promotion

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.

Bikes, coffee and friendship

Done! And I’d like to think that it’s my best yet. But I’ll let you be the judge of that. At the end of the day I really just wanted to provide an antidote to that dreaded ‘Bike Warrior’.

Without wanting to patronise the intelligent readers of this site, the point of this video was…

I wanted to tell a story – about the potential role of the bicycle in our cities.
I wanted to convey – freedom, the buzz of city life, a to b transport, ease, coolness, simplicity.

Imagine you are off to meet someone for a coffee at a cafe…

It’s empathy that we so desperately need in this world. And as we know, narratives are a good way of achieving that.

Finally, a big shout out to my bike model and friend Emilio.

‘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 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.

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

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

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.

Before any serious cycling infrastructure gets built, you’re going to have to get them to like you

Japan: people on bikes but without any specific cycling infrastructure. How come?

Not a cyclist

Dear Wheeled,

I am a cyclist and an all-round nice guy. I want to be able to ride to my job in the city safely but they won’t build any separated cycle paths. Cycling is great. Everyone should be doing it. What do we have to do to get some quality cycle paths around here?

Regards,

A. Cyclist


 

Dear A. Cyclist,

I sympathise with your situation. It may be reassuring to know that you are not the only one struggling with this issue. This plays out in almost every city in the World. If we look closely at those cities that have high rates of cycling, we can see that not only do they have separated cycle paths, they have managed to create an overall transport environment that prioritises moving of people ahead of the moving of cars. This environment makes the city a more pleasant and easier place to move around for all its residents. In this kind of environment, the car is a guest and invited in under very strict conditions and requirements. This could not be any more different to how other cities treat cars. Cycling is given priority because it is proven to be such an efficient and sustainable form of transport. And most importantly, it has the ‘buy in’ of the general population. Cycling flourishes in cities which have a strong social contract like this.

But we have to remember that this is very forward thinking and did not come about by accident. Politicians rarely act unilaterally. They need to know that their actions will be supported by the voting public. The catalyst for this new transport environment came about as a result of some serious campaigning. You may have heard about the Dutch ‘Stop the Child Murder’ campaign. What distinguishes that campaign from what we see in non-cycling friendly cities is that that campaign had the backing of a large and broad representation of the population. It obviously also helped that there was already a lot of utility cycling taking place in The Netherlands.

Creating space on the street is a piece in the puzzle of ‘how’ to get people on bikes. But it doesn’t tell the ‘why’. Campaigning solely for separated cycle paths fails to tell a compelling, convincing or inclusive story.

Clearly, the city in which you live, does not have a similar broad based support for cycling. In fact I suggest that rather than just being ambivalent, there is a downright animosity towards cycling in your city. That’s what this research seems to confirm. Motorists just don’t ‘get’ cyclists. And while this scenario prevails, while there is so little support for cycling or cyclists, it’s unlikely that any significant number of separated cycle paths will be built. You may also find that if they do get built, they will be under-utilised and be at risk to #bikelash. Having the moral entitlement to be on the road with motorists isn’t worth much at this point. Sure, there is room for an emotional argument, but it needs to presented carefully, appropriately.

Well designed separated cycle paths may encourage people to ride bikes, but what strategies are being employed to get those desired cycle paths built?

I fear that making requests solely for separated bike lanes at this particular stage of the evolution, may be a strategy of limited value. If the public hate cycling, then that needs to be addressed. Specific strategies need to be employed for this purpose. An image of cycling needs to be presented that is broad, relevant and inclusive. You need to be very clear about the image of cycling you want to present. Not for cyclists like you and I. We know the distinction. But for the 99%. The non-cycling public. Mostly, they are only exposed to sports and recreational cycling with high doses of hi-viz, lycra and helmets.

An alternative needs to be provided. Differentiate recreational and sports cycling from the #wheeledpedestrian variety – slow, easy, comfortable, utility, urban, short distance – and keep repeating this with images and words, ad nauseum. It is this type that will have the widest appeal and outreach.

It will take more than well designed separated cycle paths to encourage people to ride bicycles. Slower car speeds would improve real and perceived safety for everyone too.

I also recommend that you campaign under a banner of safe streets for everyone. Once again, bringing it back to an issue of inclusivity. You need to avoid being seen by the public as a special interest group. That outlier label is going to be a difficult one to kick. You don’t want to make it any easier for those motorists to hate on you. It is not only motorists either. It always pains me when I see pedestrian advocates firing barbs at cyclists who ride on the footpath but somehow manage to sidestep the reality of the caroverkill situation and how it has arisen.

Mikael at copenhagenize regularly tells us how to build the cycling infrastructure but I am not sure if he has told us yet about how to build the political will. Or maybe he has, but we have just failed to hear to him.

It’s not an anti-motorist stance, but it is the car that is hogging all the space in our cities. It is the promotion of the car as the singular transport solution that is the cause of all the mayhem and destruction. Of course, it will not make you very popular to challenge the status-quo, but there are precedents. Are you aware of #VisionZero and similar campaigns? And there is no need to take it personally. Decades of policy settings have set up driving to succeed. Motorists are simply responding to behaviour cues. Try taking cigarettes off an addicted smoker. Try taking a car space away from a retailer’s front door. Same issue really.

At the moment, campaigning resembles a one sided monologue between cyclists and politicians with the politicians simply covering their ears with their hands.

Finally, an effective advocacy organisation is one that is financially independent and employs the people with the right skills. Effective campaigning would engage the wider public in a proactive way and be based around themes of –

  1. presenting a vision of a city that provides a wide range of financially and environmentally sustainable transport options that are safe, easy and convenient,
  2. presenting cycling as an effective transport solution; as an option that is safe, easy and convenient.

You’ll recognise it when you see it.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

People who live in cities that prioritise people ahead of cars have better sex lives

If traffic would just act like water, and evaporate.

If traffic would just act like water and evaporate.

Yay! She’s done it. Alice, the Tunnel Boring machine has finally completed boring the tunnel that will allow for the motorway encircling Auckland to be completed. For a city that is so reliant on driving, this really is a reason to celebrate. Although, I tend to see it more like a heroin addict finding out that a new shipment has just hit the street. Rather than encircling, I see strangling. But don’t mind me, I do tend to see things a bit differently.

Back in 2008, when this project was given the green light, the justification for this billion dollar investment largesse was about “easing traffic congestion and delivering significant economic growth in Auckland.” This project was so critical, we were told, it needed to be fast-tracked. The usual process of consultation was waived. Cycling advocates took a pragmatic approach to the situation and made sure the project included cycling connections. Afterall, what’s wrong with the government’s transport agency being the largest provider of cycle paths in the country? Pragmatism rules, ok!?

I don’t recall there being much resistance to this project. To do so would be to find yourself like the boy with his finger in the dyke. You would have to go home for dinner at some point in the evening. Accept it. Take what you can from it. Resistance was futile. Even if the arguments in support of this project didn’t stack up economically, the government has the PR budget and the cojones to make stuff happen. We have a PM who is extremely adept at making stuff up. Black is white. Until it isn’t. While scientists go about their job earnestly checking and rechecking the data, the real power brokers “seem free to operate beyond the law, beyond truth, beyond accountability, beyond good and evil.”

So how did it come to pass that, within this context and within the same celebratory announcement, did we get to witness a transport agency spokesperson downplaying the benefits of the project? Yes really. Was it accidental or was it a deliberate move to ease the motoring public into the reality that traffic is not like water; that it doesn’t evaporate? Maybe it was neither because as far as I could see, there was no media reaction to these comments. It was no big deal. The project’s almost been built. Business as usual.

I suggest there are some things to be learned from this lack of media or public reaction. I want a lot more from cycle advocates – I want them to emulate these experts and their techniques, in a positive way, for a good cause. Call it aspiration. A much bigger and glossier picture needs to be presented. Bolder, braver. Give us a new narrative. A city full of wheeledpedestrians is a win/win situation. Sell it like the motoring industry or tobacco industry do so well. More of the why, less of the how.

As a rule, advocacy tends to run on goodwill and cake stall budgets. A situation that makes them too fragile to be critiqued. Choose your partnerships wisely. Partnerships that limit your ability to speak the truth have their limitations. While it is nice to be inside the tent, pissing on the tent from the outside is not the default alternative. Maybe that’s why Russel Norman has decamped to a truly effective advocacy group.

Finally, never let the facts get in the way of a compelling narrative. I mean, I’m sure it’s true that people who live in cities that cater for people ahead of cars live healthier lives and have better sex. I wouldn’t bother to fact check that. Just trust me. It’s true. Go on, put it on a poster and practice keeping a straight face.

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

Connections

 

I think that storytelling and visual imagery is an under-utilized strategy for shifting perceptions of cycling. And I think that the need to address how the public perceive cycling and how it is allowed to be presented in the media is overlooked.

The cycling I want to talk about is the one that is connected to making better cities. Build the political/public will and the cycle lanes will come?

Anyway, here’s my latest attempt to tell a story. Apologies for the low budget hack of the Modacity cycle chic videos. My hope is that someone(s) with some expertise in visual storytelling will take this idea and run cycle with it. 🙂

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

Get involved via: Twitter, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.

 

The pathway to bicycle love

I grew up in a time when riding a bicycle just was; before it got reinvented as a sports and recreation thing. I recall those days with such fondness. The bicycle was a pathway to independence and life experiences.

We are depriving this experience on a growing number of generations. And even with the best intentions, my family are overly dependent on household car. I have had to go out of my way to recreate that experience; an experience that previous generations took for granted.

All ways of attracting people back to cycling need to be explored

All ways of attracting people back to cycling need to be explored

It’s going to be essential to recreate that sense of value that the bicycle can bring to individuals and society. We are going to have to be creative and strategic in reversing the trend.

Riding a bicycle needs to be presented as something that is a normal but life affirming thing to do.

‘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 this article in the local paper, and its author was extolling the virtues of commuting by bicycle, and he was 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…

But from that point on, from a wheeled pedestrian’s perspective, the article missed the mark.

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.

Yes, it often is quicker. And it may well be a legitimate form of transport, but it is recognised as such in only the cities of a small number of countries in the world. I have been riding a bicycle on a daily basis for the last 16 years or so and I must say, those words have all the hallmarks of ‘boosterism‘.

The article then 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, FacebookFlickrVine or Instagram.