Several years ago, Jonathan Maus of Bike Portland began his crusade to excise labels such as “cyclist” from the vocabulary of cycling advocates.
Earlier today, he discovered this paper on the “Language of Promoting Cycling from New Zealand transportation researcher Glen Koorey at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. Maus is obviously delighted to find this paper “about all the cycling language stuff I’ve been pontificating about for years!”
Koorey believes labels such as “cyclists” identifies us as the scary “other” in the context of communicating to the general public. But I’d like to touch on another hotbutton that Koorey addresses: what he calls “The Dangerisation of Cycling.”
If you ask many people why they don’t cycle and they will respond “because it’s not safe”. While we probably all can think of particular cycling hazards in our districts, this perception of the danger of cycling is not helped by much of the discussion that goes with cycling, whether from advocates, politicians, professionals, researchers or the media.
The media are also commonly guilty of emphasising the safety aspects of cycling. For example, in March this year, over half of the front page of the main Christchurch newspaper was devoted to coverage of two deaths and three serious injuries to cyclists the previous weekend (The Press 2007). At the bottom of this, a couple of paragraphs mentioned the fact that two other motor vehicle occupants had also died in New Zealand that weekend. And it was only on the inside page that details were given of a horrific two-car crash that saw nine people injured.
This is not an isolated case; many cycle deaths seem to make front page news (which perhaps reflects the relative rarity of such an event), whereas the countless other road deaths are mere column filler. Any road death is a tragedy but, with the relative prominence often given to cyclists killed, is it any wonder that many people are wary of getting onto the saddle themselves?
All of this doesn’t mean that we should do nothing to improve provision for cycling, by the various means mentioned previously. But they will be of little use if we continue to build an image of cycling as a dangerous activity. Given the societal and personal costs of an increasingly motorised society, it actually seems more dangerous not to cycle.
There’s significant snippage above so I invite you to read the full PDF for yourself.
I’m writing this not long after learning of this fatality on Skyline Road just south of Highway 84 / La Honda Road in San Mateo County, California. This road route is very popular among many of my friends, so it hits close to home even as the victim’s name currently remains unknown.
Reporting on risks to cyclists to influence public policy while avoiding the ‘dangerisation’ of cycling is a tough balance to achieve, and I’m not quite sure how to achieve that.