Improving design of city streets for cyclists and pedestrians and promoting public transport the way to go.

Roads are for everyone and road rules were made for all road users. Then modern cities arrived and urban sprawl was born. Along with a house in the 'burbs came the promise of fast, cheap car commutes and demands for affordable parking.

Even though the road rules have remained the same, the urban landscape looks and operates very differently. Cars are the norm. They dominate our cities.

But things are changing. Although most of our politicians seem to have misplaced the memo, cars are not turning out to be the panacea they were once intended to be. Increasingly, there is talk of climate change, active transport, urban density done well.

Demands for alternatives to the long-haul car commute will get louder. Happy people live close to where they work and play, apparently. So is the present model sustainable, resilient or desirable?

Advertisement

It's not all about cycling or being anti-car, it's about making cities for people the top priority.

In the present incarnation of our cities, bicycles were never going to be able to compete with cars or public transport over longer distances.

Some have managed to make the switch from the car to the bicycle for their long-distance commute. However, the failure of cycling to be seen as a serious transport option is evidenced in the lack of people willing to take on this brave, but ultimately fear-inducing form of transport.

At the same time, the role of the bicycle as the perfect tool for short, local trips (say, from home to a nearby train or bus station) has been largely overlooked.

The road rules state the expectation that bicycles are to be treated like two-wheeled motorists. They are entitled to claim the lane and must follow all the road rules motorists are obliged to follow. But apart from the few brave souls already mentioned, the remainder of the population is more likely to ride a bicycle at a slow, comfortable speed over much shorter distances, to school for example.

But in reality, cyclists are neither cars nor pedestrians (the road rules are also very clear that people on bicycles are not allowed to be on the footpath).

So, while motorists rule the roost and pedestrians are accorded a modicum of space and respect, cyclists live in a parallel world; unsure, uncategorised and not particularly welcomed anywhere.

Transport psychologist Dr Ian Walker says: "Not only are cyclists an outgroup, they're also a minority outgroup. Moreover, they are engaging in an activity that is deemed slightly inappropriate in a culture that views driving as normative and desirable and, arguably, views cycling as anti-conventional and possibly even infantile."

This leads to the tendency of drivers to attribute behaviour to personality or disposition, rather than situation or environment.

The conversation goes like this:

A. "I just saw a cyclist go through a red light."

B. "Yeah. Bloody cyclists! They always do that."

The outlier status of cyclists means drivers tend to blame the poor behaviour of some cyclists on all cyclists. Further to that, and speaking from personal experience, cyclists are more likely to make what are perceived to be poor decisions or break the road rules to keep themselves safe.

That's because our cities have been built for cars, not people or people on bicycles. And according to the surveys, a healthy majority of people say they would ride a bicycle if it was safe to do so.

So while the research is unequivocal - cycling is worthwhile and should be encouraged - there is limited impetus to take it seriously as a form of transport. The car still dominates transport policies and budgets. Sprawl is still provided as the solution to a housing shortage.

Meanwhile we continue to focus on training cyclists to stay safe around cars and encouraging obedience to the road rules. Back to Dr Walker on the "all cyclists should wear high-vis" argument.

"... there are other reasons to be suspicious of high-visibility gear, not least that it transfers responsibility from the driver of the metal box that creates the danger to the victim of that danger."

Instead, we need to be:

Seeking a consensus that supports prioritising the moving of people safely ahead of the moving of high car volumes.

Designing our city streets and promoting transport policies that are people and bicycle friendly.

Promoting cycling in a way that makes cyclists less an unpredictable outgroup and more an integral part of the urban transportation fabric.

Anything less is merely tinkering around the edges.

Mark Bracey is a teacher, spending his days guiding children through their first year at school, and blogger at wheeledpedestrian.wordpress.com.