Thomas Madsen, University of Southern Denmark, 10/4/2014
Thomas Madsen, University of Southern Denmark
What does it take for the Danes to cycle?
Most people know that cycling is healthier than going by car or bus. Even so, it is hard for people to change their behaviour. Both the physical surroundings and individual conditions influence our choice of our means of transport in our daily lives.
Physical activity and health
Several studies show a positive connection between physical activity and a lower mortality rate. In several places, physical inactivity is defined as less than 2.5 hours of activity of a moderate intensity per week. According to this definition, it is estimated that 30-40% of the Danish population are inactive. . This has a great influence on, for instance, the development of lifestyle illnesses.
So there is great reason to find out how physical activity can be enhanced – for instance through cycling. But there is a great difference between knowing what you should do and then actually doing it.
The surroundings influence cycling
This difference is probably caused by several factors but several studies show that your surroundings influence whether you use your bicycle as a means of transport in your everyday life – surroundings meaning the physical environment as well as the political environment. The influence of the surroundings is also moderated by the social demographic background such as gender, education and ethnicity.
So the influence of the surroundings for cycling can be of great importance, especially how different factors influence how cycle-friendly an area is.
Cycle index reveals the cycle-friendliness of an area
Inspired by foreign studies that have looked at the influence of the surroundings on walking, a ‘walkability’ index can be made . Since several of the factors that make people walk in their everyday lives very probably also influence the choice of whether to ride your bike or not, a ‘bikeability’ index [3, 4] can also be made.
Factors often included in these types of analyses are:
Theoretically, an area with a population density, many crossings, a mixed use of the area (the relation between service, trade, institutions, education and public administration) as well as buildings which are large in relation to the area they stand on, have a positive influence on walking and cycling. [2-4].
Why is that?
In a ‘bikeability’ index terrain analyses and length of bicycle lanes may be included. Studies have shown that a hilly terrain has a negative influence on cycling, whereas access to bicycle lanes has a positive effect. .
A multi-stringed effort will probably yield better results
With a starting point in the above, you could discuss how to best influence the behaviour of people in a positive direction. It appears that a strategy works best where you make the physical surroundings more inviting to cycle in, and it also works on people’s attitude to cycling as well as their more subconscious behaviour. .
A friendly nudge
Nudging, a friendly push in the right direction, helps us to make appropriate choices. Thearchitecture of choice may create frames where the ’right’ and rational choice also becomes an easier choice. A nudge should be transparent and without force – an example is the fly painted on the inside of a urinal, which increases the precision of those using the urinal. They can choose to miss the mark, but it is probably rarely a conscious choice. Thus, nudging can influence our behaviour through conscious and subconscious. .
When it comes to health behaviour, it is often difficult since the consequences of an act are often way out in the future (illness, incapacitation due to old age, premature death etc.). Being physically inactive does not necessarily have great consequences in the short run and many people consider what they eat and how active they are a private matter. Nudging can be viewed as an infringement in personal freedom and you may rightly question how much society can and should be involved with the health of the citizens – or the lack of it . It is, however, a less paternalistic way of creating a behavioural changes and is therefore considered by many as being more positive than restrictions, rules and laws .
How do we create more cyclists?
So the question is: how do we make people do what we want them to do – of their own free will? Nudging could be part of the answer, including a structural preventive measure, which includes our city environments in our work to increase physical activity .
If the surroundings consider cycling to a much larger degree and focus on creating frames that make cycling the easy and rational choice, then we have come far. Since humans are often irrational, we need the surroundings to help us make the right decisions – like cycling instead of taking the car.
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Source: Cycling Embassy of Denmark