psychology

Big Red Cars Breed Car Addicted Kids

The Wiggles' Big Red Car, but imagine if it was a Big Red Bike instead.

The Wiggles’ Big Red Car, but imagine if it was a Big Red Bike instead.

Ah, The Wiggles. Bless them, with their Big Red Car. I don’t know a great deal about them, aside from their colour identifying polo necks and the fact that they travel about in a Big Red Car, as I am more from a generation of Fraggle Rock, The Amazing Adventures of MorphThe Wombles and Sesame Street, but the latter seems to be ubiquitous no matter what your generation. Anyway, regarding The Wiggles, let’s focus on the car, people, let’s focus on the car.

The above photo is of the The Wiggles’ Big Red Car as it sits outside my local supermarket, hungry for a tired parent to feed it coins, begging for a small behind to settle down onto its plastic seat, pleading for the grip of a tiny hand on its steering wheel, so that it might commence its thirty second jiggle and sway as it entertains an altogether unsuspecting, small passenger; the same little soul that is ‘driving’ this red beast, although not in a legal capacity for some years yet. Driving The Big Red Car for them is, quite literally, their first ‘joy’ ride.

And with it comes what? The idea that this is the goal. This is fun. This is something to aim toward. And, perhaps most terrifying, this is utterly normal. Professor Carolyn Whitzman from The University of Melbourne penned a fantastic chapter in Transforming Urban Transport: The Ethics, Politics and Practices of Sustainable Mobility (edited by Nicholas Low) called ‘Harnessing the Energy of Free Range Children’, noting the connection between transport patterns of children and transport patterns later in life. In short, if you drive your kids to school, the chances are pretty spectacular that your kids are going to drive as soon as they can, they will look at PT options than those not driven to school and are highly unlikely to investigate active transport (namely cycling and walking) as viable transportation options. I would suggest that with The Wiggles showing grown men driving about in The Big Red Car and then having rides where you, as a child, can ‘drive’ around in The Big Red Car, we are perpetuating this lifelong habit.

This is further reinforced by the nursery rhymes that we sing to our children. A very cursory search for transport nursery rhymes  provides a treasure chest of songs about transport and, while I grant you, most are about public transport (there seems to be a virtual obsession with trains, perhaps indicating the time period from which they were written and gained in popularity), not one can be found on riding a bike. That’s a huge oversight, in my book, but also a great opportunity. Along with these missing rhymes, where are the oversized, novelty bikes for children to sit on top of and maybe experience pedalling a stationary bike? Where is the innovation, the alternative?

It would be terrific if we could all live in Copenhagen and have our 8 year olds get their ‘license’ to ride a bike. It would be fantastic to have our children have that same sense of pride and aspiration at being a proficient, confident bike rider. As it stands we are miles away from such a possibility, here in Australia. But if it’s true that we should start as we wish to go on, shouldn’t we be providing our children with a better start (and a better idea of normality) than ‘driving’ a novelty sized car and hearing songs such as Driving in my Car and I Love my Red Car (frighteningly, there is a ‘road version’ of this little ditty on YouTube)?

I know this is utopian in aspiration. Australia’s car industry has fuelled (ha ha! Get it?) perceptions of what mode of transport should reign supreme and I am not naive enough to entirely exclude the role that oil and big business plays in this discussion along with the status quo, the dominant paradigm and all the other stuff I riled against when I was in my 20s (and largely still do, I might add).

I guess I’m always amazed at how ingrained travel by car truly is but when looking at the facts above, it would be curious if it was any other way.

 

Why I Run Red Lights On My Bike

Good little article here on why this person chooses to run red lights, whilst on their bike. I might not agree with all of it, but I do believe that the easiest, fastest and cheapest way that cycling can change in Australia at the moment is to allow cyclists to turn left on red lights, when safe to do so, in the same way that vehicles do in Sydney. Sitting at a looooong set of lights just to get permission to go around the corner infuriates me, but I do it, begrudgingly and forgive those who don’t.

Thought Catalog

Recently, a cyclist in San Francisco was convicted of manslaughter for striking and killing a pedestrian. According to witnesses, before the cyclist, Chris Bucchere, struck the pedestrian, he ran a stop sign and several lights, including the one at the intersection in which he struck and killed the elderly man (Bucchere stated previously that the light was still yellow).

The details of this case leave me feeling conflicted. While this case is indeed a tragedy, and I feel terrible for the family of the man who was killed, I also can’t help but feel for Bucchere. His story could be mine. After all, I too am a cyclist, and I also run red lights. I am not ashamed of this, because it is one of the most common, generally harmless traffic violations that a cyclist can commit. The problem arises from the fact that non-cyclists don’t understand what they’re seeing…

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Mangoes From Forced Go Slows

Tan, before I met her

Tan, before I met her

Riding along on my way to meet a friend for lunch, I found myself behind this woman, Tan. She had a weighty looking backpack and three bags of shopping on each side of her handlebars. Subsequently, she was a tad slow. But I didn’t mind – it was quite a nice change to just cruise along and, well, ride slowly.

When we got to a set of lights, I looked down to notice her back tyre was incredibly low. I asked her if she would like me to put some air in it (seriously, my bike pump? If I’m on my bike, it’s right there with me), and she was almost overwhelmed with appreciation. I got out my handy pump and was astonished that she hadn’t already gotten a nasty flat, her tyres were so low. She told me that she doesn’t own a car (the same as me) and that she only ever rides her bike or runs to places she needs to be. Runs! I told her – rightfully – that she is awesome.

After I pumped up her tyres I asked if I could take her photo for this blog and she was delighted to, and told me her name is Tan.

Tan, after I met her

Tan, after I met her

Then, digging through her shopping bags, she produced the most beautiful mango and insisted that I take it as a token of thanks. After much protestation from me, I succumbed, thinking that sometimes you need to accept an invitation with the grace which it is offered. I put it in my bag, she had pumped tyres, I got given a mango, we bid fond farewells and got on our respective ways.

Tan's mango, now mine

Tan’s mango, now mine

This all sounds like a nice story really, doesn’t it? And it is. But it serves to demonstrate so much, so simply. The fact Tan rode slowly forced me to slow down and actually enjoy the journey – something I don’t do enough of. The fact we were going at such a glacial pace meant that I noticed how low her tyres were. The fact she was going so slowly made me presume (and yes, it was a presumption) that she would be receptive to the offer of help. The fact that after I’d pumped up her tyres made her want to demonstrate a kindness to me, and so offered me a mango.

Of course, this was dependant on a myriad of variables which could be explored endlessly, but there is no point because the simple message behind the above events, the one huge fact that cannot be ignored or questioned is quite plainly this: that interaction would not have happened if we’d been in cars instead of on bikes.

 

 

 

Not all Nights Need to be White

Oftentimes, even without a night that is white, Melbourne still gets it right. The City of Melbourne does a simply amazing job in welcoming people, inviting them to stay in the spaces between buildings. After securing my bike, I had wander through the city and this is what I witnessed:pub1

That truly is a bloke just reading a book at one end of a long wall and a bloke at the other end strumming a guitar and then a random few people chatting, staying and just ‘being’ in between these two urbanites. Nice.

pub s2

Meanwhile, further up the same street, a seriously good busker, Jack Man Friday draws a not insignificant crowd as he entertains young and old alike (and yes, you do need a permit to busk in Melbourne and have an audition – basically if a busker is legally busking in Melbourne, the quality is beyond question).

pub3

And then, further still – a couple of folks play chess as onlookers, well, look on.

It may be presumptuous of me to say, but I suspect that these two may never have met were it not for the novelty sized chess game. Connections are made, albeit fleetingly, but that is the role of a city that works well and space that is utilised affectively. It allows for these connections. It facilitates them. It invites them and welcomes them when they arrive.

garden city

People stop and stay to smell and touch as they discover this pop up herb garden outside of the Town Hall (this was actually seen two weeks ago, but it just proves my point that this happens in Melbourne often).

beanbags

And lastly, people lounge outside of the State Library on beanbags provided by the Library (as is the chess). It could be argued that there is nothing really to ‘do’ here, but that is the point. People stay, because people are there. People go where people go because, well, we like people. We like being with them. We don’t want to talk to them (necessarily), but we like being near them and knowing they are there. People are interesting. People watching is legitimate.

I look at how I use the city on a day like this one and know that I will be taking the long route to wherever I need to go just to be in the city for longer.

This is a city that invites me to stay, and I welcome the invitation every time.

Lycra, lace or leather

blac

Anyone who rides a bike knows what sort of rider they are.

Some will be what a friend of mine refers to as ‘la de dar’ bike riders. They are good. Others are Lycra lads and ladettes or MAMIL’s. They are good too. And then there are those like me. Common commuters who don’t really even know a fixie from a mountain bike, a hybrid from a unicycle. OK, I’m exaggerating to prove a point, but hopefully you get my drift: Common commuters just want to get from A to B and use a bike to get there. We were probably doing it before it was cool and will ride no matter what the weather. And we are good too.

My point is that we all want the same thing, essentially: we want to be able to ride safely, whether it be in Lycra, lace or Blundstones.

And yet, and yet…all too often there is a division amongst us. The la de dar riders hate the fixie folk, the fixie folk hate the Lycra lads and ladettes, the Lycra ladettes and lads hate the common commuters and the common commuters hate the BMX bandits. The BMX bandits hate everyone. And that they have to wear a helmet.

What is with this? Why do we need this division? Are we not all road users? Are we not all struggling to get better paths built for cyclists, regardless of the sort of cyclist we are? I would like to think so.

I have a theory about the people who ride aggressively on the road and it comes from riding a bike in city streets for 10 years and looking at how cyclists interact with one another. There is definitely a competitive element amongst us all. Even if you don’t own the expensive bike, you want to prove that your bike is just as good, just as worthy and just as capable as any other (namely the one sitting next to you at the lights). Where there should be camaraderie there is competition. There also seems to be a sense of entitlement with many riders. Not stopping at stop signs, red lights, or pedestrian crossings (even when pedestrians are clearly crossing) all seem to be a ‘right’ for some cyclists, even if the law would deem it otherwise.

My theory, and this is the point of this post, is that some cyclists have this competitive, tough person ‘I’m above the law’ stuff going on because to ride a bike on a road in Melbourne right now, in 2014, is dangerous. Of course you’re going to feel tough and above the law and a little competitive and just a little bit arrogant and maybe a bit too cool for school. What would solve this? Better infrastructure. If people didn’t feel that riding a bike was ‘tough’ then they wouldn’t have to prove themselves as it would be seen as any other mode of transport.

Do people who ride trains feel tough? Do people who ride buses or trams feel tough? No, because it’s an everyday thing with a very small degree of risk as it’s so safe and people from all walks of life do it – it is seen as normal.

Still not convinced? Do you believe that most of Amsterdam feel ‘tough’ and therefore flout the rules when they’re on their bikes? Of course not. It’s a normal, everyday form of transport that 7 year olds do amongst 70 year olds. Make it normal, allow people to feel safe and I believe attitudes amongst cyclists themselves (along with perceptions of them) will change.

 

The Power of Peer

Admittedly, The Innocent Bikestander has been a little quiet of late. However, this doesn’t mean that the author of this blog has been resting on their laurels and not really doing much. I think about biking and planning way too much and if my Manager actually knew how much time I devote my thoughts to this, I would surely get, well, not fired, but ‘talked to’. I imagine, at any rate. Having said that, can you get into trouble for thinking about something constantly that is completely un-work related, whilst at work? Isn’t that what people do who fall in love? Their thoughts are hardly “on the job”, are they? Anyway, I digress…

This week I spent some time watching cyclists at points where they intersect with pedestrians. Whilst entirely dull to the vast majority of the population, I found it fascinating to view how cyclists’ behaviours changed depending on if they were in a group or cycling by themselves, and there was also a noticeable difference between the way men and women approached these intersections.

The first point I stopped at was on Swanston Street in Melbourne’s CBD, near City Square – this was at one of the ‘ride over’ tram stops where the cycle path is really an extension of the tram stop platform. My initial observations became compounded the more that I sat there. What tended to happen was that if a lone cyclist approached a slowing tram, they would generally sit behind it, as they are meant to, until the doors closed or there was a perception of no further pedestrians, and then ride off. What was interesting was the behaviour of that initial cyclist was repeated if others had seen it. In short, the person at the front of the pack would essentially dictate how others behind them would behave. If the leader stopped, everyone stopped. If the leader waited until the tram started to move before starting again (which is legally what is meant to occur), so would the others.

However, sadly, what would also happen is that if the leader of that pack broke off and started to ride before the doors of the tram had even closed, the chances were quite good that others would follow suit, and the little biking bubble would start to weave amongst pedestrians trying to board the tram. Not good.

I know myself that it is actually hard to stick to your guns and sit patiently at the rear of a stationery tram when cyclist after cyclist overtakes you. The power of the peer plays out on the bike path just as much as it ever did in the school yard. There is something in this for urban designers and planners, I’m sure, along with behavioural scientists.

And this leads to my second lookout point, St Kilda beach. There is a very good bike path that runs along just about the whole of the bay area in Melbourne and – fortunately – it is extremely well utilised by bikers, dog walkers, joggers, stollers and alike. As I was sitting there, the time was approximately 5:30pm so the majority of cyclists were heading south, in the direction of the arrows. I was sitting where the red circle is, and behind me were showers, drinking fountains, and public toilets. Due to the four sets of lights, this is a main access point for pedestrians arriving at the beach from St Kilda itself, and surrounds.

St Kilda peds and bikesAnyone with half a brain can tell what I’m about to say. The cyclists come streaming (streaming? Screaming would be more accurate) down the cycle path, entering the same space where there are pedestrians and beach-goers ambling about, either approaching the beach, and therefore surveying where to set up a towel, or they’re slowly making their way back to the toilets/showers/drinking station/traffic lights – all of which lay ahead. The point is that pedestrians crossing the bike path have no incentive to look either left or right as regardless of whether they are arriving or leaving the beach, their focus is straight ahead.

Sadly it would appear that the cyclists entering into this shared public space hold little regard (or knowledge) for the necessary changes that are needed in speed and attitude at this juncture, and I repeatedly witnessed cyclists tearing down the bike path and pedestrians oblivious that they were even on a bike path. Whilst I did not witness an accident, I certainly saw pedestrians scared and startled. In my head, that’s just as bad as the narrative of “F***ing cyclists” was no doubt conjured up.

After studying the movement of cyclists in both the city and at the beach, I made other observations. The number of men cycling still outweighs the number of women, vastly. Sadly, the more aggressive riders, and those less likely to stop for pedestrians or trams (or even to slow down) were…you guessed in: men in lycra with what I refer to as ‘loud bikes’ (when they’re just rolling along and not being peddled, you can hear them before you see them, which is strange given that these bikes are lighter than oxygen). This is not a good thing and some serious training or education needs to be done for, dare I say it, MAMIL’s (Middle Aged Men In Lycra). I hasten to add that there were all sorts of people not slowing down on all sorts of bikes, (and yes, some were hipsters) but by far the majority were men on fast bikes.

The City of Melbourne recognises speed as an issue in it’s Bicycle Plan 2007 – 2011 where it states under Clause 56:

“The main issues that may lead to conflict between pedestrians and cyclists are: 56.1 reckless or thoughtless behaviour.  This usually relates to cyclists riding too fast. ”

Both City of Melbourne Bicycle Plans for 2007 – 2011 and 2012 – 2016 can be read here

Again, I think peer education needs to be implemented somewhere along the way for cyclists everywhere.

We can change, we can do it better. One of my further blog posts will be on the psychology of cycling, of which – as you may imagine – I have a lot of thought (er, opinions) on. Happy cycling and don’t scare the peds.