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Fuck it, ride anyway

The four dominant barriers to cycling

You may wonder why I am quoting from an almost 7-year old report. Well, firstly, that’s when I started writing this post, or so it feels like to me – have you tried keeping up with news from the cycling world while holding down a day job?

I mean, I just read an email that tells me Lance Armstrong is a confessed drug cheat! Say it ain’t so!

Secondly, while some similar reports have subsequently been written, there haven't been as many as you might think, and those that have, don’t say anything substantially different. The problems are consistent over the years, which is sort of interesting in itself.  I liked the phrasing in this report, so am sticking with it.


An image for those who saw this block of text as insurmountably lengthy.

An image for those who saw this block of text as insurmountably lengthy.

So hop in your time-machine of choice and come with me back to 2009, when the NSW Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) and Department of the Environment & Climate Change (DECC) formed a joint project team to update the 1999 [see, a 10-year gap] NSW BikePlan for the Premier’s Council for Active Living.  They commissioned research into the barriers to cycling amongst non-cyclists and infrequent cyclists.

Four dominant barriers were found:

  1. The negative image of cyclists and cycling amongst non-cyclists.
  2. The perceived danger of cycling, and commuter cycling in particular, due to perceived or actual lack of safe places to cycle, and the fear of being hit by a motorist.
  3. The lack of facilities to store or lock up bicycles.
  4. Little or no understanding or acknowledgement of the benefits of cycling.

With only mild disrespect to the RTA/DECC team, really? I could have knocked that out on a post-it note in about 60 seconds. That’ll be $100,000 AUD dollars please.  For an extra $20k I’ll update it every year if you like. Every study, every survey conducted and prior and since has said the exact same thing.

Why is there so much repeated and overlapping research going on into transport initiatives and bike plans every year – funded by local or federal government, ie la taxpayer–all returning the same findings.  Why is so much money wasted on doing the same investigation over and over again without any significant improvement in the underlying issue? Argh.

Right, so let’s look at these barriers.

1. The negative image of cyclists and cycling amongst non-cyclists

Yeah, you all know it’s true.

From the 2009 report “Cycling as a child is convenient — but driving as an adult is even more convenient. Therefore to many respondents, it appeared, cycling was associated with childhood, whereas car driving was associated with adulthood…there was an underlying feeling among many non-cyclists, that cycling was a childish activity.”  See what I mean about their phrasing ? Truly elegant.

There’s an interesting extrapolation to this. Cycling is a childish activity and presumably has no place on roads, which should be dedicated to adults, driving their adult cars, and going about their adult business.

I’d agree cycling is childish – I never have more fun getting to work than when I’m on my bike. Is that not allowed? Is it written somewhere that all trips to/from work must be soulless drudgery conducted by grey-faced workers losing their collective will to live? Or is that just the North Shore line, ha ha. No really.

This is either Kanye West's fashion line, or the queue for the 7.05 express from Gordon.

This is either Kanye West's fashion line, or the queue for the 7.05 express from Gordon.

So yeah, cycling is childish in that it is FUN. And you just don’t fully comprehend how de.light.ful it is until you do it. If we could get more non-cyclists on bikes just once or twice, we’d change the world.

There’s also a link between this “time to put away childish things” mentality and barrier no 4 “no awareness of perceived benefits of cycling”.

Can there really be no dawning realisation amongst respondents that we as an unhealthy nation getting unhealthier by the generation, need to re-introduce incidental exercise into our day?

Get in the f*cking robot lane !!

Get in the f*cking robot lane !!

No, as adults we need to keep playing the sports we loved as kids, we need to continue tennis and ballet and softball and rugby and badminton and we need to keep moving, keep exercising, maintain fitness and health and we need to stop becoming a unhappy, old-before-our-time burdens on our healthcare system. [If you haven’t had a good think recently about our aging population, increasing healthcares costs and increasing national budget cuts, now might be the time to do so.]

For some of us that is playing soccer at lunchtime in the domain, for some of us it is continuing to cycle to school, just because it moved to a bigger building and is now called “work” why change transport methods that have served us and our body so well until now?

This silo-effect of the components of one’s adult life is certainly backed up by one of the most insightful and revealing comments hissed at us at a red light near home, by a stereotypical north-shore dowager in her BMW and pearls (I kid you not) who said these exact words to Sprocketman next to me. “Get off the roads you silly man, and ride around the park.”

From which we can deduce;

  • Cycling is not a legitimate form of transport to and from work and therefore deserves no respect.
  • Exercise should be relegated to discrete times and limited locations.
  • Old people in BMWs should be forced to re-live their youth; have their German death-machines confiscated and be given a penny-farthing to cycle around on for 3 months.

So, to recap, cycling is childish. The other contributing factor to the negative image of cycling (again from the report) “While many motorists (although not all) were aware that cyclists were allowed to ride on roads, they perceived that cyclists on roads did not obey road rules and were frustrated that cyclists were not perceived to be accountable for their actions. In addition, there was a strong perception that, as road users, cyclists were freeloading because they did not pay registration fees.”

Firstly, who are these clowns who are unaware cyclists are allowed on the road?  We’re definitely not allowed on the footpath, so where exactly are we supposed to be? Don’t answer that …

I’ve often thought a driver re-education program was in order, but we’re talking remedial classes for these guys. Sheesh.

As far as cyclists on roads not obeying road rules; I do see a bit of this myself and it frustrates me no end.  But it's not all of us, and non-cyclists need to consider the context of our rule-breaking.

Every cyclist, willingly or otherwise, is an ambassador for cycling and sure, the dickheads who run red lights in CBD peak hour, in front of 40 pedestrians waiting to cross the street, make me roll my eyes. Thanks asshat, unless you’re carrying an donated organ ready for transplant, there’s probably no good reason you couldn’t have waited with the rest of the cyclists at the lights, you’ve just reinforced every negative perception about male lycra-warriors, and about cyclists in general.

The tutting pedestrians don’t look over at the ten or so of us waiting for our turn; they remember you weaving in and out on your stupid fixie like you you’ve just watched Premium Rush and think you’re a New York bike messenger.

It might be one or two people a morning I see do this, but they sure pick their audience, and that sort of flamboyant disregard for the rules has had repercussions in the form of increased attention and fines for the rest of us, because sometime you actually do NEED to run a red light.

Yep, a cyclist will need to run a red, because at a lot of traffic intersections, the weight of a single bike and rider is not enough to trigger the traffic-light sensors under the road. It’s a known issue amongst cyclists, and one that bike advocacy groups have raised with local and state government a number of times, but no, #GetStuffedDuncan decided to fine us $425 for each instance they catch us, never mind the underlying reason which is, we’re trying not to hold the traffic up.

My mother reads this blog, make all the obvious dirty jokes quietly amongst yourselves.

My mother reads this blog, make all the obvious dirty jokes quietly amongst yourselves.

Even riding in small groups might not be enough to trigger the sensors; there’s just not enough metal in a modern carbon-fibre bike frame – and as for me riding alone, almost no chance. I’ve found myself in the position of having to beckon drivers forward to come and sit on the sensor-pad, while I angle my bike bizarrely to get out of their way without putting myself in the oncoming traffic flow.

Often it would be far simpler for me to safely run the red, and then let the cars behind me trigger the light change – but all that line of cars will see is another bloody cyclist not following the road rules – they won’t see a cyclist who knows why she is inadvertently holding them up and wants to resolve it the fastest and safest way possible.

To be fair we have it better than other cities; New York cycling blogs are full of tales about salmoning (copyright Bike Snob NYC)  bike messengers and fixie riders, and beautiful Godzilla’s where flouting traffic laws is considered an art form, albeit a dirty, selfish art form.

The term "salmoning" and this picture courtesy of  http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com.au/   and by "courtesy of"  I mean he has no idea my blog even exists.

The term "salmoning" and this picture courtesy of http://bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com.au/  and by "courtesy of"  I mean he has no idea my blog even exists.

But here in 'Straya, I think these asshat riders are an exception, and Duncan Gay has decided that the best way to address the misconception regarding the behaviour of a number of taxpaying commuters is to increases fines for cyclists by 500%.

Like that won’t reinforce the perception that cyclists are the only problem here.

Yep, a motorist caught watching a film on her phone while driving. Awesome contributor to the gene pool this one.

Yep, a motorist caught watching a film on her phone while driving. Awesome contributor to the gene pool this one.

In short (and this wasn’t really) the way to address barrier no 1 is not by reinforcing the heuristic prejudices of the non-cycling public with disproportionate Stalinist measures. Harrumph.

Let’s wrap this up eh ?

Barrier 2 – give us some proper infrastructure and stop ripping up the lanes we already have, you utter knobhead. #GetStuffedDunc.

Barrier 3 – actually getting better.

Barrier 4 – oh for chrissakes, people are idiots.