Friday 1 August 2014

Legacy ? What legacy ? Sporting events _don't_ change peoples' behaviour. But proper cycling infrastructure certainly leads to more cycling.

It's become popular for there to be claims that sporting events will be followed by a "legacy" of changed behaviour. Somehow, the public are expected to behave differently after seeing other people exercise. London's Olympics were supposed to have inspired a generation to take up sport and to improve the population's health. Similarly, the Tour de France starting in Britain this year is supposed to lead to an upsurge in cycling (despite the fact that 101 tours have not yet had that effect in France).

Assen. 31 July 2014. One of many motor racing events in the city.

If any place ought to be able to demonstrate the power of a sporting legacy, it's Assen. This small city has hosted the annual motorcycle TT since 1925. A special circuit for the TT, known as "The Cathedral of motorcycling", was built just outside the city in 1955. The TT is a huge event. For a few days each year the city's population is tripled by the enormous crowds of motor-sport enthusiasts who visit to watch the racing. Every local farm becomes a camp-site, the city puts on a huge party with live music in the centre until the early hours. It's a great event !

Assen. 1st August 2014. People cycle past the "donuts" left on the road by a Formula One racing car last night. Is this a motor racing legacy ? This is one of many excellent simultaneous green junctions in the city.
What's more, there are many other motor-sport events every year. But despite all this, the people of Assen make more of their local journeys by bicycle than they do by car. Why ? Cycling has been made extremely safe and it's more convenient than driving. People don't all drive around the city in Formula One cars or ride on racing motorbikes, they react to what works best for them. That is why cycling is the single most popular mode of transport in this city.

Assen 1st August 2014. The European Junior Cycling Tour is taking place in and around the city this week. This road is closed to normal traffic today so that the racers use it. This is fabulous, but it isn't what makes Assen attractive for everyday cycling isn't a few roads closed for a few days per year, it's the comprehensive network of cycle-paths like that on the right of the picture, which go everywhere and are open 365 days a year.
Assen also hosts a great number of cycle sport events. Cycle-sport is extremely popular in Assen - enough that the city has many facilities for different types of cycle-sport. In 2009 the first two stages of the Vuelta a Espana were in and around Assen. At the moment the largest youth cycle racing event in Europe is taking place right here in Assen, this being their 50th year in the city. But cycle-sport in the city no more influences the means by which people make everyday trips by bike than does motor-sport.

Sports are great, but everyday cycling has nothing to do with sport. Not even with cycle-sport.

The child on the right may decide that he likes what he sees. Perhaps he'll join a local club and start racing with those on the road. But he might also prefer football, or be more interested in reading than in any sport. Nevertheless, he's riding a bike now and will do so tomorrow as well because that's a sensible way to get around the city. Note that the car is supporting the cyclists. The road is blocked to through traffic.
Everyday mass cycling is not enabled by temporary road closures, it requires a permanent grid of excellent quality cycling infrastructure. If this is built to a high enough standard then cycling ceases being the preserve of a brave minority and instead, everyone can cycle. Good cycling infrastructure caters for cyclists of all abilities and all speeds.

Infrastructure which is good enough to enable truly safe and convenient usage by children riding en-masse to make school trips is also safest and most convenient for those who like to ride fast.

The Dutch don't cycle because it's "in their culture", people in other countries used to cycle just as readily as the Dutch do now. These days, the Dutch cycle more than anywhere else because the infrastructure makes cycling an easier choice here than anywhere else. There's no mystery. We know what is required to enable mass cycling: Build a grid, make cycling safe, convenient and pleasant for everyone, and people will ride bikes. This applies even in a town famous for motor racing.

Funding of events
By all means host events such as large cycling races. They're a great thing to see. But they should not consume funds intended for cycling infrastructure because once the race has gone through everything will go back to normal.

More smoke and noise here, and preparations for it in our local TV coverage. The TT festival can be very amusing. A few years ago it brought a jet powered motorbike to the city centre. Oddly enough, that also brought no "legacy". I've not seen even one person riding a jet powered motorbike around the city since then.


Cycling Punk said...

I think the UK has become exceptionally good and spending cycling budgets, whilst not actually doing anything for cyclists.

Rebecca Olds said...

I have been amused by the number of classic-car enthusiast friends I (still) have (from a past life) who would not dream of getting on a bike, but were out there lining (closed) Yorkshire roads cheering for Team Sky a month ago! The next day, it's back to normal, without even anything to prompt them to re-evaluate the way, as motorists, they interact with cyclists on their everyday roads.

Jitensha Oni said...

Sorry about the length of this comment - it just grew.

This is where the UK really ought to be making a distinction between fietsers and wielrenners. A proper distinction, not the pernicious conflation of fietser with "less confident" and wielrenner with "assertive, vehicular" that seems so common. [FWIW I define myself as a fietser when the bike dictates my pace and a wielrenner when I dictate its].

My interest in this piece is that I live within walking distance of the Olympic TT and Road race routes, now the London Surrey Classic and Ride London 100 routes, and I and thousands of others have gathered to cheer them on each year for the past 3, and hope to do again next Sunday. So if there has been a legacy effect it should show up here. In terms of fietsers and wielrenners this is what I observe:

Since they were announced, there has developed a constant stream of 25-50 yr old wielrenners at weekends along the routes (hundreds, pushing thousands per hour, peak, still going strong) whereas before there were typically one-two orders of magnitude fewer. Fietsers remain at a very low level. In contrast, outside the routes on-road and on the routes at weekdays fietsers outnumber wielrenners (which is nice). Overall numbers here have risen slightly from the pre-Olympic levels, though the difference is probably not statistically significant, but they are at best in the tens per hour, frequently less. This group is 15-70 yr old. Off road at weekends you do see quite a lot of fietsers, despite some pretty shonky surfaces, but again we're talking at best only a slight rise in the past 5-10 years. This group is all ages. In any case for fietsers other things have changed - economic situation, climate - that could be more important factors.

So, in North Surrey where major cycle sports routes pass through I observe more wierenners on those routes at weekends than before the Olympics, but not really anywhere else at any other time for either wielrenners or fietsers. (an aside - why the weekend wielrenners don't branch out more is beyond me, except insofaras people like cycling among other people). Basically, yes there's been an extremely local effect for wielrenners but more fietsers are not being encouraged by cycle events. Presumably Yorks and E Anglia will now experience similar and the rest of the country won't.

Kevin Love said...

Jitensha Oni wrote:

"...why the weekend wielrenners don't branch out more is beyond me..."

Kevin's comment:
Perhaps it is because another mode of transportation is a faster, easier and more convenient way of safely getting from A to B.

As The Netherlands vividly demonstrates, when cycling is the fastest, easiest and most convenient way of safely travelling, people will cycle to the places where they want to go. As the UK vividly demonstrates, when it isn't, they won't.

Robert said...

It works both ways. Most of my journeys are made by bike, and I campaign for cycling infrastructure in the UK, but I have almost no interest in cycling as a sport.

t.foxglove said...

In countries with a low modal share most regular cyclists are enthusiasts of one sort or another, sporting events do fire enthusiasm and that may persuade the future enthusiasts to take up cycling but the vast majority of the population will remain unmoved by it.

I did a sky ride in Newcastle/Gateshead on Saturday and for a few hours thousands of ordinary people enjoyed a 5 mile loop of traffic free cycling.

Quite a few bikes looked like they hadn’t seen much use recently, a few people looked like they hadn’t cycled in a while, but everywhere people were happy, families cycled together, children had fun, the rain held off and while immersed in the event, you could imagine that this is just the thing to lead to a “cycling revolution” in the UK.

Which was great, but as we rode away at the end it was apparent that the majority of people had driven to the event and were busy loading their bikes onto cars to drive home.

It actually made me quite pessimistic, the UK has so far to go and is making no concrete steps to affect change, that I really doubt that we will ever get there.

Alan said...

Well said.I agree with everything you've said.I work in Derby,making my daily commute from Burton-on-trent.Derby is a city with virtually no cycling provision yet they've just spent 28 million pounds on a velodrome.How much safe cycling path could have been insalled for that money?

Edward said...

Dear David,

This is off-topic but I wonder if you could perhaps answer a quick question? You have compared the spend per head in the Netherlands with the UK. Is it right though to say there is a separate cycling budget? From reading your work for some years now, it seems to me that cycling provision on roads is not some afterthought tacked on if the cycling budget permits but rather each road is designed from the ground up to accommodate the various modes of transport using it. I am thinking for example of this post ( where you describe the entire road being dug up from the front gardens on one side to the other.

Here is my question: can we form any conclusions about the total spend on road infrastructure in the two countries and how they choose to spend it? Roads in the UK are also resurfaced but they seem to make the mistake of replacing the previous road layout with a fresh one exactly the same. Judging by what was done on the road described in your post (and indeed something that seems to be common), it seems to me a lot could be achieved from the current UK maintenance budget. In other words, each time a road is resurfaced that should be the opportunity to make some serious and worthwhile change.

Over here in Australia, I found out through a Freedom of Information request through our city council that city roads are calculated to have a lifespan of 15 years or so. In reality, it is often less. It makes you wonder what could be achieved in that time.

There is of course a caveat to all of this. You can spend as much as you want but if it is spent on rubbish it is a waste of time.

Thank you for your time. I know you have had a lot of spongers over the years stealing your photographs so I hope I am not being presumptious.