Have you been following the Warne ‘incident’ in Australia? Who cares, you say? The world is full of idiots. Why should we even bother to react? By responding, you just give these idiots more oxygen to spread their hate and ignorance. Is this kind of negative attitude sprayed about in the media worth engaging with?
I would like to suggest that there may be some value in stopping and taking a look at these kinds of anti-cyclist rants in the media. They are a semi-regular thing, after all. Maybe, this type of ‘incident’ could be seen as an opportunity to reflect on why cycling is such a marginalised activity in Auckland and Sydney and Melbourne…
Let’s take a step back. As I have said before, there is a ton of research available that highlights the enormous benefits of cycling. In fact, our very own NZTA produces some good quality stuff. It’s probably being well utilized as door stoppers. I would like to think that we can be very confident at this point: Cycling is a good thing. Because the research tells us so and confirms what we, as cyclists, experience everyday.
Some research out of Britain caught my eye the other day. It starts with…
“It is widely recognized that there is a need to increase levels of active and sustainable travel in British urban areas”. Makes sense.
Then it goes on to identify the various barriers to cycling uptake. One of the barriers it cites for people not taking up cycling is because it is ‘perceived as an abnormal thing to do’. I think they might be onto something here.
Can you see where this is going? While the benefits of cycling have been identified scientifically by the experts, the perception of cycling in the media and amongst the public remains, to put it mildly, misguided.
So why the big disconnect? Why is cycling seen as such an abnormal thing to do? What is it that the non-cycling person sees or thinks of when cycling is mentioned? This is a big deal. For the non-cycling person’s perspective, this is important. Malcolm Gladwell calls this ‘thin slicing’. The first impression counts. It’s human psychology in action. This is what the majority of the public are doing when making a judgement about cycling. Even though it may not be a rational response, perception is everything. No matter how positive or neutral they feel towards cycling, their gut instinct is very persuasive in determining their choices and behaviour.
Unfortunately for us, cycling in Auckland is still the domain of the sports and recreation brigade. That’s not to say there is anything inherently wrong with this type of cycling. But this image hardly presents cycling as irresistible. In fact, it has quite the opposite affect. As Marc from Amsterdamized said on Radio NZ recently, cycling will struggle while it presents itself as a sub-culture. Mikael of Copenhagenize is similarly clear on this point. Cities that have succeeded in increasing cycling numbers have done so by using ‘mainstream marketing techniques’.
When sub-cultural groups start trying to indoctrinate and convert the public, it rarely ever succeeds. For the better part of a century, people all over the planet rode bicycles because they were quick, easy, convenient and enjoyable. In hilly cities. In hot cities. In snowy cities.
…an entire generation has been given the impression that cycling is something that a few people do for sport or recreation and not much else. People who take their hobby seriously and who invest in all manner of clothes and gear. Regular citizens are hardly inspired to join such groups.
Why is this talk of image so important? Because this is a key ingredient. While it is missing, cycling in Auckland will not be able to grow significantly. Growth will come from the non-cycling community; the people who are not cycling at the moment. Growth in cycling will come in people making short, local trips on a bike. Cycling for transport. The #wheeledpedestrian variety. Slow, upright, comfortable, everyday cycling. Utility cycling. Call it what you like.
Infrastructure will be built, policy changes will be made, when politicians feel that there is significant public support for cycling. This will give them some resilience to the retailers who complain about having to reallocate parking outside their shops to cycle paths. They will be less fearful of upsetting the motoring lobby who have seen ‘their road’ go on a diet in order to accommodate people on bikes. They will be less fearful because the politicians themselves will start doing short trips in the CBD on bikes. Children will start riding to school again, with their friends, rather than being being dropped off in their parents’ car. This kind of cycling will sell itself.
The necessary public support for cycling does not exist in Auckland at present. That is evident in the anti-cyclist rhetoric we see in the media. There is no sense of outrage that the Dutch had which gave them the enviable cycle culture they have now. Here in Auckland, the current transport system enslaves us to The Death Star and destroys our city.
@warne888 has about 634,188 followers on Twitter. In comparison, @wheeledped has about 372. No contest. Yet.
Cycling. It’s as easy as walking, but fasterâ€¦.