibited and use specially allocated cycling bays. In their 2018 Inclusive Transport Strategy, the Department for Transport commits to explore amending legislation to recognise cycles as mobility aids by 2020.
“We will all reach mine and my husband’s stage; via age – if we’re lucky, or sooner, due to illness or injury – if we’re not. For me; age and arthritis can conspire to make walking an almost impossible chore. On top of that, I have hypermobility – a joint disorder that can cause joint dislocation. The pain is literally breath-taking. It’s not treatable except by exercise, but if I can use my bike, I actually maintain function – or even improve. Since remounting a bike two years ago, my ribs might subluxate (slip out of joint) only once a month rather than almost weekly.”
As well as the benefits of accessibility and freedom cycling can bring for older people, it can be a gentle exercise with little sudden impact on joints and muscles providing routes aren’t stressful. The need to continue exercising into older age is essential to maintain both physical and cognitive function, when encouraged it both improves the quality of life but also reduces strains on essential public services that are otherwise stretched. A recent study by The University of Reading looking at cognitive improvements from cycling found both e-bike and unassisted bike riders showed comparable improvements to control subjects who were not riding, the team behind the study have suggested that it is not the physical strain of cycling but the stimulation from the ride itself.
York Cycle Campaign campaign for cycling that is accessible for all. This includes older people who we truly believe could benefit disproportionately from safe cycling infrastructure within the city. Cycling is often, and incorrectly, seen as a younger persons sport. ‘Cyclists’ are often portrayed in the media and commercial literature as well-to-do male 30-somethings clad in lycra on expensive carbon fibre bikes that can cost as much as the state pension allowance. We note that the York Age Friendly City: Journey consultation makes no reference to older people being able to cycle around our brilliant city on the website or in the survey, instead older people are pigeon holed onto buses and as pedestrians These images need to shift, cyclists come in all types and ages as our members and Rose show. To build an age friendly city we need to ensure that those who want to continue cycling into their golden age can- first by acknowledging the benefits and opportunities, then by ensuring we capitalise on them.
York Cycle Campaign are more than happy to work with the Age Friendly team to understand these opportunities, whether it be a sit down discussion or a ride with some of our older members to understand the issues faced. For now, we’ll let Rose have the final word;
“We are all living longer than 50-100 years ago, but moving our bodies less. Traffic has increased, air quality has decreased. People no longer engage in manufacturing or farming, but sit in offices and try to get to the gym on weekends.. Subsidizing bikes – especially e-bikes – will encourage elders and those with mobility issues to give cycling a try. E-bikes will keep older riders on a bike for longer. Wider paths will enable utility and cargo bikes to replace at least some journeys, from petrol to pedal.
I’m not just a cyclist, I’m a ‘rolling pedestrian’. Making a bike easier to use will encourage riders. Making a bike safer to use will give heart to the reluctant. Offering sensible cycle racks in sensible places, and with some spots set aside for wider cycles, blue badge cycles and parents, will let us conveniently leave a bike when we reach our destination. If we make it difficult to cycle, we’ll walk if we can, or we’ll drive. And if we make cycling accessible, safe, and fun, more people will leave the car at home. And that’s better for all of us.”