Adaptive Bike Share

Making bike share accessible to people with disabilities

Catherine Callahan handcycles on the Bay Bridge.

Bike East Bay is turning to local disability advocates to help create an inclusive bike share system. As a wheelchair user and an avid handcyclist, Catherine Callahan sees adaptive cycling as another transportation option for the disability community. Callahan, a mobility specialist at the Center for Independent Living in Berkeley, is especially interested in sharing vehicles like the Dragonfly, an 8-speed handcycle that attaches to the front of a wheelchair.

“It offers you a little more speed if you’re able to hand-crank,” says Callahan. “That would help me be able to go further in my daily journeys.

Few bike share systems have built in adaptive cycling from the start. This reflects a widespread assumption that people with disabilities cannot or do not want to cycle. After receiving a challenge from the Mayor’s Commission for People with Disabilities, the City of Oakland is exploring options for adding adaptive cycles to the new bike share fleet.

It is following the lead of cities like Portland, Oregon, which recently expanded its Biketown bike share system by providing handcycles, tandems, and trikes at bike shops located next to multi-use trails. Using this model, Oakland could potentially partner with the Bay Area Outreach and Recreation Program (BORP), which houses the region’s largest fleet of adaptive cycles and its popular cycling program for people with disabilities in Berkeley’s Aquatic Park.

Disability advocates believe adaptive bike share should go beyond the recreational realm. Adaptive bike share could be one more way to travel the “first and last mile” to public transit for people who roll on wheelchairs or have other physical limitations. Because adaptive cycles are generally very expensive, shared vehicles would make cycling — and the accompanying health and mobility benefits — more accessible to seniors and people with mobility impairments.

Callahan says, “We are overwhelmingly not rich folks…this literally affords people the opportunity to [use adaptive cycles].”

Bicycle advocates need to challenge stereotypes of who is capable of riding a bike — or trike, tandem, or handcycle. By diversifying beyond the two-wheeled, foot-powered model, people with a wide range of abilities and body types can get rolling.

Back to the Summer 2017 issue of RideOn, Bike East Bay’s quarterly newsletter.
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