How psychology can assist non-car drivers..

A superb interview of Prof. Ian Walker, transport psychologist (HT: This blog supports urban initiatives to promote using bicycles for work, travel etc.

However, things are not as easy as this interview suggests. Cyclists are not wanted by either walkers or car people. Town planners never sure where to place them:

It certainly often seems that cyclists are the poor relation in terms of infrastructure. 
Yes… I can’t help suspecting (but again, nobody’s really studied this) that one of the problems is that cyclists are neither one thing nor the other: they go faster then pedestrians, and so make pedestrians feel uncomfortable when they get close; but they go slower than cars and drivers don’t like to share space with them either.

Given neither of our major road user groups wants to share space with cyclists, what to do? 

Should town planners treat cyclists as fast pedestrians and accommodate them that way (e.g. put them on pavements, expect them to yield priority at every side road) or should they treat cyclists as slower vehicles and accommodate them that way (e.g. create cycle lanes at the sides of roads)? All these solutions have problems, but most critically, there’s no way that one solution will fit everybody as people cycle for different reasons. Some of the work we’ve done at Bath lately, most notably by my PhD student Gregory Thomas, shows that some people really value fresh air and exercise such that, if they were unable to cycle, they would walk. Others are cycling for speed and, if for some reason had to change mode, would drive. Because people are doing the same behaviour with different motivations, you can’t expect them all to accept the same infrastructure provision – the person who just wants exercise might tolerate stopping at every sidestreet but the person who wants to get to work quickly will not. 

Cyclists are hated:

Maybe it’s those who cycle for speed that prompt the most negative reactions from other road users… cyclists are downright hated in a lot of quarters! 
A report from the Transport Research Laboratory and University of Strathclyde a few years ago led by Lynn Basford (PDF via suggested that there’s some classic social psychology at work here – cyclists represent an outgroup such that the usual outgroup effects are seen, particularly overgeneralisation of negative behaviour and attributes – ‘They all ride through red lights all the time’. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that something of this sort is going on.

However, there has to be more to it than just this. For a long time I wondered if the outgroup status of cyclists was compounded by two other known social psychological factors: norms and majority vs. minority groups. Not only are cyclists an outgroup, they’re also a minority outgroup. Moreover, they are engaging in an activity that is deemed slightly inappropriate in a culture that views driving as normative and desirable and, arguably, views cycling as anti-conventional and possibly even infantile.

But even adding these factors into the mix does not explain all the anger that cyclists experience. It’s easy to identify other minority outgroups whose behaviour similarly challenges social norms but who do not get verbally and physically attacked like cyclists do: vegetarians, for example. So there’s clearly one or more important variables that we’ve not identified yet. Any social psychologists looking for a challenge are very welcome to wade into this.

Perceptions matter. A very interesting finding on why red vans are more friendly to cyclists over white van drivers:

Does this social status have concrete effects? 
Yes, the lack of understanding of the cyclist outgroup seems to produce measurable changes in other road users’ behaviour. A few years ago I did a study which showed that changing the appearance of a cyclist led to notable changes in how much space drivers left when passing the bicycle. The specific changes seen make sense given the small body of research on non-cyclists’ stereotypes of cyclists. The two extant studies – the Lynn Basford et al. one, and research by Birgitta Gatersleben and Hebba Haddad, in 2010 – both found that non-cyclists view bicycle helmets as an indicator of an experienced rider, and in my data we saw riskier behaviour from drivers when they passed a cyclist who was wearing a helmet, which fits the idea they saw the rider as more capable.

The positive lesson from this, I feel, is that drivers do adjust their behaviour to the perceived needs of the non-drivers they are interacting with. The problem is that they do not always understand how to read these other people and judge their needs.

And that’s even worse in white van drivers, right
Ha, perhaps! I did do an analysis on a subset of the data which showed white vans tended to be amongst the worst culprits for getting close when passing cyclists. Interestingly, red vans were much better behaved. I take my hat off to the audience member who, at a public talk, put two and two together here and suggested an excellent explanation: most of the red vans were Post Office vans, and postal delivery people have often cycled as part of their work and so understand cyclists. This would totally fit the picture I’m developing here of how a key problem is the majority of road users not understanding the needs and behaviours of a minority with whom they have to share resources; as soon as you take a group of drivers who do know what it is to be in that minority, behaviour improves.

If this long chain of inferences holds together to say that cyclists’ problem is that other road-users don’t know what it is like to be a cyclist – and there are qualitative data to suggest it does – then perhaps we might solve many problems by increasing drivers’ understanding. Compulsory cycling as part of driver training would be an ideal solution.

Superb amazing insights..The discussion moves on to why we have accidents involving cyclists, linkages of transport psychology with health psychology etc..

The focus is on better car design. But bicycles are future and we must do more research to understand its usage:

More seriously, though, the bicycle cannot go anywhere and must form part of our future. At the moment there is an incredible research effort to design better cars for the future. None of these efforts address the fundamental design flaws of the car. Even if somebody came up with a car that runs off angels’ sighs and never crashes, it would still encourage sprawling urban planning, bad land use (especially for parking) and would still encourage its owner to get fat and unhealthy.

The population is rising; we don’t have the space to accommodate more and more cars and we have some serious population health issues. More cycling solves a swathe of problems at a stroke, and all it requires is a simple machine that most people already have lying around their home somewhere.

One can only agree….Such things are such a refreshing read..

In India’s large cities the experiment be difficult because of distances> However things like these are very encouraging with people staying near to the offices. However, in small cities cycles are almost a museum item. All efforts should be made to encourage people to use bicycles for work etc…


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