Creating a cycle of acceptance

15 July 2019    

The benefits of cycling are hard to dispute - improved physical and mental health, saving money and a dependable commute time plus improved air quality, reduced climate change emissions, less congestion and greater local economic spend. 

Unfortunately, some people resent those who travel by bike and serious injuries to people riding are increasing in parallel with the rise in cycling. 

So how can we try and change our culture to a more cycling-friendly one?   

There’s no quick solution to this one but after infrastructure and enforcement, education is a key element of an effective road safety strategy because misconceptions and myths about cycling contribute to a culture of conflict on the roads.   

“Cyclists don’t pay road tax” is a statement often used to explain why some people feel they, as drivers, have more rights on the roads. The reality is road tax ended in the 1930s, and we all pay for the roads through general or local taxation. Vehicle Excise Duty is based on vehicle emissions (hence why electric car owners also don’t pay “road tax”).

A second myth is that there isn’t cycle proficiency training in schools anymore. In reality, Bikeability Scotland cycling training is giving children the skills and confidence to cycle safely. At least 37,000 children are trained each year and all children are able to receive free training. 

Another common misunderstanding is over road positioning. You should cycle away from the gutter. It’s legal to cycle in the middle of the lane and sometimes it’s the safest place, For instance if the road is narrow and it’s unsafe for a car to pass, when approaching a junction or to avoid potholes or doors of parked cars being opened in your path.

We often hear the argument that bad behaviour, or perceived arrogance, from people cycling provokes careless or dangerous driving and that safety would improve if “cyclists behaved better”.

Red-light running, to take an oft-cited example of cycling behaviour, is wrong, whether cycling or driving, and too many people do it. But it’s not acceptable or logical to hold all people cycling responsible simply because they use the same mode of transport. ‘Cyclists’ are not a homogenous group but individual people, just as drivers are.  

The fact is that many people who cycle are being intimidated, injured or worse, while cycling correctly. And are we really suggesting that someone who is cycling irresponsibly deserves a near-death experience?

Ultimately, resentful attitudes towards ‘cyclists’ shouldn’t influence actual driving behaviour. People on bikes are undeniably more vulnerable on roads than people in vehicles. Driving too close is a careless or dangerous driving offence because it can kill or seriously injure someone. 

Almost everyone’s behaviour – including some people who cycle – has room for improvement to create a cycle of acceptance, and remove the perception of two tribes going to war on the roads or shared use paths.

‘What about them? Deal with their behaviour first?’ is never an excuse for careless or dangerous behaviour by anyone. Myths and misconceptions about people cycling need to be banished and enforcement has to focus on the behaviours with greatest potential for harm, just as the Police Operation Close Pass does. Expanding cycling infrastructure is the key priority, creating dedicated space for cycling, to the benefit of everyone.   

We have a long way to go but quick change is possible. With the increased investment in cycle infrastructure, an increased focus on access to bikes, and greater education and understanding to create a cycle of acceptance, a cycling-friendly nation is no longer an impossible dream.

This article was published in the Herald on 15 July 2019.