Change is Hard
A recurring theme during the Asia Pacific Cycle Congress was that change is hard and there will be push back and teething pains (commonly known as Bikelash).
In a recent study of Bikelash the authors concluded that not enough consideration is given to the socio-political dimensions of mobility during transport projects. APCC speakers had some good advice as to how this might be improved.
But why not just tell people it’s good for them and ‘suck it up’? As tempting as that may be, it ignores key aspects of human nature. People don’t like uncertainty, so they make predictions about the future and get pretty attached to them. If their predictions are for a bad outcome they can cause a whole lot of trouble. Hatred and fury get stirred up, ‘comments’, letters to the editor and on-air and on-line public stonings take place. And all that creates a risky environment where we don’t see each other as people any more.
Prepare for pain – ride the wave.
It is human nature to resist change and find it hard, so plan to be responsive. Have people, tools and resources to manage complaints and teething pains. Know that complaints will go up before they go down, and prepare politicians and public relations for that. Because more people throw bricks than bouquets it is important to seek out positive feedback, and have ‘before’ and ‘after’ data (both qualitative and quantitative). Create a strong pipeline of good news stories to balance out the negative. Support businesses impacted by the change before, during and after construction.
Proactively manage change. In Canada they had ‘change ambassadors on the street helping people understand and navigate the new layout. Ideally it will be intuitive, but faced with change common sense can be in short supply. Prevention is better than cure when it comes to managing the public’s responses to change. Pilots, pop-ups and trials all help too.
During planning and consultation, listen and respond to the real problems (not the symptoms). Although the conversation may start as an objection to a cycleway, the root-cause problem might be something entirely different. Perhaps an old gripe with council, or a bad experience with change in the past. Clearing the air is key to moving on.
And where there are people there are politics …..
Relationships are key to political support
There is no doubt we have the technology and knowledge to build great infrastructure for people who bike, and often the budget is there too. However without political support and leadership projects stagnate or get compromised. Lessons from Edmonton (CA), Auckland, Portland and Atlanta all showed the importance of getting local businesses on board and the power of ‘experiences’ in building more general support.
Large powerful projects like open-streets can build a diverse support base of people who have experienced the freedom to enjoy their streets at their own pace. But smaller scale interactions between customers and businesses (such as Bike Welcome!) help businesses see the diversity of transport methods used by their customers and the potential positive benefits for their business of not being locked away behind traffic and parking.
Have their back
Stand alongside your council officers and politicians. Barbara Cuthbert from Bike Auckland encouraged us to build and maintain good relationships especially between council and advocates. It is especially important for our elected officials to know ‘we have their back’ when there is the inevitable and temporary ‘Bikelash’. Other speakers emphasized the importance of supporting our politicians when change is painful, and staying positive and connected when the going gets tough. I.e. make sure they know you’ve ‘got their back’.