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 not. Changing 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.