Monday, 18 April 2016

Hype and publicity

There is a large danger when you start to focus on hype. I will attempt to explain why I believe this is so.

Whenever someone does anything, they usually want to make it well known. In London, they promoted their East West Cycle Superhighway quite vigorously. The Calgary newspapers like to start flamewars in relation to the cycle tracks in Downtown Calgary. Copenhagen has the busiest cycle bridge in the world.

First, we must assess whether these claims are even true or if they are misrepresentations of facts. For example "double the risk of crashes" would be a true statement if your odds went all the way from 1 in 53 Quintilian to 2 in 53 Quintilian. It would also double your risk if you had a 1 in 10 chance to a 2 in 10 chance. But the overall amount of risk is astronomically low in the former example. A world's busiest cycle bridge depends on a number of factors. How was the data collected, what is the margin of error, and who collected it, who had a particular interest in a certain outcome and had a stake in the collection?

Second, we must assess whether the thing that is being promoted is actually useful. You may have heard of that rain sensor incorporated into a traffic light timing system in Groningen. But if you read the report where it says that "delays to other road users was not increased", all of a sudden, your arguments go out the window. If it didn't cause a delay to others but was a use for cyclists, then why is this use restricted to rainy times? The Aviewfromthecyclepath goes on about this: http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2013/04/the-netherlands-sets-best-example-but.html.

Something like a claim to spend 5 million dollars in Edmonton each year on cycling sounds like a good thing, and it's better than 0 dollars spent. But it only sounds like a lot of money when we consider that we look at it from the perspective of individual people. Spending that much on a city of our size and population is minuscule. It's about $5.26/person. But wait, this often comes with a multi year plan. Often 4 years, a budget cycle that coincides with how many years go between municipal elections. So per year that would be $1.31/person per year. If you remember how much the Dutch spend, they spend the equal of 43 of our dollars each year per person. If you do the math for Edmonton, that should come out to at least 40.085 million dollars. Each year. So we would be spending an incredibly small amount of money, money that in the way that we've been using it, and how little we've done with it, isn't making cycling that much better in Edmonton. A couple hundred metres of shared use path is the only construction of cycle infrastructure that's actually benefited me, and I suspect that came out of a widening budget paid for by a developer.

Another problem is that because very little tends to change permanently with only very few exceptions, like the protected intersection south of the Burrard Bridge in Vancouver or the actual and original Stop De Kindermoord Campaigns in the Netherlands, the hype is very likely to dissipate into nothing pretty quickly as people find something else new and sexy to promote or hate depending on your perspective.

People also tend to lower their standards. Often times cities have claimed to initially go for "cycle tracks" but ended up building just more of the same old same old, often with claims that "fast cyclists will benefit from slightly slower traffic, sharrows and share the road signs and inexperienced cyclists will benefit from legally being able to use a (slightly) widened footway", and that training and police enforcement will be added. Having the police enforce the laws is a worthy goal, but I don't think that people care about whether the police enforce the traffic rules when it comes to their decision about whether to cycle or not. Would you start cycling if only you knew that the police would give higher fines more reliably to someone who runs you over?

And besides, what is your goal? The ordinary, everyday people of the Stop De Kindermoord campaign, their individual names haven't gone down in history, but what they achieved has, and is enjoyed by millions of people every day, and has saved thousands of lives. Would you rather that you be famous, or that what you ended up doing is famous?

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