You get what you pay for

You get what you pay for


There are a few notable points from this recent article discussing new crash data from Canberra. First, and more generally, is that this is one of a fair number of articles appearing in major media sources that shows some support for cycling. Australia has gone through a period of, basically, cyclist bashing in the media over the last while, and while this may be cyclical, right now I’ve been seeing more than just the odd, isolated opinion piece in support of cycling. I feel like I should be suspicious…

The second point is that the article suggests that the perceived problem of “attitude” may not be all that primary in keeping cyclists safe. Hot-blooded motorists with a hate-on for cyclists do exist, but the problem is not as complex as trying to win the psychological war on the roads. It’s just that the roads aren’t designed well enough.

Most of the accidents collisions happen at typical hot-spots. “The high number of intersection crashes also suggests that simple error, unintended clashes at places where traffic interactions are at their most complicated”

I don’t think for a second that attaining a higher standard of drivers who aren’t so rushed and selfish wouldn’t cause the accident rate to plummet. Taking the appropriate level of care, even at complicated junctions, would solve that problem almost entirely, but until we can reach the pie-in-the-sky that is a collective raising of the bar, then better infrastructure it is.

More education is nice (and necessary), but infrastructure is better.

However, what really caught my attention in the article was what I want to focus on here. The third point: that you get what you pay for. You reap what you sow. If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

“But the data shows those most likely to ride are probably already doing so. If the government wants to increase the number of people on bikes, it is not going to achieve that aim through on-road cycle lanes where less confident riders feel intimidated by mixing with traffic, unless there are clear physical barriers separating the lanes.”

You get the participation rate that your infrastructure is built for – no more. If you have mediocre cycling rates, you’ve most certainly got mediocre cycling infrastructure. End of.

What does that mean, though? “Good” infrastructure for cycling has many factors, such as quality (surface, width, segregation from motor traffic, lighting, etc), but also density, connectivity, breadth, and convenience (for example, lots of stopping and starting).

You cannot simply stick a short section of amazing, separated cycling infrastructure in the middle of an area that does not have other good cycling infrastructure connecting to it and expect the ridership to suddenly increase. Skeptics always react to significant but poorly executed cycling projects by pointing out (often immediately, long before people have had a chance to become used to it) that ridership has not increased sufficiently, and the whole concept of cycling infrastructure is a waste of taxpayers money. Yet, no one would ever think a small section of 10-lane freeway stuck in the middle of a residential area that suddenly ends or feeds back into the 2 lane road it came from would ever be successful. You build roads that connect, and if they don’t yet, people assume and expect that it isn’t finished – why isn’t it that way with cycling infrastructure?

Here are a few more classic examples…

Which leads me back to the article at the top. The crash data from Canberra suggests that “those most likely to ride are probably already doing so”, which means that the current level of cycling infrastructure has convinced as many people to use it as it is realistically going to. Those willing to accept the level of safety and convenience provided by that infrastructure, as compared to using another mode of transport, have been converted, and the rest remain unconvinced by the offering.There are certainly pockets in Australia where cycling is flourishing, but in the grand scheme of things, cycling has been relatively stagnant for decades. The statistics for cycling nationally are woeful, to put it politely, but for the pathetic numbers that we do have, Adelaide, for example, has gone from a rather unimpressive 2.2% mode share in 1976, to an even less impressive 1.5% in 2006 (Source: Abridged from: Mees, P., Sorupia, E. and Stone, J. (2007). Travel to Work in Australian Capital Cities, 1976–2006: An Analysis of Census Data, Australasian Centre for the Governance and Management of Urban Transport: Melbourne, as cited in, Glover, Leigh, (2009). Infrastructure for Bicycling in Australia: A Review of Current Policy Issues, GAMUT). Things now are a little better with almost every major city increasing its mode share since 2006. The gains are marginal, to be sure, which more or less matches the improvements made in cycling infrastructure here.

So, in the end, as always, you get what you pay for. It’s not just about making a few expensive but isolated cycling improvements and then expecting everything to change. If you want real results, you need real investment.


Header image: source