Cycle lanes, credibility and culture.

Growing the new breed of people on bicycles is the challenge.

Where is the new breed of people on bikes coming from?

In my previous post, I argued that in order to bring cycling to the masses, it’s going to be important essential to start developing a wider variety of strategies than just simply making requests for separated cycle lanes. We will need to look beyond the obvious. While we languish at a cycling mode share that is in margin of error territory, there are cities around the world that are going gangbusters. Cycling is gaining status and credibility as an everyday transport option .

A network of separated cycle paths on the city’s main roads is of course, the ultimate prize. That’s the obvious commonality that exists between cities with high rates of cycling mode share. It’s a worthy goal to aspire to. After all, people on bicycles want to go to the same destinations as motorists. And the value of such infrastructure is not just in making life safer and more pleasant for cyclists. It puts a value on people. It invites motorists to pay closer attention to what’s happening on the street around them. It entices people to get out of their metal four-wheeled boxes and engage with their community. But that’s not all.

Putting quality cycle paths on the city’s main routes elevates cycling’s status. It puts it front and centre of city life. It’s an ingredient to create the vibrant city that we want and need. So while all new cycle lanes are to be celebrated, being directed to follow the flow line of a motorway or weave through the back residential streets is a clear reminder that cycling still is yet to make the ‘credibility cut’. Not all cycle lanes were created equally, so to speak.

It would be fantastic if all of a sudden the government of the day, as a result of enduring ongoing polite requests from cyclists, started pouring money into building cycle lanes on all the city’s main roads. But having been an eyewitness to cycling’s decline over past decades, I have come to the conclusion that it just aint gonna happen like that. And even if it did, there is significant risk that there would be insufficient people on bicycles to fill them. The cycle lanes would remain empty, raising the ire of disgruntled motorists even further.

Even though quality separated cycle lanes may be the obvious connection between cyclised cities, I suggest that we are overlooking other key elements that will provide cycling with the credibility factor it so desperately needs. As I have already suggested, laying cycle paths throughout a city is not going to guarantee a city full of bicycles. Just take a look at Stevenage. And of course, separated cycle lanes are neither necessary or practical in all circumstances.

We seem to have overlooked all the strategies and steps cyclised cities have undertaken to achieve that enviable status.

It appears to me that we have been over-reliant on simply demanding separated cycle lanes on busy roads without doing the necessary preliminary and complementary ground work. It’s all too one-dimensional. Cycling makes sense to those who do it already. And sure, there is a growing empathy amongst the public (largely due to being increasing exposed to overseas models) who see the value in cycling. But just like knowing that stopping smoking would be good for me, it is not a guarantee that I will do it. And having a separated cycle lane installed on a main road is an action that would require motorists and retailers ceding car parking space as well as as requiring other road users to make a whole host of psychological adjustments.

So rather than just cycle lanes being the common factor between cyclised cities, I would suggest that there is much more to it. These cities all have a strong ‘cycling culture’. I know this term carries baggage with it but I suggest we just take it at face value for a moment. Just because you can’t touch it, doesn’t mean it’s not real. In fact, these cyclised cities have more than a ‘cycling culture’, they have a transport culture that prioritises moving people over moving cars. They have a strong social contract that ensures the most vulnerable road users are afforded the greatest protection. Policies are put in place to make that possible. Cyclists and users of public transport are prioritised and made to feel welcome. It is a culture that has been developed, promoted and nurtured.

The Dutch have a history of a strong city cycling culture. It existed before cars threatened to overrun their cities during the post war oil boom years. Their advocates of cycling foresaw the risk this car boom posed and adopted a ‘Stop the Child Murder’ campaign. It was a campaign that was targeted at a broad audience. Here in New Zealand we have dealt with avoiding the child murder by simply driving our kids everywhere. Mandating for compulsory helmet use has simply made cycling more marginal and less credible. Problem swept under the carpet. For the time being.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat. As easy as walking, but faster.

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3 comments

  1. Advocates for *children* were the people for the Stop de Kindermoord pressure group, not cycling advocates. Campaign for http://www.childhoodfreedom.com not “cycling” or “cyclists”; and advocate effectively to those you want to convince by talking about hyper-local needs i.e.
    – Quiet streets to live in;
    – No speeding motor vehicles;
    – Feeling safe to walk to the park/shops/friends/bus stop/train station etc;
    – Feeling safe to cycle locally, including letting your kids go places on their own.

    Cheers from Australia, where conditions for cycling are just as shit as they appear to be in NZ.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Jim, thanks for your comments. I agree with you. That has always been my angle. That is why I am finding it hard to sustain any interest in cycling advocacy. That is why I try to present ‘cycling’ as an extension of walking. That is why I like the #vizionzero approach and the #completestreets approach that TransAlt promote. It’s inclusive. It’s about building a social contract rather than simply advocating for “cycle lanes for cyclists”. The campaigning in the Netherlands was done by a community of people, not cyclists. What a campaign. Maybe it is unreasonable to expect cycle advocates to do the job for the whole community. But that question has not been answered satisfactorily as far as I am concerned. This is not the task for a special interest group.

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