Speaking as a parent, and long-term keen cyclist, and a member of the only family who cycles to our primary school of 400 pupils, I can tell you that just "persuading people that cycling is safe" will not, and cannot, ever work. While cycling is an activity that is seen to require helmets, high visibility clothing, and specialist training (even for adults) there is no way you can persuade ordinary people that it's a safe every-day mode of transport. While the experience of cycling on UK streets and roads is so frightening, there is no way you can persuade ordinary people not to be frightened.
I would like to cycle the 1.5 miles to and from school with our nine-year old twins on their lovely Islabike Beinn 24 bikes they got for Christmas. But there are problems:
- The school actively discourages cycling, and will not provide bike parking. They do provide scooter parking, as scooting can be done legally on the footway (one parent now scoots to and from school too!).
- Other parents already think we're being reckless enough cycling with a U+2 child trailerbike.
- We would probably get reported to the Social Services for child abuse, and have the Police knocking on our door.
- My wife who rides a Dutch bike for transport, but who is not a long-term cyclist, refuses to allow it.
- Even I would suffer serious anxiety on every trip, given that we are almost always cut up by at least one impatient motorist per trip.
And, as Chris has pointed out, even if you do
persuade someone to try cycling for transport, they only need to make one trip to find how scary it is, and how indifferent (or even downright aggressive) motorists are on our roads and streets. Think about when you go out cycling on UK roads: is it really completely care free, or do you have to "keep your wits about you" and "take the lane" and "be assertive" in order to try to stay safe? The problem is that, while cycling on its own is perfectly safe, cycling amongst heavy and/or fast-moving motor vehicles is most demonstrably not safe. Statistics are no use if a lorry turns left and crushes you, or a motorist absorbed with a mobile phone conversation crashes into you from behind. Look at all those helmet camera videos: people on bicycles are being almost "attacked" by motorists on a worryingly frequent basis.
In fact CTC and others have been trying to persuade people to drive less and cycle more for decades. We have "National Bike Week" and "Bike to Work Day" and "TravelWise" and "Workplace Cycle Challenges" yet none of these has made the blindest bit of difference to the modal share of cycling as transport. They do, however, support a large number of cycle training organisations, which I suppose is some positive benefit.
Meanwhile, where there are
motor-vehicle-free cycleways, cycling is booming. Here on NCN2 along the south coast we're seeing regular year-on-year growth, of all types of cyclist including commuters, the elderly, families, shoppers, and tourists who've driven some way to cycle here. The route has doubled cycling counts in six years (that's a 100% increase, for zero cost) and now carries several hundred commuters all year round, and well over a thousand bikes per day on pleasant summer days. Build decent infrastructure to keep the motor vehicle danger away, and cycling is extremely
popular for all types of people. No persuasion or training needed!