Why (just looking at America) would something like the gun lobby be so much stronger than the bike lobby, when there are more people with access to bikes (46%) than with guns in their households (32 and 43%)? It’s not as though either have the whole wide world in which to make use of these things, the gun owners generally confined to gun ranges and most owners of bikes feeling confined to their city’s scant issue of bike tracks.
The difference is that just owning a gun is sublime (terrifying, a matter of life and death) whereas bikes only have that effect on the small fraction of owners who use them. A bike at the back of the shed is nothing. A gun in a cabinet is a live presence. If you own a gun you think about it, and vote conservative, just because of this issue. If you own a bike you probably don’t care and will vote either way.
It’s a shame then that bike lobbies operate in much the same manner as gun lobbies. Enthusiasts with expensive collections are your typical front men (me, for example). Similar enthusiasts, but having real jobs, pay dues to peak bodies. Gun and bike makers chip in with some industry funding.
The most effective bike lobbyists I know are Mikael Colville Andersen (who when I stayed with him last just had an old beater), and Anne Lusk at Harvard who walks to work and may or may not own a bike, I’m not sure. Mikael’s big thing is liveable cities. Anne’s is public health. In both cases the bike is just a means to an end. I’ve written before that a coalition would help, between lobbyists for the three main causes that bicycling serves—mobility, health and climate change mitigation. I’m sure it won’t happen.
What the bike lobby can do, is change structurally to become a lobby for riders, not owners. Motivated though we may be, enthusiasts with expensive bikes and the will to ride them a lot, are too thin on the ground to ever be a political force. We should not be the ones speaking to governments, because when we do it’s from the tired old position of an interest group leader.
That strategy is failing in the least likely of places: Amsterdam. The spokespeople for cycling in Amsterdam are cyclists themselves and they speak like interest group leaders. That’s fine if your group is overwhelmingly large. But in the centre of Amsterdam locals on bikes are being outnumbered by tourists without bikes. The hotel owners and airbnb operators speak for more people sleeping in the city each night, all of them walkers.
If Dutch bike lobby groups spoke for cycling in general, rather than cycling on a bike that you own, they would be calling for bike share. I don’t mean a subscription based system, but one like Paris’s Velib which is equally accessible to tourists. As hard as this may be for some locals to fathom, most visitors to Holland can ride a bike too. What locals need, are those tourists on bikes, to restore the natural order where anyone walking sticks to the footpath. Then dick-nose there in the black T-shirt would be riding himself, or else feel the cold steel of a fender in his pucker rear end.
Bike share would also put a dint in Amsterdam’s supposed “bike parking problem” (the “problem” is actually one of car parking, but that’s a whole other story.)
The other argument that bike lobbyists make against bike share is that infrastructure needs to come first. In totally “uncycleable” cities, they may well be right. I can’t imagine Launceston, where I just spent 3 wretched year, having much use for bike share. But in most cities the same networks of off road bike routes and quiet backstreets that local bike advocates find perfectly adequate for riding on themselves are as adequate for patrons of bike share. The problem again is the snooty bike owner being given a voice, and speaking on behalf of bike owners, not users.
Once you learn to ride a bike you can never forget. It’s a saying. I don’t need to prove it. I mention it here as a reminder that nearly everyone is a rider. Show them a bike sharing station that will dispense a bike for three bucks, when the other option is walking, and you will see they can ride.
As a blog reader I know you’re a cheapskate with adblock—I’m one as well. I sorry but on this occasion you have read almost to the end of an ad. The whole reason I provided those gun stats, and taught you about the sublime and things you didn’t know about your supposed Nirvana in Holland, was to bring your attention to a consultancy I’ve just launched with my friend Monica, a transport planner who specialises in bike share. Our mission is to bring bike share to every small city and town where riding conditions are fine but local governments have bike share on the back burner, as something to do after an asteroid has wiped out the species.
Our website links to our eBook: How to Know if Your City Needs Bike Share. Not all cities have sufficient demand for work trips or leisure. Not all cities have contiguous non challenging space for the occasional rider. And not all cities can make the dollars stack up. But how do you know if your city is like that? According to the Bike Sharing World Map there are already over a thousand cities with bike share, their average size surprisingly small, and in some cases with crazy-arse drivers. Your city may be better placed than you think.
Our job is to provide comparisons, data analysis and a scared-cyclist’s map of your city, to help your politicians and council officers make some objective decisions. We’ve deliberately designed a report format that is succinct and low cost so that cities don’t have to go through lots of red tape just to engage us.
Putting aside your prejudices about people who don’t have their own bikes, or who arrive in the city without them, would you be willing to bring our service to your council’s attention?