Consultation

Submission to the ‘Safer Journeys for People who Cycle’ draft report.

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Back in 2014 I made a submission to the ‘Safer Journeys for People who Cycle’ consultation. This blog post reflects what I tried to convey in my submission. It still represents my view on how I think we need to approach the task of getting more people using bicycles as a form of transport – equal measures of infrastructure, policy and marketing. How are we doing since then, I wonder?

I support the draft recommendations proposed by the Cycling Safety Panel and its desire to achieve a transport landscape that allows for the safe movement of people on bicycles. I am encouraged by the panel’s acknowledgement and understanding of the benefits that cycling brings and the barriers to making that happen, as detailed below:-

1. Participation in cycling and cycling safety are inextricably linked.
2. Increases in cycling participation will bring safety benefits to individuals and to the wider community alike.
3. Economic and societal benefits of investing in cycling are irrefutable.
4. Riding a bicycle is inherently safe and the prevention of crashes with motor vehicles is the issue that needs to be addressed.

However, I am concerned that the panel’s recommendations lack the necessary clarity and boldness. Without any clearly stated cycling mode share targets set, there is a risk that the reports recommendations will not achieve its stated goals.

Infrastructure

In New Zealand’s current transport landscape, cyclists are catered for as though they are two-wheeled motor vehicles. This is problematic because cycling is more akin to walking than driving. If we are to be successful in encouraging more people to cycle, this reality needs to be addressed. In New Zealand we rely on campaigns such as ‘Share the road’ which suggest that all road users have equal responsibility to stay safe. Whereas the Dutch have set the standard for best practice in this area. It is called ‘Sustainable Safety‘. As the draft report acknowledges, riding a bicycle is inherently safe. It is being hit by a fast moving vehicle that makes it unsafe. The current environment is far from equal.

Quality infrastructure is the critical factor in creating a transport environment that encourages people to choose to ride a bicycle on a daily basis for transport purposes. This infrastructure comes in a variety of forms. The creation of  ‘mobility environments‘ has changed the way road transport is approached. Infrastructure is designed to cater for all road users. Safety is designed into the infrastructure.

A well designed transport/mobility environment:-

  • makes cycling irresistible,
  • is built for the 99% who aren’t cycling now but who could be cycling,
  • follows ‘desire lines’ and goes where people want to go,
  • recognises cyclists are just fast-moving pedestrians and does not try to treat them as cars,
  • has infrastructure that will take cyclists to common destinations such as jobs, shops, businesses and schools.

Policy

Creating a cyclised city will not happen in isolation. Transport policies that promote cars ahead of other forms of transport will make it less likely for people to choose to switch to riding a bicycle. The way a city is designed will impact on the rate of cycling uptake. Instead of encouraging sprawl, housing needs to be built around transport hubs and multi-modal transport needs to be encouraged and supported.

A well designed city is one in which people live in an environment that allows them to work and play in close proximity. It’s about reducing travel demand and creating opportunities for short journeys to be achieved by bicycle. Minimum car parking requirements need to be removed from city planning laws to enable this transition to alternative transport to happen.

Cities that have high rates of everyday cycling also have the following features in common:-

  • reduced speed limits,
  • well developed road behaviour social contracts,
  • freedom to choose to wear a bicycle helmet,
  • bike share programmes.

Marketing 

The ‘normalised’ culture of cycling that we need does not come about by accident. It comes about as a result of a range of deliberate strategic interventions. The need for quality infrastructure and supportive transport policies have already been mentioned. But there is also a role for high quality marketing that promotes the value of everyday cycling. The value of cycling needs to be ‘sold’ to the public in order to build the political will that is essential to encourage a shift away from our present car-centric transport policies towards socially and economically sustainable transport options.

The word ‘cycling’ needs to become synonymous with meaning ‘short trips in normal clothes on a comfortable bike for people between the age of 8-80, male or female’.

The dominant perception of cycling at the moment is that it is for sports and recreational purposes; for the fit, brave or foolhardy. That’s a massive barrier to overcome, if we are to get the 99% of people who aren’t cycling now, to consider giving cycling a go. Like issues of real safety are dealt with by building quality infrastructure, issues of perceived safety need to be taken seriously too and addressed by implementing quality marketing.

Currently, cycling promotion focuses on safety by making it look dangerous. It focuses on the wearing of helmets and hi-viz. This kind of scare mongering plays into the fears of non-cyclists by reinforcing their current misplaced beliefs. Even the word ‘cycling’ creates misconceptions. That is why you will see the phrase ‘wheeled pedestrian cycling’ or ‘riding a bicycle’ now being used instead.

The full implementation of the above key strategies of infrastructure, policy and marketing will be needed to bring about the success that the ‘Safer Journeys for People who Cycle’ report says that it desires. Underpinning this success will be a sufficient level of funding. A level of funding that reflects the value and contribution a city full of people on bicycles brings.

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

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Make ‘creating and maintaining behaviour change’ the primary goal.

Making it possible for students to travel to school independently should be a top priority.

Creating and maintaining behaviour change is the primary goal.

During Janette Sadik-Kahn’s visit to Auckland in 2014, she was keen on the phrase ‘tipping point’. For me, it’s a phrase that rolls off the tongue a little too easily. I think it is more likely to be a reference to the growing sense of anticipation amongst those advocating for change. The conversations are getting better, that’s for sure. But it’s going to take a while before we actually get to actually experience the cities that Sadik-Kahn describes. Every city needs an organisation like TransAlt, campaigning for that goal.

So what is the next step? How do we convert the growing awareness and enthusiasm for change, into real progress and improvements in our city? Most of the conversation to date are still taking place between advocates, enthusiasts and public servants. If we are serious about reaching a tipping point, the public at large are going to need to be convinced of the need for change.

Consultation is the process that is used to engage with the public when change is being considered. And in many respects, it’s a flawed process and in need of improvement. That’s because the change that is so desperately needed at a community level will rarely be accepted by individuals who feel they are being asked to make unreasonable personal sacrifice. So inevitably, the consultation process simply ‘goes through the motions’ and we are left with the status quo. In other words, NIMBYism wins every time.

I see the consultation process everyday, in all its ineffectiveness, in an education setting. Here’s the scenario. A school that is operating to ‘best practice’ seeks input/suggestions from its parents/community. Even if the received suggestions are well intentioned, it does not necessarily mean that they are sensible or practical to implement. That’s because the majority of parents are unlikely to be familiar with best teaching practice or the realities of day to day life in the classroom.

My local bike mechanic would never seek my advice on how to fix bikes or run his business. And he would be wise to be to take care in implementing my advice, if I did provide it. In this scenario, the person or people making the suggestion, need to be fully informed and be prepared to do a form of ‘due diligence’. That would obviously require a better understanding of the context within which the suggestion is required to be implemented.

The converse of the above scenario should also be applied when improvements need to be made in the way we run our city. For example, it is imperative that children should be able to walk or cycle to school. The benefits of this, to the individual and the community, have already been quantified and are known to far outweigh the interests of individual motorists who want to be able to, for example, drive at high speed past a school or have parking provision directly outside the school.

Allowing this altered form of consultation to take place does have an element of risk attached to it. Governments that are enthusiastic for motorways are masters at exploiting this risk. It is how they are able to fast-track motorway building programmes. “We know what’s best for you and we are so confident that you will love it/us/the new motorway, that we will start building it tomorrow. You can thank us later.” The risks of this happening at a local level can be safeguarded by initially undertaking smaller projects on a trial basis in order to build up community support.

The barriers to change within the effected community will be plentiful. The majority of the public will all have reasons to be resistant. There is a fear of the unknown. There will be a range of reasons presented to retain the status quo; stories of personal hardship, brought about by the proposed changes. But the consultation process will be impervious to all this. That’s because the sales job will be excellent; the economic and health benefits will be presented and it will have been done well in advance so all the effected parties will have time to grasp how important it is to make the requested changes.

If all the messaging is about healthier, wealthier and more sustainable streets in our communities and it is clearly articulated, change will come about more easily. It’s a job for artists and storytellers. Creating and maintaining behaviour change is the primary goal. The engineers will have their turn later on in the process.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickr. 

Or, enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.