Man, change is hard.
It’s difficult enough when working with organisations, where there’s a hierarchy and job descriptions and personal objectives and the risk of getting fired if you don’t deliver. But across the country we are facing big changes in the way society works and it is really, really hard.
In particular, the attempts to shift the balance of transport away from the private motor car and towards walking and cycling has illustrated the challenges in getting people to change their behaviour. I guess the Government thought that by allowing Councils to impose experimental traffic schemes without the usual consultation, they would tap into the sudden surge in cycling before mass commuting and the school run rebound to pre-virus levels. But as people suddenly realise that these changes will affect them, anger starts to rise.
The old saying “you are not stuck in traffic, you are traffic” is constantly in my mind. When you see someone starting a petition against a road closure as it will make their school run trip by car twice as long, you can tell the message has not got through. The whole point is we need to change behaviour, we need to be walking or cycling our kids to school, or to the shops, or to work or just for fun. Yes, not everybody can cycle, but other European countries have 30% modal share by bike, so there is absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t be able to substantially raise our game.
As a local Councillor, I didn’t want to impose my ideas on the community I represent, so I did my own mini-consultation. Instead of asking “Do you think we should give road space to walking/cycling?”, I asked “What changes would you like to see to improve walking and cycling?” Yes, I still got some flak from the “CYCLISTS SHOULD PAY ROAD TAX” crowd, but they were drowned out by dozens and dozens of positive ideas which helped me round out my list of potential changes to pass to the Council. The formulation of the question was crucial – doing nothing is not an option, but what we do do is open to debate.
Once the experimental schemes go in, I’m very aware that the next phase will be difficult. It takes time for people to change their routines to match the new reality. We will inevitably get more traffic and congestion on the major routes initially while the cycle routes remain relatively quiet, but eventually more and more people will find the active travel option more attractive until we start hitting tipping points. I’ve been in the game long enough to wait.
Change is not easy, but it can be made less hard.