The difference investment in walking and cycle paths can make for wheelchair users
Local resident and active wheelchair user Ian Bennett explains how the new walking and cycle paths along Leigh Road / Wimborne Road West have transformed his life.
For the last 27 years, I’ve lived on Wimborne Road West, a very busy road linking Wimborne to Canford Bottom Roundabout. When I first moved here, I was relatively fit but for the last 10 years or so I have become, more or less, a permanent wheelchair user.
I am totally independent and like to use my chair to keep myself fit. Where many people go out for a regular walk, I go out for a regular wheel, usually around the roads of Colehill or in the nearby Byetheway Park. I also regularly wheel myself into Wimborne. I consider myself lucky that my arms are strong, it’s just my legs that don’t work very well. My wheelchair is actually my best friend and gives me so much freedom.
I’m sure that many local Colehill and Stapehill residents have become familiar with me wheeling through their neighbourhood over the past few years. Some of them will probably wonder why I tend to wheel on the road and not the pavement when I’m on the quieter residential roads. The reason for this, which any wheelchair user will attest to, is that these old pavements tend to be cambered making it almost impossible to navigate in a straight line. Not only are they cambered but they’re undulating and sometimes damaged which only adds to the problem.
When I heard that Dorset and BCP councils were funding a new cycle way and footpath along Leigh Road and Wimborne Road West, I had little comprehension of how this would affect my daily life. Over the course of 2021 these routes were constructed and as sections were gradually opened, I could instantly see what a great improvement this new facility would make to my daily activities. Now the work is completed (barring one short section) on using this new footpath, I can now wheel into Wimborne in probably half the time that it used to take me simply because it’s so much easier. Not only is the new footpath wide but it’s also flat, meaning that it’s considerably safer and I’m no longer putting 80% of my effort into travelling in a straight line like I had to in the past.
Another huge benefit of this new facility is how much more social it proves to be. When my wife and/or family come with me on one of my trips into town, for most of the way I can now progress alongside them enabling us to chat. Turn the clock back two years and for most of the way we’d have been in single file, certainly the wheelchair would be following on behind, simply because of the lack of room.
Ian Bennett on the new walking path on Wimborne Road West, Colehill.
Safety has improved considerably as well. This was never an easy road to cross in a wheelchair with the traffic travelling at 40mph. Now the speed limit has been reduced to 30 mph, and two parallel crossings have been introduced, I have no problem whatsoever in crossing the road. Previously, when wheeling towards Wimborne, crossing the end of Hayes Lane and other roads was always a problem. Now that measures have been taken giving bicycles, pedestrians and even wheelchair users priority, this only adds to both the safety and ease of my local wheelchair exercise.
All the benefits I’ve mentioned so far have been regarding my use of the paths in my wheelchair. Another noticeable benefit is how much quieter the road is when I’m at home. I have noticed a slight reduction in the number of vehicles using this road and the lowering of the speed limit has also had a significant effect on reducing traffic noise.
I mentioned Canford Bottom Roundabout at the beginning of this article. I know that ever since the construction of this roundabout there have been and still are many motorists who dislike it for various reasons. However, from my point of view, in years gone by, getting from Wimborne Road West to Ham Lane or Wimborne Road East on a wheelchair was pretty much impossible. The construction of Canford Bottom Roundabout and the footpath it incorporates have now completely transformed these journeys and they’re now easy, safe and enjoyable.
To summarise, the construction of the new footpath and cycleway outside my house on Wimborne Road West, with its generous width and smooth level surface has transformed my local wheelchair usage from being very hard work to an enjoyable and comparatively straightforward activity. It has changed my life, thank you to all involved from planning to construction.