Other Road Users

Bike Hub UK reports some interesting research from the UK Department of Transport on road sharing attitudes among British cyclists and those “Other Road Users” or ORUs. The ORUs — people who drive cars — largely believe almost all cyclists are scofflaws who cause accidents, congestion, pollution, stress, delay, tooth decay and other problems.


Cyclists taking the lane in Vegas

Transport’s work focuses on a number of aspects of cycling — reasons for cycling, differing approaches to cycling (e.g. “stay out of the way” vs “asserting control”), a discussion on young cyclists, and safety gear (e.g. helmets and yellow vests). The researchers interviewed groups of cyclists, parent groups, and “other road users” — car drivers mostly, but also drivers of trucks, taxis, motorcycles and a fire engine — to get qualitative feedback on of sharing the road with cyclists.

The focus was on the attitude and values of these motorists toward sharing the road with cyclists. The study was designed to answer the question of why road sharing fails not at the behavioral level, but at the human level. The study looks at aggression on the road, impatience, selfishness, “failures of competence” (e.g. misjudging bicycle speed & position – though professional drivers tended to be more competent), “Sorry Mate I Didn’t See You,” perceived peer pressure from those behind you on the road, stereotypes and empathy, among other things.

I think we already know this, but the stereotype of cyclists is overwhelmingly negative in the UK, and it’s probably true in the United States as well.

The stereotypical cyclist emerges as a character who breaks the fundamental rules of road sharing – by not looking before moving, by not signalling their intentions, and by not caring when they obstruct the flow of traffic. Indeed, on this account, the stereotypical cyclist emerges as a kind of lawless free-rider in the highly constrained and heavily taxed world of the driver:

I have nothing against cyclists whatsoever, everyone has a right to the use of the road, but when you think of the amount of accidents they do cause, there’s no registration, they don’t pay anything at all to use the roads, they’ve not paid to have a cycle lane fitted, all the car drivers pay for that. I’ve never, ever seen a cyclist pulled for doing something stupid, and that’s all they ever seem to be doing.

Not surprisingly, modal bias shows up as car drivers show more empathy toward other car drivers than they do cyclists.

In the conclusions, the authors note “a failure in the culture of road sharing, with a lack of consensus about whether, and how, cyclists belong on the roads.” Phase 2 of this project: How do we fix this?

Bike Hub summarizes the findings a little more, and the research paper from the Department of Transport is worth the read.

H/T: Carlton.

3 Comments

  • September 17, 2010 - 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Top summary, Richard. On the one hand it makes for depressing reading because it makes official what we all know. On the other hand…it’s still depressing.

    Here in the UK the Government is rumoured to be about to abolish Cycling England, the quasi-Government body that helps funnel investment in cycling. We’re talking tiny amounts of cash.

    Instead of chopping bicycle funding, the Government should be increasing it, especially given the awful (and mostly wrong) attitudes given credence in this study. Some money ought to go on education campaigns.

    But what’s more likely? Government wonk: Safety of cyclists, hey? Make ‘em all wear helmets.

  • September 17, 2010 - 7:05 pm | Permalink

    Top summary, Richard. On the one hand it makes for depressing reading because it makes official what we all know. On the other hand…it’s still depressing.

    Here in the UK the Government is rumoured to be about to abolish Cycling England, the quasi-Government body that helps funnel investment in cycling. We’re talking tiny amounts of cash.

    Instead of chopping bicycle funding, the Government should be increasing it, especially given the awful (and mostly wrong) attitudes given credence in this study. Some money ought to go on education campaigns.

    But what’s more likely? Government wonk: Safety of cyclists, hey? Make ‘em all wear helmets.

  • Anonymous
    September 18, 2010 - 1:32 am | Permalink
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