What Gets Measured Is What Gets Done
OK, so say we’d set out to make it safe for every child of nine years and older to cycle to school unaccompanied. What sort of measures could we put in place to ensure that the public money spent on this project was being well spent?
Ian Walker points out that the easy measure apparently used by some local authorities is the length of their bike lanes and trails. The problem is that this can lead to all sorts of shoddy tokenistic infrastructure that cyclists don’t use because it’s awkward, slower than just sticking to the road, or on occasion, just plain dangerous:
But we live in a society today where everything must be measured. And trying to measure the ’safety’ of kids cycling to school is fraught with all sorts of problems. The only real measure is to look at the number of accidents they encounter while riding their bikes, and the problem with that is that the one sure way to eliminate all bike-riding accidents is to ban bikes.
This is actually the route that some schools have gone down. Seriously - I’m not kidding.
So here’s the measures I’d go for:
- The percentage of children aged 9-18 who cycle to school. This is the absolute acid test - however much we pat ourselves on the back for other contributing measures, this is the one that counts. For this measure, bigger is better.
- An attitude survey of parents with a simple one-question form: “Please rate from 1 (not at all) to 10 (extremely) how safe you feel it is for your child to cycle unaccompanied to school”. Slice & dice it by age of child, location, gender, etc. to target those areas most in need of improvement.
- The length of cycle paths (i.e. car-free) provision within school catchment areas. n.b. this can be on-road, provided it is physically segregated from motorised traffic - a painted line doesn’t make anyone feel safe! For this measure, bigger is better.
- The number of times per kilometer bike lanes have to give way to motorised traffic or pedestrians - at cross roads, roundabouts, junctions, toucan crossings, etc. Getting up to cruising speed uses lots of energy, and so stopping & starting is a huge disincentive to riding a bike. For this measure, smaller is better.
Any proper scientists out there with actual experience of this stuff, please feel free to weigh-in at this point!