Saturday 3 October 2015

The Cycle Of Acceptance

I have been force-fed all kinds of management and business models over the years as I have been gently sheep-dipped through never ending corporate training courses. It seems that something has stuck as I was thinking about the five stages of grief this week.

I'll pause there for a moment as the model proposed by Elizabeth K├╝bler-Ross is about a serious issue and I don't want to make light of it, but with some of the reactions to public consultations over the years and some of the anti-cycling infrastructure news stories, I really think there are some parallels to be explored here. My adaption of the model is a bit flippant of course, but I think there is something in it which is worth the discussion.

I have been thinking about this particularly as a large bridge is about to be rebuilt on my patch (not one of my schemes hasten to add) and a big road will be going from 2 lanes in each direction to 1 lane in each direction for several months.

So, the model says that there are 5 stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Thinking about the local bridge rebuild, there have been hints of the first three stages from stuff I have read locally, with the current "bargaining" being about some full closure dates over Christmas for some heavy kit to be moved about; locals are wondering if things can be changed around and what the options are. For this scheme, the decisions are all made and very soon, people will have to accept it, although I am not quite sure what their depression will look like; perhaps being stuck in traffic jams.

So, here is my suggested adaption of the model when applied to cycling schemes (although it could equally apply to anything, such as my views on motorway expansion!);

The subject has a conscious or unconscious refusal to accept that highway space is going to be reallocated to cycling or a street is going to be made comfortable for those wanting to cycle. The subject will typically cite the behaviour of "cyclists" as why things should not change and that roads are for cars. Impact on bus services will come up quite a bit here.

The subject will be very upset and anger will manifest itself in different ways. The subject may turn up at public meetings and shout down those trying to make rational arguments. They may dismiss facts and data, making statements like "you don't live here" or "no, the data is wrong". The subject will respond to public consultations with liberal use of capitals in emails and letters, they will use the words stupid and idiotic and resort to personally attacking scheme designers and promoters.

The subject will seek to adjust and rationalise their position. They will talk about "compromise" being needed or perhaps even that that the needs of all road users need to be balanced in an attempt to try and get a scheme watered down. Bargaining rarely provides a sustainable solution. Anti-cycling groups may threaten court action or try and frustrate the process in order to get their views accepted by others. Classic examples will be the subject saying that traffic doesn't need filtering out of residential streets because the main roads cannot take the traffic or that 20mph limits won't be enforced and people should be trusted to drive to the conditions.

The subject is starting to accept that the scheme is going ahead, but remains deeply unhappy. They remain emotionally attached to their opposition and despite the fact that the decision has been made to proceed with the scheme, the subject is experiencing the dual fear that they are right and the world will end, or perhaps more terrifying; that they were utterly wrong and not only will people be enabled to cycle, that the subject will look foolish.

The subject starts to become emotionally detached from the scheme and their earlier fears. By now, the scheme will be up and running and the world continues to turn. The subject will be able to turn their attention to the next scheme, but conveniently forget how well the last one turned out and contradicts their long-held prejudices.

OK, I have poked fun at the expense of a serious subject, but understanding one's opponent is half the battle and at the end of the day, we are all people and we all go through the rollercoaster of emotion and we all find it hard to accept facts if they don't fit with our world view.


  1. Hopefully how things will go here in Enfield. We are currently in the Anger phase with the opponents but there are signs of people moving into the Bargaining Phase. I just hope we get to Acceptance with the schemes largely intact :-)

    1. I'm a massive cynic, but I think there is something to this psychology lark. I hope Enfield builds up some steam as it has been a shaky start so far.