infrastructure

For advocacy to be effective, it needs to be ‘evidence based’.

 

Sunrise

Choose your imagery wisely. Research shows it does matter.

Apologies. It’s been a while. I’ve been spending most of my time recently, with my teaching hat on. But that hasn’t been such a bad thing. As it turns out, I am discovering that the issues that education faces (and society, in general) appear to have a variety of common threads. Those common threads seem to me, to be about, figuring out ways to make progressive change. How do we achieve better learning outcomes for all students? How do we achieve better transport outcomes for commuters?

My effectiveness as a teacher has increased markedly ever since I opted to go ‘evidence based’. As a result of implementing an evidence based teaching pedagogy, I have witnessed an amazing growth in achievement amongst all students. And of course, this success can be measured in test scores. Better test results equate to better learning outcomes. Easy. But more importantly, I can identify the actions that lead to this success. There is a correlation between my teaching practice and the achievement of better learning outcomes.

But there is another component to effective teaching that is equally important. In the teaching business, it is called student ‘agency’. It is a measurement of the quality of the conversations that students are having – with their teacher and among the students themselves. Conversations that reflect curiosity and inquiry. The teacher’s role is to provoke and stimulate these conversations. That’s where learning is at its most powerful. Self-generated, self-sustaining. Once again, a correlation exists; between the level of student agency and better learning outcomes.

Can you see the link yet?

As far as I can see, in the business of getting people on bikes, success is being measured in two ways. Firstly, it is being measured in terms of raw numbers. Bodies. On. Bikes. But I want to ask these questions. What ‘actions’ are generating these people to ride? Do the numbers stack up in terms of mode share? i.e. Is there a correlation between the actions to get more people riding bikes and people actually riding bikes? I mean, the number of people may be going up, but so is the population. It’s possible, eh?! And besides, who are these people? Why are they riding? Secondly, I success seems to be measured in the number of meters of cycle paths being painted. This is problematic. Just like the existence of a well appointed, functional classroom is no guarantee that effective teaching will be taking place. Boosterism is no substitute for the implementation of successful strategies.

And how are we doing on the ‘agency’ front? How are those conversations going? Are we experiencing success? Based on my daily interactions with people and motorists, I see no evidence of any significant change in attitudes towards cycling. In New Zealand, the conversations around cycling are still in the realm of sport and recreation. It’s an activity enjoyed by special interest groups. Its perception is still a long way from that of a normal everyday activity. Based on my experience in teaching, I am not surprised by this. That’s because the promotion of student agency is not standard practice in the education sector, either. It is a strange reality when implementing evidence based teaching practice results in one being seen as an outlier. That’s because it requires a very different mindset and way of thinking and engaging. It requires a willingness to allow the expertise of the crowd to come to the fore. It requires the leader to be good at managing and enhancing human interactions.

While I take no pleasure in critiquing advocacy groups, I also think there is a validity and value in doing so. To be effective, advocacy needs social movements that will give them the space to be bold and advocate for bigger and faster change. In order to do that, they need to be good at listening and engaging with a range of ‘voices’ and nudging the conversations in a more constructive and meaningful direction.

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

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Making cycling something that everyone can relate to and do.

 

Motorway

Would you like more lanes with your motorway, madam?

It is no secret that this blog has at times been openly critical of some aspects of the way cycling advocacy is approached. Nonetheless, the intent of this blog has always been about wanting to engage in a meaningful conversation. To present different views and interpretations that may not be appreciated or understood fully, yet. While no one likes to be criticised, including myself, I feel that it may be helpful to spell out that it is never my intention to make it a personal issue. For me, it has always only ever been about looking for the most effective ways of getting more people using bikes for short utility trips. And for what it’s worth, I am trying harder these days to be better at using criticisms that I receive, as an opportunity to strengthen my argument.

And I believe that my views do actually reflect the views of some people, and have in fact, lifted the level of conversation and understanding. That has to be one of the real values of the internet; the democratisation of ideas. I also believe that organisations will be better off if they are open to differing viewpoints – echo chambers and all that. Reasoned, critical voices need to be encouraged. As well as being critical, I believe that I have offered authentic and well argued alternatives. And on that matter, if you do support the ideas being presented on this site, or if you are mildly curious, why don’t you try approaching your local advocacy group and let them know.

One aspect of advocacy that I have been critical of has been around the nature of the relationship between advocacy groups and the national transport agency. It is a sensible and pragmatic approach to get a bike lane attached to a new motorway when it is being built. Of course, cycling needs all the help it can get. So while I am pleased to see the latest Auckland motorway project being given the thumbs down by the advocates, the potential for the relationship to be compromised should be a concern. Financial and political autonomy would be the dream scenario. Cycling for the people, by the people.

This leads me to another aspect of advocacy in which my thinking diverges critically from what is currently on offer and to which I have tried to offer clear and reasoned arguments for an alternative approach. NZTA and advocacy groups seem intent on selling cycling to enthusiastic sports and recreational cyclists; to convert these cyclists into everyday commuters. I have argued repeatedly that this strategy is of limited value. Or at the very least, it ignores a whole swathe of the population who will never ride like that. The growth market in cycling is in riding a bicycle; a comfortable, slow bicycle, for short, utility type trips. Like they do in Japan. Riding a bike is achievable to a whole lot of people if we think of the bicycle as replacing walking, not driving.

I accept that this is a slightly different goal than what we are currently being presented with. The goal that I believe we should be striving for is an inclusive and more specific one. It will make cycling available to young and old, male and female. Not just more cycling, but more people using bicycles for short, utility trips. It is a goal that will require our attention being focused on making our cities less car friendly. That’s a big target and will need to be broken down into smaller, manageable goals. I just find it hard to accept that it is wise to be relying on an organisation that loves cars that much, as the best source of advice on making cycling a real thing for everyone.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickr.

Minding the gap: real and perceived.

Path1

Mind the gap!

So there I was. Crossing the enormous intersection and just about reenter the bike path on the other side when a cyclist under took me. There wasn’t much space. You can see from the image above that the curb cut is narrower than the bike path. I let out a ‘yelp’. I got a fright. She turned back and gave me an earful. She saw me with headphones in my ears. Funnily enough, I could hear her telling me whose fault she thought it was. She may have also been telling me that I should have had a helmet on my head. But by that stage, she had already put quite a distance between us.

You see, I prefer to ride like a #wheeledpedestrian. Slow, steady, no sweat. In contrast, the cyclist in this story and the few I see on the bike lanes that I use everyday, are just that, cyclists. Fast commuters and sporty types. And increasingly, on e bikes. Riding fast over long distances seems to be symptomatic of bike cultures that exist in sprawling cities dominated by cars. My preference to shrinking the journey would be to use my bike to connect me to a fast and efficient transport network. Park n ride. But we don’t do that kind of civility just yet.

Path2

Mind the gap here too!

Of course, speed is at the core of the issue. I was in fact, being my usual cautious self. Slow and steady. That’s an intersection that requires one’s undivided attention. The reason I didn’t see the cyclist on this particular occasion was because she was out of sight, right behind another cyclist. As I watched them ride into the distance, my first thoughts were that they were friends, riding together. But finally I came to the conclusion that she, on the e bike was trying to match the speed of the sports cyclists. This was not the first time such a thing has happened. Nor, I imagine, will it be the last. I am constantly on high alert for the ‘threat’ of the silent and swift ‘predators’ of the cycle paths. The paths are often narrow. The image above shows how overgrown they can become. Sometimes they are covered in glass. Sometimes they have pedestrians on them, walking three abreast, with a dog. They are contested spaces.

As they say, speed kills. And as I say, it will take more than just bike lanes to make a cycling culture that is embraced by a broad membership of society.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickr.

Riding a bicycle in Japan looks like this

I have commented before on this site that capturing images of people riding bicycles in Japan is akin to shooting fish in a barrell. Bicycles are an integral part of daily life in Japan. All members of society are represented. There’s the 80+ year old gentleman riding to his chess club at the local community centre, the school students travelling to and from school, the young children hanging out in the afternoon, the mums transporting their young child and groceries home, the stylish teenage girls socialising at a restaurant, the elderly women doing the shopping.

The bicycles are similar in style – practical, comfortable, easy to ride. Apart from extensive bicycle parking provision, infrastructure for riding bicycles is largely absent. People on bicycles seem to be treated as fast moving pedestrians. In many cases I watched people on bicycles following desire lines. It was not unusual to see people riding contra-flow. Unfortunately, like everywhere else in the world, the car is the dominant urban force in Japan. But despite this, it is quite remarkable that city streets are relatively congestion free and people on bicycles are ever present.

I also noted that some of the tourism focused cities in Japan offer bicycle rentals. I captured one of those experiences and turned it into a short video. You can check it out, here.

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

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

SaferJourneysReport_01

 

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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