People die of cancer and heart disease, therefore we don’t require oxygen to stay alive

AmCamBike seems to be frustrated with all these folk claiming that a necessary prerequisite for mass cycling is good infrastructure that doesn’t require bicycle users to mix with lots of busy fast traffic. He looks at a survey of people in the Netherlands who both drive and cycle for some of their journeys, and which asks those people why they choose to make journeys by bicycle and why they choose to make journeys by car. It turns out that they do not cite infrastructure as a reason to make a journey by bicycle, and they do not cite a lack of infrastructure on the occasions that they choose not to make a journey by bicycle. Dutch folk just never say: I would have made that journey by bicycle today if only they had built another cycle path. So I take it all back. Fixing our infrastructure is not necessary for cycling. Apparently we just need to shout loud and clear that cycling is healthy, fun and good for the environment. Why had nobody thought to do that before in this country?

AmCamBike may just have made an important breakthrough in transport planning. I just went to my local station, you see, and asked the folk waiting on the platform why they had chosen to make their journey by train. Not one of them mentioned the tracks. This opens up exciting money-saving opportunities for High Speed 2. Folk in the Chilterns will be relieved.

AmCamBike also notes how strange it is that, in the UK, a survey found that dangerous roads and lack of cycling infrastructure is cited as a reason not to make journeys by bicycle. What a strange result that is, that in a country that lacks cycling infrastructure, a lack of cycling infrastructure is cited as a reason for not cycling. And in a country which doesn’t lack cycling infrastructure, it isn’t. What could possibly explain why it is cited as a reason for not cycling in one, but not the other? It’s a right conundrum, isn’t it?

AmCamBike thinks it would be interesting to see whether that result — from the recent Sustrans research — which found lack of cycling infrastructure to be a reason for not cycling in the UK, could be replicated in other surveys. Well, I suppose there’s the DfT’s 2011 “Climate change and transport choices” report. And the 2001 Scottish “Sharing Road Space” report (PDF). And Southampton’s 1997 “Barriers to cycling” survey (PDF). And Manchester’s 2011 cycle survey. There were Tim Ryley’s 2004 surveys in Edinburgh, I guess. And TRL’s 1997 “Attitudes to cycling” focus groups, 1998 “Cycling for a healthier nation” surveys, and 1998 “Transport implications of leisure cycling” surveys are often cited, though I’ve never obtained the full reports. And obviously there’s the very in-depth Understanding Walking and Cycling project, about which Dave Horton writes lay summaries. But perhaps they all just prompted the participants to give those responses?

I think it would be far more interesting to survey ex-pat Dutch folk to find out what affects their everyday transport mode decisions in their adopted countries. It shouldn’t be difficult: I find that Dutch people are very willing to tell you why they don’t cycle in the UK, before you’ve even asked. Like the Dutch chap on a hillwalking holiday who I met in Torridon last year — jealous of my cycle touring, he volunteered, but unwilling to join me because of the lack of safe places to cycle in Scotland. Or the retired gentleman who had struck up a conversation (wondering why I was photographing roundabouts) on the cycle path at Ernst when I was riding to Arnhem — a fan of my native West Country as a holiday destination, but he has only ever taken a car to Devon and Cornwall because “you’d have to cycle on the road, with 100kmph cars, it’s crazy”. Or the Dutch student I met at the lights on the Bloomsbury cycle tracks, who rides on a carefully planned quiet route to UCL, but to no other destinations, because she couldn’t be sure there would be a cycle route. Isn’t it really odd how, when they’re in the Netherlands, which has cycle paths, they don’t cite lack of cycle paths as a reason for not cycling, but when they’re in the UK, which doesn’t have cycle paths, they cite lack of cycle paths as a reason for not cycling? Why is that? Why won’t they listen to AmCamBike when he tells them that they don’t cycle because of the infrastructure?

49 thoughts on “People die of cancer and heart disease, therefore we don’t require oxygen to stay alive”

  1. ‘I think it would be far more interesting to survey ex-pat Dutch folk to find out what affects their everyday transport mode decisions in their adopted countries.’

    That’s the nub of it. It would also be interesting, conversely, to look at British ex-pats in the Netherlands, and assess their everyday transport mode decisions, in the light of what they might have used back in the UK.

  2. It’s an interesting predicament that the majority of people in the UK say they’ll only cycle if there were more cycle paths.

    What I think they are really saying is:

    a) I don’t believe bikes belong on the road
    b) Roads are unsafe places for cycling (probably because of a lack of respect / poor driving)
    c) ‘b’ leads to ‘a’ leads to ‘b’ leads to ‘a’. Etc etc etc.

    1. I do get frustrated with this refusal to take what people actually say at face value. What people are *really* saying is what they’re saying. Why would it be otherwise?

      Roads don’t feel safe for cycling for these people, as you say. Now of course poor driving is an aspect of that, but subjective safety relies upon separation when vehicle speeds and/or traffic volumes are high. These same people are quite happy to cycle on roads that are quiet – this has nothing to do with an inherent belief that bicycles don’t belong on the road.

      1. Given the sources you’ve quoted, surely you’ve read the 2001 TRL report and the 2010 DFT report on attitudes to cycling and cyclists? Both conclude there is a widespread antipathy towards cyclists among those who do drive, and that many people believe that cyclists aren’t really ‘proper’ road users and at best belong out of the way in segregated infrastructure. This I believe is a respect issue, and the reports both found that a lack of respect leads to motorists adopting more risky behaviour around cyclists, in a minority of cases saying that they’d ALWAYS attempt to pass a cyclist regardless of the potential danger of a collision.

        That when asked whether they’d cycle, or what would make them cycle, the majority of people (motorists, or aspiring motorists) then answer that they only would with considerable infrastructure makes perfect sense to me. It’s where they want cyclists to be and where they themselves would expect to be.

      2. I haven’t quoted any sources, so I’m not sure what you’re referring to.

        You are still refusing to take what people actually say at face value; if I read you correctly, you think that when people say that they would cycle more if they had safe cycle paths, what they are *really* expressing is a preference for getting cyclists out of their way while driving.


      3. I am making a leap yes, but as you’ve already done, you have to question why people believe safe cycle paths are the solution in the UK and not other countries, and that leads down some interesting paths.

        People will have their reasons for one solution over another and I believe (informed by what i’ve researched) that in this instance it’s precisely because people see the roads as too hostile and that they fail to see them in general as a place where bicycles belong.

    2. As for a) I don’t believe 80kg / 10mph squishy little things belong mixing together with 800kg / 30mph heavily armoured vehicles. But then again, I’m in the “like walking, just faster” camp (probably heavily influenced by Finnish shared use infrastructure that is not a joke like in UK.) (Physical) separation *is* important – if you truly believe otherwise why isn’t anyone seriously campaigning to remove all pavements? Best I can tell separation from cars is a prerequisite to get any meaningful number of normal people riding, only a small minority of already small minority would choose to be on the road given the choice.

  3. Most telling: “The ‘Dutch people’ were not surveyed, the questionnaire was aimed at those with access to a car, as alternative for short trips.”

    NOT a random sample. These are the people in the Netherlands who (for whatever reason) decided to put up with the expense and inconvenience of an automobile. Those people who don’t own an auto, what things were a factor in that decision? This survey does not provide that information. (Netherlands, 383 cars/1000 ppl, USA 478, not sure if this is a big difference or not. The UK is 373/1000, so pretty much like the Netherlands in car ownership. ).

    Amusingly, the Netherlands have the highest number of automobiles per square kilometer ( )

    The other thing missed by amcambike’s view of the world is the importance of marginal behavior. If, by some miracle, 10% of the people who drove into Cambridge (Massachusetts) decided to instead ride a bike, that would do a whole lot to relieve congestion and ease parking. It would be nicer (assuming that drivers could be compelled to not convert the lack of congestion into dangerous speed). That leaves 90% still in cars, yet we still get a huge benefit, even though we “failed” by Dutch standards.

    1. Quite correct, it is not a random sample, the research was conducted by the Transport Ministry because they are interested in shifting short trips form car to bike, or at least they were. There is no general survey of motives for modal choice in the Netherlands, that would be a large research project.

  4. I don’t attribute reasons for cycling or not cycling, I only refer people to research. You are asserting that you know better than the Netherlands survey respondents, why they cycle. That can not, however, be inferred from the presence of the cycle infrastructure, which is what you are doing. As DrC points out, you also need a bike to cycle. That does not mean that bikes cause cycling.

    Research on cycling motives may be imperfect, but it can be improved, and you could design research to see how much the infrastructure influences the decision to cycle, in the Netherlands.

    1. ‘You are asserting that you know better than the Netherlands survey respondents, why they cycle.’

      Could you quote the passage from Joe’s piece where he asserts this?

    2. Is anybody talking about what “causes cycling”? It sounds like a silly question to me. A category error, almost. You could talk about what causes travel — the need and desire to be somewhere other than where you are now, and the causes of those needs and desires.

      The question that we are interested in is what stands in the way of that travel being conducted by bicycle where the bicycle is the more appropriate or desired method of making the journey, as it so frequently is.

      1. The 2006 survey in the Netherlands asked precisely why people ‘conducted their travel’ by bicycle and not by car, which was available to them. They therefore gave answers about ‘what stands in the way of the travel being conducted by bicycle’, i.e. exactly what interests you.

        The survey did not however tell them, that cycling was the ‘appropriate or desired’ method. You introduce that element, and it is an important qualifier. It suggests that there is a specific group of people who ought to cycle, and are deterred. That is an a priori assumption, and not a good basis for research: if you ask people what they are afraid of, you will get a list of dangers.

      2. “appropriate or desired” is not my judgement, it’s theirs. Not “ought” but “want”. There is a very obvious pent-up demand in our cities.

  5. @ monchberter Have you ever met a Dutch driver? They are no different to the ones here. It is not the quality of Dutch driving which makes the difference, it quality of Dutch which makes the difference. Segregated paths are only a small part of that, far more important is the way in which drivers are forced to slow down in built up area and discouraged from driving there. If the UK had good quality infrastructure which made it safe for all, then we would have far higher levels of active travel and far lower levels of obesity, type two diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc. Currently we have one of the worst health records in Europe and it is getting worse.

  6. Joe – I think if you read his post carefully, you’ll find he says various things are interesting; it’s mainly descriptive. Maybe he means you to infer the things you are condemning him for, but you could equally well infer your conclusion from the same text: that Dutch people don’t cite infrastructure because they already have it, whereas British people do because they don’t.

    What’s more interesting is the list of factors from Sustrans, which give “more care by drivers” and “more marked cycle lanes” as the top two factors, from which you might tentatively conclude that the respondents are expecting to stay on the roads, they just want them adapted. But I daresay they’d be very happy with a lot of tracks, if they should suddenly appear.

  7. To me the reason is fairly clear – when being Dutch (or Danish in my case) well-planned cycling infrastructure isn’t something that you talk about, it’s something that is just there – even when there is no segregated cycle path.
    You feel safe on the road, as well as the cycle path. You can trust that the path wont end suddenly and leave you in a dangerous position – you can trust that the motorists are used to look out for you, so even when you go out of the designated paths in the urban areas, you know that the people behind the wheels are used to the idea of a cyclist on the side of the road and know how to be prepared and react.

    Personally I hate driving a car in Copenhagen – there are too many bloody cyclists and everything happens on the cyclists terms. The cars will wait for you to pass before turning and they will leave you the space you need. I find that when I go back to Denmark for family visits I’ve lost that trust in the motorists of the road. I end up cycling as I would cycle in London, making sure that every turning car has seen me, placing myself at the most visible spots in junctions, etc – in stet of the careless everyday cycling that I used to do in Copenhagen, without even thinking of it.
    Cycling in London has definitely made me loose trust in the skills of the general driver. If I were to cycle in London with the same confident in my rights as i do when cycling on the streets of copenhagen, I would have been killed within the first week.

  8. Just to get my tuppenyworth in before carrying on with invovlement in the mayhem stirred up by The Times:

    The “what people say” issue. (This is sometimes referred to as “stated preference” in transport planning).
    Very often people do NOT give the real reaons why they travel in the way they do or not. They often feel that they are SUPPOSED to want to cycle, and feel that they have to say “Yes, i would cycle but..” and then give one of the reaons put in front of them by the researcher – of which “danger” will be very obvious.
    And, as Dave Horton himself has described at length, we have a history iof “dangerising” cycling” which is part of the problem – seeing cycling as the problem.

    It is worth reading through the debate between Dave and David Dansky of CTUK in Local Transport Today on “Understanding Walking and Cycling”.

    Also, the UWAC study was taken in places quite different from my manor in West London. the brutal truth is that – as amcambik has pointed out – there is a significant BEM (Black and Ethnic Minority) issue here. Surveys like MOSAIC show substantial proportions of the population in Outer London don’t want to cycle because – wait for it – they want to drive. there is a strong cultural predsiposition to NOT cycling among Asian communities and othjer BEM grups, as well sectors of the old white working class here. throw in entrenched car dependence with long journeys typiclaly made for work, pelasure and shopping and there is your problem.

    Maybe a good question would be “If you didn’t have heavily subsidised, cheaper than it should be, motring where you don’t have to obey the law, would you drive so much?”

  9. To continue: Insofar as people actually DO want to ride a bike but don’t because they have been put off by feeling it is too hazardous, confidence training with the RIGHT kind (sorry, blocks are neccessary here) of cycle training can help.

    When you have lost the cycling tradition, it is quite likely that you will need some support to get going – and in my experience it can be a really good way of breaking through this barrier. Think of people like Patrick Field at and CTUK – and no, this absoultely does NOT mean that you accept motor danger. It means that you increase critical mass which can itself have an effect on road dnager and is not to be seen as a “survival tactic” to support existing conditions.

  10. Oh yes: you said that you hadn’t looked at the surveys in depth. in fact the DfT one on Climate Change is interesting. When you go through the detail (and remember what i said in the first of my posts about the reliability of stated preference surveys) in fact other issues like wetaher, storgae of bikes, distance to be cycled etc. were quoted a sof being of similar importance.

    So, this all points to giving decent supprot to cyclists, by, for example, SUBSIDISING:
    * Wet weatherr clothing – this might stop the 1/3 of people who alreday cycle stopping in the winter (if they are so scared of cycling on the road, why do they do it most of the year and stop when it gets cold?)
    * Home storage for secure and convenient cycle parking.
    * Confidence training for people who have just never cycled.
    * User friendly cycles and accessories like locks. Cycling is a lot more expensive than campaigners often accept.

    This will all be needed whatever is happening in the road environment anyway.

    Then, with regard to road danger, why not raise the issue (unlike The Times) of enforcing road traffic law? An do fo stricter liability? If we are going to be anywhere near any motorists anywhere, i think it is neccessary.

  11. Folks don’t like anecdotal evidence but a good point has been made about asking Dutch people in the UK what they think of cycling here. I only have 4 stories but here we go:-

    The Dutch Embassy official who attended the launch of the CEoGB said he didn’t cycle in London due to the lack of decent infrastructure.

    A Dutch stall holder in Carmarthen market will only cycle on the local cycle paths (NCN Routes 4 and 47) – he thinks the roads are too dangerous.

    Two ex-colleagues from Amsterdam who were commuting from The Netherlands twice a month said they wouldn’t dream of cycling in London due to the poor conditions.

    Finally my wife studied in Nijmegen – she was quite happy to cycle to college there but wouldn’t contemplate a similar commute here due to……you’ve guessed it!

  12. The thing that gets me is that the country with the safest roads for cycling, and by far the highest levels of cycling modal share, still considers it cost-effective and desirable to build segregated, high-quality cycle routes and even new cycle bridges. At one point they even moved a canal sideways to make space for cycling on both sides.

    If safe, attractive, cycling was possible while mixing heavy motor vehicles and lightweight people-on-bikes, then surely you’d see it in action in The Netherlands?

    They have “safety in numbers” more than anywhere else in the world, and yet they still seem to want to build dedicated and segregated cycle infrastructure. What is more, they are busy upgrading old cycle paths that no longer meet modern standards.

    Of course there’s a big difference between real danger and perceived danger. The first is important to look at if you want to reduce deaths and injuries, the second is important to look at if you want more people to consider cycling for transport.

    For both you need “sustainable” or “passive” safety on the roads, and that means reducing the danger created by motor vehicles. You need to follow H&S procedures to prevent, as much as possible, soft humans mixing with hard and heavy machinery. H&S theory says that training and protective equipment are the least effective methods of reducing danger. Removing or reducing the danger is much more effective.

    Cycling in the UK is “safe” but it’s certainly not “attractive”. I personally think for the general population cycling is about as safe, and about as unattractive, as bungy jumping or sky diving.

  13. i did thik I understood what you were saying – in effect, that if something becomes part of the wallpaper of your life, you cease to consciously consider it but that doesn’t men that it is not influential. We, in the UK, probably no longer think about how we would communicate without telephones, or how we would live without electricity, because it has just become a given, here as almost everywhere else. It is only when we go on a camping trip, or travel too far from a mobile base station, that it occurs to us that our lives are affected by the absence of these things.

    Reading the responses, I am beginnning to think I must have misread the post.

    As for Dutch drivers and mixing with them on the roads, I got screamed at by Hembrow for saying this elsewhere a while ago, but my own experience of Dutch drivers (in the upper Dordogne valley, in high summer, when every second car you see has Dutch plates) is that out of their home environment they are *definitely* not more considerate to cyclists than similar British drivers, so from that I deduce that some special niceness among motorists explains why Dutch people cycle. From that I further deduce, in my uneducated unscientific way that, to paraphrase William Jefferson Clinton “It’s the infrastructure, stupid”.

  14. Met a Dutch bloke in Liverpool Lime St who said we were crazy to cycle in Britain.

    Asked him why and he simply, and angrily, said “Your drivers are shit”.

    Nothing I could say would budge him.

  15. My parents moved to the Netherlands when I was a kid, and I pretty much cycled everywhere as did my sister. I went to a Dutch school and was fully integrated, so not exactly a typical expat experience. My parents also cycled a lot, something they never did back in Wales.
    Now we all live in different corners of London, and only I still cycle, and only then for short journeys (I am fortunate in that I live about a kilometre away from work).

    Its not simply the danger factor (its relatively safe here in the grand scheme of things), but the sheer inconvenience and frustration. You have to make so many adjustments for piss poor driving and the like, so many don’t bother to indicate or check their blind spot before turning left. They over take right next to you at speed even when there is enough space to give you good clearance. Some junctions are just so bad for cyclists, you have to get into the right lane well in advance, and put up with the childish abuse you get from drivers.
    But must of the time, I just drive.

    My parents plan to retire in the Netherlands, they already own a property thee in the centre of Utrecht, and one of the reasons they cite is the ease of getting around the centre on foot and by bike.

    I don’t believe the UK will get better any time soon, nor do I believe that training is a solution to anything, I was trained in the Netherlands in school, which included cycling on rural roads (east of the country, near the German border), and I’ve adapted to cycling in the UK, but there is just to pleasure or convenience to cycling here. And I think that’s the thing for most people, so in most of the UK it will be a minority thing, dominated by certain age/demographic groups, rather than merely normal and for everyone like in the Netherlands.

    I really miss NL, I’ll probably go back there in a few years, going to make some ‘Dutch’ comfort food now, Nasi Goreng, with bacon and kecap inggris :p

  16. One very bad argument presented here is the “Ask Dutch people if they cycle here” one.

    Either I have been asking for trouble (as the petrolheads say and think) fort he last 35 years of daily London cycling with no serious problems from motorists, or maybe they are missing out.

    Incidentally, I chatted to a very nice Dutch lady (Dutch bike, skirt, no lid, full cyclechic) on the New Oxford Street contraflow one afternoon. She wasn’t missing out.

    That doesn’t mean there is nothing to the main thesis/argument the post puts forward Just that “What Dutch people do in the UK” is, if anything against it.

  17. I think there are some parallels between cycling and rowing / kayaking / sailing. Does presence of calmed waterways get *everyone* on a boat? Most definitely not, but it also most definitely removes the biggest obstacle for many. I’m sure going on a tiny boat on busy shipping lanes would be statistically safe if you just have Boatability level 3 training and keep your wits about you, but I just can’t see that getting any significant traction in general population. I think there’s a big difference between external danger being a constant potential threat rather than a rare exception.

  18. Cycle activists in other countries are interested in the motives for cycling in the Netherlands, as this post and its comments illustrate. But why? Presumably because they think, that the same policy can be applied in the UK, or the USA, or Australia. In other words, they are not so much interested in proving that Dutch cyclists cycle because of the infrastructure, as in proving that British or American drivers can be induced to cycle, if their government builds cycle infrastructure to Dutch standards. It might be more useful to stick to that issue, rather than speculate about the ‘true causes’ of Dutch cycling patterns.

    1. Right, but we can subjectively study many things, too. Netherlands, flat. Other places flat. Netherlands, dense, other places dense. Cold snowy weather in other places, cold snowy weather in the Netherlands. And so on. There’s a lot of factors we can eliminate — and then there is that infrastructure, which objectively, is there in the Netherlands, and sorely lacking (or ineptly implemented) in other places.

      Asking people what they think is on the one hand exactly the question we want the answer to, but on the other hand, not necessarily a source of objective, reliable information, whether you ask the Dutch, the English, or the Americans.

      I had this post in mind when I chose to drive, to transit, and then to Boston, rather than drive to Boston, bike to transit, or bike to Boston. It was a combination of “infrastructure” (safe routes are sparse, not well known, not well signed, not all plowed), and “weather” (had just snowed), and “really crap drivers, in the dark”. As to not driving to Boston, no place to park. And as it turns out after I got there, no obvious place to park my bicycle, either.

  19. It does not always have to be cycling infrastructure. In Hackney which has the highest proportion of cycling in London (7%), there is very little cycling specific infrastructure. Factors encouraging cycling seem to be proximity to central London, lack of an underground station and roads that are comparatively pleasant to cycle along, such as the Market Porter route through Broadway Market. Also for years, Hackney Council, prompted by Hackney Cyclists, have been making subtle changes – increasing cycle permeability (eg providing entry and access to one way streets), improving junctions and crossings, changing priorities on road junctions in favour of the main cycling flow, implementing 20mph limits and restricting motor traffic via modal filters eg De Beavoir.
    A big boost to cycling was the removal of the Shoreditch one-way gyratory and campaigning efforts are now focused on removing the Stoke Newington gyratory and making it a pleasant two way high street rather than a race track.
    One big recent advantage to cycling was the removal of motor traffic from Goldsmith Row to make the former rat run a ‘cycling and walking only’ road and with motor traffic restricted to access only. Cycling culture is enhanced by recent provision of a great BMX track and a cycle polo facilities.
    Proposed improvements to Broadway Market will widen and raise the crossing into London Fields (removing the existing cycle track and crossing), create a shared space area, widen footways and restrict car parking but no specific cycling infrastructure.
    I guess you need to do whatever works to increase cycling levels – but what is happening certainly works in Hackney.

  20. Re. Hackney, much of what Brenda describes as being “not specific cycle infrastructure” I would describe as “cycle infrastructure”. Cycle infrastructure is not just segregated tracks on main roads, but a whole raft of measures, as you will see in any Dutch town or city. Unfortunately Hackney does lack the segregated tracks on main roads – if it had those as well it really would be a cycling mecca – and some of the main roads in Hackney are still mighty unpleasant to cycle on, particularly Mare Street.

    Unusually, I agree with Amcambike in his last comment. The real issue is not about anybody’s motivation in Holland, it is the question: will implementing Dutch-style engineering on UK roads dramatically increase cycling here? He seems to think it won’t. I have always argued that we need to try a limited experiment. Like the Cycling England “cycling towns” initiative, only better, we need to take one country town, one small city, one London Borough, subject them to a thorough Dutch makeover, and test the effect. It couldn’t be done perfectly, of course, because aspects of our law and road culture would still be different. But if we never try even an imperfect experiment, we never find out the answer.

    I also have a comment for Dr Robert Davis, living in the same London borough as him (Brent). When I moved to this Asian-dominated area I was very struck but the complete lack of a cycling culture in the middle-class Asian community of outer NW London. I too attributed it to “cultural predisposition towards driving” at first, an idea that cycling seemed to them to be “third world” and “not aspirational”. Then over the years I talked to more of my neighbours, and I changed my mind. I found that they would love to get their children cycling, and independent of them ferrying them everywhere, as much any white parents would. I had fallen into an easy racial “attitudinal” stereotyping mode. The fact is that these people don’t cycle, or let their children cycle, for the exactly the same reasons as their white neighbours. It’s the environment. It just happens that the Asian-dominated areas have some of the most dreadful road environments for cycling in London, e.g. north of the cycle-impermeable North Circular Road. That’s why it looks as if the Asian middle classes of Brent don’t want to cycle.

    1. A case study for the Asian culture hypothesis might be Easton, an inner-city neighbourhood in Bristol. Large Asian population and, although it still has a few nasty roads, bordered by the Railway Path on one side and a new Cycling City traffic-free arterial route on the other.

    2. There’s two relatively non-racist explanations for an immigrant population cycling at relatively low rates. First, if they wish to fit in, they may adopt the habits of “most people”. In England and the US, that’s driving. Second, they may have biked where they came from, and find that conditions here are less comfortable for biking than their original home.

  21. Thanks for comments about the ethnic cultural attitudes towards cycling, and (apologies for my misspellings).
    Looking at this question does NOT imply racism. It implies what it says: that there are cultural issues. It is quite wrong to imply that saying there is a difference in attitudes towards cycling in different ethnic groups is racist.
    What I said was:
    “…there is a significant BEM (Black and Ethnic Minority) issue here. Surveys like MOSAIC show substantial proportions of the population in Outer London don’t want to cycle because – wait for it – they want to drive. There is a strong cultural predisposition to NOT cycling among Asian communities and other BEM groups, as well sectors of the old white working class here. Throw in entrenched car dependence with long journeys typically made for work, pleasure and shopping and there is your problem.”
    SO: I note hostility from many in old white working class communities towards transport which is not car transport, partly because of the lifestyles involved in their geographical position in Outer London, but partly because of the status that having one, or preferably more, cars gives them. On top of that, Grandad rode a bicycle, and they are trying to get away from his lifestyle.
    Similarly, while there are other factors involved, principally the geographic ones, many in Asian communities (or their parents) came to Britain with a desire to embrace western consumer culture with a car as a central part of it. So they want to drive cars.
    Just because I and a lot of people reading this blog don’t want to use cars much and like cycling, a lot of people want to drive cars and will do until it becomes too difficult to do so.

  22. Just to be clear, I didn’t say anything was “racist”. dr2chase used the phrase “relatively non-racist explanations”. I was pointing to the possibility that there can be a trap in stereotyping the attitudes of different racial groups.

    There are different attitudes to transport in different communities, but these vary and mutate all the time. As communities integrate, their attitudes become less easy to separate from one another. From generation to generation attitudes can differ markedly within communities. The young generation now in all communities is becoming noticeably less car-oriented than their parents. Part of this is economic, part maybe just the spirit of the times.

    Looking at London, it seems clear to me that there is a good correlation between cycling levels in various neighbourhoods and the conditions for cycling, that cuts across both race and class lines. I am not saying there are no cultural factors going on, but that these are minor compared to the physical ones.

    Often new immigrants do settle in places that are less desirable to live, with lower property prices, for reasons that the environment is worse. Then again more middle-class, established communities have more time and wealth to develop more political clout to improve their environments. I think the factors are interlinked.

    It is true that minorities tend not to want to put themselves in a double minority by adopting an unconventional mode of transport. But this difference fades as they integrate over the decades. The recent influx of East-European immigrants is not car-oriented (maybe because their home cities are less so).

    An interesting London example is Pimlico (north of Lupus Street). Go there and you see lots of cycling. The area is overwhelmingly wealthy, white, upper-middle class. Is that the reason for the cycling? Probably only indirectly. The direct reason is that the area has had really successful traffic-calming and traffic-reduction measures applied to all the residential streets, with rat-running eliminated, making it a much nicer district for cycling than some comparably wealthy white areas, such as Marylebone or St John’s Wood. Less established and poorer ethnic communities generally have not established the political confidence to lobby effectively for similar improvements to their streets. Less homogeneous communities, such as many of those in Westminster and Brent, also lack this power.

    Overall I am less pessimistic than Bob about the effects of the cultural barriers to cycling that he talks about. I think there is a danger of caricaturing these as fixed when in reality they change very rapidly when the environment is changed.

    David Hembrow has pointed out how immigrant communities in the Netherlands rapidly adopt Dutch cycling even when they come from places that have little cycling. The facts about differing rates for different racial groups in Amsterdam, that Amcambike points to, do not indicate a failure of policy, just the fact that the situation is dynamic, with new arrivals all the time.

  23. Posted this at amcambike, but reposting it here.

    It should be noted that CBS’ definition of Western includes Japanese and the rather large Indonesian (mostly Indo-Dutch) population, indeed German and Indonesian are the largest ‘western’ origin immigrant groups.
    These are not strictly ‘ethnic’ data per se, but rather a status of having an immigrant background (being born or having one parent born abroad). Grandchildren of Indonesians who immigrated to NL in the 1950s, would be autochtoon. So its wrong to assume that autochtoon = ethnic Dutch, but inevitably the majority will be.

    There is no census in the Netherlands, at least, not a national one, and when there was, there was no consideration of ethnicity, only religion.

    1. To expand that a little, that elderly Dutch-Moroccan women who were born in Morocco don’t cycle, to me isn’t a revelation. The real question is what are the children of these women doing, and of course, when it comes to their grandchildren, they are just plain Dutch. Here data gets sketchy.

      So Dutch statistics where they exist are certainly useful as long as we understand the meaning and methodology of the categories being used, but they are not like-for-like equivalents of British categories.

  24. The data from the Netherlands show that cycling rates vary not only by ethnic origin, but by age, household type, occupation, education, and income, and less so by gender. They also vary with degree of urbanisation, trip type, and of course distance. There is no uniform national pattern of cycling for immigrants to adopt, even given a one-way assimilation process. You might be interested in the cycling lessons for migrant women. (It does not say so at the website, but these are often compulsory).

    1. It doesn’t say they are compulsory on the website, because they are in fact not compulsory. Outside of schools where students take their verkeersexamen, its up to the adults to get training if they feel they need it. Hence the targeting of certain groups so as to encourage them to get training where its felt they lack the confidence to cycle. These adult training courses with an emphasis on supporting migrants have been around for 30 years or so and are entirely voluntary.

  25. Not entirely on-topic, but I have heard of what I think is an Australian idea – bike hour, when everyone who has a bike just rides it, no particular place, route or anything, just get on and ride, normal clothes, lycra whatever (though some clothes a good idea,given it’s March and we’re trying to be normal).

    Is anyone doing it here?

    20.3.2012 at 6pm and

  26. I don’t know how many Dutch have reacted so far, but the reason I get on my bike in Holland is, that I feel safe most of the time, whether I ride on a cycle-track or not. Last time I was in London, I gave it a try but I really felt as if I were invisible to motorists, or they had a license to kill pedestrians an cyclists, there’s just too much aggression. If I lived in London and rode a bike, the best way to travel in urban areas, I would be wearing a jacket with the text “Don’t get to close, I’ve a gun” on the back, maybe that would help.

    I’m not saying that the Dutch are a very friendly and considerate people, but most of us ride a bike every now and then, and maybe that influences our behaviour when driving a car. Traffic here feels less hostile.

  27. I want to cycle, and I want my kids to cycle … I am willing to commute to university because there is an off road cycleway pretty much for the whole 14 miles of my journey, I feel safe and relaxed and it’s enjoyable. There should be more of this it’s simple!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: