Freewheeler over at Crap Waltham Forest has been doing an excellent series of posts on how how the various cycling measures being pushed by the cycling 'establishment', including shared space, 20MPH zones, cycle training and so on, won't bring about mass cycling.
The main argument of the cycling 'establishment' is that cycling on roads is relatively safe (although it can usefully be made safer) and that off-road or segregated cycle paths are no safer or possibly less safe than cycling on a road. Therefore, if that message gets across, everyone will come to their senses and start cycling.
Now, statistically that may or may not be true that cycling on roads is safe enough. But it doesn't actually matter.
The mistakes that the vehicular cyclists make are twofold:
1. Assuming that people make decisions about cycling rationally. No-one gets the statistics together, compares the probability of getting run down while cycling with the probability of living a longer, healthier life due to the health benefits of cycling, and then decides to cycle. If they did, there would be a lot more cyclists than there are.
2. Confusing 'risk' with 'fear'. Risk is a measure of the probability of an adverse outcome (a crash in this case). Fear is the emotion associated with the prospect of an adverse outcome. The two are only loosely connected.
It's not just decisions that relate to cycling that are not rational. If people made rational decisions about their transport mode, there would be no Range Rovers. People make decisions emotionally, and they try to justify their decisions post-hoc. "This car is safer. I need the space and practicality. I have a dog. I need a prestige car because my customers expect it. " All this is rubbish. People make many decisions in their lives based on their emotions, their core values, their aspirations, their perceptions, their insecurities. But they largely don't make them based on a rational assessment of available facts. Instead, they look for facts that justify their decisions and reaffirm their values.
I've spent many years cycling on roads, and it's only recently I have become comfortable with it. Partly, I think I've become more able to sense and avoid danger; partly I've become desensitized to bad driving. But even now, I avoid busy roads when I can. I'm convinced that everyone is born with a primeval fear of external threats, and now we've wiped out most of the higher mammals, it's motor vehicles that are the main danger. It's a pretty basic biological survival mechanism: we're programmed to be afraid of bears, tigers, sharks - anything that could do us harm. The facts that bears are usually more afraid of us than we are of them, and bear attacks in the wild are very unusual, are of no real comfort. Motor vehicles are a lot bigger and harder than we are, and they are not remotely afraid of cyclists or pedestrians. We're afraid of motor vehicles, because we're afraid of getting hurt and we know that motor vehicles can hurt us. That's why an unofficial 'highway code' has arisen where pedestrians will almost always give way to cars, no matter what the official Highway Code says about right of way. For a cyclist, no amount of statistics can take away the fear of traffic: it's awakened every time some idiot tailgates you, overtakes too close or cuts in front of you at a pinch point. Once awakened, the fear is likely to stay with you long enough to make cycling a unpleasant experience for a while. You only have to be snarled at by one dog to be wary of dogs for a long time.
So how do the vehicular cyclists propose to convince everyone that cycling on roads is safe? Even if they could actually lock everyone up in a room for a couple of hours and evangelise about cycling, statistics are never going to trump what people fear or what people see with their own eyes. You cannot tell someone they shouldn't be afraid, any more than you can tell them they shouldn't be in love. The idea that people are afraid of cycling because they've been indoctrinated to believe that cycling is inherently dangerous is false. It may be true that cycling isn't as risky as most people think, and that the 'road safety' ideology is wrong. It may also be true that of the perceptions of cycling as a dangerous activity are constructed, but the terror of the 'near miss', and the prospect of it is the root cause of the fear - not the actual risk. People are afraid of cycling because it is scary, not because society has told them it's risky. People do many things despite society telling them about the risks: it's the actual experience of fear, rather than perception of risk that tends to drive people.
It could be argued that people who don't cycle don't actually experience the fear - they only have the received wisdom that cycling is risky. I don't accept that, because most people use roads either as a driver or a pedestrian, and they witness bad driving and cyclists in close proximity to danger. Watching a horror movie is enough for you to be scared by it.
A minority of people in this country do cycle. For some, it's simply the cheapest or most convenient way of making certain journeys. Those people may be blessed with off-road paths or quiet routes that take them from their house to their destination. There are others who simply enjoy cycling, and some who enjoy the buzz of getting to their destination despite the danger. There are some who cycle for environmental reasons. Some do it for fitness reasons. Some do it for a mixture of the above. For the majority of non-cyclists or off-road cyclists though, the fear of traffic outweighs all these reasons, so if cycling involves mixing with traffic, they won't do it, and there is really no intervention that will change this.
So all the vehicular cyclists will achieve with the sum total of all the non-segregationist measures - 20MPH zones, shared space, cycle training, strict liability, share the road, etc., is to make conditions a bit safer for existing cyclists. There's a few people who might be persuaded to cycle if some of the above measures make their particular journey subjectively safe enough, but for most people there won't be continuous routes that get them where they want to go that don't involve a significant number of frightening encounters with traffic. The only way you can get large numbers of people to cycle is to create barriers between the cyclists and the motor traffic. Whether or not that's necessary or sufficient for safety, or even detrimental to safety, is not important, but it is necessary to take away the fear.
Monday, January 17, 2011
Fear and Risk and Cycling
at 2:42 PM
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I find these either-or arguments somewhat tedious and self-defeating. Fundamentally I don't think cyclists are going to win the "give us segregated space on the road" argument until there are more of us, and that's where things like 20mph limits, cycle training, enforcement of traffic laws, and so on should come in. They will make the roads safer and that will increase the number of people cycling, perhaps enough so that we actually have a realistic chance of winning the argument for transferring road space from motorists to us.ReplyDelete
Because right now we don't have much chance of winning that argument. I know Freewheeler and others like to rail and rant about everyone who isn't as fearlessly radical as they are about this, but I'm not sure they're actually thinking it through properly.
Just an addendum - the above is not to say that I don't agree with much of what you say, especially about the importance of the subjective fear of cycling. I just think these decisions are ultimately political and about the size of the constituency you can build for the changes you want to see.ReplyDelete
Alternately, one could ask "why do so many people smoke when there are known health complications?" - maybe because smoking doesn't feel dangerous, it is supposedly relaxing, and you kind of hope that whatever health problems come will be years off and "you'll have given up by then anyway". The same could apply to drinking, where the main immediate dangers from overindulging are vomiting and hangovers, even though far more people die due to alcohol abuse than in road traffic collisions.ReplyDelete
Most people are aware of the risks of drinking and smoking, but because they feel comfortable doing those things, they do them anyway, whereas cycling on main roads is out of most people's comfort zones (even that of some of the cyclists).
A very good explanation of the difference between risk and fear (or subjective risk). i.e. Cycling seems more dangerous than it really is. You can try to educate people to the actual risk level (and that can have some small effect), but in the end, to get mass participation, you have to make it feel safer.ReplyDelete
I'm sorry but I find those arguments tedious. Where is the proof those measures will ever increase cycling to any substantial level? There's not a single country in the world where that's happened. Cycling campaign groups have been saying that's what we need for decades - now that's tiring and tedious!
What's more they've completely failed. Cycling levels have collapsed to spectacularly low levels, only increasing in recent years in a few places, central London being one of them. And if you ask new cyclists there why they cycle, they’ll likely say because it’s cheap, or quick or healthy. Not because there are 20mph limits, cycle training or traffic laws are enforced.
Though you may find it tedious, I think we do need to start repeating the importance of separate infrastructure. It’s surely self-defeating to continue accepting what we always have – which is sod all. Separation, partial or otherwise, is the only proven way to increase cycling – dramatically. It might annoy some people along the way, and I agree the political will is still miles away, but if you don’t ask you don’t get.
Tactically i am inclined to agree cyclists don’t have enough political clout to put change on the agendaReplyDelete
I live in a close - No through traffic the only car movement is residents parking in front of the house. The improvement to quality of live is staggering - all the families with small children are happy for them to play outside - Noise is significantly reduced
As a local community the rest of the estate are trying to convince the Local highway authorities to allow the estate to have only one entrance therefore eliminating all through traffic this has been easy to sell to residents as the benefits are real and tangible. Clearly a by-product of this will be a safe cycling environment perhaps this is the way forward
The central London experience is an interesting one. Objectively, cycling in central London is safer than cycling on the B roads around where I live in SW Surrey, and the accident rate has been rising, but more slowly than the amount of cycling. Subjectively, cycling ion London feels neither safe nor pleasant, with perhaps the exception that the near-100% increase over the last decade makes you feel now like you are not alone - and that probably only helps already-experienced inner-city cyclists.ReplyDelete
So have more cyclists come out in London because they feel that it is safer or more pleasant? I doubt it. New cyclists haven't been drawn to cycling by positive changes, they have been pushed to it by negatives in their former mode of transport. That would include cost, overcrowding on buses and tubes, the sheer unpleasantness of tube journeys these days, but most of all two shock events - transport strikes and the 7/7 bombings, which I understand were the major spurs to increased cycle uptake. Those events would have had a marked temporary effect, with a proportion continuing where some people would have decided they were brave enough to continue.
So, it takes a tragedy to effect a change, just as it usually does to get a decent pedestrian crossing or speed limit etc.
Or of course, if our dear government would like to make its citizens more afraid of terrorism than of white van drivers, something I have no doubt they are quite capable of doing.
I think particularly London, but also smaller towns and cities across the country, are now ready not for segregated cycle facilities but segregated driving facilities. Wouldn't this be where vehicular cyclists and segregationists come together? All streets are for walking and cycling and some may be wide enough to accommodate careful driving, sometimes even by lorries. This should be the starting point. Then separate those motor vehicles with drivers yielding to cyclists and pedestrians at intersections.ReplyDelete
Got to say that I agree with Jim on this. Segregated cycling (especially in somewhere like London) is little more than 'pie in the sky,' there is little enough room as it is for cars and pedestrians, to divide that space up further will be far too costly and cause far too much disruption. Shout all you like but no government will ever go for it.ReplyDelete
However, educating drivers, lowering speed limits, stricter enforcing, introducing bike hire schemes etc are the way forward. This is the 21st century, you can't legislate on the basis of people's irrational fears, but you can attempt to educate them. Put enough time, effort and money into convincing people that vehicular cycling is safe and the message will get through - a far cheaper and more effective solution than segregation.
What depresses me most about segregation is that it basically hands the roads over to the motorists; further reinforcing the perception that cyclists should not be on the road. Even worse, it implicitly suggests that cycling is dangerous - why else would we need to be kept off the roads?! Where would that leave us in areas where it's simply not practical build segregated lanes? Getting honked at by indignant, entitled drivers, that's where.
I cycle in London almost every day, a 14 mile round trip on busy roads. I'm not scared by it, neither are any of the other cyclists I know. Why, because it's rarely frightening, in fact 99% of the time it's hugely enjoyable. We're not at war with the motorist, we just need to be seen more as equals, sharing the road. In the 8 years or so that I've been riding in London I've seen a marked improvement in behaviour, and the number of cyclists I see on the road is ever increasing.
Sorry if you were upset by my use of the word 'tedious', I was just expressing frustration at an argument that seems to go round and round without getting anywhere.
Anyway, I still think we're talking past each other somewhat. I want to see segregated facilities for cyclists, and I think they will give a huge boost to cycling numbers. I just think we are arguing from a very weak position at the moment, because there are very few of us, and that non-segregative measures that will encourage people to cycle and thereby boost the constituency for transformative change should not be derided or attacked.
I think what's happened in Central London shows some useful lessons. It shows that if you charge motorists to enter an area, reduce speeds (including through the use of 20mph zones in broad swathes of Inner London, albeit not in the City itself), and provide bus lanes which cyclists can use but private cars cannot, then you will see many more people on their bikes. Not Dutch levels, obviously, but still an increase. And as a result, there are suddenly a lot more people who see themselves as cyclists demanding better facilities. That's how transformative change happens, and I don't think other areas can afford to ignore what has been happening in London.
It's actually not all that useful to demand that we follow the example of countries like the Netherlands, who had extensive networks of off-road cycle paths as far back as the early 1900s and which never saw cyling modal share fall as far as it did here. They show where we'd like to be but they don't tell us how to get there from where we are. We need to tailor our approach to the specific political and practical circumstances we face, rather than wishing we lived in a completely different country.
I can only talk about cycling in London, as that's where I've lived for the past 15 years.ReplyDelete
According to TFL's Travel in London report put out last year, cycling into the centre of London has doubled in about 7 years. The modal share is pitifully low, but it's twice what it was. My anecdotal experience would back that up, not that anecdotal evidence is worth much!
No-one ever seems to consider the simple power of peer recommendation as an explanation for why more people are cycling. Where I work there are plenty of people who ride in at least some of the time. The number of people who do it has increased pretty steadily over the last 3-4 years.
I think the fact that they see their friends and colleagues riding about, enjoying it and not ending up under a bus is enough to spur them on to try themselves. And once they do, most of them seem to stick with it.
These are "normal" people who a riding a bike, not "Road Warriors" or "Knit-Your-Own-Tofu Econuts". More of that is needed, and best of all it's totally free and requires no legislation or capital infrastructure investment to make it happen.
Just talk to someone about cycling in a in a positive light, and see what happens. What have you got to lose?
I cycle in London daily and while when I stick to my known quiet routes I love it, I emphatically do NOT find cycling in central London on main thoroughfares a generally enjoyable experience.ReplyDelete
Personally I think that anybody who believes that we have the conditions in London for mass cycling needs to re-assess. Whenever I (reluctantly) ride down the Strand or Holborn, or try to get through Covent Garden, I'm reminded of how far we are from cycling being suitable for the majority of people.
We need to find space for segregation. Of course there's space, it's just about having the will to take it away from others and sometimes it means giving the entire space to cyclists, not splitting the space up.
Is there any particular reason why you keep deleting my replies?ReplyDelete
“Segregated cycling (especially in somewhere like London) is little more than 'pie in the sky,' there is little enough room as it is […] to divide that space up further will be far too costly and cause far too much disruption. Shout all you like but no government will ever go for it. “ReplyDelete
I agree with your second point. I don’t think the Government will go for it. Not yet anyway. However, the argument there is not enough room is misleading. Currently, this is true but this position is based on the status quo. A situation that prioritises cars in every aspect. Where on wide roads, cars and taxis are allowed to park on the sides and in the middle.
Segregation would require removing some road space from cars but on other roads it might involve banning road traffic during the day and only deliveries and the like allowing at night. Just like we currently make enough room for masses of stationary parked cars (itself an extraordinarily inefficient use of precious road space), we could create room for segregated routes if there was the will.
“Educating drivers, lowering speed limits, stricter enforcing, introducing bike hire schemes etc are the way forward. This is the 21st century, you can't legislate on the basis of people's irrational fears, but you can attempt to educate them”
We legislate on the basis of people’s irrational fears all the time. You’re much more likely to be killed by a car than a terrorist but the Government’s has produced masses on the latter in recent years. Politics is irrational all the time.
“Put enough time, effort and money into convincing vehicular cycling is safe and the message will get through”.
How long do you want? Is 30 years enough? 50? 64? (In 1947 the CTC first declared their opposition to separate cycle routes). That’s what our cycling campaign groups have been arguing for – for this long. I don’t understand why people still believe this will work. The message still hasn’t got through. People don’t cycle. In no other country in the world has this worked. Why do you think the UK is different?
“What depresses me most about segregation is that it basically hands the roads over to the motorists; further reinforcing the perception that cyclists should not be on the road. Even worse, it implicitly suggests that cycling is dangerous - why else would we need to be kept off the roads?! Where would that leave us in areas where it's simply not practical build segregated lanes? Getting honked at by indignant, entitled drivers, that's where.”ReplyDelete
Segregation is part of the package. Many side streets in the Netherlands do not have segregated routes. They don’t need to. Motorists expect to see cyclists (because there are so many about, because of the segregation elsewhere) and the roads are calmed with traffic measures. Drivers are indignant and entitled in the UK because everything currently revolves around them. I don’t think we should hand the roads over to motorists either but taking a lane away from them, and handing it to cyclists, and calming side roads is not this.
“I cycle in London almost every day, a 14 mile round trip on busy roads. I'm not scared by it, neither are any of the other cyclists I know. “
Ah, that explains things. You’re happy, so that’s okay then. But what about the millions of other people who would cycle in Britain but currently won’t? I can understand that you feel safe cycling as you do. I cycle right now, too. Lots of *cyclists* are not scared right now precisely because they are cyclists. Logicially, if they were too scared, they wouldn’t cycle. But I’d also like to see millions of others cycling because I think it’s much much better for everyone. I guess it depends how selfish you are.
“We're not at war with the motorist, we just need to be seen more as equals, sharing the road. In the 8 years or so that I've been riding in London I've seen a marked improvement in behaviour, and the number of cyclists I see on the road is ever increasing.“
No we’re not. And quite right too. But it does sometimes feel like this. As for being equal, I’ll try to that when I’m passed at speed by an HGV or I’m squeezed between parked cars and an Addison Lee minicab, not protected by a two tonne metal cage. Unlike them.
As for central London, yep it has seen an increase. And the more cyclists there are, the better it is for other cyclists. I think this can be attributed to factors already mentioned. But also, central London is a pretty unique place compared to the rest of the UK. No other urban area is as big nor relies so little on private cars for commuting. Elsewhere in the UK, cycling levels are still pathetically low.
For some reason your comments were ending up in the 'spam' section - not sure why - I've published them. Sorry about that.
Of course I don’t think “non-segregative measures” should be attacked. But they’re still a distraction and at worst a backwards step for improving cycling conditions.
Take the cycling superhighways. They were a fantastic opportunity for providing useful, direct and segregated routes for cyclists. Most people I spoke to – non-cyclists especially – assumed they would be segregated. Instead, because the cycling campaign groups are hostile to segregation, we got a lick of blue paint. Boris Johnson himself said he was not convinced cyclists wanted segregated routes. Of course, it is much easier for TfL to foist us off with the same usual rubbish. They can even say it’s what cyclists want.
I do agree and think we might be in the process of transformative change in London – that’s good news. But still at the rate we’re going, it’s going to be many decades before we see any real change. And remember, in outer London, there is good evidence to suggest cycling conditions are actually still getting worse.
Finally, on the history of cycling in the Netherlands. I can only go on what David Hembrow has to say – who of course supports segregation. However, I’m pretty sure I remember reading somewhere that cycling levels in the ‘50s there were exactly the same as what they were in the UK. They did have some off road routes prior to this but then so did the UK. I believe they started building segregated routes in earnest only in the 1970s, after which their cycling levels started to increase enormously.
Regarding the history of cycling in the Netherlands, there's a short video here which shows that they had a large network of segregated cycle paths even before motor cars became widely used: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NrqG0DqkSlw
For figures on relative rates of cycling in the 1950s, see Fig. 6 in 'Making cycling irresistible': http://www.policy.rutgers.edu/faculty/pucher/Irresistible.pdf
It shows the indexed trend in cycling rates in Netherlands and UK. The rate in 1952 is set to 100 and by 2006 the Netherlands is at around 50 and the UK at around 16. If you take the figures for current cycling rates in Fig 2 (2.5 km per person per day in Netherlands and 0.2km per person per day in UK) and assume they are the same as in 2006 you can work out what the rate was in 1952 in each country. For Netherlands you basically double it to get 5km per person per day, and for UK you multiply by six to get around 1.2km per person per day. So it looks like in 1952 people on average cycled around four times as much in the Netherlands as in the UK.
That's a good article, thanks for the link. I've just read it. I think I might have seen it before but I'd never read it through fully.ReplyDelete
I knew I was slightly shaky ground on my history of Dutch cycling hence the qualifiers "I'm pretty sure" and "believe". Thanks for the correction.
If anything though, the paper makes me even more determined that segregation is what we need. We do need to campaign for it in an intelligent way: exactly how I'm not yet sure, I'm still thinking about it. Perhaps the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain will have a few ideas.
Yes, I've got high hopes for the Embassy too, if you're going to the inaugural meeting on the 29th I might see you there!ReplyDelete
Cycle Training is not a way to produce mass cycling.ReplyDelete
You need a mass of interlocking measures to do that, including some tax changes. The Dutch model is wonderful but we may have to re constitute the law around local government if anything is to happen across London or many of our other centers. A long job but one that should be done.
Cycle training closes the gap between peoples fears and the reality and that gets them riding. They LOVE it! It's a thing for the individual...
I don't know anybody who really doesn't want some really good lanes but Jim is right to say we are a small constituency with little power.
I also agree that the either/or nature of some of the discourse around all this is a bit tedious. Everyone including the government has read all the numerous reports and studies and they well know what is needed. The debate is tired. Our rulers just don't care about it as much as us... :-)
Having said that I like the Emmbassy and I like that there ARE people who care about all this. Speaking truth to power is ALWAYS right.
"Most people I spoke to – non-cyclists especially – assumed they would be segregated. Instead, because the cycling campaign groups are hostile to segregation, we got a lick of blue paint."
Is it true that full segregation was offered for the Superhighways and the LCC/CTC or whoever blocked it? That doesn't sound right to me. I owuld have said it was to do with not taking out parking/bus lanes and the need to get many Traffic Orders. Can you let us know what your statement is based on. Thanks
Nice article. I agree completely with the points raised. In terms of promoting cycling it seems that we have two options:ReplyDelete
1) Continue to promote non-segregation measures to promote cycling. This approach has a proven track record of failure, both over several decades in the UK and in every other country which has tried this approach.
2) Segregation, using best practise from the Netherlands etc. This approach has a proven track record of success in many countries.