Changing our bad habits to make transportation options easy - Mobility Lab

On one reading, bike riding makes Copenhagen one of the healthiest cities in the world.

But Danes do not ride their bicycles everywhere because they are health nuts. Rather, they ride because they perceive that doing so is convenient. Deliberate engineering by forward-thinking decision makers many years ago ultimately created that perception.

Creating a healthy transportation system means accounting for people in addition to infrastructure and technology. And a funny thing about psychology is that people will consider an option convenient or otherwise desirable because they have been told to see that option as convenient or desirable.

For this reason, peer pressure, advertising, and an impulse toward self-gratification play roles in encouraging more bicycle use – or use of transportation options besides the drive-alone car in general.

Defining “convenience”

People are creatures of habit and convenience. Which is fair enough – life is hard, so we try to minimize stress. Unfortunately, subjectively convenient transportation options are often unhealthy.

Some benefits of car ownership cannot be denied. Others, while illusory, are difficult to dismiss. Where the benefits are real, cities need to invest in infrastructure that makes other modes of transportation competitive. Where the benefits are debatable, they need to be debunked. For instance, the “freedom” of owning a car can be contrasted with taking on long-term maintenance costs and experiencing the daily headaches of traffic and parking, and the significant danger of car accidents.

I addressed the infrastructure investment issue in my last Mobility Lab article, suggesting smart roads and networked robot vehicles.

A simpler answer amounts to making it easier to ride, walk, and take public transit than to take a car. Designing a city to make bicycles, buses, trains, and sidewalks more convenient also demands ensuring that these sustainable modes of transportation are safe. Nothing kills a feeling of convenience as quickly as a sense of clear and present danger.

This is an issue of both infrastructure investment and attitude. Infrastructure needs to be specifically designed to be fit for purpose. For example, bicycles sharing roads and paths with cars and pedestrians is risky, especially when there is an emerging mode competing with an incumbent mode, leading to tension and conflict.

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