Sunday, 9 October 2016

Change Is Difficult

People don't like change and we must be sensitive to the fact. It might be difficult to put yourself in someone else's shoes, but dismissal without thought isn't helpful in the long run.

I'm not suggesting that we need to agree with people we don't agree with (if that makes sense) or indeed spend hours arguing with them; I'm talking about acknowledgement and understanding, even if it goes against the grain (and it often does with me, mightily). I'm not talking about compromise either and I'm definitely not talking about stopping challenging people when they are being ridiculous. I'm just suggesting they we throw some understanding into the mix and realise that people dislike and even fear change when it goes against their long-held beliefs or stated position.

Our towns and cities have always changed, that is their nature - it's not a recent thing, change has occurred ever since we grouped together and gave up nomadic lifestyles to form settlements (notwithstanding those who didn't of course). Fast forward though the eons and from a transport point of view, methods of moving stuff and people have ebbed and flowed with necessity truly being the mother of invention. 

For a long time indeed, the wheel has been a constant in our ever changing urban landscape and in many ways, it has driven the change. Back in history, people tended to travel as far as they could in one day, partly because it took effort (even if it was with a horse) and partly because they didn't fancy being robbed on a lonely road at night. For most people, travel wasn't by a magnificent beast or by a bunch pulling a carriage, it was good old fashioned Shanks' Pony and that severely limited their range.

In the urban places, people soon got fed up with walking in the gunk and detritus of city living and so we got ourselves some new fangled footways/ sidewalks/ causeways which in many places have formed the backbone of pedestrian networks which are taken for granted today. We also invented mass transit which allowed many people to escape the squalor via iron-rails to an approximation of the countryside, group remembered from their forefathers, to create the suburbs. Of course, the railways were terrifying to some, especially as people weren't desire to go too fast lest the air be sucked from their lungs!

The problem with the suburbs was they were too for from things and people didn't fancy walking for a day to get to work or to the shops and so all hailed the motor car which made life simple (for those who could afford one) and eventually the idea caught on to the extent that we rebuilt out towns and cities to accommodate motorisation. 

OK, I've probably misremembered my history, but with every change, there has been opposition and sitting here in the first part of the 21st century, we have plenty of opposition to change; even if the real change is in a few places. I've talked about the space delusion before, but change involving the wheel is still being opposed because it monkeys with people's comfort zones or long held beliefs; yes, I am talking about cycling as a transport mode.

The opposition comes from those who resent space being used to enable cycling with their often shouted slogan of "share the road"; the problem is, few people want to share the road with heavy traffic - if it was that simple, it would have happened by now. The opposition likes to show photos of empty cycle tracks (when they are built) as a proxy for data demonstrating their stated position of nobody using them. It's disingenuous of course. My hackneyed old counter to this is to show a photo of a disused outer London trunk road which I (like those opposed to enabling people to cycle) is purposely taken in a gap in the traffic flow between a couple of sets of traffic signals.

What do we need to understand about those opposed to cycling as a proper transport mode? I think there are four main themes. Some may simply dismiss cycling as kids' stuff (despite the fact that we have designed kids off our streets); some may have concerns about their livelihoods where they see cycling as competition - taxi drivers, delivery drivers and the like. There are some who claim that cycling is a threat or a danger to people walking (especially visually impaired pedestrians) and in stating this, create a conflict where there would be a better united front against those who don't want space rebalanced to those walking or cycling.

Some take up the libertarian stance; that is to say they consider in absolute terms that the road is for sharing and people's choice to cycle shouldn't interfere with their choice to drive. This point does make me chuckle and groan at the same time because the libertarian approach almost exclusively seems to start from the position that *their* driving shouldn't be affected, despite that fact that children and young people are not allowed to drive and that many people don't drive. The fact that most people are sh*t-scared of cycling with traffic doesn't register.

The politics of it (the politics of space if you will) tends to fall into one of those four themes or variations therein. People don't cycle, so why should be building infrastructure? People should stick to cycling in parks. Cycling should be on back streets. Deliveries cannot be made by cycle. Yadda, yadda, yadda. 

The opposition to cycling hasn't done much for walking either. Many opposing cycling say that the provision of cycling infrastructure is bad for people walking when the truth is that space needs to be given over to both modes. While there are generally footways on urban streets, they are often commandeered for parking, traffic signs (mainly *motor traffic* signs) or the other "stuff" we place on them which give no advantage to people walking.

Street layouts have created conditions whereby the pedestrian has to be given permission to cross with controlled crossings (because they don't stand a chance otherwise) or the might of the moving metal has left them scurrying across side roads or jumping guardrail because the alternative is to use 6 separate crossings to get to the opposite corner of a street dominated by an urban motorway (if a proper crossing is provided at all).

Calls to increase crossing times at signalised crossings is not something which should be allowed as it takes time away from motor traffic. The provision of staggered crossings (walk with traffic) might be efficient in motor capacity terms, but it leads to an awful level of service for people walking. Even putting in a dropped kerb for driving onto private parking often means a street of up-and-down slopes which aren't great to walk along and for some people, it means its too uncomfortable to use.

In understanding the opposition to change, we would do well to remember what motivates it and to frame the reasons for change accordingly. I'm not suggesting for a minute that this will change the opposition, but it might create some understanding by the other party and as in presenting arguments to the wider populace, it could potentially mean that opposition looks increasingly irrational as I would lay odds that most people are either unaware of the debates about towns and cities or at best indifferent until a change directly affects them.

So as we move forward into uncertain times, I wonder if the concept of people driving cars being allowed to drive through parks will move from the normal to the irrational. Whether there can be agreement between walking advocates and cycling advocates that they're actually active travel advocates and whether the current "share the road" nonsense is called out for the nonsense it is.

1 comment:

  1. I think the opposition to change is something I noticed while I was reading the first few chapters of Animal Farm which I've been doing as part of English class. It goes for things like sex ed in school, not really cycling, but the abolition of Sugarcandy Mountain was certainly an influence on the animals, the desire to have sweet sugar in general did too, and the fear of change and the status quo bias certainly makes a difference in this world.

    Be it opposition to a communist animal revolution or a Stop de Kindermoord redesign for our streets, cycle tracks and better footways included, fear of the unknown stops a lot of things in their tracks. While I wouldn't go to the point of overthrowing capitalism, sitting down in the middle of a junction with 100 other protesters and blocking traffic, thank goodness your cops don't carry guns and not even all of them have tasers, is something I'd be willing to do.