In this blog article, Transform policy advisor Susan Jeynes discusses her experience navigating Scotland’s streets with a wheelchair user.
She highlights the need for a more inclusive and accessible environment for people with mobility issues, encouraging both local councils and individuals to take steps to create safe places for active travel for all.
Getting around without a car
I have always been a fan of active travel. We live in the town centre – having no need for a car, we walk almost everywhere. However, since my mum had a stroke six years ago, I’ve become much more aware of the challenges facing people with mobility issues, who need to use walking aids or a wheelchair.
When my mum visited in the summer, I took her into town for lunch, in her wheelchair. The first thing that struck me was how common it is for drivers to park in front of drop kerbs. I don’t have the strength to bump my mum up and down kerbs, so instead we had to take a number of detours in order to find the next drop kerb that wasn’t blocked. When you pay attention to this, it becomes apparent that drivers never park in front of driveways – these are always clear.
“Clearly drivers will go out of their way not to inconvenience other drivers. Why can they not show the same courtesy to pedestrians?”
However, finding parked cars in front of other drop kerbs is remarkably common. Clearly drivers will go out of their way not to inconvenience other drivers. Why can they not show the same courtesy to pedestrians?
In addition to this, I realised that a lot of the drop kerbs near us aren’t flush with the road. Some are an inch or two up. This had been enough of a challenge with a pushchair, but was much more difficult with a wheelchair, because of the weight. Leaning a wheelchair backwards to negotiate it onto the pavements is hard work.
The next challenge we encountered was a severely overgrown hedge which was taking up half the pavement. To add to this, there was a bollard on the pavement, presumably to prevent parents from parking on the pavements when dropping their kids off at the school opposite.
Rather than trying to bump her down the kerb and walking on the road, I ended up pushing her through the hedge. It’s just as well that we didn’t come across any pavement parking, as that would have been even more awkward.
Then we came to a busy road that we wanted to cross. My mum was walking at this point, using her rollator. Temporary traffic lights were in operation because of roadworks. Knowing that my mum walks slowly, I suggested that we cross the first half of the road (which was closed to traffic), before the green man.
This would give us more time to cross the section of the road that was still in use. Despite this, the traffic light had turned green long before we got onto the pavement, with at least eight cars driving past us while we were still on the road.
Improving our infrastructure
I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I am critical of all walking infrastructure. I am aware how lucky we are to have pavements almost everywhere, and I am grateful that I can walk virtually everywhere that I need to go on a daily basis.
“There are clearly changes that need to be made if we are going to encourage people with mobility issues to walk and wheel more.”
And most of the time I spent out walking with my mum was fine. However, there are clearly changes that need to be made if we are going to encourage people with mobility issues to walk and wheel more.
Councils have responsibility for some of these. I suggest that they:
- Extend the duration of the crossing time provided at pedestrian crossings
- Ensure that drop kerbs come down to be flush with the road
However, it is equally important that individuals take responsibility for making places wheelchair friendly. So please try and take some simple measures to help disabled people to walk/wheel more. My top recommendations would be to:
- Make sure that you don’t park in front of drop kerbs
- Trim your hedge so that it doesn’t obstruct the pavement
- Don’t park on pavements
I think that these measures would make a huge difference to encouraging people using mobility aids to walk more.
I, for one, would love to see streets where people moving more slowly or using walking aids or wheelchairs were well catered-for, and were able to walk or wheel as much as they wanted to.
Take a look at our ‘Safe Places for Active Travel’ priority here to find out what work we are doing to make walking, wheeling and cycling safe, convenient choices for everyone, everywhere.