marketing

Overestimate the role of emotion in selling cycling.

New Dawn

Choose the messenger wisely.

Facts and analysis are not enough. The public has to feel you are correct. The truth has to be sold as well as told. You have to capture the high ground with a brand that is more emotionally compelling than that of your opponents.

So says advertising entrepreneur, John Kearon.

Yes, overestimate the role of emotion and storytelling.

Yes, connect emotionally with a wide audience.

Yes, the roads are for everyone. And do ride your way. But take care to choose the messenger wisely.

And, do overestimate the task at hand. Behaviour is hard to shift.

In the mind of the public….

#vehicularism = unappealing

#wheeledpedestrianism = appealing

Hello? Don’t hang up.

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

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Beyond “build it and they will come” lies a more nuanced narrative.

They keep building, and they keep coming.

The bridge this photo is taken from, is the original structure built over the Manukau Harbour, Auckland. I remember driving over it in a car with my family when I was a child. It was usually on the way to Auckland airport. Cars have not been on it for years. It is past its use by date and is due to be replaced. It now only provides access for people walking and cycling and fishing. I have been traversing it for the past 15 years or so. I have managed to capture a few snaps from it, and on it, over those years.

A 4 lane bridge was its replacement. That was in the 80’s. A decade or so ago, an extra 4+ lanes were added. That is what you are looking at, in the photo above. Check out the photo in this blog post to get a different perspective of those bridges and the motorway that feeds them. It funnels a lot of traffic. Those bridges form part of the motorway network that now, finally, encircles the Auckland isthmus. The anticipation has been huge. Finally, traffic congestion will be consigned to the dustbin of history. Or at least, that is what it was sold on. But as a small minority know, traffic does not operate like water. It doesn’t evaporate. Motorists will indeed use it. The anticipation of congestion free motoring will encourage its use. “Build it and they will come”, is the expression, I believe. Induced demand is the technical term.

I can see why it is tempting to generalise this axiom and apply it to a cycling setting as well. Needless to say, I have never been comfortable with this, and have tried to argue this point many times before. Of course, the best scenario for cycling would be to build a top shelf cycle lane and see it overflowing with people on bikes. Just like new, big budget motorways will generate lots of new users. A new, safe cycle path will generate more users. But not in the numbers we need to create a genuine #cyclisedcity. It will be used and appreciated by the current users, very much thank you.

Why is it that new cycling infrastructure will fail to deliver the significant induced demand that new motoring infrastructure will? It’s that lack of demand that is the critical factor. I have written about that before tooDriving is god. Driving is in the DNA. All that kind of stuff. Driving has a huge head start on all other modes. It’s the “teacher’s pet” of transport modes. That’s why “build it and they will come”, will only ever have limited application to cycling, compared to motoring. At least at this point in the evolutionary cycle. Cycling has a perception problem. It suffers from an outlier status. We know what’s needed. An urban environment that works for all users needs to be the goal. A #VisionZero kind of goal.

All cycling infrastructure is welcome. These technical solutions that make cycling appealing and safe are known and need to be embraced. This explains the increasing interest in The Netherlands. We look to there to learn about the bicycle infrastructure; to see how it works, first hand. But here lies the issue that I keep coming back to. Why is it that new cycling infrastructure will fail to deliver the significant induced demand that new motoring infrastructure will? Importing those infrastructure solutions is not a guarantee of increasing cycling mode share. Nor is having agreement on the best infrastructure solutions a guarantee that it will be built. For that to happen, there needs to be a public ‘buy in’. That human component.

The Dutch experience is quite useful for us as well, on that front. The “Stop the child murder” was a compelling, grass roots campaign. The infrastructure that we now admire so much was born out of that. And remember, they already had a strong, well established cycling culture and mode share. Something that is non-existent outside The Netherlands. So, while we may be advantaged by our ability to witness a successful model for a “cyclised city”, it is unlikely that we will be able to piggy back ourselves directly into a similar scenario. There are some essential foundation steps that are going to be needed before hand. That human component. And cynically speaking, there are business opportunities in developing infrastructure, that do not exist in developing grassroots movements for change.

Human behaviour is not always rational. Our ability to adapt can be terrifying and amazing, in equal measure. Shifting behaviour is a specific task requiring specific skills. That’s why a new shiny bicycle path, on its own, will not be enough to get us where we want to be. That new shiny bike path needs to be built on a foundation of positive perceptions towards cycling and an increasing awareness that car dependence is an unsustainable folly. Advocacy that embraces new ideas and robust dialogue would be a welcome addition towards achieving this goal.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickr.

The Death Star

The Death Star casts a long shadow.

The Death Star casts a long shadow.

“The Death Star is the codename of an unspeakably powerful and horrific weapon. A weapon capable of destroying entire planets. The Death Star is an instrument of terror, meant to cow treasonous worlds with the threat of annihilation.”

The reign of the ‘Death Star’ continues. Unrestrained, unscathed, and as deadly as ever.

A range of strategies are going to be needed if we are to ever disempower the ‘Death Star’. Strategies that will discourage driving and encouraging people to take public transport or ride bicycles. Strategies that will increase the demand for traffic calming. Issues such as speed, urban sprawl, parking and infrastructure will all need to be brought to the public domain.

Responsibility for the obscenely high number of traffic deaths and injuries also needs to be placed firmly where it belongs. There real economic and social costs that driving has on our communities needs to be on the agenda. I suggest we copy the anti-smoking lobby and start by placing health warning labels on all cars and trucks.

E003111

Lethal weapon

To grow cycling numbers to a significant extent, the ‘Death Star’ needs to be defeated. Every journey starts with one step. Who is prepared to take on this noble cause? Who will take on the responsibility of reclaiming our cities from the tyranny of the motor vehicle?

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

The pathway to Cycling Utopia starts here.

A car was here

Car woz here.

The request was polite but firm. It didn’t feel like it left any room for negotiation. “Can you move your car please? This is where I park my car. I live across the road.”

A friend was dropping me home. We were parked temporarily on the street, outside my house, saying our farewells.

There’s a word I’m looking for…entitlement. The entitlement that a motorist in a car-centric city gets to experience. “That’s my parking space.” Really?


Until recently, there were a handful of high school students riding their bikes to the nearby high school. I used to see them on the bridge on my way to work each day. I hadn’t seen them for a while. I was curious. Yep. You guessed it. They had turned 16. They were driving now. To school. Driving at every available opportunity, I suspect.

There’s a word I’m looking for…aspiration. The aspiration of a teenager growing up in a car-centric city seeking to join the motoring elite. “It’s better going by car.” Really?


Meanwhile, in a parallel universe.

I get the feeling that the separated cycle path is being touted as the ‘silver bullet’ to get more people cycling. “Build them and they will come”, we are told. But is it really that simple? Sure, the off-road path I use has enhanced my daily cycling experience. Yet, I find it hard to ignore the reality that I see and hear everyday. I’m not suggesting that we should not aspire to build a network of cycle paths but I do have some questions and concerns about this approach. It’s not like I haven’t argued this before. It’s the raison d’etre of this site. But I saw something recently that inspired me to try again.

I’ve been enjoying the stories and insights coming from the Modacity family bicycle adventure to The Netherlands. For those of you who are unfamiliar, The Netherlands is the gold standard of city cycling. The Dutch have very high rates of everyday cycling. So of course, we turn to Dutch cities to see how they have achieved it. And what do we see? Young and old, male and female, riding slowly, dressed for their destination, on (you guessed it), separated cycle paths. “Eureka! That’s the solution”, we hear. “Build them and they will come.” But back up the cargo bike a moment will ya.

Because check this out…

  • A cycling utopia is created by demand rather than design.
  • The Netherlands is a story of traffic calming rather than of bike lanes.

Say what? I mean, the intuitive response would be to say that the separated cycle paths caused the increase in numbers of people cycling. But according to Modacity, the separated cycle paths came about as a result of more people cycling. They were built as a way to manage the numbers. They were built as a consequence of lots of people already cycling. A mandate to protect people on bikes existed already. A process of traffic calming was already well established. Cycling was already a normal daily activity. That fight had already been fought and won. A fight that has barely started in most other cities.

That’s not to say that building a separated cycle path will not act as an inducement to get people out of cars and onto bikes but…that’s only a part of the story. Of course it would be really great if that approach was the shortcut to a cycling nirvana. It would be great. But in the meanwhile I want to suggest that we reframe the conversation. Let’s move beyond just talking about infrastructure and instead, start talking about building demand for cycling. Because that would open up the possibility to engage in a wide range of push and pull strategies. Making driving less desirable needs to be on the agenda. Building demand for cycling needs to be approached in all sorts of marketing, policy and infrastructure ways. Push and pull. I know my life would be made easier if the issue of rat-running was taken seriously.

I can see the problem. Campaigning for separated cycle paths is relatively straight forward. Relatively. Compared to asking a motorist to address his/her sense of entitlement, that is. But that’s what it’s going to take. If we are serious about rescuing our cities. Getting people out of cars and onto bikes needs to be seen as being about behaviour change. Trying to create a cyclised city by building cycle paths alone is the equivalent of trying to make an omelette without breaking any eggs. At the moment we have a top down approach. There is minimal community engagement. And the engagement that does exist, is premised on a high level of tolerance and acceptance of the current dominant role of motordom in our cities.

It concerns me that what seems to be ‘driving’ cycling advocacy at present is expertise in designing bike paths. I propose that knowing how to design bicycle infrastructure should not equate with knowing how to get more people riding bicycles. Nor is getting people riding bikes a ‘chicken/egg’ conundrum, as I sometimes see it being presented as. There are a huge range of steps that could be taken to get things moving along faster. Just ask. Similarly, advocacy should not equate to knowing all the answers. And nor should it be acting as a barrier to progress. It should be a conduit for building demand.

Finally, I propose that we adopt a new catch-cry. “Make it safe and pleasant and they will come.” That will offer up the possibility of whole new range of ways of engaging with the task at hand. To build that demand. To get the public, the policy makers and the politicians to sit up and take notice.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

The power of narrative to affect change is yet to be fully explored.

Heart is a drum

 

I know. I said I’d retired. Well I’ve relented. Kind of.

Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on the role and value of narrative in an education setting and couldn’t help but think of the possible implications for the people and organisations involved in working to create change in society. Just a thought. But we’ve got the facts. The research. The data. But do we have enough stories? Are we making the right connections? Developing empathy? I don’t think so. And I’m thinking visual stories.

Narrative

So, if you agree with this sentiment and would like to make a contribution, why don’t you hit me up. I am feeling in the mood to make another video; to tell another story. I need some props ie. people on bikes and maybe even some leading characters to share their story. A story that conveys the possibility of short, easy, wheeledpedestrian type cycling. A story that connects emotionally. A story that shows what cycling could be.

The plot and all the other details are up for negotiation. I think the new cycle tracks on Quay St should be a key location for filming – for some ‘B roll’ footage.  For a better idea of what I’m talking about, check out some of my previous work… here, here and here. My contact details are here.


 

Hmm. The response to my offer – to make a video to present cycling as something that is easy and potentially inclusive – was decidedly underwhelming. I don’t want to overthink the reasons for this lack of response. But I do hope that it is not a reflection of where cycling advocacy is currently at. That it does not reflect the existence of a blind spot towards the emotional and psychological components in bringing about behaviour change.

And I was so enjoying my retirement.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

Ask me why I cycle without a helmet.

3 Little Birds

We are not against individuals choosing to wear helmets, however we are against mandatory helmet laws and shock-horror helmet promotions.

So say the European Cyclists’ Federation. And that’s an advocacy group we can trust on these matters. This is an advocacy group that is able to see the big picture with clarity and rationality. Unfortunately, it is a culture of fear that dominates, not rationality. Of course, the motor industry fully understands how it is financially lucrative to allow and encourage that kind of fear mongering.

If there was any rationality in arguing for the merits of helmet use, the car industry would also be promoting helmets for motorists. After all, 1.2 million people die annually in car accidents crashes. That’s about one third of the New Zealand population being killed every year. Meanwhile, the unfettered freedom to drive continues. And besides, if preventing deaths was a core objective, tobacco would have been legislated out of existence long ago.

It is the ‘outlier’ status and distorted perception of cycling that is the issue. Helmets do a fine job at reinforcing these realities.

I have learned to be way more scared when my teenage son gets into a car with his mates than when he chooses to be a pedestrian on wheels and cycle without a helmet. That’s rational.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

The wheels are turning but are we making much progress?

Rat Running

It’s been a while. That’s mostly due to changes in personal circumstances rather than any existential crisis. Mostly. The increasingly cynical nature of the political landscape hasn’t done much to draw me to the keyboard either. What’s the point? It’s hard to feel motivated to engage with a political process that operates on a 24/7 spin cycle. Like, did you hear the one about how safer cycling for all New Zealanders is just around the corner. How do I know that? Well that’s what the Associate Transport Minister has just told us. So it must be true.

When I came back to live in Auckland about 16 years ago, I had this dream that my then young children would be riding their bikes to school by the time they were teenagers….oh well. I tell myself that I need to stop being so impatient and wait for the spin cycle to stop. Because it will stop one day, won’t it?

Backwards biking

As unpalatable as may be, it is essential that we are able to talk about our unhealthy relationship with cars and the negative impact that this has on people and our cities. I’m glad I am not a lone voice in questioning the status quo. That’s a bold and honest position. It’s a tough job and it needs to be done. If we are to make any real progress.

Extraordinary times require extraordinary measures. Build relationships and allegiances. Build finances and a strong independent voice. Build social campaigns based on positive stories. Build the interdisciplinary human infrastructure to make these changes possible.

Like a moth to a light, I have felt compelled to remain engaged in the process of creating change. How we move about our city and connect with people in it is something that touches all of our lives everyday. It’s impossible to ignore. But for me, the light has dimmed slightly. I am less sure of success. I have played my role and I think the voice I have presented has been honest, if not always welcome. I am happy to be corrected on that.

Infrastructure, policy and marketing, in equal measure have always been what I have advocated for. The idea of the #wheeledpedestrian was always intended to present a normal and more inclusive image of cycling. I will continue to do that in some form or other. I want to explore video some more. Storytelling in the visual sense. I also hope that the #wheeledpedestrian concept will continue without me needing to be at the helm. Someone?

New kid on the block

The new kid on the block

I also want to give some time to my new ‘pet project’, Ease Education. It’s about my attempts to create a learning environment that fits around the needs of the child rather than the other way around. Provocative? Yes. Worthy of exploring? I think so. Teaching and learning is my passion. I have been doing it for a lifetime and I want to document and share some of the magic that happens when you get the culture right.

And it is a cultural thing. I know this because even the most modern and innovative physical teaching environment will  fail to create better learning if outdated teaching methodologies are employed. It’s all about relationships and the quality of interactions. I see a clear crossover between making a great learning environment and making a great city for living.

As I like to repeat, “get it right for the children and you’ll get it right for everyone”. There is plenty of room for improvement. Evidence of our failings are well documented in the media…child mortality, overflowing prisons. How is it that we have lost touch with our humanness?

Anyway, I look forward to seeing you across the other side. Tell your friends. Everyone welcome.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

Cycling’s in the media again.

All publicity is good pu

Yeah, I know. Any publicity is good publicity…

There was an article in the local paper, and its author was extolling the virtues of commuting by bicycle, doing his best to encourage others to try it. The article outlined the compelling rationale to invest in cycling; the enormous personal and societal benefits. It reminded me that cycling is a marketers’ dream product. I mean, if people can be convinced to smoke cigarettes…

Cycling is becoming increasingly popular as a legitimate mode of transport…it is often a quicker option than driving in larger cities…local councils are investing more in infrastructure that supports pedal power.

Well yes, it often is quicker, but its legitimacy as a form of transport is recognised in only a small number of countries in the world. While it is great to have support for cycling in the media, we need more than the just the familiar ‘boosterism‘.

From a wheeled pedestrian’s perspective, the article gets worse.

It offers tips on how to commute by bicycle. It’s full of phrases that contradict the ethos of how simple cycling can be and, how it needs to be presented. It doesn’t use the language or imagery needed to really connect with the people who are misinformed or are sceptical about cycling….

…invest in a high quality bike…riding long distances…hi-vis accessories to make yourself visible and safer…wear something comfortable…get a bigger backpack…spare change of clothes, shower supplies, towel…think safety, be aware of driver blind spots…

Yes, cycling seems to be making it into the media more often. If that’s the case then it’s imperative that those opportunities are used effectively. There is an alternative narrative waiting to be told. Here’s a starter for 10 points…

Bicycles are ideal for short, utility trips…

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickr.

If it’s not about cycling, what is it about?

Biker on bridge

There’s a story waiting to be told.

It’s not about me, or you. It’s not about how individuals choose to ride. It’s not a personal issue at all. In fact, it’s not even about cycling.

It’s about better cities, mobility, transport equality, making roads safe for all road users. Once that has been established, it’s about choosing strategies that will help turn those goals into reality.

The bicycle is one of the potential solutions to building a better city. It’s a transport tool. Not to be confused with a sports and recreation tool. Effective advocacy can convince risk averse politicians and a sceptical public, that urban cycling is worth investing in, even if they personally don’t want to do it.

Every action needs to be predicated on those goals. Put the passion for ‘cycling’ in a separate box and start speaking in a language that the uninformed will understand. That will require the involvement of people with a wide range of expertise and interest. A ‘building a better city’ team.

It requires nuance and an ability to embrace contradiction. How do you get more people cycling without focussing on cycling? How do you make something that is so life affirming to be so common and normal?

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickr or Vine

On why it’s important to make cycling look irresistible

First impressions

First impressions

I’ve finally figured out what it is about that phrase, “cycling’s booming”, that really grinds my gears. It’s a phrase used by advocates to present a message to transport budget holders and policy makers that members of the public are flocking to cycling and they would do so in even bigger numbers with the support of better funding. Meanwhile, the real rate of cycling remains stubbornly in ‘margin of error’ territory.

Claiming that cycling is booming in this way is an ‘inducement’. It’s an effective behaviour management strategy. Teachers and parents use it to great effect all the time. As the word implies, it’s a way of encouraging a desired behaviour to occur.

It works in the home or class setting because the person doing the inducing has leverage; is in a position of power. I love it when children in my classroom try the same strategy on me. It shows a great understanding of the fundamentals of human psychology, even if their sense of their own power in the relationship is misplaced.

Better funding for cycling will come about when transport budget holders and policy makers feel that they can no longer ignore the demands of an expectant public.

Whatever way you look at it, it all leads to the need to make cycling look irresistible. It’s time to go back to the drawing board.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.