Earlier I started writing a series of blog posts about cycling safety. I let it slide but now I’m back on topic.
What I wanted to discuss in this post is the question of whether cycling advocates should talk about/campaign on safety issues?
There is a broad spectrum of opinion on this issue. Some advocates believe that we shouldn’t really talk about the fact (PDF) that cycling has a higher accident rate than other transport modes. Instead we should emphasize all the positive aspects of cycling instead.
These advocates feel that the media does enough to make cycling seem risky and, so, as promoters of cycling, we shouldn’t discuss cycling safety. I can see their point of view but, at the same time, I don’t really agree.
First, I think if we’re trying to convince the public that cycling is safe then this is an uphill battle for two reasons.
1)Â The public already believes that cycling is risky. Perceived lack of safety is the main reason New Zealanders cite for not taking up cycling (PDF) or letting their children cycle (PDF). Advocates just don’t have the money or resources to run effective advertising campaigns to balance out the effects of all the negative media coverage of cycling accidents. Only the government and councils have the money to do this type of social marketing initative.
2) The actual experience of cycling in most of Auckland doesn’t feel safe because we have heavy traffic, high vehicle speeds and inadequate cycling infrastructure. There are exceptions (like the North-Western) but in most cases people (especially novice cyclists) are going to feel at risk at least some of the time riding in Auckland. It doesn’t matter how good your marketing campaign is if somebody gets on a bike and rides through the Newton Gully and gets freaked out.
Personally, I think that cycling advocates should use cycling crash rates as a campaign tool. We should use the relatively high risk of cycling as a way to pressure the government and councils into investing more into cycle infrastructure and lowering speeds on local roads.
The media loves to spin cycling crash stories as a conflict between motorists and cyclists – “Who was at fault? Who’s to blame?”Â That’s because the media likes conflict because it sells. But, instead, we should try to make it clear that this is a conflict between all New Zealanders (who want to be safe on our roads) and the government who is failing to provide us with the funding or legislative environment we need to share the road safely.
What do you think about campaigning on cycle safety – should we do it? Or is it better for advocates to focus on the positive side of cycling only?