Infrastructure, policy and promotion are the key ingredients needed to bring about a city full of bicycles. And a city full of bicycles will bring about better health outcomes, better environmental outcomes, better financial outcomes and better social outcomes. And remember, it’s a city full of wheeled pedestrians that we are trying to create. Daily, ordinary transport journeys. A to B. Short distances. An extension of walking. No sweat.
I have argued here before that cycling advocacy is the domain of the current breed of cyclist. Most attention and energy is put into getting the necessary infrastructure built. That is, the building of cycle lanes for cyclists. Meanwhile, the promotional aspects, necessary to influence the people who are not currently cycling, are largely overlooked. But building infrastructure requires a reallocation of space and a range of alternative transport policies. And that will only happen on the back of strong ‘political will’. That key ingredient is lacking at present. So, what is ‘political will’? How would we build it? How would we know if we had it?
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.
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 has been neglected. Here’s the scenario. A cyclist dies as a result of a collision with a vehicle. Pockets of moral outrage spring forth from a small bunch of cyclists, pleading and cajoling the authority to make the roads safe for cyclists. ‘There is a mandate for change’, they say. But they aren’t speaking on behalf of all citizens, they are speaking on behalf of cyclists. It’s unhelpful to assume that everyone understands the enormous benefits that cycling brings to a community. And besides, cars are in our DNA. The scales are tipped in favour of driving.
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.
But even if all the power brokers at the so-called amorphous blob agreed with these cyclists’ sentiments and arguments, the very profound weight of motordom’s cultural legacy would make any significant change nigh impossible. Moral outrage will well and truly be deflected by the time it reaches the inner sanctums of the transport authority. 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.
So where to from here?
1. Make cycling look normal. And make the living in a city that caters for people ahead of cars look normal. It’s the whole package that needs to be promoted. Those are tasks 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. Politicians are emotional beings. They were children once.
Growing ‘political will’ in a community setting is a bit like creating a behaviour culture in a classroom. It requires the implementation of a range of complimentary 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.
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