icm2re logo. icm2:re (I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything) is an  ongoing web column  by Brunella Longo

This column deals with some aspects of change management processes experienced almost in any industry impacted by the digital revolution: how to select, create, gather, manage, interpret, share data and information either because of internal and usually incremental scope - such learning, educational and re-engineering processes - or because of external forces, like mergers and acquisitions, restructuring goals, new regulations or disruptive technologies.

The title - I Changed My Mind Reviewing Everything - is a tribute to authors and scientists from different disciplinary fields that have illuminated my understanding of intentional change and decision making processes during the last thirty years, explaining how we think - or how we think about the way we think. The logo is a bit of a divertissement, from the latin divertere that means turn in separate ways.

Chronological Index | Subject Index

Good is something you do

About the case for new public policies for cycling

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2020). Good is something you do. About the case for new public policies for cycling. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Print)], 9.4 (April). http://www.icm2re.com/2020-4.html

How to cite this article?
Longo, Brunella (2020). Good is something you do. About the case for new public policies for cycling. icm2re [I Changed my Mind Reviewing Everything ISSN 2059-688X (Online)], 9.4 (April). http://www.icm2re.com/2020-4.html

Good is something you do
Gino Bartali

London, 30th April 2020 - Where are we now in the development of global policies and infrastructure for cycling?

To distract myself from the anxiety caused by the global, massive gathering and communication of data in real time about the pandemic, often without a clue on how heterogeneous and sometimes incommensurable national statistical systems are (and while I wait to be called for an interview with Dominic Cummings as I could be one of those weirdos he would like to employ as SpAd at the Cabinet Office so that one day I may have a say!), I decided to have a look at this matter and see if there is anything new that could change the course of history, promoting a wider and better use of bicycles among the population.

What you see in the chart below is the distribution of the word bicycle (and its case sensitive variants) in the Google Books 2012 Corpus that comprises all English books digitised to the date, published between 1800 and the late 2010s.

Seen in retrospect, and with a dataset spanning over two centuries, the visualisation is very effective in that: it brings immediate attention to a couple of peak times: the last twenty years of the 19th Century and the 1940s, very significative in the history of social and technical developments of the push-bike as means of transport, cultural icon, status symbol. The chart shows also very well a fall in the count of occurrences of the printed word bicycle coinciding with a moment in time, the two decades between 1950 and 1970, in which global industrial, transport and socio-technical policies impacted negatively the demand and the usages of bicycles. After that sharp fall, we can speculate about the fact that it was the oil crisis in the early 1970s that triggered a renewed demand for cycling as it is reflected by the increase of the number of citations in the Google Books English Corpus, bounced back again up and over the previous levels. For the last decade we do not have yet enough data to notice any coincidence with more recent events in sport or in society at large.

My wishful assumption (as I am a convinced cyclist as you can guess from the cover photo of this issue, featuring my dog as passenger on the rear rack) is that the current pandemic lockdown constitutes an extraordinary window of opportunity for policies that promote cycling as means of transport, healthy exercise and sport, in conformity with what the World Health Organization has advised (whenever feasible, you should consider cycling or walking for essential journeys, such as travelling to work or shopping, in order to maintain a safe distance from other people and keep active is the reminder published by the Cyclists' Touring Club, charitable organisation Her Majesty The Queen is a Patron of, at cyclinguk.org). Cycling facilitates mobility we all need as individuals and as society. It often ensures those physical distancing measures that are impracticable travelling by car, plane, train or bus and yet are crucial to prevent the spreading of respiratory viruses.

The pandemic creates a window of opportunity to resuscitate those ambitious cycling plans the British intelligentsia, including the current Prime Minister, have endorsed since the mid 1990s (Bhopal and Unwin 1995, Goodman and Tolley 2001). With less motorists around, people will also have more occasions of becoming aware of the usual negative or not pertinent representations of cyclists by the media - these serve an ideological function in producing and reproducing the automobile as the cultural norm [of mobility] (Nielsen, 2015) - and concentrate more on the actual benefits of micromobility (the expression is used by researchers to include owned and shared bicycles but also electric pedal assisted bicycles and electric scooters). I believe the promotion of cycling and walking as safe means of travelling during the pandemic could also overcome artificial frictions between cyclists and pedestrians, we have seen constructed within the dominant motorists' culture for the last twenty years in the public opinion.

That cycling is "good for you" seems quite an obvious idea. However, not so obvious in terms of what Governments do to promote it: it actually turned out that even in Countries, like the Netherlands, traditionally associated with a strong cycling culture, a clearly defined strategy to promote the bike at the national transport level does not exist (Den Broeder et al. 2015). On top of that, it is not even generally understood that it also helps, crucially, in fighting those chronic diseases that, at present, are the first cause of death worldwide. In the past 20 years there have been numerous reports and reviews summarising the health benefits of cycling [...] These health benefits are physical, social, psychological, environmental and financial. [...] There are promising indications of health gains two years after new infrastructure is in place for those residents living within 1 kilometre of the [new cycling] infrastructure - was the conclusion of one very careful study just five years ago (Rissell, 2015).

Even before the coronavirus outbreak, various international research reports suggested that micromobility could be incentivised and promoted so that it would easily account for up to 50-60% of all passenger miles traveled in the U.S., EU, and China (Cohen, 2019). This would constitute a massive step forward towards climate change goals and sustainability!

With less vehicles on the road, it would be easier to run training programmes to teach young people to cycle but also experiment, study and evaluate the effects on traffic of new segregated lanes for cyclists, for instance, or to verify innumerable other research hypothesis about mobility, contagious behaviours, delivery of services and so on. Offering cyclists the option of wearing personal GPS devices in exchange for their personal data could generate an income for individuals and small businesses that do deliveries but also create valuable datasets for local authorities and government agencies, helping to fill what is said to be an existing gap in the evaluation of policies for the promotion of cycling (Garrard, 2015).

To finish this piece of advocacy for cycling in the lockdown and beyond, I am afraid I did not find in the literature any new idea or argument for policy making but I am quite optimistic and hopeful that something new will emerge.

I cannot help citing the Itera plastic bike, a project I came across years ago, possibly after visiting a controversial exhibition about 3D Printing in Paris (see icm2re 3.8, Atoms need precision). Itera attracted incredible venture capitals in the early 1970s: it should be studied as the progenitor of many recent 3D printed enterprises that have been dealing with new designs for bicycles and their parts through this amazing technology! Claes Nordenstam left Volvo to work together with a small group of designers and engineers on Itera for about a decade (those were pre-internet times and a new concept was not cooked and eaten in few months like Today). The idea of developing and producing a bicycle in fibre composite plastics encountered huge favour at first. So, full scale production started in 1982 but in spite of intense advertising and unusually high interest in the media, the new plastic bicycle was never accepted in the marketplace (Hult, 1992). The economic and socio-technical reasons for Itera's case history and its spectacular failure are still debated in the light of new developments and designs for electric bikes and 3D printed bikes and for reasons of design and cultural influences as well.

In sum, businesses successes and failures and sport, cinema, books, literature... all included, the story of cycling represents particularly well how technologies that were once modern could just as easily go out of fashion, before being reinvented as innovative again (Oldenziel, 2018), not without extraordinary endeavours and lessons from individual inventors, misfits, artists and cyclists too.

The data and evidence cyclists can provide during this lockdown could lead to much greater innovations in industrial policies than we could ever dream of, at the sole cost of just pushing on the pedals, for the sake of everybody's own health. Cyclists do deserve to go viral!


Bhopal, R., & Unwin, N. (1995). Cycling, Physical Exercise, And The Millennium Fund: The Bicycle Should Underpin Sustainable Physical Activity And Transport. BMJ: British Medical Journal, 311(7001), 344-344. Retrieved April 29, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/29728304

Cohen, K. (2019). Fondazione Eni Enrico Mattei (FEEM). Retrieved April 29, 2020, from doi:10.2307/resrep21774

Den Broeder, L. et al. (2015). Health in All Policies? The case of policies to promote bicycle use in the Netherlands. Journal of Public Health Policy, 36(2), 194-211. Retrieved April 29, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/43948791

Garrard, J. (2015). Evaluating cycling promotion interventions. In Bonham J. & Johnson M. (Eds.), Cycling Futures (pp. 429-452). South Australia: University of Adelaide Press. Retrieved April 29, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/10.20851/j.ctt1sq5x1g.23

Goodman, R., & Tolley, R. (2001). Sustainable Transport: Prospects for Walking and Cycling in Great Britain. Geography, 86(1), 84-86. Retrieved April 29, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/40573513

Hult, J. (1992). The Itera Plastic Bicycle. Social Studies of Science, 22(2), 373-385. Retrieved April 29, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/285622

Nielsen, R. (2015). More than a message: Producing cyclists through public safety advertising campaigns. In Bonham J. & Johnson M. (Eds.), Cycling Futures (pp. 229-250). South Australia: University of Adelaide Press. Retrieved April 29, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/10.20851/j.ctt1sq5x1g.16

Oldenziel, R. (2018). Whose modernism, whose speed?: Designing mobility for the future, 1880s–1945. In Bud R., Greenhalgh P., James F., & Shiach M. (Eds.), Being Modern: The Cultural Impact of Science in the Early Twentieth Century (pp. 274-290). London: UCL Press. Retrieved April 29, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv550d3p.18

Rissel, C. (2015). Health benefits of cycling. In Bonham J. & Johnson M. (Eds.), Cycling Futures (pp. 43-62). South Australia: University of Adelaide Press. Retrieved April 29, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/10.20851/j.ctt1sq5x1g.8