Monday 17 October 2011

I cycle, so you could cycle too

Many existing cyclists in other countries make statements of the form "I cycle, so you could cycle too".

There's a lot of emphasis on riding "vehicularly", on gaining speed to get past junctions, on training people to avoid common problems. These are fine survival techniques in an environment which is hostile to cyclists, but they are not a way to make cycling a normal means of transport for the masses. Those with a desire to cycle, who are fearless enough and strong enough will continue to do so, while those who are more easily scared away from cycling will never start in such conditions. Cycling needs to be something other than an extreme sport to make the majority of people see it as something for themselves.

On the way home recently I found myself behind a rather elderly gentleman who was making his way slowly through a village near here by bike:

Explanatory video captions are displayed only if the video is played on a computer and not when played on a mobile device

You'll also see how children had met friends on the same cycle path. The infrastructure makes this possible. No-one has to be a "road warrior" to cycle. Parents don't worry about the safety of their children. Older people also see cycling as a perfectly reasonable way to get around.

Compare and contrast with this video made by someone who says "you can ride your kids to school" in Bristol:

It's laudable that this parent has taken great care in teaching his son to ride so safely as possible given the conditions. In the UK it's quite exceptional for an eight year old to cycle to school, even with a parent "just behind and out a bit to offer some protection and direction if needed" precisely because of the conditions in which this cycling would have to take place. Most parents simply don't feel that this is a safe thing to subject their children to. Meanwhile, just over the North Sea here in the Netherlands the average age for a child to go to school unaccompanied is about 8 and a half.

So what explains the difference ? The infrastructure ! Britain's streets are not subjectively safe. This is why attempts to train people to cycle are not working. It's also why in that second video you don't see other children cycling to school, older people cycling, nor indeed many other people riding bikes at all. It doesn't look much like any video of a Dutch school run by bicycle.

You are a member of a self selected group
Campaigners often ignore the reasons why they are cyclists while the majority of the population are not. It's very simple, those who cycle now in low cycling countries are by definition members of the easy demographic for cycling, made up largely of enthusiasts and relatively fit young adults, while those who do not cycle are from different demographic groups who are not naturally given to cycling especially if it involves risk.

Cyclists in most countries are an out-group. To change this, it's no good to say that conditions are OK for you. You need to reach the people who are not part of your group and you need to tackle the reasons why other people do not cycle.

We are here to help. Our cycling study tours
demonstrate how the Netherlands made
made attractive to the whole population
Different people have very different needs for safety, and in particular, subjective safety. People who are scared to cycle now, will remain scared to cycle unless conditions are made very much better, to grow the modal share past the usual easy demographics and to include people who are more difficult to attract to cycling requires not just a little more, but for the standard of facilities to increase exponentially.

Click for more on out-groups.


Anonymous said...

While I fundamentally agree with your central premise - that it's all about the infrastructure - the political reality in many other countries is that Dutch-style infrastructure will never be built until there is a critical mass of cyclists demanding it. It's a chicken and egg problem - we can't have a lot of cyclists until we get good infrastructure, and we can't get good infrastructure until we have a lot of cyclists.

And so "I cycle, you could too" is an attempt to work around that chicken-and-egg problem by creating just a few more cyclists to swell the ranks of those who might demand proper infrastructure. On its own it's never going to make cycling mainstream, but what else can be done?

The basic problem is one of political will, and the only solution is creating political support for the kind of cycling infrastructure you so carefully show on this blog. That political support is a function of the number of cyclists, not the quality of arguments in favour of good cycling infrastructure.

Michael S said...

I don't know. I wouldn't allow neither my son (7) nor my daughter (12) to ride where this 8 year old boy rode. I want my children to become well trained cyclists, but I want them to stay alive as well.

ibike said...

Anonymous said: “Dutch-style infrastructure will never be built until there is a critical mass of cyclists demanding it.”

We’ve been trying that approach for the last 20 years or more without success. Far more people cycle today than even a few years ago but “cyclists” are still a marginal group.

It’s going to take much more than a steady increase in cyclist numbers for cycling to be taken seriously. It needs to come from large numbers of people who don’t remotely think of themselves as cyclists demanding facilities where they and their children can safely and conveniently ride a bike.

christhebull said...

Now that I live in Bristol during term time I have ridden many of the roads myself (on a very old imported Batavus). I think the routes shown are among the "least bad" major roads in Bristol, compared with, say, that part of Gloucester Road further north. I cannot bring myself to say the southern part of Gloucester Road is "good" though (I always have to look out for typical hazards, eg drivers in my direction undertaking right turning traffic, oncoming traffic turning right across queuing traffic in my direction, etc). Also, keep going towards the city centre on Gloucester Road and you eventually get dumped on the huge St James Barton roundabout, which, approaching from Bond Street has the most ridiculous bus gate I have ever seen. (One is meant to pull out in the minuscule "inter-green" period between traffic light phases). There is also a public space accessible only by pedestrian subways within the roundabout known as the "Bear Pit."

I often see vague attempts at cycle infrastructure in Bristol and South Gloucestershire, which given the "Cycling City" status of the former is fairly predictable, but they are often somewhat disjointed affairs, with a typical journey involving moving from on road cycle lane to traffic lane to shared use pavement (which becomes a normal pavement completely at random) to bus lane. There are contraflow lanes and various cycle only turning lanes etc but these are provided pretty randomly.

The best example of how stuff has been bodged together is near to the UWE campus, where the "cycle track" painted on the pavement of the Avon Ring Road uses a pre-existing pedestrian crossing, with a green man but no green bicycle as should be seen at toucan crossings.

Anonymous said...

Wow, those Bristol streets are a trainwreck. We have many similarly narrow roads in Philadelphia, but with only one-way traffic. I can only imagine the amount of continual and aggressive conflict.

Fonant said...

"Dutch-style infrastructure will never be built until there is a critical mass of cyclists demanding it."

Should read: "Dutch-style infrastructure will be built when there is a critical mass of people demanding it. Perhaps also when a strong politician realises the massive benefits of getting more of the population on bikes from transport, and that Dutch-style infrastructure is the only way to achieve that."

It's no use expecting cyclists in the UK to get what they want (even if some of them did stop explicitly campaigning against decent infrastructure!). There are simply too few cyclists in the UK, and the majority are reasonably happy with the current road conditions, which is why they're still cycling.

It's the people who don't cycle because it's too dangerous (yes, it is dangerous - cars kill daily), but who are otherwise keen to leave the inefficient and extremely expensive car at home. Or those who don't have a car, or those whose "family" car is parked at the wage-earner's workplace all day.

Kevin Love said...

I think that we all agree that Dutch-style infrastructure is a big step forward for all other countries. The only question is "how do we get there?"

Obviously, mode share is a critical part of building political pressure for proper infrastructure.

If someone lives in a city where cycle mode share is currently 1%, then a logical short-term goal may be to double mode share to 2%. Vehicular cycling can help to do that by empowering the potential die-hard cycle enthusiast.

This is OK as long as we are realistic and realise that VC will never, ever be an effective strategy for raising mode share above 2%. To do that, we need different strategies.

Another way of putting things is that if mode share is currently at 1%, then there is another 1% of potential die-hard cycle enthusiasts who are currently non-cyclists. VC provides a strategy for turning them on to cycling.

That 2% can then be the activists to agitate for proper cycle infrastructure to enable mass cycling.

Anonymous said...

"It's a chicken and egg problem - we can't have a lot of cyclists until we get good infrastructure, and we can't get good infrastructure until we have a lot of cyclists."

No: what we need are people saying they want to cycle. So we need potential cyclists, not current cyclists. You can get potential cyclists before there is infrastructure.

ndru said...

I was thinking about actually how many cyclists does it take to give our voice a meaning. Anyone cares to estimate? 10%? 20% In London about 2% of the population cycles. Pedestrians on the other hand are much more numerous and still they aren't really pampered, even though you can argue that we all are pedestrians at some point.
I personally think it's not the amount of people who already cycle that matter, but the number of people who would like to cycle, but can't. I would hazard a statement that they are pretty numerous. The issue is getting through to them.
Now obviously many of us want cycling to become something people want to do instead of something they are talked into doing.

Oldboy in Brussels said...

Reading all the previous comments, I quite belive that in the UK, ducth style infrastructure can only come from a political level and not really from cyclists. I think the gov and local authorities must come to a point where a car-only transport policy cannot keep on, especially in large urban areas where proper infrastructure dedicated for cyclists needs to come. The challenges are too great (congestion, pollution, obesity, etc.).

On the other hand, there are massive number of cyclists in central London at peak time on the trunk roads (generally outnumbering the number of cars) but, still, nothing is done for them, despite nummerous accidents and chaotic mix between traffic.

About that, have you see this study from a well knowed London transport consultant:

Interesting quotes:
"Heterogeneous traffic conditions are normally associated with some developing countries but they
are becoming more common in Central London because of the rise in the number of two-wheelers."
"Heterogeneous traffic conditions are usually perceived as frustrating for motorists, unpleasant for vulnerable
users and generally unsafe"
"In many countries with large volumes of cyclists, the
solution of mandatory cycle lanes on the carriageway was adopted. If you compare two segregated lanes, one for cyclists only and one for motorised vehicles only these two roads would have a perceived safer environment and a higher capacity than the same two lanes with heterogeneous traffic conditions. This example however assumes
for fast moving motorised traffic, comparatively slow moving cyclists, and ignores junction capacity issues. In Central London, motorised vehicles are relatively slow, cyclists are surprisingly fast and space for such segregated infrastructure is scarce."

So Seggregated infrastructure is even good for traffic flow :-)

Clark in Vancouver said...

Oldboy: So true. That's what I tell motorist types when they complain about the installation of a bike lane on what they see as "their" road. I tell them that I don't understand why they would be against something that benefits them. If people can bike somewhere nicer than a shared lane with faster vehicles then they will and then they'd be out of their way.
(And I hadn't heard the term heterogenous traffic before. What a stupendous nomenclature.)

EricD said...

There are a couple of cases where authorities have questioned parental responsibility for children cycling to school - Tennessee and London

David Hembrow said...

Eric: It's awful that the expectation now is that children will be locked up and not allowed any freedom at all. I wrote about the Schonrock case in 2010 and I continue to write about children needing freedom. All the world's children should be able to experience the world as Dutch children do.