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Archive for the ‘wheelchair’ Category

Wheelchair User in Two-Way Separated Bike Lane. Berri St., Montreal QC 2005. Photo by HJEH Becker

Wheelchair user in two-way separated bike lane with cyclists. Berri St., Montreal QC 2005. Photo by HJEH Becker

For years, cyclists have been demanding their own space on roads.  After all, pedestrians have had their space, physically separated from car and truck traffic by curbs and vertical elevation from road surfaces.  So, why should cyclists not have their space?  Safety and inducement for more people to cycle and not drive, is the call of the marginalized cyclists.

So life in North America is slowly changing.  Slowly, bike lanes are making their way into city landscape.  Just like neighbourhood streets in Vancouver which were traffic calmed to attract cyclists,  now other road users have come to bike lanes.  While Vancouver’s cycle streets attracted car drivers, bike lanes are attracting three and four-wheeled vehicles as well.  In this case, it is the wheelchair users along with in-line skaters, skateboarders, and the occasional binners with their shopping cart.

Wheelchair user in bike lane. Pacific Blvd., Vancouver BC 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Wheelchair user in bike lane. Pacific Blvd., Vancouver BC 2010. Photo by HJEH Becker

Some countries in Europe even allow smelly, gas-driven mopeds and motorcycle.  Even four-wheeled electric cars are allowed on cycling facilities in the Netherlands.  Hope that North America never goes that far.  Fast speeding electric mopeds and e-bikes with their pedals removed, are drawing cyclists’ irritation.

So, what is it about?  Is it not about placing same speed movements together for everyone’s comfort and safety?  First there is the speed of pedestrians, joggers and runners.  Then there is the speed of cyclists, wheelchair users, in-line skaters and skateboarders all moving in the same speed range.  Then there is the speed of cars within urban streets, mopeds and moped-like e-bikes, some with their speed-either bypassed or removed.

Meanwhile, there is nothing like an elderly person driving his wheelchair at a speed passing a cyclist churning up a steep hill.

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I recently wrote an article for Momentum magazine  on the Duet Bike program which allows frail, wheelchair-bound nursing home residents to be transported by bike for improved social engagement with the community outdoors.

Wheelchair detached from Duet Bike. Wheelchair does not allow self-propulsion due to wheel fenders.

Wheelchair detached from Duet Bike. Wheelchair does not allow self-propulsion due to wheel fenders. The wheelchair designed specifically for a specialized bike, can accommodate a passenger up to 200 lbs. Photo by J. Chong, Jan. 2010.

Since the article was restricted by length, I could not elaborate on my short experience as a passenger in the same bike-driven wheelchair. So this addendum article fills the gap.

My passenger ride happened shortly after Brian (incorrectly named as Paul in Momentum) disembarked from the Duet Bike. Glen, the cycling volunteer, urged me to try.

So after bundling me in the wheelchair, we were off onto Pacific Blvd., a moderately busy 4-lane wide road with  marked bike lanes in each direction and car parking. After crossing a Pacific Blvd. intersection, Glenn steered us onto the sidewalk for a short piece before pedaling back down onto Davie St. No doubt, we were a traffic-stopping sight since the Duet Bike is still rare but not totally unlike a pedicab.

Passenger Paul Hewer and Glen Paul, cyclist on Duet Bike. Jan. 2010. Photo by J. Chong. Momentum article provides more details on Yaletown House's Duet Bike Program.

Passenger Paul Hewer and Glen Paul, cyclist on Duet Bike. Jan. 2010. Photo by J. Chong. Momentum article provides more details on Yaletown House's Duet Bike Program.

 He said it was safer  to be briefly on the sidewalk away from the rushing cars  and particularily for any frail elderly person in a wheelchair.  No doubt, it is better for the wheelchair passenger to have been a previous cyclist  who would be comfortable with the sensation of cars rushing nearby. However, most of the time during the ride with Glen’s visible jacket and his long-time cycling skills, I was at ease.

Only on Marinaside Dr., along a row of parked cars,  did I suddenly realize what it would mean if I was car-doored:  the wheelchair seat was literally at car door level.  As a Duet Bike passenger, I would have no control to stop nor to steer quickly away. 

Our little jaunt around the neighbourhood in the Duet Bike prompted some thoughts:

  1. Bike helmet for wheelchair passenger should not protrude into the chair backrest. A rounded helmet, like the Nutcase brand could be a solution, though adjustment of such helmet designs are abit more limited.  Since I am short, this forced my head and upper body to lean forward for the entire ride instead of sitting back comfortably against the chair back. Alternatively the chair backrest  could be designed for  adjustment to different passenger heights
  2. Duet bike users and their vehicles are like other cyclists on regular bikes  –safer in separated bike paths or bike lanes.
  3. There is interest in visibility of wheelchairs and safe wheelchair crossing at intersections according to keyword Google searches logged into our blog.

With a significant aging population, Duet Bikes will grow in popularity and cycling facilities should be designed with this in mind.

Further Reading:
Chong, Jean. “Duet Bike Program: Wheelchair-Bound and Bicycle-Propelled Seniors”. In Momentum. Mar./Apr. 2010; Issue no. 44.  See below.

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Motorized wheelchair user on crosswalk with Chistmas safety trees. Victoria, B.C. Dec. 2009

Motorized wheelchair user on crosswalk with Chistmas safety trees. Victoria, B.C. Dec. 2009

While I was shopping in a major outdoor recreational equipment and sporting goods store, there was physically disabled customer in his electric wheelchair in the customer lineup.  After the clerk rang in his purchases, the customer then requested the cashier to help him affix  his LED red hanging lights he had just bought, onto his miniature Christmas trees.  They were the same lights used for cyclists and pedestrians.

He had two artificial trees, each strategically mounted on his wheelchair arm rests.  He explained to the cashier, that he really wants to be visible and the lights were in addition to a reflective safety vest draped across the back of his wheelchair.

What an ingenious use of these tiny safety lights.  Someone really cares about their own safety.  He was willing to be a Christmas tree just so that others could see him.

Cyclists, drivers and pedestrians also share roadways and paths with these vehicles.  Where should these mobility units or motorized wheelchairs be on roadways?  On the sidewalk? On the road?  In bike lanes? Where should they be off-road:   on walking paths? Or on  bike trails?  More debate is needed.  Some say that people in these devices,  should be with pedestrians.  Others say they should be share same space as  bicycles on bike lanes and bike trails.

Clip-on LED hanging light.

Clip-on LED hanging light 2009.

The theory of separating traffic by same speed, would group these devices with bicycles.  The people driving them, have shown that their dexterity to move along , is quite fast.  Often the wheelchair drivers are not the best in navigating these units.  They may impede pedestrians.  Is it not best that these motorized units with the speed of bicycles, share cycling infrastructure and let people walk peacefully on sidewalks and walking paths without fear of a motorized device skirting about in their way?  The elderly who might be anxious and spooked by things speeding nearby or by sudden noise, then may be more motivated to go out to walk when electric wheelchair users are separated and driving along  in the cycling facilities.

Given a significant aging population and now empowered with the technology of wheelchairs, and yes, low-cost lights, there will be more wheelchair users  asserting their right to share transportation space and freedom to move around independently outdoors whenever they wish.

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