Cycling’s image problem

Cycling clearly has an image problem in large parts of the English-speaking world. It’s for the sporty obsessives, or it’s for the poor, or the drunks who aren’t allowed to drive any more. Outside of the biggest and densest cities, driving is normal and cycling is abnormal, and people don’t want to be abnormal — a point reinforced by the latest output of the Understanding Walking and Cycling project.

I’m sure that our frequent commenter friend Pail will find much to nod along to in the UW+C work — and much to shake his head to where the same researchers point to the need for bicycle infrastructure.

British cyclists of course know about cycling’s image problem — they encounter and experience it. They know of its geographical and demographic variation, and that cycling’s image has a clear relationship with cycling rates and infrastructure provision. Cycling’s image problem is not unrelated to the fact that bicycle users have been treated as third-class citizens in the provision of infrastructure.

Providing infrastructure might not be the only intervention that is required to build mass everyday cycling, but it is the key one — the key stone or firm foundation without which everything else collapses. “Promoting” and “encouraging” cycling, trying to fix its image problem, trying to break any of the other barriers to cycling, will achieve little so long as we are asking people to ride in such hostile and uninviting environments.

Here’s a TEDx talk in which Gil Peñalosa, the man who built Bogota’s bike track network, discusses some of these attitudes to cycling — including dismissive and hostile attitudes to cycling in Denmark before the infrastructure was built (apologies, I did not make a note of who tweeted it this morning):