The author of a comment on social media suggested that should any ‘keen cyclists’ be living in Bicester then they should check out BicesterBUG. Although I welcome any positive support, the idea that BicesterBUG is primarily for existing cyclists, let alone keen ones, jarred with our goal of getting more people cycling in Bicester. In fact, I could go as far to say that Bicester Bike User’s Group is incorrectly named. To achieve the multitude of co-benefits that result from increase bike use in Bicester we cannot and should not limit ourselves to serving the existing ‘keen cyclists’. Reduction of air pollution, noise pollution, traffic, regeneration of the town centre and improved health of residents can only happen if more people take to their bikes for journeys and that means those who currently don’t cycle, at all.
The humble bicycle is a marvellous device, the basic design of which was invented right here in the UK over 140 years ago . Almost all of us learn to ride a bike as kids, some continue through into adulthood but most of us leave it behind, a childhood hobby unsuitable for the rigours of modern life is cast aside in favour of motorised transport, normally the private car.. Riding a bike is perceived as a fitness activity, a sport reserved for the fit (and sometimes annoying), a hobby, or a playful activity for children. The bicycle itself has shed its liberating, utilitarian roots and is cast as a toy, whether for young children or adults determined to keep up the habit.
However, many in Bicester recognise already that vehicular traffic is increasing and choking our town. What’s more the majority see cycling as a way out of the gridlock and pollution. Better cycling infrastructure is top of the list, supported by over 52% of people in a representative survey (quoted in the Bicester LCWIP). This sounds like great news, maybe the future is looking bright and the bicycle can again be the the default mode of transport for getting around Bicester, going to meet friends, doing our shopping or going for coffee rather than racing around in lycra.
But here comes the rub, only 1% of all our journeys are by walking and cycling, the vast majority are by car. Even within Bicester, although we tend to walk more, still only 6% of journeys are by bike, with the majority of us (58%) sticking to the trusty car. We could dive into the complex reasons why people choose to travel by car in a town of only a few miles in size, where journey times are similar between cars and bikes, but the point I wish to make here is that for Bicester to thrive and not drown under traffic and parking, then it is those people who currently default to car travel for short journeys that need to convinced to make the switch.
As we have seen many people in Bicester already support improved cycling infrastructure as a way to tackle congestion, but only a small percentage of us use our bikes at present. An evocative classification of people’s interest level in cycling was coined by Roger Geller, a gentleman from Portland, Oregon, USA. These ‘4 types of cyclist’ are:
- Strong and fearless
- Enthused and confident
- Interested but concerned
- No way, no how
Only the few enthusiastic or confident enough will brave mixing with cars on the busy roads of Bicester (a necessity due to the incoherent network of bike paths). At the other end of the spectrum, there is a hardcore of people who will clearly never cycle, not necessarily through disability or age, as both of these barriers can be overcome with adapted or electric bikes, but a deeper aversion to cycling. Most interesting to BicesterBUG are the people in the ‘Interested and concerned’ group, those who are open to the idea of cycling, but due a multitude of barriers choose not to on a regular basis. Perception of risk, lack of routes, confidence, training, access to bikes and many other reasons can all play a role in peoples choice not to choose a bike despite underlying interest and understanding of the benefits.
It is these people, the ‘Interested but concerned’ that BicesterBUG is fighting for. By campaigning for those who would ride a bike if changes were made we can also serve those who already choose to cycle. By convincing people to ditch the car for certain journeys we will also free up space and roads for those who really need it, the ambulances, fire services and police to name but a few.