A recent study conducted by the University of Bath, Department of Psychology, has concluded that, improving street safety for cyclists is more effective than information campaigns when it comes to encouraging people to start riding a bike.
The study, published in this month’s Journal of Transport and Health, compared the effectiveness of various pro-cycling campaigns in an effort to determine what type of messaging would have the most significant impact convincing people to use cycling as an everyday means of transportation.
Despite concerns that safety-focused campaigns have the unintended consequence of discouraging newcomers from cycling, the study found no immediate effect on non-cyclists’ perceptions of danger or likelihood to start riding. However, the study did determine that safety-focused campaigns are less effective than health-focused campaigns that emphasize the everyday benefits new riders could achieve by switching from car to bike.
According to Dr. Ian Walker, one of the researchers behind the study:
“The fears some people had about mentioning safety to prospective new cyclists look to be groundless. This is great, as it means authorities probably haven’t inadvertently been scaring people away from cycling all these years with well-meaning safety advice.
But at the same time, although our study shows health information is useful for non-cyclists, it also shows that information alone isn’t going to be enough to make people take up cycling. Safe streets are what will most make the difference if we want to see more cycling.”
Basically, even though touting the health benefits of cycling seems to get non-cyclists more excited about the idea in theory, it’s unlikely to actually get them to hop on and start riding. No amount of pro-health messaging can influence non-riders as effectively as a convenient and safe cycle track.
Regardless of the health benefits, it’s a hard sell to convince someone to ride their bike on streets where the bike lane is clogged with illegally parked cars, or worse, the bike lane is dangerously located in the middle of high-speed traffic. If we really want to encourage more people to start cycling, cities need to prioritize safe road design and include bike routes that allow novice cyclists to feel protected instead of exposed.
Fortunately, some cities appear to be on the right track. But with many vocal advocates of the status quo still adopting a vehemently car first mentality, changes are likely to be slower than cycling (and safety) advocates would prefer.