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How do you get more people to ride bicycles

How do you get more people to ride bicycles

Having spent far too much time trying to find how other places achieved the high cycling rates they have, I have come to the conclusion that there are two factors which can increase cycling rates and make cycling feel ”normal”.

First: provide usable, high quality (although not necessary expensive) cycling specific infrastructure. Lot of people have bikes and will use them more if they feel it is safe and covenant to do so. This is something which is slowly coming about, with the emphasis on the word “slowly”, and is not helped by so much money being wasted on poor quality unusable cycling infrastructure, which is not fit for purpose. But that is for another post.

Then: emotional marketing, and this is something I would like to discuss in this blog post.

It is important to make riding a bicycle feel like a normal thing to do, for a number of reasons, not least because people are then more likely to support (and demand) the provision of usable cycling infrastructure.

A large proportion of the UK population knows how to ride a bicycle and indeed own at least one bike. Sadly, most bikes are at the back of a shed gathering dust. So at some stage in their lives people felt that riding a bicycle was an ordinary and normal thing to do. However, most adults no longer ride bicycles on a regular basis, and cycling as an adult is no longer seen as normal. For more on why this is the case, I recommend reading Dave Horton’s work on the fear of cycling.

So how do we overcome this fear of cycling? This is where emotional marketing comes in, which is about selling a lifestyle, making it look attractive and desirable. If you are wondering what this has to do with transport, well the motor industry spends about £830m a year on advertising, much of which can been seen as emotional marketing. They are selling a lifestyle: making driving seem ordinary and aspirational at the same time. However, the advertising rarely, if ever shows congestion, the roads are always empty, suggesting this should be the default way to travel. The reality, as we all know, is often very different, but the marketing makes people forget these downsides, and believe there is no other way.

Now obviously the cycling industry doesn’t have the same sort of money for advertising as the motor industry, and many in bike business just aren’t interested in cycling as transport (rather than sports & leisure), but increasingly bicycles are being used in lifestyle advertising. So things are starting to move our way. A number of cities in mainland Europe have started to run marketing campaigns to promote cycling as a means of urban transport, notably Bozen/Bolzano, Munich, and Copenhagen.

These broad promotional campaigns are intended to “sell” the idea of bicycling to those who currently don’t cycle, and to create a positive image for cycling among the public in general. In the same way that the motor industry uses advertising, this promotes a certain lifestyle, successful cycling campaigns appeal to the emotions of their audiences to sell the idea of cycling as a positive lifestyle choice. They use emotion-based sales pitches rather than logic-based ones, and this has generally been proven to be more successful. However, it is important to note that simply encouraging people to cycle more without making it easy to do and attractive will not succeed. These campaigns are not a substitute for providing good, usable, cycling infrastructure. They can, however, play an important role in encouraging people to ask for something better. It is about hearts and minds. After all, if people don’t know there is a better option than the one they have, they aren’t going to ask for it.

These city (or regional) marketing campaigns are well funded formal campaigns, but they aren’t the only form of emotional marketing of cycling going on. At a more informal level, there is the global “Cycle Chic” movement. This is a collection of blogs inspired by the original Cycle Chic blog (better known as Copenhagen Cycle Chic) which started from a single photo and has developed into an international consultancy. These blogs are mostly individual enterprises which aim to celebrate ordinary people, riding bicycles in ordinary clothes, in cities and towns around the world. The message they are sending is: look, there are people just like you riding bicycles as transport, if they can, so can you. As the strap line of Edinburgh Cycle Chic puts it, “Because you don’t have to wear Lycra”. It is the activity of these blogs, documenting people riding on the streets that have attracted the attention of the fashion industry, which is increasingly using bicycles as props in its advertising. If there is one industry which can out-spend all others and influence lifestyles, it is the fashion industry. It also has the power to reach people who are not engaged by traditional cycle industry marketing. In the UK, research carried out by Sustrans in early 2009 found that 79 per cent of British women never cycle at all, but 69% of those would cycle if they felt it was safe.

For some reason there are some existing cyclists in the English speaking world who find the Cycle Chic movement disturbing, but I am really not sure why. Cycling is an activity which just about everybody can do, and it has a lot of potential as everyday short range transport, so where is the problem in promoting it as such? Part of the problem may lie in the fact that cycling can mean many different things, as Graeme Obree says: “It’s is a sport, it’s a pastime and it’s a form of transport. You don’t football down to the shops”.

A lot of the opposition to disquiet about the idea of Cycle Chic appears to come from what can loosely be termed the “Lycra brigade”, who seem to feel that they are in some way being criticised by the emphasis on riding in ordinary clothes. They rather miss the point, Cycle Chic is not about them, no one is saying “Thou shalt not wear Lycra!”. The country which probably has more cycling clubs per head of population and the most fanatical cycle racing fans, is The Netherlands. This is also the country with more people cycling in normal clothes on an everyday basis, there is no reason why this should have a negative effect on cycling as sport.

For those who like to cycle fast or over long distances, there is a case for wearing technical clothing, and there is nothing wrong with that. However, this sort of cycling is never going to appeal to the masses, even the most popular mass participation sports in the UK only engage about 5% of the population each. However, everyone makes short journeys of the sort of distance which can easily be covered by bicycle, and the whole point of Cycle Chic is to show that anyone can ride a bicycle as a means of everyday transport, and that you don’t have to be an athlete to do it.

There are also a small number of people who criticise the idea of Cycle Chic on supposed “safety” grounds. Saying that people should wear hi-visibility clothing and cycle helmets while cycling in order to be safe, this is a totally false argument, as I have pointed out before. Sadly a number of these people seem to think that emphasising high-vis and helmets in cycling campaigns will somehow encourage people to take up cycling. The truth is it won’t, most people are risk adverse. Telling them that they will be safe if they dress in a certain way, while ignoring the real source of the problem, will simply put them off. This has been shown over the last 20+ years by the failure of these “safety” campaigns to raise cycling levels to those seen on the European mainland, and shows it is clearly time for a fresh approach in the UK. There are lessons to be learnt from our near neighbours across the North Sea, where they have shown that the cycling infrastructure and emotional marketing approaches work, especially if employed in tandem.

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Cycle parking, a new opportunity in Edinburgh?

Cycle parking, a new opportunity in Edinburgh?

Some time ago I wrote a post called Cycle parking, please can we have more… in which I flagged up issue surrounding cycle parking in Edinburgh and the particular problems for tenement dwellers. Finally things are starting to change, as a result of lobbying by Spokes the City of Edinburgh Council has proposed a Pilot of on-street residential cycle parking. They say:

“The City of Edinburgh Council is committed to increasing the percentage of all journeys in the city by bike to 10% by 2020. One of the biggest barriers to cycling in the city is a lack of suitable cycle parking for residents in tenement areas. In recognition of this, the Council is considering providing on-street cycle parking in areas with tenement residences. This will initially be done on a trial basis at a small number of locations. We are planning to trial:

  • covered cycle racks;
  • individual lockers; and
  • uncovered cycle racks.

So if you are interested for your tenement/flat area, please talk to your neighbours and apply by 9th December 2011. Application form [pdf 4.4MB] application form [doc 764k].

However, it should be noted: “Applications are subject to being selected on the basis of suitability and feasibility. We cannot guarantee that locations that are selected will be installed. Should you require any further information please contact cycling@edinburgh.gov.uk”

I hope to see this project going ahead, but the “suitability and feasibility” clause does worry me that the Council is not fully committed to “increasing the percentage of all journeys in the city by bike to 10% by 2020”. As I have seen existing cycle infrastructure around the city quietly disappearing, such as well used Sheffield stands being removed and not replaced when pavements are relaid, and cycle lanes being converted into on street car parking. Still this initiative does give me hope for the future!

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Alpine Cycle Chic part 1: Innsbruck

Alpine Cycle Chic part 1: Innsbruck

It is often said that a cycling culture, with riding a bicycle as transport, is only common in flat places. However, on my regular trips to the Alps I am always struck by just how many cyclists you see on the streets. So on my most recent trip I tried to take a few photos to show a wee bit of Alpine Cycle Chic. My first opportunity came on a couple of trips into Innsbruck, but I wasn’t allowed to go on a full-on cycle chic photo safari, just grab the odd photo.

So to start with, a few ordinary Innsbruck cyclists:

Innsbruck cycle chic

Innsbruck cycle chic

Innsbruck cycle chic

Innsbruck cycle chic

Innsbruck cycle chic

As you can see, Innsbruck has a healthy cycling culture, sadly I wasn’t quick enough to get a picture of the Christiania cargo trike in Maria Theresien Strasse. Interestingly, there was a recent attempt by the city council to ban bicycle parking in the pedestrianised part of Maria Theresien Straße, but this was rejected after complaints from the owners of shops and cafès along the street who worried that this would have a negative impact of trade. Spend a while sitting at a pavement cafè and you will soon see why, getting about by bicycle is very popular.

Given the levels of congestion of motor traffic in Innsbruck, it is no surprise that cycling is so popular. This is despite Innsbruck having other forms of traffic which UK based cycle campaigners would tell you are bad for cycling, such as trams, bendy buses and heavy lorries (there is a large amount of building work at the present time), etc. It helps that there are wide cycle paths along either side of the Inn which give access to the centre of the city. There is also an extensive network of cycle lanes, here are some pictures:

Innsbruck cycle infrastructure

Innsbruck cycle chic

Note the the bus stop (Haltestelle) marked with a H, and that the buses stop to the left (outside) of the cycle lane. In the UK this would be seen as potential conflict point, but here the cyclists either stop or ride slowly around passengers getting on and off the buses.

Innsbruck cycle chic

While on the subject of cycle lanes, at traffic light controlled junctions there are not only advanced stop lines for cyclists, but separate lights as well, which allow the cyclists to move off 30 seconds before the motor traffic.

Innsbruck cycle infrastructure

As you will have seen from the photos above, cycle parking along the streets is plentiful, as is residential cycle parking, with apartment blocks all having some form of covered cycle parking. The newer ones often have secure cycle parking built in. Cycle parking is also provided at transport interchanges, such as this bus/tram interchange.

Innsbruck cycle parking

Innsbruck cycle parking

You can of course take your bike on the tram if you want to,

Bikes on an Innsbruck tram

and you can take your bicycle on the bus as well. Unfortunately my pictures of the bike space on the bus didn’t come out too well, but there is space for a up to four bikes, if it isn’t in use for prams or wheelchairs as these passengers have priority for the secured spots. On routes where bike carriage is popular, the buses also carry bikes on the outside. These racks can also, rather conveniently, be modified for carrying skis in the winter.

Bikes by bus in Innsbruck

Sorry if you feel I have veered away from cycle chic and onto infrastructure, but it takes good infrastructure to develop a healthy bicycling culture.

Addendum: the modal share of cycling in Innsbruck is 14% and rising.

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Introducing the Dutch Cycling Embassy

Introducing the Dutch Cycling Embassy

Ever wonder how the Dutch came to have Cycling For Everyone? Well this wee video from the Dutch Cycling Embassy how they got to where they are now and why they feel they have something worth exporting to the rest of the world.

We will pass over the fact that the Dutch copied the idea of a “Cycling Embassy” from the Danes. Also, it is important not to confuse it with the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain which has been founded to introduce the concept cycling for everyone to British cycle campaign groups people. Unlike the other two, this “Cycling Embassy” is importing the idea of cycling for everyone from more advanced countries…

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Should wearing cycle helmets be compulsory?

Should wearing cycle helmets be compulsory?

If there is one issue that is highly contentious in cycling, it is this: Should wearing cycle helmets be compulsory?

It is no secret that I personally do not wear a cycle helmet, but I do understand that some people, for what ever reason, like to wear them. And I feel that they should be free to do so, if they want to. One of the most frequently stated reasons for wearing a cycle helmet is that it might save your life (especially when you are being sponsored to say so a brand ambassador for a helmet company). However, the evidence that cycle helmets have any influence on the rate of head injury is, to say the least, rather mixed. The empirical evidence from places where helmets have been make mandatory show that at best they only reduce the rate of minor injury. Nor is this helped by the fact that there is very little independent testing on cycle helmets, most test standards are set by the companies manufacturing the helmets, and do not test to the highest level of protection.

Do laws making the wearing of cycle helmets compulsory encourage cycling and make it safer? No, there is clear international evidence that where cycle helmets have been made a legal requirement, the number of people riding bicycles has dropped. Indeed, there is evidence from Australia and New Zealand that, after compulsory cycle helmet laws were introduced, the rate of death and injury for cyclists (per Km travelled) actually increased.

There is also the question of do cyclists have a disproportionally high risk of serious head injury? Well, no they don’t, per Km travelled cyclists have a similar rate of serious head injury to pedestrians. Whereas, the occupants of cars have a far higher rate of serious head injury (despite the use of seatbelts and airbags) due the higher speeds at which accidents crashes occur. So why is it that there no promotional campaigns for pedestrians helmets or motoring helmets? Why are cyclists being singled out for special treatment? This brings us on to the question of who actually benefits from laws requiring people riding bicycles to wear a helmet? Well, as this wee film shows, helmet companies like them, but only in countries where cycling is common…

Oh, and the motor industry is also keen on getting people to wear cycle helmets, to protect them against people driving cars, apparently…

So to summarise:

  • Cycle helmets may have some slight protective value, but no where nearly as much as has been claimed, or most people seem to think.
  • Wearing a helmet does nothing to prevent a cyclists from being hit by a car.
  • Real cycle safety comes from providing better infrastructure and restricting motor vehicles where they mix with cyclists (or until that happens learning how to ride properly).
  • Crash helmets for the occupants of motor vehicles could easily save more lives (as motorists are a greater risk of head injury) than making cyclists wear.
  • Helmet laws restrict freedom of choice, may result in the targeting of minorities, discourage cycling, make cycling more dangerous for those who remain, and shift the blame in car-bike collisions to helmet-less cyclists even if it was the motorist who was at fault.

All in all, compulsory bicycle helmet laws are not good for cyclists themselves, but are good for third parties with vested interests. While cycle helmets may reduce the risk of some minor injury, they can’t not prevent serious head injury or make the roads safer. So should anyone suggest such a law where you are, protect your freedom (where did I get that slogan from?), question why they want to bring in such a law and who is funding them. It should be up to each individual whether or not they wear a helmet while riding a bicycle, it should not be a matter of law.

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