Cycling Commentary – Separation and Motivation

Our society has advanced to the point where we are separated from the effect that we’re having on the world around us.  For example, we turn on the tap in our kitchen sink and we get a seemingly endless supply of clean, fresh water.  Do we ever think of where it comes from, or the path it took to get from its source to the kitchen?  Probably not, because we’re separated from the process.

Similarly, on a weekly basis, we put out a bag (or in my neighbour’s case five bags) of garbage on the curb in front of our house.  A truck comes by and takes it away and it’s quickly erased from our mind. There’s no thought to where it goes, how it gets there, and what happens to it because we’re separated from the process. The same can be said for the food we eat.  Or the technology we use and the clothes we wear.

On a similar note, when we’re in a car, we’re separated from the world around us.  Car advertisements promote a “quiet” ride, meaning we can’t hear the world outside our car.  They’ll also promote a 12-speaker stereo system, bluetooth connection to our smartphone, satellite radio,  and now smart cars – all features that continue to separate us from any interaction from the outside world.  Windows are rolled up so air conditioning can run in summer and the heater can be turned on in winter.  Everything about cars serves to separate us more from the outside world.

This is one of the main reasons motorists feel a sense of entitlement when driving out on the roads.  Anything that interrupts their “driving experience” is a nuisance.  And it’s this driving experience that is promoted and accepted in our society.  Driving a car is more than a convenience; it’s part of our way of life.

I don’t think many people will argue against the benefits of walking, cycling or public transit or other non-car-related modes of transportation.  However, if you were to take away their free parking in the city, there would be an uproar.

In order create a fundamental change in someone’s habits, there needs to be an incentive.  So: How do we get people out of their cars and onto their bikes?  Here are my suggestions:

  1. Employers can offer incentives for employees who take public transit, cycle, walk or even car-pool to work.  This type of program would not only benefit the employees, but the employer would benefit by having healthier staff. A study in the Netherlands showed that biggest motivators for people to ride to work were (1) cash, and (2) social or peer group motivation. There’s even an app called Biko, where sponsors have aligned with Biko to offer deals at restaurants, coffee shops, breweries.  Biko started in South America but is now available in Toronto and Vancouver.
  2. Disincentivize driving by charging more for parking at malls, offices etc.  while offering safe (lockers), free parking for bicycles.  For example, there’s currently no financial incentive for people to take public transit to the University of Waterloo because monthly parking is cheaper than a bus pass.  Stores will resist this, stating that their business will drop, but at the same time, cycling and pedestrian traffic will increase.  In Waterloo, the new LRT construction on King Street has taken years and millions of dollars.  However, cycling was not part of this huge overhaul in infrastructure.  On-street parking on King Street took precedence over bike lanes.  Construction is still taking place, so I’ll reserve final judgment for now.
  3. Connected, protected bike lanes and trails so cyclists will feel safe from motorized traffic.  Check out this before/after shot of bike lanes in London:

    Before/After photos of a road in London. Cycling infrastructure CAN happen and it has happened!
  4. Bike share programs.  KW has started a program here.

It can be done but it will require a shift in the way we think about things and it will require a government that is willing to make drastic changes.

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