Sunday 20 March 2011

Beware the cyclists of Spring...

They look innocent enough, but beware...

I'm sure many people in the Northern Hemisphere have noticed the number of extra cyclists who've appeared recently.

It's the same here in the Netherlands.

I went on a great social ride today, and we saw literally thousands of other cyclists on a ride through the countryside North East, returning through the centre of Groningen and between there and Assen. Thousands were out enjoying the sun on their bikes. Yes, even here cycling gets a boost at this time of year.

So what's the problem ?

I have to be clear that the these extra cyclists are of course no problem at all. It would be ridiculous to complain about there being more cyclists out when the weather is beautiful as it has been today, than a few weeks ago when the temperatures were hovering around zero and it was misty.

However, there's a danger here for campaigners. Every year at about this time, people forget that they're looking at an annual trend and think there has been a genuine increase in the rate of cycling. It all looks so positive, so real. I've often wondered if the boost each spring is the reason why campaigners often seem convinced that cycling is "on the up" when year on year figures in many countries show it is reducing or stagnant. Human memory is fallible and easily fooled by a temporary boost which hides a long term trend.

Spring, or September, are both good times of year to make impressive sounding cycle counts. The numbers which result are far better than if you take an average over the entire year. However, accurate counts and accurate statistics about cycling result not from this but from mundane counting procedures.

At this time of year, it looks positive not just where you live, but everywhere. Enjoy it. Ride your bikes a lot. However, keep in the back of your mind that this doesn't necessarily mean that any progress has been made.

Campaigning has to carry on, based on facts and not just on how pleasant it is to ride on a sunny day. More people will cycle everywhere if subjective and sustainable safety are provided.

To achieve a high modal share and excellent degree of cyclists for cyclists of all ages, the Netherlands provides the best example to copy. However, even when looking to the Netherlands, campaigners need to vigilant as it is all too common for the whole point of things to be lost in translation when taken to another place.

Enjoy spring and summer, ride your bikes a lot, but keep your eyes on the prize.


Maarten said...

In either direction it is wise to be careful when you count. If you need an estimate in the width of a new cycle path to a school (we're talking The Netherlands here ;-), then you should count in the morning rush hour, not on a sunday afternoon.

It really depends on whether you need a maximum to estimate the needed width of a path, or statistics on bicycle use.

Slow Factory said...

Males of many species have and use very flamboyant colouring and features (feathers, etc.) to attract a mate. Most human males do not do this. Humans are the only males that ride bikes. Hooray for Spring!!

Darren Alff said...

I thought that, based on the title of this article, that you were going to say that these people out riding their bikes for the first time in months are not seasoned cyclists and that they should therefore be watched out for. haha. I guess that isn't where you were going at all.

I ride my bicycle all winter long, in deep snow and everything. And when spring rolls around and I start seeing a bunch of people out on their bikes, I just think to myself "Where have you guys been for the past several months?"