Part of the Solution
The benefits of active transport are significant, and cycling is a fun and convenient active transport option. How do we get more people on bikes? And how does bike parking help?
Problem/Opportunity: Based on an estimate that 80% of cycling trips are less than 5km long, it has been proposed that it is reasonable that up to 36% of current vehicle driver trips could be made by bicycle. (NZTA Research Report 426 ‘I’ll just take the car’ – improving bicycle transportation to encourage its use on short trips). And it’s more than just getting people biking to work – there are plenty of trips made for other reasons, in fact, more than the work/business trips.
Obstacles: It is easier to use the car. Bike use is not normal, safe, attractive, etc. Bike use is too hard. The weather is not right, the hills are too steep, I live too far away, it is too dangerous…..
Solutions: Thankfully, there are some easy answers: we have more fine days than wet ones, e-bikes flatten out the hills and make distances easier to cover, the government is spending $300m on infrastructure for safer cycling including its Urban Cycleways Program.
Progress: AT does an excellent job of measuring cycling rates, and we know from their data and numerous other examples around NZ and the world that providing good infrastructure increases participation – ‘build it and they will come’. But there is more to it than just bike lanes.
The Netherlands have been very successful in going from a car centric culture to one dominated by bicycles. Their advice:
“It is important to have three main ingredients for a cycle-friendly system:
‘hardware’ (i.e. the physical cycling infrastructure),
‘software’ (behavioural change and promotion programmes to encourage cycling), and
‘orgware’ (the institutional systems, like laws/policies and funding, to ensure that pro-cycling things got done).
A cycling strategy that is missing any of these parts is not likely to succeed fully.” – Dutch Cycling Embassy (Paraphrasing courtesy of Cycling Christchurch)
Bike lanes are an important part of the solution, giving us safe places to ride. To amplify the effectiveness of bike lanes and cycle paths we can add in other key ingredients in the ‘Dutch Recipe’.
You could see it as pieces of a puzzle making up a whole solution – here’s my take on it:
We get more people biking when we give people safe places to ride, and a safe supportive environment, build their ability, and grow their desire.
It is about hearts and minds as well as bike lanes: moving us out of our ingrained behaviours, sense of identity and habits that have most of us thinking “I’ll just take the car”.
Safe Places to Ride +
Why are the government are spending $300M on places for us to ride? Is it because they want bike riders to be safe and happy? Well hopefully, but government decisions are seldom based on such touchy-feelies. What they want is more journeys taken by bike because they’ve done the numbers and can see the advantages in terms of health, environment and the economic benefits of reducing congestion in our cities and increasing physical activity.
Will bike lanes alone get significant numbers of people on bikes more often?
On their own will bike lanes get people out of their cars and onto their bikes for short trips. There is no doubt they will help. But there is a problem with how cycling is perceived: it is often seen only in terms of sport or some strange alternative lifestyle (or worse, a scourge). How can we change the perception of bike riding and make it a normal, everyday part of life? (or even make it attractive?) We’ll talk more about this shortly, but firstly let’s look at what contributes to our ability to bike.
- possession of the means or skill to do something. capacity, capability, potential, facility, means, preparedness
- talent, skill, or proficiency in a particular area.
Ability encompasses many things: practical skills, knowledge of safety and basic maintenance, access to a bike, basic levels of health and fitness etc. So as well as needing a place to ride, we need the skills and resources to get safely from A to B; and we also need the means to safely park our bikes when we get there. Research supports that.
The media love stories about cycling, especially if there is conflict. Comments about cyclists as ‘cockroaches’ and all the rest seem to make good fodder. If we listen too much to those stories, we might start to feel like some kind of subversive sub-culture. A supportive environment looks different to that. It is about creating an environment and, more importantly, a culture, that says “riding your bike is a perfectly normal thing to do”.
We could take it a step further, add some enthusiasm, and even say that:
Riding your bike is good for you, for your community, for your environment and even for business.
Our built environment could reflect those values by providing bike parking, really good, really obvious and really plentiful bike parking. And it should be easy to ask for.
Our desire to ride will be influenced by our social setting: whether we feel supported, encouraged, rewarded and ‘normal‘ about riding a bike.
And some positive reinforcement helps too – like rewarding a desired behaviour. The Aotearoa Bike Challenge ticks those boxes, which is why it is supported so broadly by the NZTA, Local Councils and other organisations. The Bike Challenge is about having champions encourage their colleagues to try biking. It’s based on the pretty sound principle that biking is so much fun, if you give it a go you’ll be hooked.
Bikes Welcome sends a complementary message: normal people ride bikes, to normal places, ….and hey, maybe you could too.
This is where we can throw a dose of psychology and sociology into the recipe:
“it is not unusual for environments to show “traces” of human behaviour that prompt people into following along”.
“put cycle racks right outside the front door of buildings, where everyone can see. My heart always lifts when I arrive somewhere with obvious cycle racks, especially when there are bikes on them. This is a place where cycling might take off, I think. Conversely, I feel dismayed when there are no racks to be found. I imagine cyclists who slink in and out and have little chance of encouraging others. At this level, it is a matter of appreciating that design choices (such as where to put the cycle racks) are not just about practicality and cost, they are also about visibility.”
Niki Harré, School of Psychology & Associate Dean Sustainability, Faculty of Science, Auckland University, referring to work by P Wesley Schultz et al 2008 in her book Psychology for a better world.
We’ll talk more about the psychology of bike parking in tomorrows blog post.
Summary: How Bike Parking encourages everyday bike use
- Ability. Having somewhere to safely secure my bike adds to my capacity and preparedness to choose to bike there.
- Supportive Environment. Making good bike parking a normal part of our built environment supports the notion that biking is a normal transport option, and that my choice to ride is supported and valued.
- Desire. We are social creatures, and we respond to norms and environmental clues about what ‘normal’ and ‘acceptable’ behaviour is. Even better we want to feel like what we are doing is valued and rewarded. Bike parking helps make everyday biking normal and visible… it plants a seed “hey I could bike here”.
Bikes Welcome believe that for everyday biking to take off it needs to be normal, valued, supported and visible. We’ll talk more about that in the next blog entry about the psychology of Bike Parking. In the meantime, please help us establish Bikes Welcome in New Zealand and support our Pledge Me campaign.
And in case you need more evidence, including research and policy from New Zealand and Overseas, check out: Why Bike Parking? Research