03 Apr Bike Lanes Gave my Dad his Independence Back
By David Edwards, guest blog writer(*)
My father Kent is a fiercely independent man. A retired engineer and grandfather of 9, he has always taken pride in his self-sufficiency and his ability to overcome difficult challenges. While in his early 60’s, he suffered a life-altering stroke that left him with reduced mobility on one side of his body. His driver’s licence was taken away, and he was told he would likely not walk again. He eventually fought his way out of a wheelchair and learned to walk again with the aid of a cane. Now 77, he is in another battle, this time with cancer that has required multiple surgeries over the last two years.
Remaining independent despite his mobility and health issues is extremely important to him. He enjoys doing his own shopping, getting outside for exercise, and making his own choices about where he goes, and how he gets there. Most of the year he lives in a medium-sized city in southern Ontario where he relies on infrequent bus service and taxis for transport. He has a grocery store within walking distance, but he can carry very little on foot. Bike infrastructure is almost non-existent.
Each winter my dad escapes the cold and snow and migrates south to Sanibel Island, a small island off the coast of Florida. A couple of years ago he bought an adult tricycle to get around the island. This year I had the chance to visit him and see him in action. I was truly blown away by what I saw! The island is only about 50 square km, but they have installed a whopping 40km of paved, shared-use paths and bike trails. You can get almost anywhere on the island by bike while remaining completely separated from traffic. The island is full of people of all ages using bikes to shop and visit destinations.
This is a life changer for someone like my dad. The combination of safe bicycle infrastructure and an adult tricycle allows him to live in a different world than he does at home. Every single day he is there, he makes a 5km trip to the grocery store where he sits outside and has a coffee before picking up his groceries, putting them in his basket, and making the 5km trip back home. He doesn’t have to ever call a taxi, wait for a bus, or live on anybody else’s schedule. He gets fresh air and exercise, and he has fun doing it! He knows every turn and every path on that little island inside out. This has an enormous positive impact on my dad’s mental and physical health. He is quite simply a much happier person when he has autonomy in how he gets around. I haven’t seen my dad that happy in years, and it’s all due to a bike with three wheels and some simple, paved bike lanes. When I asked him what he would be doing if he wasn’t out on his bike, he replied, “well, I suppose I would just be sitting at home”.
8 80 Cities philosophy is “whether you are 8 years old, or 80 years old, cities should work for everyone”. We often hear arguments against bike infrastructure from people who say that bike lanes don’t provide benefit to people with mobility issues, or the elderly. In many cases, the exact opposite is true. While at home or visiting my family in Toronto, someone like my dad would never be seen on a bike, but that’s not because he can’t. It’s because the infrastructure and road design don’t allow it. As our population ages and modified bikes and e-bikes become more common, we need to build the infrastructure that will allow for the safe use of active transport for people of all ages and abilities. As advocates, we have to ensure our political leaders and city planners think about people like my dad and help change the public perception of who or what a “cyclist” is.