“On Yer Bike”: Sociotechnical Perspectives of Cycling

Jen Dickie

Complex Cycle Lane Markings. I'm glad I was walking! At the junction of City Road and Middle Street, Beeston.  The copyright on this image is owned by David Lally and is licensed for reuse under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 license.

Cycling hit the headlines last week when David Cameron announced that £94 million would be invested across eight cities and four National Parks to promote cycling in England.  The scheme, described by the prime minister as the start of “a cycling revolution” is reported to be the largest single injection of public money into cycling in England.  Whilst pro-cycling campaigners welcome this investment, they argue that more funding, spread consistently over future decades, is needed if Britain is going to “transform into a continental style ‘Cycletopia’”.

Haroon Siddique and Peter Walker report in The Guardian that the fund will pay for both upgrades to existing cycle networks and create new ones in a bid to make it easier and safer for people who already cycle, and to make cycling more appealing to those who don’t.  The government is encouraging local councils to “up their game” to deliver cycling-friendly infrastructure from the design stage, and will assist this process by cutting the red tape that “stifles” cycle-friendly road design.  The government’s press release outlines a wide variety of improvements that will be implemented as part of this scheme, including; expanding the network of 20 mph zones in urban areas and 40mph limits in rural areas, the introduction of ‘Trixi’ mirrors at junctions so that HGV drivers can see cyclists more easily, contraflow measures so that cyclists can use one-way streets, mini-signals at cyclists’ eye height, filter signals, trials of different roundabout designs and options for larger advanced stop lines at junctions.

Before implementing any changes, the government should perhaps look at experiences of similar schemes, such as the Launceston Bike Network in Tasmania, Australia.  In their paper for Area, Roger Vreugdenhil and Stewart Williams describe how this scheme became subject to “intense community conflict” or “white line fever”, whereby the seemingly innocuous white lines depicting the cycle lanes were likened to acts of vandalism, causing confusion to road users and were seen to increase territorial ‘them and us’ behaviours.  They argue that cycling and infrastructure should be reconceptualised as an “urban sociotechnical system” and that by recognising this, transport policy and planning may be able to overcome such resistance in future schemes.

The public response to the English scheme has been interesting; the BBC published a report outlining the details on Monday 12th August, by Tuesday morning there were 1051 comments posted from the public.  It is well known that there is conflict between road users, particularly car drivers and cyclists, and this is well reflected in some of the comments.  There are, however, some who show a more balanced view, recognising that a cultural change is needed and that all road users need to be more educated if we are to become a cycle-friendly country.

books_icon Roger Vreugdenhil and Stewart Williams, 2013, White line fever: a sociotechnical perspective on the contested implementation of an urban bike lane network, Area, DOI: 10.1111/area.12029

60-world2 Government shifts cycling up a gear, Government press release, accessed 20th August 2013

60-world2 Cycling groups welcome announcement of £77m government fund, The Guardian, 12th August 2013

60-world2 Cycling gets £94m push in England, BBC, 12th August 2013

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