"Grow Up and
Buy a Car..."
by John Stuart Clark
(The following report is a edited summary of an article found on the web.)
The most striking results of a report recently published by the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) called "Attitudes to Cycling" hinge on the contradiction that while cycling is perceived as a good thing for the planet, society and the individual, and something to aspire to, cyclists themselves are not accorded a status commensurate with the activity. We are viewed as poor, weak, eccentric social failures. Cycling is something you give up when you grow up and buy a car.
Motoring, on the other hand, is rapidly losing favor, particularly in the urban context, but motorists are managing to hang onto their kudos. They are still perceived as endowed with financial success, sexual prowess, social status and personal power. That is a lot to give up for a push-bike.
It seems the decision to reject cycling is heavily influenced by three factors that advocates have previously glossed over or failed to address -- image, inertia and negative peer pressure.
The image of the cyclist is either that of the dithery duffer wobbling his way towards the allotment, the old Colonel on his high wheeler at a Vintage Rally, the impoverished student tearing down a pavement, or the muscle bound athlete switchbacking up a hill at impossible speed. According to "Attitudes," the public just do not have a mental picture of the ordinary, everyday cyclist, and therefore cannot put themselves in his or her place. Even in York, where an exceptional 20% of journeys are made by bicycle, "Images of cyclists as tourists or students tended to dominate".
The report emphasizes that large corporations and institutions, employers and "other social influencers", have a crucial role to play in rating the image of the down-trodden pedal pusher. By endorsing cycling, providing incentives and facilities, they will effectively legitimize the activity as something suitable, even desirable, for the "professional" classes.
The non-cyclist suffers from chronic inertia. S/he can think of no good reason for taking to the saddle, and views the whole exercise as an "extended problem-solving" fag. Furthermore, cyclists are a nuisance, "the most arrogant *#!?#*# anywhere" (quoting "Male, non-cyclist, Ealing"), and they are taking up road space. All the arguments about convenience, enjoyment and health are lost on these people.
Cycling promotion initiatives (specifically the National Cycle Network) have failed to make an impression on non-cyclists. Although driver behavior and traffic speed were cited as the principal deterrents against cycling, "strategies such as (the) provision of safe cycle paths were not sufficient to induce a change in anticipated behavior". It seems no amount of segregated cycling infrastructure will induce people to leave the car in the garage and pedal to the shops.
"Attitudes" is ground breaking in officially identifying the link between car use and dependency. "In a very close analogy to smoking," we need "strategic initiatives to break the habit. It is difficult to get people to contemplate change by attacking the very behavior they rely on." Auto-addicts need to be weaned off their twice daily hit, and this will not be achieved by the rather simplistic notion "that by promoting and advertising the personal and environmental benefits of cycling, people will cycle more".
Based on analysis of the highly successful anti-smoking campaign, TRL recommends a three-pronged attack: promoting individual and social behavior change; promoting organizational change; and implementing situational and environmental measures. Acknowledging that individual members of the public are at different stages along the road to conversion, they further recommend a targeted campaign that takes people by the hand and leads them one step at a time to enlightenment. O
John Stuart Clark is a freelance journalist, mainstay cyclist and Surveyor's cartoonist, BRICK. "Attitudes to Cycling" is available free from TRL (266), Old Wokingham Road, Crowthorne, Berks RG45 6AU