Why Bike Parking, Part 2: The Psychology of Bike Parking

Bikes Welcome Everyday Biking Bike Parking Bikes Mean Business

The Psychology of Bike Parking

Bikes Welcome believe that for everyday biking to take off it needs to be normal, valued, supported and visible.

As discussed in yesterday’s blog post, Bike parking is a part of a bigger solution.  And an important part.  Bikes Welcome is about a safe and convenient place to park your bike, but it is about a lot more too:

  • It is about psychology / influencing behaviour, normalising bike use
  • It is about standing up, being noticed and valued
  • It is partly about logistics (bike parking)
  • It is mostly about hearts and minds.

“Having easily accessible and visible bike parking will help grow the culture of cycling. And that is good for everyone. It decreases the number of cars on the road, reduces pollution and carbon emissions, and increases wellbeing.” Niki Harré, School of Psychology & Associate Dean Sustainability, Faculty of Science, Auckland University.

A Culture of Biking

Although Niki refers to ‘a culture of cycling’, I’m revising that to ‘A culture of biking‘.  For many ‘cycling’ conjures up stereotypes of predominantly male, lycra clad cyclists, super-fit sporty types, perhaps annoying drivers (because yes, their are rude cyclists just like their are rude drivers).  It may also conjure up headlines about death, injury and conflict.  It is not a positive image that most people can relate to, and it is a bit ‘all or nothing’: you are either a cyclist or you’re not.  Whereas bike use is something anyone can do, whether you are young or old, fit or not, male or female.  And being a bike-user is just like being a toothbrush-user.  It is something you do, not someone you are.

Yes, I bike

My experience of being a bike user is that most people think it is a strange thing to do.  Sure, riding your bike on the weekend for sport or fun is pretty normal.  But riding your bike to your appointment, to school or to the shops.  Well that is ‘a bit weird’.  But what if it was normal?  What if it was even admirable?  But it is hard to see something as normal or admirable when it is marginalised and invisible.  So that’s why I want to help bike users to shake off the invisibility and stand up and say “Yes I bike”.  And why I want bike parking to be everywhere – making it clear that people can and do cycle anywhere, anytime, and it is anyone doing it.  It is not a silver bullet solution that stands alone, but it is a worthwhile part of multifaceted approach to getting more people on bikes.

“Moving up a social level, organisations and city councils can also help make sustainable practices more visible. To go back to cycling, Auckland City has had several media campaigns to draw motorists’ attention to cyclists, the latest encouraging drivers to leave a 1.5 metre gap between them and a bike. These campaigns are useful, but there are also more subtle ways to make cycling salient. An obvious one is to put cycle racks right outside the front door of buildings, where everyone can see. My heart always lifts when I arrive somewhere with obvious cycle racks, especially when there are bikes on them. This is a place where cycling might take off, I think. Conversely, I feel dismayed when there are no racks to be found. I imagine cyclists who slink in and out and have little chance of encouraging others. At this level, it is a matter of appreciating that design choices (such as where to put the cycle racks) are not just about practicality and cost, they are also about visibility”. Niki Harré, Psychology for a Better World, Strategies to Inspire Sustainability.

Image Credit: Jo Clendon

We can help people whose mindset doesn’t include bike riding to consider that real, normal people do ride bikes, spend money, and live, work and shop in their communities.  When bike use seems more ‘normal’ more people will consider giving it a go.  There is also safety in numbers: more people biking makes it safer for everyone.

The Power of Suggestion

“…there are ways to show you cycle even while sitting at your desk or shopping at the mall. This is where those behavioural traces come in, signs that indicate what you normally do even when you are not doing it. For example, where do you put your helmet? You might attach it to your bike, but that is a lost opportunity – consider what it would do sitting on your desk or attached to the outside of your bag. Just as a monkey who hears a peanut cracking “thinks” of the underlying action, a person who sees a cycle helmet will “think” about cycling. It will serve as another prompt that cycling is a viable option.” Niki Harré, Psychology for a Better World, Strategies to Inspire Sustainability.

A lot of advertising dollars are spent with the knowledge that humans are highly suggestible creatures.  Images of tropical islands, delicious food, or attractive people are all used to gain our attention and trigger the desired response.  Niki Harre talks about leaving ‘behavioural traces’ which act like beacons suggesting that active transport is an option.  Bike Parking is a great example.
Bikes Welcome: Bike parking plants the seed
Image Credit: NZ Transport Agency – CC4; modified

Making Bike Use ‘Normal’

“It comes back to the same underlying rule: the more that sustainable practices are in the air, the more salient they become and the more likely individual people and groups of people (organisations, city councils, nations) are to replicate them”.  Niki Harré, Psychology for a Better World, Strategies to Inspire Sustainability.

When shopping trolleys were first introduced they didn’t take off.  The inventor hired actors to walk around his shop pushing shopping trolleys.  He wanted to demonstrate that the idea was normal, attractive, beneficial.  Source: A brief history of the invention of the shopping trolley

We can help normalise bike use by:

  • Saying “Yes, I bike” and actively encouraging businesses to recognise and value their bike using customers, and asking them to express their support by providing bike parking;
  • and passively by having great bike parking installed and used throughout our communities.  For this to happen councils need to understand and manage the demand for bike parking, determine locations, and importantly acknowledge that biking occurs ‘everyday’ not just for sports, recreation and community.

Summary: How the Bikes Welcome model encourages everyday biking

  1. When you ask for bike parking: you are standing up and saying “Yes, I ride”.  And  changing some perceptions about bike users and bike use whilst you are at it.
  2. When a business visits the BikesWelcome.org website to learn more, they find out the business benefits of bike using customers.
  3. When a business or council install quality bike parking, they are sending the message to everyone that bike use is: normal, possible, encouraged.
  4. When we effectively* request bike parking from a council (*using their preferred method and systems) they get visibility to the demand for bike parking and the knowledge that their ratepayers use bikes beyond sports & recreation destinations.  Overtime this might help change the ‘sports and recreation’ classification and help bring bike use firmly and positively into the transport realm.
  5. When bike parking is installed around normal, everyday destinations (think shops, library, cafe, pool, church, etc) it provides the subtle suggestion: “yes, you can…. you could …. bike here”.  
  6. Bikes Welcome send that message that biking isn’t just about sport or weekend recreation.  And for many, that is a big change in mindset.  And it’s the change in mindset we need to realise real benefits from biking for health, sustainability, community and the economy.

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One thought on “Why Bike Parking, Part 2: The Psychology of Bike Parking

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