Monday, December 13, 2010

Tell me what I already know about why people don't cycle

A new report from the Department of Transport has been published. It's entitled "Climate Change and Transport Choices" and you can read the whole thing here. It's mainly a survey of public attitudes to transport in the era of climate change.

There is some good news. The general public at least seem to accept climate change as real, and have some idea what they need to do about it.

In the 'Cycling' section, I could have written most it from my armchair without the bother and expense of going out and asking people. A very small number of people are 'regular' cyclists, about 12% riding a bike at least once a week, and only 3% cycling to work/school/college. Safety concerns are - surprise, surprise - a major barrier to cycling. "Of those who were able to cycle, a clear majority agreed that they would ‘find cycling on the roads stressful’ (63%) and that it was ‘too dangerous to cycle on the roads’ (60%) and that they ‘would cycle (more) if there were more dedicated cycle paths’ (52%)."

One really interesting aspect is the rate of recidivism - people who tried cycling, but then quit. "This suggests that for every three people who had started cycling to work, two had reverted back to using their car or van."
This indicates that 'soft measures' - cycle training, cycling promotions, persuading people to cycle - on their own are likely to have a poor long-term success rate. The survey did not ask why people relapsed, but seeing as this blog deserves the Mystic Meg award for correctly predicting most of the survey, I'll have a guess: people try cycling, and after one too many near misses, they decide that discretion is the better part of valour.

What would work, however is building more cycle paths.52% of people agreed that they "would cycle (more) if there were more dedicated cycle paths".

So there you have it. Yet more of your taxes spent on getting the answers we already know to questions that have been asked before. It is crystal clear what needs to be done to get more cycling. Spend more money on decent, segregated infrastructure and less on surveys, advertising, marketing, white paint, Comedy Cycle Superhigways and 'Cyclists Dismount' signs. Now don't get me wrong: there's certainly a place for training and cycle promotion, but it is not a substitute for infrastructure. Subjectively safe infrastructure is an investment, and it advertises itself on a permanent basis at zero ongoing marginal cost. Without the infrastructure, you might as well be trying to market diving holidays in shark-infested waters.

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