Submitted to Velo-City 2016
Getting low-cycling countries moving – the pivotal roles of advocacy and academia
Leyendecker, Katja (Dipl-Ing TU)
Academia and advocacy are informants, steerers even, of the urban cycling debate, both in high- and in low-cycling countries. With academia providing facts and evidence, advocacy can turn these into narratives for change. Both’s final destination is ‘making impact’ and pushing against established power systems, pushing into the spotlight societal causes such as social, spatial and environmental justice. Coming from an advocacy background and now a researcher at Northumbria University, I ask how academia and advocacy can work together effectively, with a focus on the UK context of low-cycling. What do (and don’t) we know, how can this be used by academia and advocacy to cooperatively press for change?
Understanding and agreeing the underlying causes for the low participation in cycling is the very basis for cooperative action. In a low-cycling context, supportive cycle environments and humanised urban form are the first-rung enablers to increasing the cycle share. However, for these spatial changes to be planned and implemented, changes in politics, governance, policies and professional systems are prerequisite. A persistent barrier in the long-going quest for leverage is ‘automobility’, a strongly-held belief system favouring the motor car – so strong that it even holds true for high-cycling cities. Particularly in low-cycling contexts like the UK, an alternative narrative as is yet either incomplete, or completely missing. Creatively making space and time to discuss the concepts and necessities of transport transitions, both at community-level and in policy debates, is imperative in unsticking the status quo of ‘automobility’.
To recognise and finally overcome strong systemic inertia, cooperative sharing and collaboration between academia and advocacy becomes a vital ingredient for urban restoration.
In low-cycling countries with an engrained, casual and habitual use of the motor car like UK, US and Australia, an improved and better-reasoned approach can spur on the transport transition. For change to come to low-cycling cities and countries a concerted effort between academia and advocacy, locally and globally, will be key.
Added 29 October 2015
Katja Leyendecker is currently researching ‘transport policy, urban cycling spaces and public perception’ at Northumbria University, in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, United Kingdom. She is a Chartered Engineer and has worked extensively both in the private and public sector. Her research includes a city comparison of high-cycling Bremen in the North of Germany (25% cycle mode share), and NewcastleGateshead, a conurbation in the North of England with a low cycle mode share of 2%. Katja is particularly interested in the ‘school run’ and its related themes of social, environmental and spatial justice.
In 2010, Katja co-founded with Claire Prospert newcycling.org to campaign for a better urban environment, safe space for walking and cycling and a network of protected cycleways in Newcastle by lobbying local politicians and collaborating with national and international groups to share and exchange knowledge to facilitate, initiate and accelerate change.
She also is a board member at the Cycling Embassy of Great Britain – a group of urban design experts, providing a platform for human-sized infrastructure solutions, working with national and local groups to facilitate the transport transition away from car dependence and promoting Sustainable Safety (the successful Dutch road safety principles) to decision-makers.