Before any serious cycling infrastructure gets built, you’re going to have to get them to like you

Japan: people on bikes but without any specific cycling infrastructure. How come?

Not a cyclist

Dear Wheeled,

I am a cyclist and an all-round nice guy. I want to be able to ride to my job in the city safely but they won’t build any separated cycle paths. Cycling is great. Everyone should be doing it. What do we have to do to get some quality cycle paths around here?

Regards,

A. Cyclist


 

Dear A. Cyclist,

I sympathise with your situation. It may be reassuring to know that you are not the only one struggling with this issue. This plays out in almost every city in the World. If we look closely at those cities that have high rates of cycling, we can see that not only do they have separated cycle paths, they have managed to create an overall transport environment that prioritises moving of people ahead of the moving of cars. This environment makes the city a more pleasant and easier place to move around for all its residents. In this kind of environment, the car is a guest and invited in under very strict conditions and requirements. This could not be any more different to how other cities treat cars. Cycling is given priority because it is proven to be such an efficient and sustainable form of transport. And most importantly, it has the ‘buy in’ of the general population. Cycling flourishes in cities which have a strong social contract like this.

But we have to remember that this is very forward thinking and did not come about by accident. Politicians rarely act unilaterally. They need to know that their actions will be supported by the voting public. The catalyst for this new transport environment came about as a result of some serious campaigning. You may have heard about the Dutch ‘Stop the Child Murder’ campaign. What distinguishes that campaign from what we see in non-cycling friendly cities is that that campaign had the backing of a large and broad representation of the population. It obviously also helped that there was already a lot of utility cycling taking place in The Netherlands.

Creating space on the street is a piece in the puzzle of ‘how’ to get people on bikes. But it doesn’t tell the ‘why’. Campaigning solely for separated cycle paths fails to tell a compelling, convincing or inclusive story.

Clearly, the city in which you live, does not have a similar broad based support for cycling. In fact I suggest that rather than just being ambivalent, there is a downright animosity towards cycling in your city. That’s what this research seems to confirm. Motorists just don’t ‘get’ cyclists. And while this scenario prevails, while there is so little support for cycling or cyclists, it’s unlikely that any significant number of separated cycle paths will be built. You may also find that if they do get built, they will be under-utilised and be at risk to #bikelash. Having the moral entitlement to be on the road with motorists isn’t worth much at this point. Sure, there is room for an emotional argument, but it needs to presented carefully, appropriately.

Well designed separated cycle paths may encourage people to ride bikes, but what strategies are being employed to get those desired cycle paths built?

I fear that making requests solely for separated bike lanes at this particular stage of the evolution, may be a strategy of limited value. If the public hate cycling, then that needs to be addressed. Specific strategies need to be employed for this purpose. An image of cycling needs to be presented that is broad, relevant and inclusive. You need to be very clear about the image of cycling you want to present. Not for cyclists like you and I. We know the distinction. But for the 99%. The non-cycling public. Mostly, they are only exposed to sports and recreational cycling with high doses of hi-viz, lycra and helmets.

An alternative needs to be provided. Differentiate recreational and sports cycling from the #wheeledpedestrian variety – slow, easy, comfortable, utility, urban, short distance – and keep repeating this with images and words, ad nauseum. It is this type that will have the widest appeal and outreach.

It will take more than well designed separated cycle paths to encourage people to ride bicycles. Slower car speeds would improve real and perceived safety for everyone too.

I also recommend that you campaign under a banner of safe streets for everyone. Once again, bringing it back to an issue of inclusivity. You need to avoid being seen by the public as a special interest group. That outlier label is going to be a difficult one to kick. You don’t want to make it any easier for those motorists to hate on you. It is not only motorists either. It always pains me when I see pedestrian advocates firing barbs at cyclists who ride on the footpath but somehow manage to sidestep the reality of the caroverkill situation and how it has arisen.

Mikael at copenhagenize regularly tells us how to build the cycling infrastructure but I am not sure if he has told us yet about how to build the political will. Or maybe he has, but we have just failed to hear to him.

It’s not an anti-motorist stance, but it is the car that is hogging all the space in our cities. It is the promotion of the car as the singular transport solution that is the cause of all the mayhem and destruction. Of course, it will not make you very popular to challenge the status-quo, but there are precedents. Are you aware of #VisionZero and similar campaigns? And there is no need to take it personally. Decades of policy settings have set up driving to succeed. Motorists are simply responding to behaviour cues. Try taking cigarettes off an addicted smoker. Try taking a car space away from a retailer’s front door. Same issue really.

At the moment, campaigning resembles a one sided monologue between cyclists and politicians with the politicians simply covering their ears with their hands.

Finally, an effective advocacy organisation is one that is financially independent and employs the people with the right skills. Effective campaigning would engage the wider public in a proactive way and be based around themes of –

  1. presenting a vision of a city that provides a wide range of financially and environmentally sustainable transport options that are safe, easy and convenient,
  2. presenting cycling as an effective transport solution; as an option that is safe, easy and convenient.

You’ll recognise it when you see it.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

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11 comments

  1. My experience of bike lanes is that they’re either built for recreational use, which means they run along a pretty creek but don’t get you anywhere you need to go in a practical sense, or they are used as car parks. The best we can do is as you say: remind people in cars that we’re not all a bunch of lycra devotees doing their best to keep up with cars on main roads. I wouldn’t want to go anywhere near a road with more than two lanes in our current society!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Katie,
      Yes, the path along the pretty creek is good for recreational riding but these are no good if you want to do your daily tasks. I think the predominant strategy at present, is to get people used to riding a bike in a safe A2A way and then wait for them to make the conversion to daily A2B riding. I fear that that approach is not going to be very effective. There needs to be much more direct modelling of A2B riding. I think there is a fear of getting offside those people who cycle in a recreational, sporting way. Just because that is the most common type of cycling we see everyday does not mean we can’t start to show an alternative vision. It needs to be made explicit.

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  2. I do wonder if it is really much worse than it used to be, or if it is sensationalised more in the “news”. Certainly there is a lot more awareness, discussion and points of view.

    I used to ride a lot back in the 90s (lycra clad) and I have started up again riding to work in the last couple of years. I haven’t noticed any real difference in the way I am treated on the roads, but I do ride different parts in Auckland including busy main roads. But I do agree that not everyone is confident enough or has the skills to ride on the road, or that all motorists want to share the road.

    PS I’m not trying to troll, I’m curious it there are any stats to show that cycling is more dangerous now, than it used to be.

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    1. Hi Kieran,
      Thanks for your comments. Sorry, I have been able to reply sooner. I agree with your comments. Of course, there is no easy fix and the reason people don’t ride bikes much these days is multi-dimensional. I for one, have stopped riding like a car. I hate having to use speed and guile to avoid cars. I now ride when and where it feels safe to do so. There is still a lot of places I can be a wheeledpedestrian safely. Part of the problem is that it is just so damn easy and cheap to drive. And it is hard to get motorists to give cyclists any priority when they have grown up in a driving culture.
      As far as I know, the stats on cycling are very positive. Riding a bicycle is statistically safe. Glen Koorey from the Cycling Advocates Network is the best to speak to for the details. And remember, we need to distinguish real safety from perceived safety. I guess the people who currently ride have a higher tolerance of perceived safety ie more willing to put up with speeding drivers or drivers who pass too closely.

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  3. I like the distinction between “cycling” and “riding a bike”, and I think those of us who ride bikes for transportation need to find opportunities to get that across to the motoring public.

    I’ve also grown a bit frustrated, though, by the idea that seems to be out there that bike paths are some kind prize for cyclist and bike riders, and that we’ll never get buy-in from the driving public unless bike riders can make them like us. Maybe we should be doing more to promote bike paths as a step toward getting pesky bike riders out of the way of traffic?? Aren’t bike paths a good thing for drivers who dislike bike riders?

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  4. HI Sevrah,
    Thanks for your comments. The idea of a cyclist being just a person on a bike is not a new one. But I do think we can use this idea more when advocating for ‘cycling’. The idea of being a #wheeledpedestrian is simply that riding a bike can be as easy as walking, an extension of walking. It is something that many people could be doing right now. Riding a bike is something that most people can do. Making the transition to using it to replace a short car trip is not that difficult. Unfortunately, the cycling we see is mostly sports and recreational based. It would help to show a more simple form of cycling to the non-cycling public. I hate it when I hear people dismiss cycling because it’s too dangerous or too sweaty. That’s why I write this blog. To challenge that stereotype, to present a different story.
    I am not clear what you mean in your second paragraph. Can you clarify?

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  5. The entire article is predicated on the mistaken belief that at the end of the day, drivers are just like you and me. Nice people who really don’t want to hurt anyone. False. There is something in the motor car that corrupts, and poisons. I don’t know what it is, but it doesn’t happen to everyone. My wife and I do not tailgate cyclists, pass them with inches to spare or scream, ‘get out ma fackin’ why!’ when they hold us up.

    The inescapable conclusion, therefore, is that those who do so already have the poison within them.

    We will not get anywhere asking nicely. That has been tried, and failed.

    They call it a war. Let’s give them a war. Drivers need to know that henceforth, a close pass is going to get the left side of their car scored. Tailgating is going to get a half brick thrown through their window. And my God, if they get out of their car to use aggression, it is probably going to be the last act they ever do in this world. When car drivers start turning up dead in ditches, with multiple stab wounds to the face, neck and upper torso, or with bullet holes in the forehead, then the powers that be will say, ‘Oh … are cyclists pissed?’

    Because yes – we are. We pay the effing council tax and income tax as much as car drivers do. How DARE they treat us like freeloaders?

    Enough!

    The fight back starts today.

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  6. Wow, you sound pretty aggrieved. I too have experienced plenty of aggression but I try not to take it personally. A lot of the writing on this site is targeted at that kind of behaviour. https://wheeledpedestrian.wordpress.com/2015/06/11/the-day-i-give-up-riding-a-bicycle-just-got-a-little-bit-closer/
    At present there is a strong psychological and social bias against cyclists. The point of this post is to suggest to cycling advocates to spend more effort counteracting that reality rather than simply focusing on campaigning for cycle lanes. There are strategies at our disposal to achieve that goal. Cycling needs to be viewed as an inclusive activity. It is not currently seen as that. It’s a sports thing, a weekend thing, a fitness thing. If this prevailing view of cycling can be shifted, there is more chance that infrastructure and policy that encourages slow, easy, A2B cycling will be implemented.

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