Cyclists’ perception of risk
Cycling is certainly one of the most environmentally friendly forms of travel and so it would be easy to assume that most cyclists are pedalling away to help to do their bit to reduce air pollution and carbon emissions. According to a study undertaken by Maxine Williams* while studying for a masters at KCL, this is in fact the least significant reason for people taking up cycling – coming last in the list, after preferring it to public transport, improving fitness, quicker journey time, convenience and economic benefits.
The study investigates cyclists’ perception of risk, and analysed 255 responses from London cyclists on a range of questions on both safety and air pollution.
There is a very high level of awareness and concern about air quality in London, with a staggering 82% agreeing that poor air quality is a serious issue in London. A rather more modest 2% agreed with the statement that ‘air quality initiatives are well publicised’. This awareness does not necessarily translate into behaviour that you might expect – more cyclists avoid congested roads due to issues of safety than air quality.
Aside from debate about whether they actually make a difference, some interesting attitudes to wearing masks to protect themselves against pollution were revealed. Many felt it could make them appear aggressive to drivers and increase drivers’ negative perceptions of cyclists, and thus affect drivers’ behaviour. One respondent pointed out that it ‘makes a statement to car drivers as to how damaging their vehicle emissions are!”. There was a feeling that it was unjust for cyclists, on a non-polluting form of transport, to have to take measures to protect themselves from polluting vehicles on the road. This seems a fair point. Perhaps if we only had to breathe in the fumes we ourselves create, people would make very different decisions.
* Now Environmental Health Officer at Islington Council