A city that is full of people using bicycles for their daily transport journeys will bring about better health outcomes, better environmental outcomes, better financial outcomes and better social outcomes. I make no apologies for wanting to focus on the wheeledpedestrian type of cycling. A to B journeys that are literally and figuratively, no sweat. Short distances that are an extension of walking. That is not to discount the role of sports and recreational cycling. But I think there is value in making a distinction when it comes to achieving the goal of creating a cyclised city.
I am an advocate for a three pronged approach to creating a cyclised city. I believe that infrastructure, policy and promotion are the key ingredients needed to bring about a city full of bicycles. But it seems to me that most attention and energy is focused on getting the necessary infrastructure built. That is, the building of cycle lanes. Meanwhile, the policy and promotional aspects, necessary to influence the people who are not currently cycling, are largely overlooked.
Why does this matter? Because the building of infrastructure will require a reallocation of space. After all, that is all a cycle lane is. A reallocation of public space. Taking space from car users and giving it to bicycle users. And as we are aware, that will only happen on the back of strong ‘political will’; a key ingredient that is lacking at present.
It’s time to broaden our approach. By turning our attention to building ‘political will’ we may find that there will be less resistance to building cycle lanes or implementing bicycle friendly transport policies.
So, what is ‘political will’? How would we build it? How would we know if we had it? It seems to me that most efforts to create ‘political will’ are focused on trying to directly influence that amorphous blob called the local transport authority. Any necessary foundation work of building a genuine mandate for change has been neglected. There seems to be a misplaced assumption that the enormous benefits that cycling brings to a community are understood and appreciated by all citizens.
There is no way to short circuit the process of change. As we all know, being right is a guarantee of nothing in this world.
I suggest that even if all the power brokers at the so-called amorphous blob agreed with the arguments in favour of creating a cyclised city, the very profound weight of motordom’s cultural legacy would make any significant change nigh impossible. Real public opinion, the stuff you see in the comments section of your local paper, will guarantee significant inaction. The ‘political will’ that is so desperately needed, sits with the people who reside in the city. And at present, most of those people expect to be able drive just as they have always done. Driving is in our DNA. The scales are tipped in favour of driving.
So where to from here?
1. Make cycling look normal. I believe this is a task for experts in marketing, not for avid cyclists.
2. Engage at a community level and start to reframe the debate. Bicycles are just one of the key ingredients in a vibrant, sustainable community. Change will come about as a result of grassroots support. Connect at an emotional level.
Growing ‘political will’ in a community setting is about creating behaviour change. It requires the implementation of a range of complementary strategies. It is all about defining and selling the merits of the desired behaviour. Identifying those who are already modelling the desired behaviour. Highlighting, celebrating and rewarding that behaviour. Offering encouragement and rewards to those who are willing to adopt the desired behaviour. Establishing and enforcing consequences for not following the desired behaviour.
Change is coming. But how do we speed it up? It would be a shame to have to rely on change coming in the form of a black swan moment.
‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.