Here I offer a brief examination of the personal, social and psychological reasons that people may prefer not to cycle; ‘cycling sociology’. Sociologist Dave Horton explores these in his essay ‘fear of cycling’, which forms an overview of the collective ‘culture of fear’ anxieties that prevent people cycling. To do this, Horton builds on Frank Furedi’s idea that western societies have become dominated by a culture of fear (Furedi, 2007). It is this culture that perpetuates the creation of emotional barriers to cycling. These emotional barriers are evidenced in statistics produced by the UK Department for Transport, which reports that 47 per cent of adults ‘strongly agree that “the idea of cycling on busy roads frightens me” (DfT, 2007). The fact that these are psychological barriers, and not necessarily rooted in reality, might be proven through evidence that the health benefits of cycling outweigh the potential dangers. The British Medical Association, in an article titled, ‘Is Cycling Dangerous?’, estimates that the health benefits of cycling to outweigh the hazards by a factor of 20 to 1 (BMA, 1992).
Another factor influencing the decision of people to not cycle is the extent of their attachment to the car. British culture holds a deep affinity for the motor vehicle that is perhaps not shared to such an extent by the Dutch or the Danish. This might be illustrated by the amount of Dutch motor manufacturers, numbering just one compared to over five hundred, now mostly defunct, British car manufacturers. Romantic ideals about motoring are also pervasive in our culture, and strongly linked to national identity. Furthermore, for many British people, the car is experienced as an’ extension of the home’ (Horton, 2000), and as such is thought to reflect the social status of its occupant. Indeed, without this protective shell one is revealed in all vulnerability, and must engage with their surroundings more directly. The insular cocoon of a vehicle allows one to pass through a scene without having to engage with it.
In his series ‘cycling struggles’, Horton explores through a series of interviews the personal relationships of people with cycling and their urban environments. This highlights in particular mental roadblocks people have towards cycling, which include class tensions, an unwillingness to be made vulnerable, and the fear of being thought of as poor. For many people cycling is also psychologically linked only to sport and leisure, not utilitarian transport. This series highlights that in an urban environment such as ours with disjointed cycle infrastructure, only certain people are willing to cycle, and these people tend to develop their own philosophy of cycling according to their personality.
In conclusion, Horton argues that we can allay the fear of cycling through the promotion of a pro-cycling culture, which means through positive affirmations of cycling as an ordinary and enjoyable practice. Our job as designers, and particularly landscape architects, is to provoke a change in this through a change in the physical environment, which I propose can be achieved by not only increasing ‘subjective safety’, but also creating a sense of ceremony around cycling. This would represent not only a restoration of dignity to the cyclist, but form a prioritised and celebrated infrastructure that would assist in overcoming these sociological roadblocks by subtly changing the way in which cyclists are perceived.
1. Furedi, Frank. 2007. How human thought and action are being stifled by a regime of uncertainty [Accessed 20 July 2016].
2. Department for Transport (2007), Cycling: Personal Travel Factsheet (London: Department for Transport).
3. Horton, 2000. Cycling struggles, 1 | Thinking About Cycling [Accessed 20 July 2016]