Smart Transport

Research urges inclusion for disabled people in low-car city planning

Nobody Left Behind: Envisioning inclusive cities in a low car future cover image

A new report from climate charity Possible and the University of Westminster’s Active Travel Academy has outlined the impact of the low-car transition in cities on disabled people.

The report, Nobody Left Behind: Envisioning inclusive cities in a low-car future, is the product of in-depth interviews and a focus group consisting of people with a range of disabilities. 

Participants recognised that reducing car use is a vital part of addressing the climate crisis, but emphasised that creating low-car futures must be a process which accounts for the challenges disabled people face in their daily lives.

Testimonies of disabled participants reveal their being ‘left out’ of planning decisions during the pandemic which resulted in the introduction of low-car infrastructure that ultimately did not work for them.

As one participant voiced: “Over the pandemic all sorts of street changes cropped up without proper consultation. And some of those things are just making it much harder for disabled people to move around.”

However, participants also detailed how the inaccessibility of our existing car-centric cities makes it harder to walk, wheel, cycle or take public transport.

Participants cite cracked pavements, a lack of dropped kerbs, a lack of level access on public transport and adequate space for wheelchairs, and cycle lanes not accommodating trikes or adapted cycles.

These barriers effectively lock disabled people into car dependency, with one participant specifically saying that it feels like the only “safe and reliable option to access town centres”.

The report concludes that efforts to reduce traffic need to be focused on encouraging non-disabled people to make fewer car journeys as alternative modes of transport are more accessible to them.

In doing so, we would reduce the conditions that create the disabling environment of cities. 

As one participant suggested: “If we could get more people who are able to use public transport to use it, then that could reduce the number of cars in town and city centres, which could leave it open for disabled people to access it by whatever means they need to.”

Substantial improvements needed for active travel

In the UK 27% of greenhouse gas emissions come from transport. To fairly transition to cities without mass private car ownership, it is vital that we create awareness of the disabling impacts of our current car-dominated streetspace and build support for traffic reduction measures while accounting for the diverse access needs of disabled people.

There must be substantial improvements to walking, wheeling and cycling environments, public transport provision and the accessibility of all forms of public transport.

Implementing these changes would improve the quality of life not just for disabled people but everyone living in cities, giving them more car-free options for getting around.

As one participant summarised: “It's not going to work if people like us are an added on thought at the end. What works for us will work for everybody, but it's got to be there at the beginning.”

Anzir Boodoo, Car Free Cities consultant for climate charity Possible and co-author of the report, said: “This report shows what disabled have been saying for a long time - when disabled people are a central part of urban design processes, then cities become more accessible for all.

“The status quo locks many disabled people into car dependency, but it doesn’t have to be this way. If we built truly accessible streets and a public transport system that all disabled people could use, we could transition away from cars in a way that was fair for everyone.”

Ersilia Verlinghieri, senior research fellow at the Active Travel Academy and co-author of the report highly-disabling transport systems have long ignored disabled people’s needs.

She said: “A fair transition to cities without mass private car ownership has to consider the differing mobility and accessibility needs of different groups of people.

“A low-car future has the potential to be better for disabled people if it can reverse the disabling conditions of our inaccessible cities and put the needs of those who find travelling more challenging first in planning decisions.”

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