Friday 13 December 2013

Urban cyclists don't ride for environmental or social benefits

Summary: People who choose to get around by bike do so because of the personal benefits - it saves time and money, is more convenient and much more enjoyable. Yet many cycling advocates continue to sell the social and environmental benefits to potential cyclists, even though these reasons have never persuaded anyone to switch permanently to cycling.

cc licensed ( BY NC SA ) flickr photo shared by Greg Raisman


It's time to eliminate the useless environmental and social messages to potential cyclists. They are actually counterproductive because selling environmental or social benefits is generally a sign that self-interest is not a good enough reason. Environmental and social benefits only have a place in encouraging those who don't cycle to support better cycling infrastructure. See: > I don’t ride a bike, why should I support measures to boost cycling?

1. Cyclists are driven by self-interest and individual values just like everyone else
- Everyone is driven by self-interest and cyclists are no different. Urban cyclists are not altruists or more moral, even if some do smugly claim the moral high ground occasionally. Urban cyclists are just being rational and doing what's best for them and suits their own values.

2. Cycling is better for the environment but that's just a happy coincidence
- We get told ad nauseam that cycling for transport is good for the environment and reduces our carbon footprint, but that's not why urban cyclists ride. If a public transport method was invented that was proven to be much better for the environment than cycling, I'd still ride if cycling is cheaper, faster and more enjoyable.

- Conversely if cycling was expensive, slower and stressful I would ditch it for a less environmentally-friendly alternative that was cheaper, faster and more enjoyable. I think most urban cyclists are similar.

3. Cycling does lead to better health outcomes for society but that's not why anyone rides
- Apparently greater cycling rates result in a much healthier society and lower health care costs. But who cares? The health benefits to themselves and their families are of importance to many urban cyclists. However, no individual prioritizes social health outcome statistics. If the greatest overall personal benefits shifted to another mode, a cyclist will switch to that alternative.

4. Cycling reduces congestion but why should cyclists care?
- One of the greatest things about urban cycling is not getting stuck in traffic and being in control of your own speed and urgency. Less congestion on the roads is just another fortunate by-product but people don't ride as a public service. If anything, cruising past congested traffic makes riding even more enjoyable!

- Indeed, those of us who feel cities have been taken over by the car and roads aren't interested in creating more space for cars. We're keen on taking space away from cars and returning it to people walking, cycling, socialising and making the most of city spaces.

5. Some cyclists may take some pressure off public transport but that's not the main game
- People who cycle all the way to work do take some pressure off public transport in peak times. However, it's unlikely any potential cycling commuters factor this into their decisions to try or sustain cycling to work. Their determining, self-interested considerations relate to safety, saving time and money, convenience, comfort and enjoyment.

- In reality, cycling massively expands the viable catchment area of public transport, especially trains. So the real value is not in eliminating cyclists from PT use, but engaging commuters who could bike to train stations and use trains for the lengthy part of their commute. If this becomes popular, then cycling leads to more PT use not less. This is something to encourage and scale up PT capacity accordingly.