Ellis Palmer is a keen handcyclist from Bidston. He has Cerebral palsy (CP) and uses his handcycle to travel the highways and byways of Wirral. birkenhead.news spoke to him about the joys and perils of being a handcyclist on local cycle routes.
Ellis cycles every day and typically cycles 100 miles each week. He met his cycling friend Ed Lamb of Rethink Now CIC through Wirral Council’s ‘Active Travel’ forum and Ed decided to show Ellis his favourite cycle route near Landican Lane, a part of the National Cycle Network’s route 56.
This route leads down Woodchurch Road towards the Woodchurch Road M53 flyover. On approaching the flyover, cyclists are directed to a separate cycle path that changes sides of the road via a shared use cycle and pedestrian bridge.
“Unfortunately, the bridge was too steep for me to cycle up, so we had to take the dual carriageway.” Ellis explained. “Although some social media users have said the video we took (below) looked terrifying, the only time I’ve injured myself was when I fell backwards going up a steep path, so now I avoid them at all costs – falling backwards from a height is a lot more terrifying than this road for me as someone with cerebral palsy.”
“There’s ample space along the side of the dual carriageway to put in an active mobility lane along the side of the carriageway and maybe that is something that Wirral Council could look into as a way of meeting its climate emergency objectives while developing east-west active travel routes.”
Commenting on the video, Green Party Leader Cllr Pat Cleary said, “It is my most hated road. It’s an absolute disgrace that anyone has to put up with this. There just isn’t any sensible alternative east-west that doesn’t involve a major detour.”
National disabled cycling organisation Wheels For Wellbeing commented, “Inaccessible cycling infrastructure has consequences! Ellis was undeterred & used the dual carriageway. Many would have given up on their ride. That bridge needs sorting!”
Ed Lamb of Bebington, said, “Cycling should be direct, convenient and safe. Importantly, it needs to be accessible to riders of all abilities/ages and for cycles of all shapes and sizes. There is much work to be done.
“The Woodchurch Road route is not one I take all that often but is a key route that bridges the M53. The pedestrian footbridge is not accessible to Ellis – it’s too steep in places so too dangerous to use.
“Once we were clear of the dual carriageway we followed NCN 56 heading back towards Storeton – a beautiful route that I use all the time, but for Ellis there are yet more issues in terms of surface quality. We have a lot of work to do to make our cycle routes safe, accessible and direct.”
There are other cycle routes in Wirral that aren’t quite up to scratch, Ellis says. “In terms of routes I’m not that keen on, any roads like Laird Street, Conway Street, or Bidston Road, etc. that I have to use to get around but don’t have a safe space for cycle use and are busy can be a challenge.”
“Although I really like Bidston Moss, the steep ramp with no run-up to it makes it really difficult to use unless I have someone with me – the thought of sliding back into the road terrifies me – I can’t dismount like a non-disabled cycle user if I get into difficulty.
“Although the Landican Lane and Noctorum to Prenton path by the side of the railway is an excellent car-free route, the surface inconsistencies make it very much a challenge to use as a non-standard cycle user – especially the narrow entrances and exits with uneven surfaces by Woodchurch Rd in Prenton and Storeton.
“These are things that could be quite easily improved, but they don’t inconvenience non-disabled cycle users who can easily dismount to get around them, so they haven’t been tweaked.”
But, whilst these particular routes fail to meet the needs of road users like Ellis, there are some gems that he really loves. “My favourite routes on the Wirral are probably Seacombe to New Brighton along the Millennium Trail, Bidston Moss, Bromborough Pool to Port Sunlight along the old railway line, the car-free Birkenhead Park, which I cycle around pretty much every day and consider a privilege to have nearby!”
“These are all fantastic routes and are mostly traffic-free and quite scenic. I do also like using the active mobility lanes on Brassey Street and Duke Street as they help me get around town quickly and safely – although if there are parked cars in the way, it can be dangerous.
Wirral has some brand new cycle routes and Ellis is keen on them but sees the need for improvements, “The new segregated route along the New Chester Road to New Ferry is also a very strong contender too, but the thing I’m not keen on with it is how difficult it is to get onto/off if one is coming from Birkenhead. The thought of risking my life on the roundabout leading to the bypass sends a chill down my spine. I do enjoy cycling down Laird Street, but it would be amazing if there was infrastructure to make it safer there.”
With local councils the length and breadth of the country and central government encouraging a greener, healthier transport system via shared-use development, such as Tower Road between Birkenhead and Wallasey and by segregated cycle lanes, such as New Chester Road, Ellis says, “Shared use paths are good, but they can also be dangerous, especially for people who have a visual impairment. Wherever possible, I would prefer to keep pedestrians and cycle users segregated as it is less dangerous”
Summing up his love for cycling in Wirral, Ellis says, “It’s a great place to be on a cycle on the coast, but there’s a lot to be done to connect things up in-land.”