Dave Horton: Fear of Cycling

30 03 2011

At least she's wearing a helmet!

I came across this interesting discussion of how fear plays a key role in keeping people off bikes via the Los Alamos Bikes Blog. Both links are worth a read if this subject interests you.

Read the full article here:

“Cycling has formed part of UK society for over a century. For much of that time, the bicycle was the most numerous vehicle on the roads, a major means of everyday mobility (Alderson 1972; McGurn 1999). But the amount of cycling in the UK has fallen dramatically and more or less continuously over the last half century; it accounted for 37 per cent of all journeys in 1949, but accounts for only around one per cent today (Department for Transport 2002). The number of cycles bought has never been higher, yet the number of cycling trips made on UK roads has never been lower.

Across government, cycling is now seen as ‘a good thing’. But despite growing pro-cycling rhetoric and policy in the UK, many people appear remarkably reluctant to ‘get on their bikes’. Why? Discussion about impediments to cycling tends to concentrate on lack of good cycling infrastructure, such as cycling routes and cycle parking. Seemingly insurmountable barriers, such as hilly topography, high levels of rainfall and cold winters, are also considered influential. But what about emotional barriers to cycling?

Numerous studies have shown fear to be a significant barrier to cycling (British Medical Association 1992; Davies et al 1997; Gardner 1998; Gardner and Ryley 1997; Pearce et al 1998; Ryley 2004). One study based on quantitative and qualitative research, Barriers to Cycling (CTC et al1997, 7), concludes ‘the most prominent practical barriers perceived to be deterring potential cyclists were danger and safety’. The UK Department for Transport (2007, 2) reports that 47 per cent of adults ‘strongly agree that “the idea of cycling on busy roads frightens me”‘. Nor is fear of cycling confined to the UK. Gary Gardner (2002, 76) reports how, in ‘surveys in three U.S. cities in the early 1990s, more than half of respondents cited lack of safety as an influential factor in their decisions not to cycle’. This fear of cycling impinges on cycling promotion; for example, one person who tried to encourage colleagues to cycle to work during National Bike Week notes that: ‘Several people have criticised my efforts as irresponsible as cycling is “Dangerous” and by encouraging it we are putting employees at risk’ (email to cycle-planning discussion group, June 2004).”




6 responses

30 03 2011
Micheal Blue

If people would fear cycling alone, The Netherlands, Denmark, and some other European countries would have very low cycling rates, as well. Yet they don’t. So it does come down to the subjective feeling of safety, as explained on David Hembrow’s “View From The Cycle Path” blog. In it the cycling infrastructure is the key component; build it and they will come. In my case, if the only way to commute to work by bike would be on city streets, I wouldn’t bike to work.

30 03 2011

It’s also a chicken and egg thing. The more cyclists there are, the more people see it as a viable form of transportation (humans = sheep). Also, the more cyclists there are, regardless of “infrastructure”, the more motorists pay attention to cyclists and treat them with more respect.

I really believe that the constant harping about helmets in English speaking countries makes people believe that cycling is dangerous. After all, if there is such a high probability that you will crash and land on your head, then maybe you shouldn’t ride at all. At least in the USA there is always a constant barrage of fear – just check the evening news, they will be sure to tell you how everything is out to kill you.

30 03 2011
Andy allsopp

I am repeatedly told by friendly drivers how dangerous my bicycle is. Which is odd, because the one instance where car and bike collided it did almost no damage to the car.

Vulnerable does not equal dangerous.

I do try to communicate this to anyone leaning out the open window of a two tonne steel behemoth.

30 03 2011
Alan Schietzsch

What a great point; there’s a huge distinction between “dangerous: causes harm” and “vulnerable: subject to harm”.

Thank you, I’m going to use that in future.

30 03 2011

Bicycling dangerous? Try global climate change, now that’s dangerous.

31 03 2011

I heartily agree — the American cyclist is highly vulnerable in our hurry-up, car-centric culture. The fear may not be justified by actual injury statistics, but the lack of respect from the tin can set means that the potential for serious injury definitely is there.

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