Wednesday 18 December 2013

How should avid cyclists behave to contribute to a more liveable city?

Summary: Some architects of liveable cities, claim that the few, existing, mostly male, avid cyclists who zip around car-centric cities are holding back progress. They should be slowed down, made to obey the rules, drop the lycra, give way to pedestrians and generally act more civilised. This post assesses the arguments and provides specific guidance on a reasonable approach for avid cyclists to take.

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Gene Bisbee

Related Posts:
Sport cycling vs Utility cycling

1. It's claimed that in car-centric cities with unsegregated cycling the few avid cyclists who dare to ride are part of the problem
- The liveable cities architect, Jan Gehl, said:
"It is my opinion that to have a substantive bicycle culture it is not only for the extreme sport enthusiasts, the freaks who think, 'It's a good day if I survive'... Cities should be designed so people feel they are invited to walk as much as possible and to bicycle as much as possible, making cycling both normal and accessible to all ages."
- Jan is likely using freak simply to mean exceptional but there are two very different cycling cultures being outlined. For Jan, the avid cyclist culture of fast, brave, risk-taking men who enjoy mixing with cars and often ignore road rules is an impediment to cycling being normalised like walking as something everyone could do to get around cities.

2. What are the main differences at issue between avid cyclists and mainstream cyclists?
- Below I've compiled the most common complaints or distinctions about avid cyclists which those seeking to establish mainstream urban cycling seem to wish to address:

DistinctionAvid CyclistsMainstream Cyclists
SpeedAs fast as is feasible (25-40km/hr)A comfortable pace without exertion (e.g. 15-25km/hr)
Risk-AversionLow; don't mind mixing with carsHigh; prefer not to mix with cars
Road Rule ComplianceMay break rules that interrupt their progress or speedMore compliant with rules
Attitude to other Road UsersCan be aggressive and impatientMore tolerant and patient
Riding StyleAdvanced skills may be used for weaving, shortcuts, hopping kerbsLow-Average skills means riders are less opportunistic
Cycling IdentityIdentify as a cyclist, particularly with a specific sub-cultureNo cycling identity
ClothingLycra or special clothing, Bike shoes, etc.Normal clothes with weather protection

- So which aspects should avid cyclists consider changing and which can be ignored as irrelevant to whether the mainstream population adopts urban cycling?

3. Speed: Avid cyclists should slow down where required or when it contributes to safety
- Generally, popular city destinations are safer for pedestrians and mainstream cyclists when speeds are reduced. However, actual speed limits for all traffic (e.g. 20/30/40 km/hr zones) and traffic calming should be introduced to make cities more liveable. It's inappropriate to ask confident cyclists using a road to slow down to 20-30km/hr when cars are driving at 40-50km/hr.

- On transport routes, where the speed limit for cars is 40km/hr or more, avid cyclists should feel free to ride fast within the speed limit where safe to do so. For safety, that may mean less than 40km/hr and not more than 20km/hr faster than the average speed of mainstream cyclists on that route. Liveable cities should be able to support 20km commuters on fast, road bikes as well as people cruising 2km to do some shopping.

4. Risk-Aversion: Avid cyclists should use separated lanes where available and practical
- Liveable city advocates want separated lanes to be built for mainstream cyclists but also used by all cyclists thus reducing conflict with cars and building support for more separated cycling infrastructure.

- Separated lanes are fine if they support convenient, direct travel that is fast enough. However, if they are piecemeal, indirect and slow they aren't meeting the needs of all cyclists - just the ones who are typically going short distances and aren't too concerned about time. Avid cyclists should use separated lanes that are effective and slow down a little if necessary. But if there are major sacrifices then they should opt out if more convenient. See: > Safer cycling infrastructure needs to be fast, convenient and comprehensive

5. Road Rule Compliance: Avid cyclists should obey road rules unless there is no impact on other's safety or convenience
- Jan Gehl puts it this way:
"You hear such cyclists argue that because they don't have good conditions on the roads, it makes it alright for them to break the law. And, of course, that makes them very unpopular and makes it harder for a proper cycling culture to break through."
- It's true that as cities become adjusted to facilitate urban cycling the need to make up ones own rules and battle for space and legitimacy wherever one can is reduced. So in cities which do facilitate cycling or are genuinely progressing in doing so, avid cyclists should try to comply with road rules except in specific, exceptional circumstances where other's safety or convenience isn't affected. See: > Cyclists Aren't 'Special,' and They Shouldn't Play by Their Own Rules

6. Attitude to other Road Users: Avid cyclists should show consideration for others especially pedestrians
- Liveable cities require civilised behaviour where everyone is respected and the most vulnerable protected. The most vulnerable being pedestrians, older people, kids, etc. See: > All road users are NOT equal - motorists come near the bottom

- Avid cyclists should contribute positively to a more civilised, pro-social culture by always giving way to pedestrians and riding in ways that reduce risk to them (e.g. slowing down, not riding through pedestrians). Mainstream cyclists who are less experienced or slower should also be shown patience and consideration.

7. Riding Style: Avid cyclists should reduce unnecessary weaving, shortcuts and tricks
- Urban riding style should be more normal and less a skilled sport involving weaving through obstacles, jumping kerbs and taking shortcuts. A little more waiting along with mainstream cyclists won't do much harm. However, avid, confident cyclists should feel free to use their skills to take advantage of opportunities where there is no adverse impact on others.

8. Cycling Identity and Clothes are not legitimate barriers to mainstream cycling
- While avid cyclists may well identify with cycling sub-cultures (messengers, sports/racing, fixie, hard-core commuters) this isn't really an obstacle as long as others are treated with respect. Liveable cities should have space for all types of cyclists.

- The use of lycra, bike shoes and other niche gear is also often commented on but while it may be desirable for existing cyclists to normalise cycling so it appeals to the mainstream this isn't actually a responsibility. All cyclists should ride in whatever is most comfortable and practical. Avid cyclists tend to ride longer distances at faster speeds and so lycra and bike shoes are often the most practical and comfortable choice.

9. Specific behaviours avid cyclists should consider changing and why
- Below is a list of the behaviours, ordered by importance, that avid cyclists should consider changing if they want to help build a mainstream cycling culture:

Avid Cyclist BehaviourReason to Change
Yelling at pedestrians to get out of the wayIs rude and aggressive; there's no harm in waiting.
Using your bike and speed to push through pedestriansIs uncivilised to bully others based on the damage you can cause. This is what dangerous motorists do.
Using the footpath as a shortcut- As a skilled, confident rider you should almost never need the footpath for safety.
- Using it for a shortcut and scaring or impeding pedestrians is uncivilised.
Blocking pedestrian crossingsIs selfish, illegal and inconsistent with all types of road users being treated with respect.
Running red lights and breaking road rules designed for general safetyEven if it sacrifices a little time or convenience, there are benefits in participating in an road user culture that includes cyclists.
Riding at speeds (e.g. over 30km/hr) which are unsafe when pedestrians are aroundThe most vulnerable users of streets should be protected not bullied.
Jumping to the head of the cyclist queueIf it inconveniences others then you should wait to pass politely.
Weaving through traffic unnecessarilyDetracts from predictable road user norms and causes anxiety and potential risk to others.
Riding the wrong way on the roadCan cause inconvenience to other road users.
Hanging onto or leaning on other vehiclesIs disrespectful to other people's property - what if a slow cyclist grabbed onto your bike?

Further Info:

Behavioural Challenges for Urban Cycling

Jan Gehl on London, streets, cycling and creating cities for people

London: no city for cyclists