September 2013

Thank You for Using a Bike Today*

1308 Stockholm CROP thank you for using a bike today

The Scottish and UK governments are investing at far too low a level to provide widespread feel-safe cycling conditions anytime soon, and many people have to cycle on busy roads if they wish to get quickly from some A’s to some B’s.  So how should cycling be portrayed and promoted whilst this situation remains? …


There has been considerable criticism of the Scottish Government’s Niceway Code campaign, for reinforcing and pandering to the popular media image of ‘cyclists’ as reckless and/or lawbreakers.   It is criticised as one-sided, providing no equivalent image of ‘motorists’ – despite consistent shocking evidence, such as in the annual RAC motorist surveys.  For example, in the 2007 RAC report, around half of motorists admit to sometimes “driving significantly above the (speed) limit in built up areas.

[Update 13.9.13: Alison Johnstone MSP calls for withdrawal of Niceway Code].

Cllr Andrew Burns, leader of the City of Edinburgh Council, has publicly panned the campaign’s bus-back advert. 1306 niceway busbackIf you must” rather than “Pass with care” or “Pass if safe” implies to the motorist that a cyclist is reckless or stupid to pass a bus – though this is perfectly legal and is often sensible – for example approaching or at a bus stop.  And clearly there are also cases where it is safe and sensible to pass, carefully, on the left.  Cllr Burns has also contrasted ‘NOPE’ with the wise messages on fire engines and some other vehicles, asking cyclists to take care when passing on the left.

When themes for the government campaign were originally outlined and organisations consulted [prior to any detail] a Niceway Code seemed a possible approach – but it would have required balance, a recognition that whilst cyclists and motorists share the road they do not share the risk – and indeed that the motorist is at fault in the majority of collisions between car or lorry and bicycle.**   Even at that stage, however, Spokes was unable to consider adding our name to the campaign, as we were not given a convincing assurance that its content would be in line with our promotional guidelines.

**Edinburgh Council’s Cycle Incident Analysis Report [pdf 1.3MB] shows 72% of contributory factors were assigned by the police to the vehicle driver and 28% to the cyclist.  A report on cases brought to Cycle Law Scotland [pdf] showed high levels of motorist responsibility.

At a very late stage Niceway was outlined to the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Cycling Group [which Spokes attends].  Many of those present, including Vice Convener Alison Johnstone MSP, expressed concerns – even though not all the fine detail of the campaign was available – but the campaign nonetheless proceeded, largely unamended.

Spokes is of course happy to encourage considerate and careful cycling and we often do so  – but it must be done in a way which respects cycling as a fully legitimate means of getting around, and indeed one to be supported and encouraged for a multitude of reasons.  As the above police evidence shows, the biggest danger to someone on a bike is from road traffic misbehaviour, not from their own.


If the government has money to spend on advertising, then a greater benefit to public health – quite possibly even including road safety benefits – is likely to come from encouraging drivers to switch to walking or cycling for short journeys.   Like the campaign video below from the European Commission

And to give credit where it is due, some other sections of the Scottish Government do seem to get the message…

Here, Environment and Climate Change Minister Paul Wheelhouse MSP explains why…

They’ve even provided an app to record your trips by foot or bike and a greener travel website with advice on how to get started cycling – including getting a second hand bike, or up to 40% off the cost of a new bike if your employer operates the Cycle to Work scheme.  We may not agree with every detail, but they give a positive message that people who walk or cycle have made a great choice which will benefit themselve1308 Stockholm thank you for using a bike todays, their neighbours and their country.

All they need now are these goodybags handed out by Stockholm City to people travelling by bike…

thank-you for using a bike today.


*Our thanks to @katsdekker at twitter for several ideas for this post.

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