The science of promoting a cyclized city.

Through the arch

What lies beyond?

I voiced an observation on this site recently that the main focus of cycling advocacy seems to be based on campaigning for separated cycle paths. I also tried to point out that while that kind of infrastructure is essential in certain environments, there is also a range of other goals that need to be achieved before, or at least in conjunction, with this goal – to create a demand for those facilities. And there are a whole range of strategies that need to be employed in order to achieve those goals. They are strategies that focus on making it better for everyone to get around. Everyone except motorists, that is. Note how this target, as well as being the antithesis of the status quo of transport policy and city building, is also broader and more inclusive than ‘getting more people riding bicycles more often’.

I have also argued before, that the ‘more people riding bicycles more often’ goal, is too broad. That not just any kind of riding will do. There is a need to be more specific, more targeted. It’s the #wheeledpedestrian variety in particular, that our cities need. Bicycle advocacy seems to pride itself on being a broad church – of cyclists of all varieties. Because, of course, all cycling is good cycling. But I believe this position is problematic. It seems to rely on the assumptions that the people who currently engage in sports and recreational cycling:-

  • will be the next converts into slow, short distance, transport cycling,
  • understand and/or support the idea that moving people takes priority over moving cars,
  • are best placed and/or have the necessary skills to sell the vision of cities for people.

Years of experience in the classroom have informed me that it is direct, explicit, positive modelling that changes behaviour and produces the best results. I have also discovered that I am most effective in the classroom when I follow the research and choose to ignore the perceived wisdom of the crowd. It doesn’t win popularity contests but it is essential if we are to make any significant and timely progress. The Emperor may not exactly be naked but the spandex he’s wearing is not very flattering . Because positivity without an effective message will only ever be positivity without an effective message. There is a science to creating a cyclized city. Just like there is a science to designing bike lanes.

So please, keep cycling like you do, but start promoting cycling like a pro.

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

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8 comments

  1. I’m not really clear what you are proposing here. Is it more/better public service advertising to promote “wheeled pedestrian” cycling? Incorporating cycling into the school curriculum? Or is it something you think we as individual cyclists should be doing?

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    1. The current approach to cycling advocacy is for cyclists by cyclists. Building cycle lanes is the focus. I know that’s not the words used and there are exceptions. But that is the actions that we see. Perception is everything. It shouldn’t be. But it is. Cognitive bias is extremely hard to breakdown. Therefore every message (preferably image) will show cycling as something that everyone could do – hence the #wheeledpedestrian tag. The problem is, that tag doesn’t appeal to the current cyclists. And the current cyclists have every right to feel entitled to be loved on the road regardless of what they wear or how they ride. But psychology doesn’t work like that. Just like every woman should be able to walk safely through a park at midnight with a mini skirt on. Sports and Rec images promote sports and rec cycling. Promote what you want to see more of. There is a science to this. All we get at the moment is the science of bike lane design. Ho hum. And no, cycling should not be put in the curriculum. Never. That is a whole new blog post. Give a child a bike and they will be off. Teaching a child how to ride has such a low level impact.

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  2. Teaching children the basics of good cyclecraft is something that is at the core of bicycle safety and promotion in the Netherlands. Every child learns the core skills through parental guidance and school curriculum, leading to their sitting of a bicycle proficiency test. Not a mandatory thing to be able to ride, but a process of cyclecraft development along with motivation.

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  3. Thanks for your comment Peter. Yeah, maybe you’re right. But the point I’m trying to make is – choose the most effective way of selling utility cycling to the widest possible target audience. Cycling is still a foreign concept to most people still. Identify the type of cycling do we want to see the most growth in and use experts to sell it. There is no need to wait until the cycle infrastructure is built. Start promoting it now. Build popular support for creation of an environment that is great for everyone except motorists.

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  4. Cherokee? The person in the vid? Cool. Thanks for sharing! Sorry to hear your story. That’s pretty extreme but I can understand how it came about. Let me watch the video more closely before I give you a more considered response. 🙂

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