Chasing change

Aspirational goals – to make slow cycling a thing

The further I move to the periphery of cycling advocacy the clearer my perspective becomes of the barriers to, and the actions required to achieve any significant change. The change I’m referring to is, of course, how to get more people riding bicycles more often. I have made many attempts over the years on this site to tease out what I believe these barriers are and what actions need to be taken. And while I am no less certain about my thinking, I am less optimistic of ever witnessing the wholesale changes and improvements that I once dreamed possible. How so?

All my understanding and thinking about “the world” has, slowly but surely, come to be filtered through a behavioural science lens. And I mean, all my thinking – personally and professionally. It was when I started to apply this ‘new’ thinking to my day job as a teacher that I could confirm that I was on the right track. That’s because I started to witness enormous success; learning success for the students as well as an effective pedagogy that could be replicated and shared easily. This success came about by implementing a robust, research/evidence-based teaching practice. It all seemed so obvious. That is, until the reality dawned on me that the evidence of the success I was witnessing was being met with limited enthusiasm amongst fellow teachers and teacher leaders.

Biases and group-think are at play in every aspect of life and teaching is no exception. And needless to say, this reality is incredibly hard to shift. To point out the existence of these biases and blind spots directly is ineffective. Producing evidence of success should do it though. At least, that’s what I originally thought. Hmm. Try again. I have learned that it’s difficult to distinguish between wilful blindness and just plain uninformed blindness. So what is the point I’m trying to make?

As a professional teacher, I am legally and morally required to implement a teaching practice that achieves the best learning outcomes for all students. My job is to be curious and inquisitive; to challenge my beliefs and teaching practice; to look to the best research; to apply that research and evaluate the evidence; to implement iterative change; to share the results and evidence; to place expectations on my colleagues to engage at a level of professionalism. In an ideal world, that is what would be happening. Best practice – free of political and ideological interference.

I now invite you to generalise the reality that I have described – of trying to upgrade the education system. If my experience is accurate, that is, bringing about small scale change in a context relatively immune to political and ideological interference is so difficult, the change that cycling advocacy is attempting is, in comparison, at a much harder and complex magnitude. I certainly don’t have the patience or stomach to engage in the often ugly and antagonist “public debate” that seems inherent in promoting research/evidence-based transport policy. In contrast, my reality of trying to upgrade the education system, while not conflict or anguish free, it is a walk in the park by comparison but still so frustratingly difficult to achieve. I note with interest that Denmark has a highly regarded education system and transport system. I don’t believe this is coincidental. I have my theories.

If nothing else, I would like to convey the idea that creating change is a complex business and requires a generous understanding of multiple disciplines and understanding how humans behave is a critical but overlooked one. I encourage deep questioning. If you dig deep enough and keep peeling back the layers, the answer will be found.

Thanks for reading and thanks for coming along for the journey for the past 6 years. It’s more likely that I’m going to be hanging out at my education site these days but you will still be able to catch me on social media.

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

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You are invited to share your own wheeled pedestrian story.

Calling all Wheeled Pedestrians! How are you doing? I’ve decided to, figuratively speaking, lick my finger and hold it up to the breeze to try and get a gauge on how things are progressing. So I’ve decided to throw out an invitation, both here in New Zealand and abroad, to anyone who embraces the ‘wheeled pedestrian’ philosophy.

If you’ve got a story to tell and would like to inspire and/or educate others, here’s your chance. Send it to me and I will publish it on this site.

If you’re interested or a little bit curious, read on…

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

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Shifting perceptions: From cycling, to riding a bicycle.

Based on this guys attire, I figure he must be a construction worker.

Based on this guy’s attire, I figure he must be a construction worker.

Everyday I am reminded that a normalised version of cycling is a long way from being realised. I know this to be true because colleagues, friends and even members of my extended family still define me and refer to me as a ‘cyclist’ in a way they would refer to a Tour de France cyclist. For example, a colleague offered me some cycling shirts the other day. The stretchy, highly advertised ones that you wear with lycra shorts when riding fast on a bicycle that weighs less than 100 grams. He thought I would have a use for them. Because I’m a cyclist.

I also get, ‘where’s your hi-viz vest?’ Or, ‘are you doing the Taupo ride this year?’

If random people were asked to draw a picture or describe in words their version of a cyclist, I reckon the sports/recreational/vehicularist version would be the most common response.

My teaching colleagues talk in terms of cyclists being two-wheeled versions of motor vehicles. They teach children about cycle safety but ignore the fact that knowing how to secure a helmet correctly or how to do a hand signal on a school field will not slow down motorists or convince parents that riding a bicycle to school is a safe option.

There’s a rule of thumb in the teaching business that says when you are trying to modify a particular behaviour, you need to provide as many as ten positive statements before making a corrective statement. The positive statements help build up a strong relationship that then allows you to nudge the behaviour into the direction you want it go.

It’s this kind of thinking that needs to be applied to changing people’s perception of cycling. The public are the target that need to be nudged into seeing cycling as something that is a normal, everyday activity. Imagery and words matter.

Efforts at growing ‘everyday’ cycling seem directed at current cyclists and seem to assume that the non-cycling public are already aware that cycling is an easy and functional transport tool, well suited to short journeys. I say, assume nothing.

Presenting the general public with models and imagery of wheeled pedestrian style cycling will also have the impact of decreasing public resistance to the building of the necessary infrastructure like cycle ways, or introducing supportive transport policies like slowing traffic down.

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

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