Connectivity and Convenience – How to Make the ‘Switch to Cycling’ Permanent
Encouraging more people to abandon their cars and cycle to work has many entries in the column marked ‘positives.’ There’s nothing of note in the ‘negatives’ column. Better air quality, better health, lower greenhouse emissions and reduced medical expenses – these are significant gains. Alongside this, our towns and cities will be more pleasant places to live and work in.
But private car use has been ingrained in our daily habits for years. Is it wise to assume that getting people to switch transport mode permanently will be easy? Laying down or designating thousands of miles of new cycleways is essential, but more is needed to persuade people to change habits that were many years in the making.
To make cycling an attractive option we have to consider what happens at either end of the journey. For people who live within or on the edge of town joining a safe cycleway has to be easy. Sustainable solutions have to be grounded in a detailed understanding of where people travel from and to. A half-mile of on-road cycling to get to a safe route will be enough to put many people off.
Others with a longer commute might be happy to cycle the last few miles into town rather than sit in nose to tail traffic. This emphasizes how plans for additional cycling routes need to be integrated into a broader rethink of transport strategy.
Using the Goodwill and Desire to Change
Currently, the need to maintain social distancing provides an added incentive for people to cycle rather than use public transport. Quieter urban roads have provided an environment where reallocating road space to temporary cycleways has been welcomed, which might not have been the case in normal times.
But what happens when there’s no more lockdown or social distancing? If transport authorities haven’t used this time to think through the practicalities and make cycling the safest and simplest option then people will drift back to established habits.
To make cycling the preferred option, cycle routes have to be physically segregated from motor vehicles. There also need to be convenient secure storage and cycle hire facilities integrated with transport hubs. These facilities will eliminate practical obstacles that might seem minor in themselves, but which could cumulatively nudge individuals back into preferring to use their cars.
The infrastructure needed to promote greater preference for cycling is much broader than building new cycle paths or earmarking sections of existing roads. The challenge is about connectivity and convenience.