Sunday, February 27, 2011

Dave Horton: Fear of Cycling

Must reading for anyone following this blog.

Dave a sociologist by training, and currently work at Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University, on a project to do with walking and cycling, and the capacity of these most sustainable modes of mobility to re-make cities and towns fit for the twenty-first century.

Dave Horton has written a great piece, "Fear of Cycling" where he dissects some current thinking. I think that should be required reading the cycling-advocacy crowd.

One thing Dave cautions us about is the widespread use of the jargon "safe" in cycling circles, i.e., we want "safe" bicycling, "safe" bike lanes, "safe" special facilities, etc., often stated uncritically. The implication is that bicycling is not safe unless we re-engineer bicycling, safe from threats, both real and over-hyped. But the sad part is that by insisting we have "safe" bicycling, we often end up less safe than ever--being asked to ride in door zones, for example. Why? Because in trying to provide the appearance of safety, we often don't do the actual deed itself, i.e., re-engineer society so it really improves safety, which may be a challenge greater than any set of simple solutions (facilities, helmets, special laws, etc.) will provide. Instead, we just amplify the message that cycling isn't safe because we have not done all these special things. Thus, fewer cyclists are willing to ride in these so-called "unsafe" conditions, even as advocates struggle to "make things better". Define "better".

Cycling is not intrinsically unsafe (sorry for the double negative). According to this link,  there are 0.26 cycling fatalities for every 1 million hours bicycled, or 1 fatal for about 4 million hours. By comparison, the source quotes 0.47 fatals per million hours of driving and 8.8 for motorcycling.  A 100 year old person has lived for about 876,600 hours. Humans haven't lived four million hours since Genesis.

In our social paranoia of all things with even a slight amount of risk, we have painted ourselves into too many corners and have ever fewer ways out. Special treatments as requirements for cycling safety are one example. Driving ever more obese kids to school in ever larger vehicles, so they are safe from mythical predators, is another.  Our fear of nuclear power leaves us with one fewer option for low-CO2 energy. Meanwhile, there are risks when we do nothing, because "do nothing"  is often not a credible solution to many of our social, economic, and ecological problems.

Neale Pickett has said much of the following. Maybe he even read this essay.

Conclusions (excerpted from the essay)

Fear of cycling constitutes a significant emotional barrier to cycling. Ironically, this fear is partly produced through attempts to make cycling safer. For as long as cycling remains something to fear, it remains a marginal and marginalised practice. The constant cultural construction of cycling as dangerous justifies the continued spatial marginalisation of cycling practice, which then enables the continued construction of the cyclist as other, a stranger pedalling on the margins. The ideological, spatial and cultural marginality of cycling are continuously reproduced, together...(snip)...we can in varied ways promote a pro-cycling culture. At the level of representation, our task is to generate and continuously reaffirm positive representations of cycling as an ordinary and enjoyable practice, something I am pleased to see happening in, for example, the recent marketing campaigns of both Transport for London and Cycling England. Certainly, we must stop communicating, however inadvertently, the dangers of cycling, and instead provide people with very many, very diverse, positive and affirming representations of both cycling practice and cycling identities. Current fear of cycling can be otherwise, but we must help make it so.

1 comment:

Steve A said...

The culture of helmet and high vis enthusiasm reinforce the message that cycling is "dangerous." In our recent ice storm, people, that would have recoiled at me riding to work without a helmet, laughed when I donned a bike helmet to walk in over a slippery parking lot surface.

Even in the photos of my LCI course, some of the Facebook photos note how the cyclist in high vis is so much easier to spot than the one in black. Indirectly implying the one in black is in some meaningful level of danger as a result.

Khal makes a strong point in this post. You can sign me "the cyclist in black."