Saturday 6 July 2013

What needs to be known

This blog is an adaptation of Chapter 6 from Cycling: the way ahead for towns and cities.

The number of potential cyclists is high because almost everyone enjoys cycling. However, since most people are no longer in the habit, so to speak, they need to be reminded that cycling can be an efficient and pleasant way of getting around. Pointers must be given to encourage people to start thinking about cycling. What is the relationship between cycling for pleasure and daily cycling? Apart from these two major components, what other elements constitute a pro-cycling policy? How much would a policy favouring cycling cost? What needs to be known to take the first (right) steps?

The components of a pro-cycling policy and their interactions

A return to cycling is likely to be most successful if the aims of the overall transport strategy are framed within the context of a balanced mobility policy. Such a policy would of course be environmentally-friendly, and would also give rise to a relaxed and convivial urban atmosphere which is favourable to shops, pedestrians and public transport, with cars being given their rightful place.

‘Measures in favour of cycling’ are generally thought of as being confined to those of a technical order, such as developing quality infrastructure and providing a 'complementarity' between cycling and public transport. But there are a range of other accompanying measures which must also be addressed.

In addition, since the bicycle is often perceived as an instrument of leisure, efforts must be made simultaneously to promote leisure routes and daily cycling routes. These two areas of activity complement each other, and are of mutual benefit.

Market laws: you have to know in order to choose

Surveys carried out amongst non-cyclists indicate that the general public is poorly informed when it comes to cycling. In a study carried out in the Netherlands, car drivers who were obliged to use a bicycle for a while—if their car was in for repair, say—indicated how pleasantly surprised they were by the objective qualities of the bike, about which they had previously held a low opinion.

Also true is that very few car owners are really aware what their car costs to run, and of the considerable savings to be made by cycling.

One of the first obstacles which may be tackled in any information campaign is this lack of awareness of the advantages of cycling.

A pragmatic approach

Instituting a pro-cycling policy should involve the cooperation of several sectors of the administration (town planning and public works, public transport organisations, teachers, the police) and of the private sector (shopkeepers, companies and cyclists).

The ideal situation would be for the political authority to decide to introduce a policy in favour of cycling, to set aside a budget for this policy, to organise a team of staff to carry out practical measures, and to ensure that selection criteria which promote cycling are applied at all levels of the administration.

Depending on the resources available, each town has to decide upon its priorities, and work out which specific actions are the most important. Reproducing apparently effective action taken elsewhere could have negative consequences if the concerted and coherent programme on which such actions were based is not taken into account. On the contrary, it is preferable to draw inspiration from known examples with due caution. Keeping in mind some of the constant factors of a thoroughly understood cycling policy, allow full recourse to the imagination and try to make the best use of locally-available resources.

What will the cost be?

The cost of the investments in cycling are likely to be highly variable. However that may be, works carried out specifically in favour of cycling generally cost much less than for those of other forms of transport.

What is more, in a great many situations the small excesses of expenditure made in favour of cycling would be reduced even further if thought was given to cyclists at the planning stage (that is, before changes to the roadway are made). Costly installations—cycle tracks and special traffic lights—are rare. The cost of the other components of a cycling policy—mainly education and information—can also be highly variable according to the education and information techniques used.

In the State of Oregon (USA), the law states that towns must devote a minimum of 1% of the subsidies it receives for roadways to cycling purposes. This tiny proportion of expenditure already makes it possible to meet a large number of requirements, given the extremely modest cost of most of the installations.

Another possible basis for calculating how much to spend would be to analyse the real budgets allotted to cycling by several German towns. At the time, they spent something like €5 per resident per year for a period of five to seven years. With this money, they were enabled to "introduce" an entire pro-cycling policy (network, information, promotion).

The value of a cycling coordinator

One of the tasks of a cycling coordinator must of course be to note all the possible sources of subsidisation by the public authorities.

Sometimes funding exists which opens up unexpected prospects for developing a pro-cycling policy. The first thought which comes to mind is, of course, funding for improvements to roads, but a number of other sources of subsidies are also available. For example, cycling programmes (on information campaigns, say, or on incentives) may be paid for by sponsors, or as part of national or regional policies on safety, education, youth, sports, health, leisure, tourism, the environment, urban renewal, and the safeguarding of our heritage.

Making use of synergies

As soon as the network plan has been drawn up, some kind of checking mechanism is required to ensure that every time works are programmed they include the introduction of the amenities required for cyclists. An alphabetical list of the names of the streets having cycle routes can, for example, be distributed in all departments. Alternatively, the cycling coordinator could be informed in advance of all works planned and check for himself / herself that facilities for cyclists have not been forgotten.

There are often other sources of special financing which may be used to introduce cycling facilities or ‘bicycle-friendly’ measures. These include budgets for making the approaches to schools safe, and which can be used to finance the development of cycle tracks on routes close to a school, say, or to introduce contraflow systems for cyclists in one-way streets which give access to a particular school.

Some European Union budgets also make it possible to finance studies concerning cycling. For example, as part of the LIFE programme, the European Union financed the study of cycle networks in four Cypriot cities: Nicosia, Larnaca, Limassol and Paphos. The overall objective was to reduce pressure from car traffic and to improve the quality of journeys and the quality of life.

The project included a programme to promote cycling among the general public and was spread over a three-year period (with conferences, debates, meetings with pressure groups, etc.). Two surveys on the way in which cycling is perceived were also undertaken.

The total budget for the project was €330 000, with each city contributing approximately €18 000.

It might be possible for your town to benefit from this for a cycle route network. It is also possible that national programmes of a similar type exist in your country.

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