A new study has found that drivers don’t think highly of the road behaviour of cyclists. Naturally, this can be filed in the do-bears-poop-in-the-woods category of findings, but the study also reports that drivers who cycle – even just a little – were found to be more positive about cyclists in general. The study concludes that “events and programs that result in even moderate increases in people’s bike use may have wide-reaching effects on … their willingness to support bicycle infrastructure in their communities.”
Given today’s growing consensus that bicycle infrastructure is an important factor in encouraging more people on to bikes this conclusion could prove influential. It might mean that cycle outreach programmes aimed at motorists have a more significant impact on perceptions about cyclists than is usually appreciated, and such programmes can lead to a greater acceptance that provision should be made for cyclists. For instance, some cycle training providers organise cycle taster sessions for HGV drivers and other professional motorists, such as taxi and bus drivers.
Some cycle advocates view cycle training as a money-wasting distraction from the intervention that makes the most difference – and that’s protected cycle infrastructure – but the new study suggests that cycle training is confirmed as a key part of the mix of measures that will lead to an increase in cycle use.
Getting motorists to experience what it’s like for cyclists in current road conditions could therefore result in a double whammy: more empathy from drivers towards cyclists, and calls from motorists for improved road conditions for cyclists.
While cycle training for children – via Bikeability, delivered through schools – will remain important for encouraging youth cycling, and for teaching the drivers of the future what it’s like to be a cyclist, the new study suggests that adult cycle training leads to wider social acceptance of the need for high-quality, well-connected, direct and protected bicycle infrastructure.
The new study was presented last week during a transportation conference in Washington, D.C. Tara Goddard and colleagues at Portland State University asked drivers and cyclists to rate how well both groups were able to “follow the rules of the road”. It was found that whether or not a driver also cycled was a good predictor of whether somebody supported building separated bicycle facilities.
“The use of a bicycle seemed to have the largest moderating effect on people’s attitudes,” reported the study, which was based on a survey of 2,300 people from Austin, Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
When Goddard and her colleagues asked about support for infrastructure for cyclists the motorist-only respondents were significantly opposed even though provision of such infrastructure would grant what motorists often say they want and that’s less interaction with “unpredictable” cyclists. Goddard and crew conclude that “getting people on bicycles can improve how they view bicyclists.”
Goddard is a former bicycle and pedestrian coordinator of Davis, California.
"Driver Attitudes about Bicyclists: Negative Evaluations of Rule-Following and Predictability". Tara Goddard, Jennifer Dill, Christopher M. Monsere, Portland State University. The Transportation Research Board, 95th Annual Meeting, Washington, D.C. January 10–14, 2016.