Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Negative versus positive bicycle advocacy

Our previous post stumbled into a raging debate between two contrasting ways of promoting bicycle safety.

One approach to bicycle safety urges us to protect ourselves. This often means promoting helmets and high visibility clothing. Although it often calls for infrastructure, it tends to be pessimistic about the chances of persuading governments to build much. It therefore tends to focus on safety education for cyclists themselves. The info-graphic in the last post was an example from that tradition.

Around the world, a radically different approach to bicycle advocacy and planning has recently become prominent. Followers of this approach emphasise creating a safe environment for cycling. They see calls for cyclists to protect themselves as counterproductive because they discourage cycling by making it seem even more risky than it really is.

This approach builds on the successes in several European countries where cycling has been made extremely safe in many European cities despite very little use of helmets or high-viz clothing. It also argues that there is safety in numbers - the more people cycle, the lower the risk for each individual cyclist. It argues that cycling should be treated as an everyday, no-fuss activity done by ordinary people of all ages and abilities. ThomasK's comment on Siva's post reflects this alternative approach.

I can understand the urge to warn about danger. I myself usually do wear a helmet when I cycle. But I am convinced that the positive approach is the better way to advocate for bicycles as transport over the long term.

Excellent sources of information on this approach include, the Copenhagenize blog, the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain, and David Hembrow's blog A view from the cycle path. Here is a wonderful example of extremely positive bicycle advocacy from the new Dutch Cycling Embassy,

We should work to make cycling so safe that we have no need for helmets or reflective vests. This requires serious infrastructure, which requires serious investment (but still a tiny drop in the ocean compared with roads and mass transit investments). This approach is the only one that has successfully resulted in dramatic increases in both bicycle use and bicycle safety.


Anonymous said...

We need both. Better cycle infrastructure and responsible cyclists who do all they can to protect themselves. Bicycle safety isn't just about other road traffic, though, rightly in Singapore, that is the chief concern. People come off bicycles for all sorts of reasons, when they do, that fragile shell containing the brain needs protection.

Sivasothi said...

I agree a multi-pronged approach is needed, as usually is. Cycling was uncommon for decades so for many people getting on a bike, additional help to be safe is required such as overt suggestions about bicycle safety. Infrastructure change requires concurrent long-term work, often behind the scenes.

thomask said...

there is absolutely no 'multi-pronged' approach to bike advocacy in singapore at the moment.

every single article in the press here (as you've been documenting - thankyou) highlights "how dangerous it is to cycle" and "how you can protect yourself while cycling". every. single. article. including those in cycling forums and the "safe cycling" group. you can sort of understand why - most of those guys sell bike gear, so of course they're going to want to increase sales of vests helmets gloves geegaws. fair enough, it's a free market, but they're really not doing themselves any longer term favours.

even yesterday's 2-page spread in the ST about reducing the rate of increase in the number of COEs had no mention of seriously trying to increase cycling, beyond comparing paris' car-sharing scheme to their bike sharing scheme. yet in sydney, 70,000 car trips / year are less than 1 km. you can just imagine how many are made here, that could more easily and quickly be made by bike, if people felt comfortable and safe.

reversing the brainwashing that's been successfully carried out is going to take no small amount of work: there's plenty of people already pushing the "wear a helmet, don't ride against traffic" side of things. how about you guys who are smart enough to think independently start pushing the positive side of advocacy too?? it would be great to have some help ;)

Sivasothi said...

Oh, there is work going on you don't read about in the papers. This blog, for example, is merely the tip of the iceberg, fueling the work of many. I would agree if this were all, it'd be pretty pointless! We'll meet some time and share notes.

thomask said...

besides the "safe cycling taskforce"? i'd be interested in finding out more.

in the meantime, i've started a site to document the more 'radical' side of driving in singapore.



Starringme said...

I wrote about this too! See http://dualcircles.blogspot.com/2011/10/experts-at-cycling-infrastructure.html

thomask: totally agree with you on why there is no mention on increasing cycling.

BM said...

@thomask you are right. I'm an expat, and anytime I tell someone I cycle everywhere they're response is "must be dangerous". Sometimes those are expats who cycle elsewhere but see Singapore as being dangerous. Sometimes locals. Actually ask somebody who cycles everywhere and they will say it isn't too bad. I would say this as well. (I have cycled as a resident in Seattle, Vancouver, Ottawa, New Delhi and Singapore).

I find the roads are good and the drivers mostly are paying attention. (and I'm usually critical of dumb drivers). The infrastructure for cycling isn't there and with one way roads it can make some areas challenging to cycle around.

One note on the original post. It will never be so safe you shouldn't wear a helmet, unless we are only cycling on mattresses....