Home > cycling, Para-cycling, Research, Sarah Interviews... > Interview with Dr Rachel Aldred on increasing everyday cycling – the write-up

Interview with Dr Rachel Aldred on increasing everyday cycling – the write-up

Podcast interview logoJust before Christmas, I interviewed Dr Rachel Aldred, who does fantastic work both as a Senior Lecturer in Transport at the University of Westminster, and with her Near Miss Project, looking at what helps and hinders people to cycle more in the UK, including a focus on issues of equality, diversity and equity in cycling.  You can listen to the interview as a podcast here, and I’ve transcribed it below, if you prefer to read instead.


ProWomensCycling: Can you describe what you do in a nutshell?

Rachel Aldred:  I do a lot of research in cycling in a range of ways, using a lot of different methods, but cycling is really my research passion.   I also teach Transport Planning as well, and lead an MSc in Transport Planning.

PWC: And you have quite a lot of other strings to your bow – you’re involved in the London Cycling Campaign, and a lot of other projects.  The one I was interested in is the Near Miss Project – can you tell us a little more about that?

RA:  The Near Miss Project got going just over a year ago, and it looks at cycling ‘near misses’, but at the heart of it, I wanted to do this One Day Diary, and get people to record cycling trips, and any near miss-type incidents they experienced over the course of one day, and then the idea was to derive a near miss rate that you could compare with injury rates, for example, because it seemed to me – and we know now from the research too – that near misses are really very common, and can have a substantial impact on people, but there’s very little work done on them.  We don’t know how often they happen, and so on.  So I really wanted to find out about near misses, both from injury prevention purposes, but also from the cycling experience angle, that these things that happen, potentially, every day, could have a substantial impact on people, and how people feel about cycling.

It was an online survey, so a lot of the data was quantitative, but we also got really intense descriptions of people’s experiences, and the visceral nature of many of these things – people being cut up, or being close passed, or being driven at and so on.  Reading those descriptions was often quite chilling, and cycling should be a wonderful, pleasurable experience, but too often on our roads it isn’t.

PWC:  It’s only been going for a year, but has it changed your thoughts on how to get more people cycling?

RA:  I hope it has started to make a difference.  For me, I feel like I understand better some of the stuff around risk, because we often have these debates in cycling that cycling is not as safe as it should be, but it’s objectively very safe, you’re very very unlikely not to come home alive, the injury rates are higher than they are in The Netherlands, but still people might expect a slight injury once every twenty years or something like that, so injury isn’t that common, even in the UK.  On the other hand, people feel like cycling is terrifying, and they feel it’s unsafe.  For me, near misses  are one of the missing links between that – it’s about experienced risk, not just a perception, it’s something that people experience, and it’s something that can be quite off-putting.  So I feel like I understand risk better.

And I think it’s started to have an impact in policy as well.  Transport Authorities are starting to get quite interested in this, and think about this in terms of what locations on our network are generating near misses, because partly you can see it as an early warning, that you might get injuries somewhere.  I really think we’re very reactive in road safety – if someone is injured, or dies, we might make changes to a junction, but I believe we should be looking at those junctions in advance, and saying “we think somebody will be injured here, let’s do something about it before they are injured”.  For example, Police services are starting to collect more data on near misses, and not just use it for enforcement against individuals, but also to think about enforcement campaigns, and to give to their transport planning colleagues, to look at locations that are problematic.  I think it is starting to change practice, and starting to make people think a bit more about near misses.

PWC: I remember having conversations about the arguments about why more women aren’t cycling, and people say “Oh, women are more risk averse”, as if it’s a bad thing! I feel if I’m making an evidence-based decision that it’s dangerous, and this is what’s happened to my friends, and these are the downsides.  I don’t think risk assessment is a bad thing, and everywhere I’ve worked, that’s a positive!

RA:  How people feel, the comfort level of cycling, is an important part of that, and you can’t just explain it away and say “You might be feeling uncomfortable and scared, but you’re very unlikely to be hit”.  If that’s an uncomfortable or scary experience, that’s important for people, and people take that into account, and I think it’s important to acknowledge that.

PWC:  It’s very interesting thinking about it from a policy perspective.  I was reading one of your blogs about Cost Benefit Analysis, and people taking into account when someone dies, but not taking into account all the people who don’t do it in case they die.

RA:  And we’re just missing out so much.  Some of the colleagues I work with do stuff about health benefits of cycling, and the benefits are so massive, and particularly for those groups that aren’t cycling.

In a sense, young men are the people who least need to cycle – they tend to have more transport options, they tend to be less at risk because they’re young, so unlikely to experience serious health conditions.  But the people we really need to get cycling are often the older people, and older women in particular, people who often don’t have access to cars, people who are at relatively high risk of health problems.  So the very people who’d benefit most from it in this country are least likely to cycle.

PWC:  When I first came across your work, one of the things I loved most was that you were looking at cycling from a point of view of equity – children, older people, women, Black and minority ethnic people, people from less well-off neighbourhoods.  And that was fascinating, because it always bothered me, because a lot of cycling stuff seems to be “it doesn’t matter who we get cycling, as long as the numbers are up”.

RA:  And that’s kind of self-defeating in a sense as well, because if you build stuff that the young, the fit, the able-bodied and so on can just about cope with, then maybe you’ll get more of those people, but most people are not like that, and most young men are not like that, and you’ll just limit yourself.

Where I live, in Hackney, in terms to the UK, we’re doing pretty well, but still cycling to work is concentrated among young men, relatively affluent social backgrounds and so on, and you’ve got probably as many of those people cycling as you’re going to get, but what about the rest?  That’s who we need to focus on.

PWC:  What I hadn’t realised is a lot of cycling policy – for example, you pointed out the Department of Transport and Sport England – were taking a “trickle down” approach, that if you get more young men cycling, then naturally everyone else will follow!

RA:  And that paper, the DfT/Sport England report, which has lots of really interesting stuff in, does actually say getting more men to cycle to work will increase gender equity, and one of my co-authors referred that back to me before we submitted a paper for publication, saying “Are you sure that’s right?  Is that a typo?” and I went back and checked the original paper, and no, that’s what they actually said.  The assumption was that it would just start to level up.

I’d turn that around, and say we really need to build for the under-represented groups – we need to focus on those who are actually telling us that they are particularly concerned about safety issues, that they’re often concerned about personal safety and social safety as well.  So you don’t build routes through narrow passageways through estates, and that kind of thing.

But these things are often not listened to, and when you can see that in the way in which cyclists have been represented, traditionally. Kevin Hickman, who does work on inclusive cycling, has written a really interesting paper on how disabled cyclists are represented, or rather not represented, because cyclists tend to be represented as able-bodied, they tend to often be represented as young to middle-aged men, and in a sense those images also help to perpetuate things.   That’s often who planners are thinking about – they’re thinking about that guy on a road bike, he’s in sporty clothing, he’s wearing a helmet, he’s leaning forward, he’s in a bus lane and he’s ok – that’s who we’re often building for, and if you think of a grandmother and a little boy cycling in that place, you can’t imagine it.  It’s trying to break out of that place, and trying to imagine the cycling we could have.

PWC:  I was thinking about a friend who uses a tricycle because of her medical condition, for instance, and another woman who used to ride around the neighbourhood with her kids on a trike – and that’s seen as really bizarre and weird, and taking up far too much space.

RA:  Yes, and those are exactly the kind of people, and the diversity of cycling, that we need to get, but it’s still often absent, planners are not thinking of those kinds of things.  Disabled cycling is traditionally seen as really marginal, within transport, within disability, within cycling.  But the benefits are so massive.

I remember interviewing people in Cambridge when I did the Cycling Cultures project.  That was my way into this, when I did a lot of interviews with people who cycled.  Cambridge has relatively gender-equal cycling, it has a lot of older people cycling, a lot of disabled people, and I spoke quite a few people in Cambridge because of that, who were from a variety of  demographics, and people who, for example, couldn’t have easily walked to the shop, and who would say “If I didn’t have my tricycle, I might be housebound, because I literally cannot walk, I don’t have a car, I can’t use public transport, and the tricycle is how I get about” – those benefits, and if we can get those people cycling, that, for me, is really transformational.

PWC:  What do you think is special about Cambridge?  Is it because it’s flat, because of the University?  People say about cycling in the UK that it can’t be done, we can’t have The Netherlands, but there are places in Britain, like Cambridge, or York, that have really strong cycling cultures, and I wonder what it is about those places?

RA:  The Cycling Cultures project was partially founded on having these places where cycling is high, and what we can learn from them, and one of the things that I did learn from it is that some of the things that make cycling high in Cambridge can’t necessarily be transferred elsewhere.  Cambridge has its own specific culture – it has the history, for example, of undergraduates not being allowed to bring cars, it’s got a specific city centre, and so on, so I don’t think you can take Cambridge and put it elsewhere, but Cambridge does show that it can be done.

There’s nothing inherent to the English that means it’s not possible to get high levels of cycling. And you can also see good examples from across the country – in Bristol, for example, which is not flat, the levels of cycling to work doubled between 2001 and 2011, so there’s examples in different circumstances as well.

One of the things I learned from Cycling Cultures was there is still often a struggle, even in those places where cycling’s high, because we have, in this country, such a problematic attitude to cycling – it’s still different, often, even in those contexts.  The media is still often quite hostile to cycling, and so on.

And there’s still scope for further growth.  The infrastructure in Cambridge is traditionally very patchy, and one of the things that’s supported cycling there is that often pavement cycling is allowed, which is not a great thing, but it has meant that people will cycle with children, and people don’t have to cycle on the road.  One of the great things that Cambridge is now doing is making higher quality Dutch and Danish-style tracks, which is good for pedestrians and good for cyclists, and with some of the infrastructure they’ve put in already, they’ve seen cycling increase further.  So even where you’ve got cycling at 33% mode share, it can still go up further, if you improve things, so that’s also really positive.

PWC: In your work you talk about the interactions between the infrastructure, the social pressures, the cultural pressures, and I was wondering with you coming from a Sociology background, if you could tell us a little bit more about those interactions from a Sociological perspective?

RA:  Coming from Sociology has been a really interesting journey. I’ve seen two completely different academic cultures, Sociology and Transport, and I think I can see the positive and less positive sides of both.  One of the things that I like about Transport is that it is quite inter-disciplinary, and I’ll be interacting with people who are mathematical modellers, for instance, people from all kinds of different backgrounds.

One of the things that I’m really passionate about is having that understanding of the relationships between culture and infrastructure, because often it’s assumed that if something is seen as a cultural problem, it has to have a cultural solution, and we bracket things off.  We think “It’s an Engineering problem, let’s fix that”, or “It’s a behavioural problem, let’s fix behaviour”, and they’re all so related.

I really like thinking about the streets as this public space, where people interact in particular ways, and many of the ways that we interact in the space that is the roads is really problematic – but it’s related to the infrastructure, it’s related to the cultural and policy context as well.

One example would be in terms of building good quality cycle infrastructure, which I think helps to create the impression that cyclists matter and that cyclists are important, because they have something good provided for them.  We have this long history in this country, of building these ‘facilities’ as we call them, that looks like we put some paint on the road, and then it disappears – just when it gets difficult, let’s write END, and the cycle lane will disappear!

PWC:  Or sharing with a bus lane that’s full of parked cars anyway!

RA:  It’s like cyclists don’t need any space, they don’t need any protection, they’ll just get out of the way whenever it becomes difficult. And so much infrastructure that’s supposedly for cycling send that message, and says cyclists are not important – they’re residual, they’re in your way.  If we start creating something better, that starts to send the signal that actually cyclists are worth spending money on, they do deserve their own space, they do deserve priority at junctions, and so on.  And I think that helps to start changing cultures, and that is particularly important for under-represented groups.

Cycling traditionally has this ‘poverty’ stigma, that we see it as something people only do because they can’t afford a car, and that’s developed in the Post-War period, when we saw the rush to the car, and it still affects people, but it affects people differently.  In Cambridge, when I was doing work there, middle-class people, people with money didn’t feel affected by a poverty stigma, no one was going to think that they were poor.  But when I spoke to people on lower incomes, or were self-employed, it did affect them, because they were worried that they could be seen as being poor, not making enough money.  So if you create good cycling infrastructure, you create the impression that cycling is for everyone, and it is for valued people, that people who are valued are cycling, that really helps with the poverty stigma, and I think from a sociological perspective, that could have a disproportionate impact on those lower income people, because they’re the people who are put off by this poverty stigma attached to cycling.

Or, another example, if people are put off cycling because they think it’s something you have to be super-fit and sporty to do, then creating infrastructure where you don’t have to do that, you’re not constantly battling with buses and taxis, that can help with that again, and can help an image of cycling that’s more diverse – if you’re a bit lazy or fat, you can still participate in it, you don’t have to be some super-fit paragon.

If we start to change the infrastructure and make the infrastructure more welcoming and more attractive, we can help deal with some of what are seen as ‘cultural’ problems.

PWC:  I feel like in the media, cyclists are seen as this target you’re allowed to punch at, and I guess if you were a young Black man, for example, who’s already got the media throwing punches at them, I can see how the stigmas might add up – “It’s bad enough already – why do I want to be on a bike?”  Or a woman thinking “It’s bad enough already, being catcalled and feeling unsafe – why would I want to ride a bike, where somebody’s going to drive past and slap me on the arse?”.

RA:  I do think there is some kind of additive or multiplicative effect of how much crap do you want to put up in your day? And if cycling multiplies that, and you’re already being discriminated against, or being harassed, and you’ll get additional harassment or problems from cycling, then I can see that’s then additionally off-putting.  I do wonder whether having a more egalitarian society in general, is more conducive to cycling and walking – that if people interact in a more equal way to start off with, that maybe helps with those things too.

PWC:  You used the great acronym, MGIF, Must Get In Front Drivers, and I don’t drive, so I can’t even imagine that, but then I know what I’m like getting on the train, or going to the shortest check-out in the supermarket.  I guess the really difficult thing about cultural change is you want to change everyone at the same time.  It’s not just me getting on my bike, it’s someone over there, who’s not going to drive at me, or pass me too closely.  Do you have any insight into how we can do that?

RA:  It is challenging, and in this country we do have this problem where there’s this deep-seated hostility to cyclists often, who are seen as even more marginalised than pedestrians in a sense, because pedestrians are harassed on the roads, but have pavement space, whereas cyclists are often seen as not belonging anywhere.  They’re not supposed to be on the pavement, and if they’re on the roads, the drivers think they’re getting in their way.

We’re always battling with that, and also the fact the media often play quite a negative role.  Politicians are not often terribly helpful, either. I’ve been struck by debates in Parliament and in the Lords, some of the same stereotypes in the media, you’ll see there.  When I’ve been there to give evidence, the level of debate in the Greater London Assembly is noticeably higher than in those national forums, and I think the London Assembly, because of the context there, are more clued up.

There are an awful lot of problems, misconceptions, bias, and anti-cyclist feeling.  It would be nice to think that as cycling increases, drivers become nicer, better behaved and more welcoming, and in London I don’t think there’s a great deal of evidence that safety in numbers effect is happening yet.  There may be a threshold, but we’re not there yet, and so in the mean time, hopefully positive infrastructural change will help raise the status of cyclists.

And also enforcement, and policy, and also constantly keeping an eye on the stuff that could be problematic, so one example could be the stickers in London, that Transport for London rolled out a while back for large vehicles to stick on the back, saying “Cyclists Stay back”, which is really problematic, it just sends that message that cyclists should always be behind, you should not be in front if you’re a cyclist.  Things like that really shouldn’t happen

PWC:   Especially on big vehicles, in London – why is there a need for a big vehicle to be driving through London in the daytime, or in rush hour.  You want a sticker saying “Giant vehicle, go round the M25” or “Giant vehicle, deliver at a sensible time”.

RA:  It’s diverting the responsibility to cyclists and to the pedestrian, and saying you should wait behind, you should be out of the way.  Things like that, which just reinforce the marginalisation of cycling.  There are so many examples, even in the places I visited as part of Cycling Cultures research, even though they are places with relatively high levels of cycling, you see things like in an area of Hull, there are signs everywhere, “Antisocial cyclists, you will be fined”, and it just sends a message that cyclists are going to be punished, and nothing about things that drivers might have been doing in that area.

Like “Cyclists Dismount” signs, which don’t have any legal force, but carry the message that cyclists should be getting off, and if cyclists don’t dismount, they’re seen as breaking the rule, even though there’s not necessarily any legal legal reason to dismount.

I think a constant effort on behalf of policy makers and practitioners, to ensure that things don’t contribute to further stigmatising and stereotyping cyclists, and also probably some targeted enforcement, is useful too.

PWC:  I guess it doesn’t help with things like Nigel Lawson saying cycleways have done more damage to London than almost anything since the Blitz.  Rampaging landlords, that’s done a lot of damage, pollution.  You read that and wonder what kind of world are you living in when the worst thing that’s happened to you is being delayed on roads like the Embankment?

RA:  But I think that people see that and think “How out of touch is he?”.  The comments from people like Alan Sugar like “Now it takes me an hour and a half to get from Temple to Tower Hill” or whatever.  Most people are going to look at that and think you’d walk there quicker, why aren’t you walking, or getting the Tube?

I think that one thing that’s been quite helpful in London is that there’s been a big shift away from the car towards public transport in particular, and to a lesser extent, cycling or walking, and I think in Central London, certainly, most people don’t think that people have a right to drive quickly through Central London.  I think that’s been quite positive for cycling, because it’s attacked this assumption that drivers should always be able to get somewhere as quickly as possible, because patently, in Central London, that’s not the case.

PWC:  Do you think, from a sociological perspective, that these arguments from people like Nigel Lawson or Jeremy Clarkson actually do the cause good in the long run, by being so crazy?

RA:  Well I did wonder about that, when I was reading a Standard article, where it did have people complaining about the fact they were spending an hour and a half going to their business meeting,  going a mile by car in Central London, and I think, that does really illustrate “What planet are those people on?”  That’s not how most Londoners live, and that’s not how most Londoners would expect to travel – it did make the other side look quite sensible!

PWC:  Which I think is quite useful, because you mention somewhere else about the stigma of cyclists as mad eco-warriors, or obnoxious MAMILs – almost the opposite of everyday cyclists.  And I was very interested in your paper on safety gear, and what it means to people, both putting them off cycling, making it seem like a really expensive, difficult, barrier-ful thing.  On the one hand you’ve got the poverty stigma, but those stigmas at the other side also seem to be quite interesting too – how do you overcome the stigma of hipsterism, or ‘vegan eco-warrior’.

RA:  It’s kind of interesting that you can have all of those co-existing at the same time.  Although you’d think they’d contradict each other, they still exist, and they still can be off-putting to people, they can still lead to marginalisation.

It’s interesting with the safety gear thing as well, you can clearly see how relates to the particular cycling environment that’s hostile that we’ve got, that makes people feel they have to wear this gear.  But it’s never enough, you get into this escalation – some of the interviews that I did for Cycling Cultures showed that, “I’ve got fluorescent arm-bands, I’ve got this, I’ve got that” and people feeling they have to wear more and more high-visibility gear, but it was never enough, you could never be sure that a motorist would see you, that constant pressure to do that.

And also shaming when people don’t wear the right clothing. It’s really interesting, and it seems to have parallels to ways in which other groups have their dress and behaviour policed – you’re not wearing the the right clothing, how can you be so irresponsible.

I have a personal anecdote:  I was cycling through Central London, and somebody started talking to me and wanting to harangue me about my shoes.  I was wearing the wrong shoes, and I was probably going to lose my leg because it was so dangerous.

PWC:  Just a stranger?

RA:  Who incidentally was not wearing a helmet, so we then had a discussion about risk compensation, and whether that applies to shoes as well as to headgear, so there you go!

PWC:  But it’s the same idea as a young Black teenager shouldn’t wear a hoody, if he doesn’t want to be thought of as a criminal, or a girl shouldn’t wear a short skirt if she’s walking late at night, if she doesn’t want to be raped.  There’s a really horrible culture of risk versus ‘oh it’s your own fault’, that you can never win.

I remember trying to get a fluorescent coat, and being so, so ashamed in the shop because I was too fat for their women’s coat, so the only thing they had was this enormous men’s coat that looked terrible on me, and I bought it because I was so embarrassed, when I should have just gone on the internet and found something that fits my shape.

Cycling should feel like fun, I started cycling to work because I loved it, it made me feel good, and I stopped because it made me feel…  bleurgh.

RA:  That’s too often a common experience.  The clothing thing – if someone’s injured or killed, often the way it’s reported as “who was not wearing a helmet”, “who was wearing dark clothing” and these things become blaming factors, and people internalise, “I mustn’t do that, I must do this”, and as you say, you can’t win.

PWC:  In terms of equity in cycling, and getting more people to ride from diverse communities and diverse backgrounds, what do you think organisations and decision-makers should be thinking about?  Apart from thinking about it in the first place!

RA:  The first thing, really, is to think about cycling as being a system, as something that’s provided.  I think that’s really fundamental, that shift in seeing it.  Traditionally it’s been seen as something that individuals do, and as we got into the 1990s, it became seen as something that individuals do that’s a good thing, “People should cycle, it’s healthy! It’s environmental! It’s all this, people should cycle!” and detracting the attention away from the fact that you need to provide the conditions – infrastructural, but also legal, cultural, policy and so on.

You need to provide the conditions for cycling, you need to provide a cycling system.  You can’t expect people to get the bus if there are no buses, but yet for most of the country the cycling system is like that. There is no good infrastructure, there is no support, you’ll probably be harassed if you cycle, that kind of thing.  So really, turning it round and saying “How do we provide an equitable cycling system?” so there are differences within that, as well as providing good quality infrastructure.

Providing infrastructure that goes to the different places people want to go to – we’re at such an early stage in this country, just building stuff is seen as good, but are you only building good routes that go to city centre jobs?  Are you building routes that go to shops, that go to schools, and so on.  So thinking about the different destinations men, women, older people, children and so on have, and making sure that you build for those destinations.

Thinking about the capabilities that people have.  So one thing that we’ve often done in this country is there’s a fast, direct route down the A road for the young men, and then there’s a wiggly route going through a muddy field for the women and the old people – the dual networks.  But the problem with that is it’s seen as being appropriate for women and old people as they’re seen as supposedly more risk-averse, or less risk-tolerant, but some of the work I’ve been doing with colleagues has looked at distance decay – as you lengthen a route, people are proportionally less likely to cycle it.  It’s different for different people, but you can do curves across a population, and the interesting thing is that for women and older people, those curves are sharper.  So as you increase distance, cycling among women and older people will decline more sharply than cycling among young men, so the very last thing you want to do is put those people on a detour, because they’re less tolerant of longer distances, so they exactly need the direct route.

So when you’re thinking of building for a diverse population, the under-represented demographic, the under-represented people need a really direct route, and that still doesn’t seem to have filtered through.  We acknowledge that women and older people are particularly keen on protected routes, but that hasn’t really filtered through, that they also need a more direct route

And stuff around physical obstacles, of course.  There are so many places where it’s assumed that cyclists can dismount, carry their bikes, carry their bikes up a flight of stairs, all this kind of stuff.  There’s some really good work done some by disabled cyclists organisations to point out “we can’t do this, this is impossible for us”.  It’s an equality legislation issue, because you’ve built a cycle route that people with various disabilities absolutely can’t use.

PWC:  For everyday cyclists, are there things that we could be doing to get involved in changing the cycling culture.  Obviously getting involved in the Near Miss Project and doing the One Day Diary is a useful thing, but do you have any advice for people who think “I don’t any power, what can I do?”

RA:  In some areas you now can report near misses and things like that to the police online, and it’s an easier process than having to go into a station.

I do think reporting things is important.  Myself, I haven’t always done that, but if things are reported, they count, and they can be useful, not just in the individual case, but because a lot of people are reporting it.

I think people in the cycling community are doing a lot of good stuff.  Me getting involved and doing research in this area is partly inspired by a lot of the work that some of the people like bloggers and campaigners were doing, writing about these issues, and making some of the same sociological points as well, which I think is really interesting, that people were doing transport sociology on cycling.

I think you can really see that things have been changing.  Obviously not as much as they need to change, but for example in London, where a lot of activity has been concentrated, I think we’ve really seen quite a substantial change, and it could still stop, but, for example, we’ve seen a 27-fold increase in spending on cycling – and OK, that’s from a very low base, 27-fold increase!

And what’s really interesting is Transport for London survey people on their attitudes towards cycling, and they do this every year – and every year recently, the proportion of people saying more should be spent on cycling has increased, just at the same time as they’re spending more in the first place.  It’s really good, and you can see now that there is strong support for spending more money on cycling in London, and it’s substantially outnumbering people who are saying less should be spent on cycling.  You can see that in a sense getting that money spent has helped increase support for cycling, so that’s really important.

PWC:  And I guess people can also talk to their Councillors and MPs and do that usual lobbying.

RA:  Councillors are really important.  Councillors often get complaints about things like dog mess, they get to hear the same things.  If people speak to their Councillors, and Councillors understand that the people who vote for them and live in their area do cycle, or want to cycle, and want better cycling conditions, that is really powerful.

Often, just a few people talking to a Councillor can help change their mind, and help them understand what needs to happen.  Talking to Councillors is very important, and it was interesting that in the recent elections in London the London Cycling campaign was trying to get people to contact their Ward Councillors and candidates and so on, and to try and say “this is what we want to happen”, because talking to Councillors is a good thing to do.


Find out more about Dr Aldred’s work on her website – and I recommend the paper she co-authored with James Woodcock and Anna Goodman, Does More Cycling Mean More Diversity in Cycling?  And follow her twitter for lots of fantastic links to research and work on cycling issues. (You can get to her paper about protective gear that we talked about from here, and to her blog about MGIF & cost-benefit analysis).  The work she did on the Cycling Cultures Project on their website.

Definitely check out the Near Miss Project website, and if you’re in the UK, ask your local Police Force if they have a way to report cycling near misses – and then, if you experience them, report them (for example, here’s how you can report to Avon & Somerset Police).  And if you want to help improve things for everyday cyclists, contact your local democratic representatives to tell them what you’d like to see, and help them hear positive stories about cycling (in the UK?  Contact your Councillor, MP, and Scottish/Welsh/London Assembly representative!).

I’m funded to do these interviews thanks to my wonderful Patreon supporters – thank you so much!  If you want to join them from just $2 a month, there’s more information here.



  1. December 30, 2015 at 2:21 am

    Fascinating read, thanks for posting. My Grandmother’s got a friend called Betty who’s over 80, and until recently she used to ride everywhere on a little Raleigh Shopper, and I think if all cycle infrastructure was designed with her in mind they’d make a lot more progress.

    • Sarah Connolly
      December 30, 2015 at 10:51 am

      Yeah, it’s interesting isn’t it – in one of Rachel’s papers she talks about how in the Netherlands and Germany, cycling actually goes up with age, and I’d love it if that could be the same here.

  2. Tony Cooke
    December 30, 2015 at 12:35 pm

    Hi Rachel and Sarah, this is an interesting piece. I vividly remember starting work in 1973 work, the vast majority took either the bus, cycled or those living close by walked. The minority took the car with car share being mostly an economic necessity. Motorbikes, mopeds and scooters provided a method of transportation that was about 1/3 that of those who cycled. The bike sheds at the factory were built to house many hundreds of bikes.

    Within 6 years the demograph of transport to work had entirely changed with the greater affordability of cars and the perceived increase in status related to owning a car amongst this working group. Over 40 years later I still ride to work every day.

    You clearly list the factors that put people off cycling to work.

    I visited a friend in Denmark some years ago and was surprised at his style of driving in the suburbs. He slowed near a junction where the lights were in his favour. I asked him why he did that. His answer was that there was a cyclist on the cycle path at the side of the road just coming up to that same junction and were he to knock him off, the burden of proof was always – the motorist is guilty and must prove innocence. So his fear was that even if the cyclist were to make a mistake and cut across his path, he would be guilty, so he slowed to ensure he could react and stop even if the cyclist made a mistake.

    At a simple stroke, Danish legislation regarding traffic law had provided an enormous shield to cyclists, without ridiculous infrastructure costs.

    I can only compare and contrast that with my own experience of a serious incident. On an empty road from my village I was hit by a car traveling in the same direction as myself. There was nothing coming the other way and no other traffic ahead or behind. There was ample room to move out and pass me. In the apocryphal manner – the driver just “did not see me” !. It was about 30 minutes after sunrise on a clear day and I was wearing a hi-vis jacket !!! As I was at the side of the road, I was struck a glancing blow and knocked into the air and onto the hedge ! So this was an open and shut case of the driver not looking where he was going and being distracted by something in the car/phone. The police and CPS failed to prosecute or even send the driver on a driver awareness course ! I contacted them and even ended up taking a film from a car following me as I rode along the road to show how much visibility the driver would have – there was just one shallow bend sometime before. The attitude of the police was – why if I had a car was I not using it ? Why did I trouble to use such a low grade form of transport, it would be far safer for me if I used the car ? The CPS just played for time until 6 months had run out then said it was too late.

    When faced with such ridiculous prejudice and stereotyping – cycling is dangerous, you can expect to be knocked off – it is a transportation system of last resort, you know that all the good will to make cycling “more friendly” via “soft” advantages is just tarting around at the edges.

    The Danes got it right. The “car is best” culture is so ingrained that only a major shift in legislation will achieve the change in institutional mindset that will move the population back to the more healthy and environmentally sustainable transportation models of the past.

    Tony Cooke

    • Sarah Connolly
      December 30, 2015 at 2:06 pm

      I’m so sorry you got hit, Tony – and that the “Sorry, Mate, I Didn’t See You” is accepted and almost expected – it’s crazy!

      I was in Copenhagen for Worlds, staying across the bridge in Lund in Sweden, and every cycling day my wonderful friend Jens drove me across the Oresund Bridge to the races (he was the best soigneur). For the men’s race, we parked in some backstreets, and I thought we’d never get out onto the main road – but Jens said in Scandinavia, they drive on the “zipper system” where every car on the main road lets one car in ahead of them, so the 2 strands of traffic come together like a zip. He was surprised I was surprised, it’s just the *civilised* way to do it – and it’s not like it slows people down.

      I’ve been to the Netherlands for races, and driving through Groningen, the drivers were the same way about cyclists. OK, the woman driving was a former pro cyclist, and a race organiser, so I’d expect her to be, but everyone else was the same – and then seeing the amazing multi-storey bike park at the station, and the fantastic bike storage on the double-decker train to Amsterdam, it really hit me what cycling culture means (mind you, don’t get me started on taking bikes on trains. The whole “you can’t travel with a bike unless you book, and even if you do book, if the bike spaces are full of other bikes or luggage, tough luck”… What surprises me is knowing it’s the same train companies here and in a lot of Europe where they expect bikes…)

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