On why it’s important to make cycling look normal and appealing.

Model #wheeledpedestrian

Model #wheeledpedestrian

Since my young German friend said that he felt safer riding a bicycle in Hamburg compared to Auckland, I have quizzed him to find out what he actually meant. He described how riding a bicycle in Hamburg just feels more normal than it does here in Auckland. I have made the assumption that by ‘normal’, he means; lots of people (young, old, male, female) on sit-up, comfortable bicycles in their daily attire, travelling short distances. Thanks to the internet, examples of what a city full of normal cycling looks and operates like, are readily available for us to observe. The reasons for aspiring to this kind of city are also abundantly clear.

So how do we get our city to become a city where cycling riding a bicycle is normal; that it can also be just an extension of walking? How do we make this slow cycling thing happen faster? So far, I have only ever heard these questions non-answered. Instead, they are presented as a ‘chicken/egg’ conundrum. i.e. More people will ride bicycles if there were more cycle paths and better infrastructure, and with more people on bicycles, normalisation would be achieved.

So what I’m suggesting here is that the process of normalisation needs to be viewed as a specific goal and therefore, specific strategies need to be employed to make it happen.

Undoubtedly, good quality infrastructure is paramount. First of all, it would keep the current breed of cyclists happy and safe and encourage them to keep cycling. And then more people would be tempted to use the infrastructure. Hey presto! We have the beginning of a cyclised city. But hang on a minute. This new infrastructure for ‘cyclists’ is asking motorists to cede territory. Motorists will be concerned that their position at the top of the food chain is being challenged. And you can’t blame them. Driving is normal, riding a bicycle is notChanging ingrained habits is hard but it has been done and is being done. But it doesn’t happen by accident.

The typical scenario is as follows. With every new request for on road, separated cycle path comes resistance and…the status quo remains. Or if the infrastructure is built, it comes with a hefty dose of #bikelash. So what I’m suggesting here is that the process of normalisation needs to be viewed as a specific goal and therefore, specific strategies need to be employed to make it happen.

The building of infrastructure needs to be viewed as a sign that riding a bicycle is ‘in the process of’ becoming normalised, not as a strategy towards normalising it. This is why I have always been suspicious of the ‘build it and they will come’ approach. It seems too simplistic. It assumes that the non-cycling public already understand and share the vision of a cyclised city. The process of normalisation (dare I say, the social engineering) needs to take place as a precursor or at least in tandem with requests for the building of specific infrastructure.

And if you’ve read this and are feeling a bit sceptical about this normalisation stuff, just rephrase it as, building ‘political will’. But it’s important to accept that at the moment, they are ‘just not that into you’. And that’s ok.  Because there are ways of changing that.

‘Cycling’ is sport and recreation. ‘Riding a bicycle’ is everyday activity. No sweat.

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20 comments

  1. The cycling groups of Canberra (Australia) tried some clever promotion to get bicycle lanes installed on the busy roads, they organised a regular group bunch to ride in the left lane of the main city road (Northbourne Ave) every morning during peak hour. It brought in a lot of cyclists who would have never tried to use the road on their own and with the drivers getting annoyed with cyclists now slowing them down on road paths were quickly added.

    10 years on and it seems the current government of the region is suggesting removing the lanes in favour of shared paths off the road (duplicating that which already exist following the roads direction as part of the well connected recreational shared path network in Canberra). http://www.abc.net.au/local/stories/2010/04/29/2885960.htm

    I wonder if there will be a repeat of the mass groups to hold the road?

    There are needs for many different types of infrastructure for bicycle users. Australia and New Zealand are both supporting (on paper only) Austroads guidance on the matter, which in the document “Cycling Aspects of Austroads Guides” shows some very well thought out and inclusive designs.
    http://bcs.asn.au/austroads_cycling.pdf
    Though what gets implemented is usually a complete disaster 😉

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    1. The best policy document in the world is only as good as the people implementing it, and their willingness to implement it. At present, it is nigh impossible to get the transport agencies to actually engage with cyclists. That’s why I think it is necessary for advocates to engage with the public in a way that enhances the image of cycling. And by that I don’t mean apologising for cyclists who run red lights etc. Instead of speaking only on behalf of cyclists, there is a need to speaking on behalf of all people….mums, dads, children.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. One of the reasons I bought my incredibly non-sporty bike was so I could ride to work in my ordinary clothes (admittedly on the quieter back roads). My plan was two-fold: 1. save some time in the morning (I normally walk to work), an, 2. present an image of an ordinary person in ordinary clothes riding to work as though it’s normal. My hope is that I might make a small difference; that someone might see me being completely ordinary on a bike and decide to do it, too, because there’s precious little else in my area to encourage riding a bike.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Katie, I applaud your efforts. That is exactly what I have done. It was pretty close to a ‘road to Damascus’ experience for me; when I discovered that I didn’t have to ride fast and wear sporty clothes. That riding a bike could be about short trips on a comfortable bike. That is the message that is so important and that is why I write this blog. We want to spread the word as far and wide as possible to help speed up the revolution.

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  3. I like this approach. I agree with your general premise that cycling is something that I do sometimes, along with lots of other people, for all sorts of reasons. I have been collecting photographs that I have taken over the last few years to illustrate the kind of thing you might have in mind. Some of them, should you or anyone else want to use to illustrate the idea, are in a set on Flickr and are free to use. It’s called “Cycling, Naturally” https://www.flickr.com/photos/samsaunders/sets/72157651047728730/ Many thanks for your blogs so far.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Have made the decision that, despite the danger, I will use my bike for some mid-range journeys in the city. Have been put off until now by some of the ghastly driving that I’ve observed in Auckland since moving home from overseas.

    I guess at some point we need to become the change that we want to see and I hope this little gesture will in some way contribute to an approaching tipping point in this city’s notion of the cyclist. I guess I’m relying on something like a snowball effect to push cycling over into the bounds of ‘normative’ behaviour.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hear ya Kurt. Stay safe. I recommend that you ride like a #wheeledpedestrian which may mean getting off or riding slowly on the footpath sometimes. We need to join together and use our collective voice to get the change we desire. After all, a cyclised city is a great city for everyone. With the right advocacy strategies in place we really could make significant progress.
      Also, I would be happy to share your experience with others. Drop me a line with your #wheeledpedestrian story and some images.

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  5. European Transport Ministers agreed that any journey is only as good as its weakest link. Those links include not only excellent well maintained infrastructure, but attitudes of all participants, ideas of what is possible and a myriad other factors, like expenditure on car advertising and motorways.

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    1. So WE are in good company then. I’m pleased about that. It’s very lonely at times out in the cold. I wonder if advocates only think of the weakest link analogy in terms of physical links. I have also argued that the ‘social contract’ is very weak. It’s a survival of the fittest culture at present.

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