Wheel Spiels is a regular feature in which we ask members and non-members alike to share their stories of cycling. This time Dorina tells us how cycling helped her after an breaking her pelvis when hit by a car.
My love of cycling began when my neighbour taught me to ride when I was about 7 years old. Me and my brother had several bikes, all bought at the local junk shop, back in the day for about £4 each. We went everywhere on our bikes, using our trainers as brakes, jumping makeshift ramps, chasing friends around the local streets and gennels. Getting about on bike was as natural as walking about on two legs. When we got a puncture we would get our puncture kit out and bend a couple of spoons getting the innertube out – it wasn’t unusual to have at least half a dozen puncture patches on a tube and wear them and tyres to the bone. Bikes have always been a part of my life and a useful way of getting around on a shoestring. For a few years, when I lived down south, I abandoned bikes as a means of transport as there was simply no safe way of cycling from where I lived and worked in the sticks to anywhere worthwhile nearby.
When I moved to York almost 20 years ago, I initially scraped a living doing temp jobs. I found bicycles a much more reliable form of transport than buses (and still do) not to mention a way of saving money. I continued to commute around lovely, mostly flat York for a few years on a variety of bikes until in 2015 I was hit by a car on my way to work. My pelvis was fractured, I broke my back and one of my vertebrae was permanently crushed. I spent 15 weeks at home rehabilitating and another nearly 10 weeks slowly returning to work. The accident has had a lasting affect physically and mentally. The rehabilitation period was challenging but it also gave me a lasting empathy for people with mobility issues and how they travel. Not being able to walk the couple of miles into town made me reliant on buses, which were unreliably early or late, or too full to find a seat on at times. I often had to buy a coffee to get a rest in town as there was seldom anywhere to sit. The whole experience of getting out was painfully slow and difficult. How could I get around York and to work without having to rely on the car? I needed to get back on my bike.
Driving to work has too often meant sitting in traffic for half an hour to make a mile’s progress versus cycling getting me all the way in half that time. After my accident, I prefer to avoid the busiest roads altogether if I can, but when I do have to use busy roads and junctions it becomes clear to me why some people are reluctant to take up cycling more often and away from popular car-free routes like the riverside. Cycling near traffic is intimidating, sometimes perilous and unpredictable. The pro-cycling message does not have to be mean being completely anti-car, but we do need to limit the number of cars in the city centre to make cycling, walking and public transport safe and efficient. Increasing the appeal of cycling for those who are able but choose not to due to safety concerns is essential for the city. Some great cycle routes have appeared around central York in the last few years, making it easier to cycle from north York to the centre while avoiding the main traffic laden roads. But there are gaps between the ideal routes and the common gridlock caused by more and more cars that deter some from cycling altogether, especially with children.
York is relatively flat. It has a lively community of family friendly cyclists, workshops, and bike shops that offer confidence-building sessions if you have never learnt or are out of practice, but there is still a lot more that can be done. We can use examples set by cities across the world, from Australia, to North America and yes, the Dutch. They have been the guinea pigs and done the research to help us know what works in similarly sized historic cities, for example Ghent. Cycling has been an aid to mobility for me; I can cycle much further than I can walk, especially thanks to the power of an e-bike. It has given me vital mindfulness time after long days at work and is an activity that we can do together as a family. I would love to see York become the model zero carbon city that the government is seeking, leading the way for other cities in Yorkshire to get more people cycling. If big cities like Manchester, Paris and Madrid can do it, we can. Beyond personal gains, increasing the number cyclists around the city is important for pollution reduction, mental and physical health, and enhancing the character and appeal of our historic city to visitors. Hopefully, in the future we will see York become a city with a reputation for being accessible to all to cycle safely whatever their age or ability.
If you have a story you’d like to share with us please email YorkCycleCampaign@gmail.com. We welcome stories from anyone so long as its related to your own personal experience of cycling, whether positive or negative, and it doesn’t even have to be about York – we love hearing about other places.