Newcastle cycling campaign survey

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Newcastle cycling campaign survey

I don’t know if you’ve received this yet, but the Newcastle Cycling campaign is surveying other local cycling campaigns about their priorities to pass upwards to the national groups

Their email:

Dear UK cycle campaigns


Please take the time to fill in the survey to inform (and possibly influence) the national campaign direction.

We believe that the recent research findings “Understanding walking and cycling” should warrant a step-up in cycle campaigning.

One of our worries in Newcastle is the invisibility of CycleNation, our national body, seemingly lacking policy and coordination. The time for change is now! We need a united voice. The results will be forwarded to national groups such as CycleNation and CTC for their consideration.

Please forward the message to make sure we get wide coverage.

Many thanks for your help.

I thought I’d pass it on to those who are involved in local campaigns in case they haven’t seen it.

pete owens

Brilliant - that's the report that recommends discounting the views of cyclists as we are an unrepresentative minority.


What they said was experienced cyclists have learned to survive on Britain's disfunctional roads and may not always be able to see things from the point of view of a novice cyclist - and so their assessments of what 'cyclists' need may be distorted. While that might be a bit of an exaggeration (most of us have some empathy that allows us to place ourselves in other people's shoes) a glance at some of the online forums where 'hardened' cyclists hang out might suggest a kernel of truth there . But either way, the enormous storm in a teacup that single sentence generated has completely overshadowed what was otherwise an interesting and helpful piece of research. Which is ever the way, I suppose

AKA TownMouse

Dr C.
Dr C.'s picture


I wouldn't necessarily ask Ray Mears for his opinion on how to rebuild after a great disaster either, he would be far too comfortable with the situation as it exists to be able to effectively speak for the average person.

As Easy As Ridi...

Unrepresentative of the people who don't currently cycle, yes. 

pete owens

And the people who don't currenty ride bikes typically consider themselves as "motorists".

Why on earth anybody gets the idea that motorists are the best people ask about improving coinditions for cyclists is beyond me.


That's misrepresenting the case somewhat :-)

How about those people oft missing from local cycle campaign pub tables across the land (commonly known as 'women'), or people who would genuinely like to cycle more, but appreciate that roads just aren't like the 1950's any  more.


Dr C.
Dr C.'s picture

The problem with giving too much weight to existing cyclists when considering how to make cycling viable for 'normals' is that existing cyclists aren't normal, we have somehow managed to learn to cope with the atrocious conditions on the roads and cycle despite them. Eventually it can be easy to forget what it was like before you became an 'existing cyclist' and might find yourself starting to label everyone who doesn't cycle as just being a fat, lazy selfish bastard on the bad days, rather than being a bit more realistic and accepting that the real barrier for most people is fear of being killed or seriously injured. When you have the experience, it can be easy to slip into a stance of 'just HTFU' when considering this fear, rather than seeing it as legitimate.

Because of this, when you ask existing cyclists for what they think will help encourage cycling, it is very easy to answer the question as if you were asked, "What yould make cycling nicer for you." Quite often the results are things like cycle hubs which address some of the issues which irk confident existing cyclists whilst failing to address the barriers which stop the 'normals' from cycling, barriers which existing cyclists are uniquely blind to because they have managed to overcome them without any help. That's great for them, but it doesn't mean that everyone else can overcome these barriers with the roads being in such a hostile state as they currently are.

pete owens

The point I make is that people who don't cycle (even if they make the comments with the best of intentions) simply don't understand the issues of what makes for good or bad cycling conditions so are unlikely to come up with sensible suggestions. 

As Easy As Ridi...

And the people who don't currenty ride bikes typically consider themselves as "motorists".

Not so. 58% of respondents in Dave Horton's research - note, conducted in places with low cycling levels - did not consider themselves to be either motorists, cyclists or pedestrians.

Only 9% considered themselves to be motorists, or 'automobile adherents.' 



pete owens

Well they would say that wouldn't they.

You forget the social context under which these surveys are taking place. Everyone (OK 91%) knows deep down that cars are a big problem for us - whether that is global warming, killing children, making our cities unlivable, congestion and so on. Even though they drive everywhere themselves they recognise the problems other people in cars cause. So, when approached by a surveyor who is obviously conducting a survey into the reasons for unsusatainable travel patterns they are hardly going admit (even to themselves) the real reasons for their own antisocial habits.

When asked why they don't cycle, there is an implicit accusation in the question that they ought to cycle, thus an imperative to come up with a respectable rationalisation - and safety is the obvious choice. I suspect the real reason is more often because of our powerful desire to conform to social norms (in the same way that teenagers conform rigidly to their peer group dress code) and cycling just isn't seen as normal enough.

Now for the solution (assuming they were even prompted for their views on traffic reduction, speed control, road space reallocation etc). If you ask a motorist how best to improve conditions for cyclists they are hardly going to suggest measures that will directly inconvenience themselves. I suspect the survey would get a very different answer if they asked the question:

"Would you cycle more if half the ring road was taken out to make space for a high quality cycle route, with extra phases at all the traffic lights."

There is a big difference between vaguely wanting cyclists out of the way and still wanting it when the full consequences of actually making it useable are spelt out. (this is much the same as residents wanting through traffic banned from their road - while still demanding access from both ends for themselves).

If you really want to study the effect of policy measures then you need to study actual behaviour as a result of those interventions rather than the answers to hypothetical surveys. And here there was a real opportunity missed. I don't know all the towns studied, but I am familiar with Lancaster, and as a result of being a cycle demonstration town it does have some reasonable quality segregated infrastructure that serves some useful destinations - for example the Universty which is a major employer. Now, if rather than asking why people didnt't cycle you took their post code and noted the jouneys they made you could measure the difference for those people that had a segregated route available - though you would have to allow for the fact that students in general have less access to cars so are more likely to cycle.

Even better would be if one of the study towns was Milton Keynes. There are direct cycle paths everywhere and no cyclist needs to tackle a busy road anywhere - yet this was recently found to be the most car dependent place in the UK.

I frequently carry out informal anecdotal research among my work collegues. Now we do have the odd Clarkson fanatic, but few would describe themselves as "car adherents". Even so the coffee time discussions among this bunch of "potential cyclists" often turns to the iniqueties suffered by the poor down-trodden motorist. Whether it is the desparate need for a new billion pound bridge across the Mersey, or the need for a new ring road to suplement the recently constructed ring road, or extra capacity on the local roads to cope with the traffic should a truck blow over on the Thelwall viaduct - or even the absurdity  of reallocating one lane of a dual carriageway to make a cycle lane

a rare case of moderately succesful cycle campaigning on my part.

Now whenever someone is held up in congestion - or complains about the high cost of petrol I try to persuade them to take up cycling. "Yes, driving is awful" I agree, "so why volutarily subject yourself to it" At this point I get the inevitable - "but its too dangerous I would do if there was a cycle path" so I whip out my cycle map and show them a mostly traffic free route from where they live to work (Warrington/Runcorn are new towns so there are quite a lot of cycle paths). It never works the next day they are still in their car - just the next time I try to persuade them they have a different reason why cycling is completely impracticle.



As Easy As Ridi...

Pete -

Did you even read my comment? It wasn't about why people choose not to cycle, it was simply about how people define themselves.

You said that

the people who don't currenty ride bikes typically consider themselves as "motorists".'

I pointed out that this was incorrect - people simply choose to use cars because they are currently seen as the most practical, safe and convenient way of getting about. It's not through any adherence to the motor vehicle, particularly. 

That is reflected in Horton's research, in which the majority of people do not define themselves as 'motorists'. 

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