The Central London ‘Reimagine’ event to celebrate World Car Free Day is set to take place this Sunday.
There will be celebrations taking place on more than 20km of closed roads around the city. If you are planning to travel into or within central London on the day you are advised to use public transport, walk or cycle.
The initiative was announced by London Mayor Sadiq Khan in order to tackle air pollution, which has been described as a ‘national health emergency’.
I first heard about the car-free day earlier this year. It came as no surprise – since moving to London seven years ago I’ve seen more and more ‘eco-initiatives’ being carried out across the city. My street was one of the first to implement emissions regulations that saw non-electric vehicles restricted at certain times of the day.
Yet my initial reaction to the event was one trepidation and almost anger.
I’m not in denial about climate change – and of course I want London to be the best it can be for all its residents. But as a full-time wheelchair user and someone who has a rare condition that causes my bones to break at the slightest knock, I rely solely on black taxis (which by law are all adapted for those with impairments) to maintain my independence and go about my daily activities.
On Sunday, taxis and private hire vehicles will not be allowed in the closed road area. I will not be able to get a cab in this area, or travel through it in a cab. I fail to see how this would not directly discriminate against me or others in my situation.
Transport for London (TfL) has informed me that there will be areas for taxi drop-off and pick-up at the perimeter. I do however, question how someone like myself with limited mobility, who needs door-to-door transport, would navigate from the drop-off point on the perimeter to my destination. I – like many in my position – cannot simply be dropped off on a corner and left to get on my way.
I have also been informed that will be a number of pedal-powered shuttles that can carry passengers from the designated drop off points to the activities, some of which are wheelchair bikes. However, they can only accept ‘most non-electric wheelchairs’.
So what about powerchair users? And what about if you need to bring a PA with you, can the bikes support a wheelchair and an assistant? I’ve asked but am yet to hear back from TfL on this issue.
I would have like to have seen Sadiq Khan publicly reassure the disabled community that our needs are very much at the forefront of any initiative.
I still cannot help but think that the most ‘vulnerable’ members of society – including the elderly and members of the disabled community – have been very much an afterthought for this particular event. Yes, some provisions have been made but they have not been widely published, nor are they suitable for the variant needs of the disabled community.
I would have like to have seen Sadiq Khan publicly reassure the disabled community that our needs are very much at the forefront of any initiative, and that he acknowledges that anything that impacts our independence can leave us feeling extremely anxious, isolated and like second class citizens.
The disabled community has fought so hard to maintain our independence and to ensure we have equal access to all parts of society.
Personally I feel tremendous sadness that the city I moved to over seven years ago to advance my career, have more independence and regain autonomy over my life is becoming less accessible for me as a young disabled professional.
Whether that be struggling to get on a bus because the disabled bay is being used for luggage or pushchairs, cuts to subsidised taxi cards or an underground infrastructure that cannot accommodate access needs.
TfL says it has reached out to disabled residents living in the event area to arrange to escort vehicles in or out where necessary, and to access off-road parking.
However, nothing has been specifically addressed for those who have adapted vehicles as part of the government mobility scheme – or blue badge holders. My concern is that many visitors and tourists to London who are blue badge holders may simply decide to stay away due to the uncertainty.
Uncertainty is very debilitating when you live with an impairment, and I’m still very uncertain about being able to get around during the event. I am basically being forced to go into hibernation and stay at home on the day.
Fighting climate change is going to be a priority going forward and disabled people need to be included in that change.
We need to all unite, but at the minute we’re being excluded. I’ve personally experienced online attacks when I challenge new eco initiatives like pedestrian zones, low emission zones or cycle lanes that can hinder those with impairments from travelling safely.
I’ve been told that other people’s right to breathe clean air is more important than a disabled person’s independence. But the reality is that all our needs are equal.
We need to work together as a society to accommodate all our needs, and to not ostracise anyone in the process.
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