As a visually impaired white cane user, there is nothing worse than walking straight into an unexpected hazard. Unfortunately in London there are now thousands of them.
Dockless bike schemes exploded all over the capital, and the UK generally, in the last couple of years. These app based initiatives allow anyone to log in, pick up a bike, cycle to wherever they want and then leave it for the next user. It’s a great way to encourage active travel and offers a cheaper option for the occasional cyclist or someone who wants to commute via bike in good weather.
However, users frequently leave the bikes in inconvenient or even dangerous locations. I’ve bumped into bikes in the middle of pavements, found them blocking entrances to train stations, or tripped over them lying across tactile paving at a pedestrian crossing. Although on a good day I have enough residual vision to sometimes make out the brightly coloured bikes, when I try to navigate around them, too often I get a handlebar in the gut or a basket in the bum.
Navigating using a long white cane takes a huge amount of concentration, every bump, knock and sweep is a bit of information that I have to interpret. On familiar routes I can remember where bus stops are or dodgy bits of pavement and avoid them. With unexpected hazards like these bikes, I am often thrown off course, forced to navigate away from my usual route and into unfamiliar territory. I’ve even had to go into the road because I couldn’t get around a group of abandoned bikes and there was no one around to offer me a hand.
It’s exhausting and disorientating having to constantly encounter these bikes, work around them with my long white cane & try to safely get back on track to where I wanted to go.
I have also found that many of the people who borrow dockless bikes seem less aware of the highway code and good cycling practice. I’ve encountered several cycling on the pavement. For a person with low vision, the sound of a bike heading towards you at speed on a pavement is absolutely terrifying, especially now many of them have electric power packs.
This is why I was very pleased to see Daniel Zeichner MP raising the issue of dockless bike scheme regulation in the House of Commons. I saw details of Mr Zeichner’s proposal for a 10 Minute Rule Motion (a special type of debate that allows for the introduction of a Private Members Bill) and decided to write to him.
In my email I explained the hazards posed to visually impaired and other vulnerable pedestrians posed by the dockless bikes. Mr Zeichner replied the next morning saying he would very much like to include my comments in his speech!
So on Wednesday 24th July, the 10 minute rule motion on Dockless Bike Scheme regulation was put to the House of Commons, and agreed to.
You can read the full & more accurate transcript of the speech here
It was so exciting to have my name and comments read out in the House of Commons. The Bill will now go for a Second Reading when Parliament returns after the Summer. Unfortunately it is unlikely that it will become law, Private Members Bills rarely do, instead they are a useful mechanism for drawing Government attention to an issue. I have also had a very positive response from my own MP who has contacted the London Walking & Cycling Commissioner to raise the issue in my local area. So hopefully this will mean some regulations or perhaps an opportunity to meet and discuss the issue with decision makers.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate these schemes, I just want them to be safer!
I’m a new keen cyclist myself, and have been enjoying the hard fought for London cycling infrastructure in the last few weeks. You can read all about my love of my new tandem here.
Mainly, people just need to be more considerate and aware of how hazardous the bikes can be. To incentivise safe parking I think there should be designated docking zones, not the infrastructure of a docking station like the Boris Bikes, but perhaps a reward scheme for docking the bikes in safe locations which do not create obstructions on the footway. If a bike is found creating a hazard, traffic wardens should be empowered to report them, and the last user should be fined, much as any car would be for parking inappropriately.
There has to be a solution so that people can enjoy dockless bikes and keep them safely out of the way of vulnerable pedestrians.
If you are a keen cyclist or someone who regularly uses these dockless bike schemes please share this blog. Help people understand why they need to leave their bike in a safe place somewhere that doesn’t block the pavement.
If you enjoy cycling why not volunteer with a local accessible cycle scheme to help more disabled people access cycling. I’ve made a thread of UK organisations here