cycling · Uncategorized

Is cycling culture about infrastructure or attitude?

tour4 - Copy tour2 Tour-de-France-Map

I’ve long been an advocate for cycling infrastructure. Bike lanes, give us bike lanes. And bike boxes at intersections. And cycle paths that connect towns that don’t follow the road, that meander through fields and forests instead. I’ve thought “build it and they will come.” I’ve thought that women are key to cycling safety and that we care a lot about safety. Guess I still think all that.

But it was interesting this week in Northern England, Yorkshire to be precise, home of the Tour de France start for 2014, to see attitude overcome a lack of infrastructure. There are no bike lanes and very narrow roads, twisty and winding over hill and around dale. And not just no bike lane, no shoulder, paved or unpaved. And yet, and yet, lots of bikes.

In Sheffield this Sunday morning I watched loads of road cyclists out to play, some singly, others in large groups. There was no room for cars to pass and they seemed to wait patiently behind them. I’ve got two thoughts about how cycling culture thrives despite these roads.

First, the roads and their challenges (sheep crossing, anyone? ) mean that no one expects to go fast. Even without bikes traffic moves slowly on the back roads here. That’s different from North America where even in the city traffic can move very quickly.

Second, there seems to be more appreciation here in England for the sport of cycling. Lots of people are keen about the Tour de France start in Yorkshire.

So maybe a good attitude can overcome a lack infrastructure if the other conditions are right.

I’m still thinking about this.

Now 47 days to go!




See past post on bike safety

5 thoughts on “Is cycling culture about infrastructure or attitude?

  1. Great post! You’re right that there are lots of road cyclists (and off-road lots of muddy daredevil mountain cyclists) in Yorkshire and thereabouts. However, there are very few city cyclists. I think that, in part owing to lack of infrastructure, bikes here (I’m writing from Sheffield) are viewed as sports equipment, but not so much as day-to-day vehicles. The terrain makes for challenging, beautiful sport cycling; so we get a lot of it, just as we get a lot of rock climbing, fell running, paragliding, hiking, etc. However, I think that the conditions you’ve described in general make it difficult for folks to get into the habit of biking to school, work, etc. (It’s also pretty tough to get around in a wheelchair in these parts, alas.)

  2. It’s definitely true that (outside of big cities, anyway) Brits have really taken to cycling in the last few years as a kind of national sport. The rise of Cavendish, Wiggins, and Team Sky on one hand, and Lizzie Armitstead and her Olympic road race silver on the other, have had a major impact. But in southern England (I live in South London, about 10 miles on my bike from the hills of Surrey) motorists are often really impatient, and there’s little understanding from many of them about what it means to anticipate a cyclist’s moves or pass safely. (I get buzzed A LOT when I’m riding B-roads with poor paving on the shoulders. Most of the drivers who buzz me have no idea that I’m one misplaced rock away from flying into their path.) When I commute through the city to my job at Mile End, every day I get road rage/motorist grief. I do my very best to obey the law, but part of the time when cycling in London you’re just trying to make choices that will keep everyone safe, whether they are “legal” or not. (Example: rolling slowly through pedestrian signals at scramble crossings in order to avoid having to start up on green with the big trucks and buses immediately behind you.)

    Down here the infrastructure is improving, but what’s genuinely needed is more comprehensive education for both motorists and cyclists about what it means to share the road in such a shockingly busy town, where at least 35% of the traffic on any given day is light industrial. (That’s the major effect of the congestion zone – far fewer cars, far more large trucks and double decker buses. A bit scary when you’re on two wheels!)

  3. I think it is a mix of both. I think infrastructure is important, especially in cities. The streets get chaotic and it feels uncomfortable to have cars carelessly cutting into what is supposed to be the bike lane so they can get wherever they are going faster. Then you try to bike uphill on a busy road and suddenly you have a bunch of cars honking at you. There are people who actually hate bikers because they are “in the way”. The streets in the US are also notably poor considering we are supposed to be the most well off country in the world due to insufficient investment in infrastructure. I think this is partially because Europe is more socialist whereas the US is an oligarchy/corporatocracy. I think attitude is also important. The mindset is very different in the US, there is a different cultural ethos (although I don’t think you can really pinpoint it and measure it). The US has a much more competitive and tense mindset, whereas Europe tends to be more relaxed and at ease. Although I think this mindset is what leads to the somewhat backwards thinking (in my opinion) when it comes to government spending.

  4. No cycling infrastructure is more for cycling -athletic oriented types. It’s just reality. For instance in Italy, where professional cycling is highly respected and followed: are there a lot of Italian ordinary women who bike daily in the big cities and villages in that country ?? No, we don’t see hordes of them like in Denmark or the Netherlands.

    We need both interest in cycling to do it often and also decent cycling infrastructure in North America because we do live in much vaster, larger countries which creates an attitude among car drivers to go faster and be far less respectful of cyclists and pedestrians.

    Texting while car driving, has now added a whole lot of danger for road cyclists in the 21st century. As a cyclist, I see enough drivers every week that break the law on this habit alone. I cycle in a big city. Scary.

    The Tour de Alberta was funded several million dollars of PUBLIC, provincial and municipal money for professional cyclists in races last summer. That’s $50,000 per rider. It was shocking, the naivete of the politicians.

    I appreciate the enthusiasm but this year that enthusiasm did not translate fully in local majority support for new on separated bike lanes in Calgary. It was a huge campaign that barefly squeaked through approval for 2% of the city Transportation budget on cycling. the rest is for roads and transit her.

    Calgary wouldn’t have its regular cyclists if it wasn’t for our pathway system ….which is slowly being connected to on road bike lane routes…
    And we’re 1.3 million residents. Sorry…we NEED cycling infrastructure in a city with huge sprawl.

    Sorry, enjoy the bike race and your bike rides.

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