Should Private Companies and Celebrities Create the Change in Cycling?

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Last week Jamie Oliver launched his latest campaign – better, healthier and affordable fresh food for everyday Australians – in a bid  to tackle  Australia’s obesity epidemic. “We’ve got more opportunities to affect change than any Government…” said Jamie.. He’s right. He reaches 300 million people on social media – that’s about 1 in every 20 people on earth. We love Jamie. He’s a bit like us. He went to a state school, grew up in a pub and his mum and dad are down-to–earth, working-class folk.

As I write this hundreds of people from across the globe have gathered in Adelaide – Australia’s ‘city of churches’ – for the Velo City Global Conference. VeloCity, the world’s premier cycling conference with high profile speakers from every continent, celebrates what’s great about bike riding and focuses on three key themes:

  • How to design our cities to make it easy for people to choose cycling
  • How to motivate people to ride a bicycle
  • How to create cultural change.

So to add to the debate I’m asking “should private companies and celebrities like, for example, Jamie Oliver, create change in cycling?”

I think they should. Let’s consider creating change in 3 very different ways:

  1. Let’s focus on action

“Most cities in the world were bicycle friendly in the beginning” tweets @bicyclesa.

The problem is, now they are not.

“We need to stop taking baby steps to getting people on bikes” tweets @wheelwomenride “and get on with it!”

The problem is, in the western world, we fear failure

Imagine we understand one real problem affecting everyday people in one real city. Imagine we take the real problem –perhaps a lack of safe off road bike paths to school– in one self-contained city, in Australia that’s somewhere like Rockhampton or Toowoomba. Then we put the best people with the best resources onto solving that problem. We could make one city really bicycle friendly again.

  1. Let’s identify new investment vehicles

The problem is “Less than 1/2 of 1 percent of the South Australian transport budget goes to cycling…” tweets @MarkParnellMLC

The solution is that we need to put great quality technical expertise into identifying new investment vehicles to leverage more money. Imagine we find partners who can provide capital or investors who provide seed capital. In London Boris Johnson secured private investment to contribute towards a cable car crossing over the River Thames.

  1. Let’s try a new design and delivery model

“Everything we need to make cycle-friendly cities was invented 100 years ago” tweets @FunOnTheUpfield.

We have the solution; the problem is, we don’t always have the best mechanism to deliver the solution.

Imagine if a private sector entity were to deliver a fully integrated solution. They would design, build, finance, operate and maintain the bikeways, the education, promotion and enforcement – yes they’d operate the cycle proficiency training and they could even go out and book the car parked illegally on the bike path. If they succeeded and met their targets, they’d get paid. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t. Many Councils in the UK privatised traffic enforcement many years ago.

If we really want riding a bicycle to be a viable and normal way to travel then let’s focus on action, identifying new money and using a new delivery model. Because like Jamie Oliver says, its people like him who really do have more opportunities to affect the change that we all want to see.

Who are you looking to for guidance, hope and inspiration? What are people doing that’s excellent? Where do these ideas fit in with what you are doing?

Rachel Smith is a Principal Transport Planner at AECOM.

Image via European Cyclists Federation.

  • Ron Mader

    Are you paying attention to the backlash against Oliver? http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2014/jun/12/woolworths-backlash-levy-vegetables-jamie-oliver

    That said, kudos for the work toward promoting cycling. Just be wary of celebrity endorsements

  • Rachel Smith

    Hi Ron.
    Thanks for replying/commenting.
    Yes I did see the Guardian piece – It came out after my blog!
    It’s a tough one. I’m doing an entrepreneurs course at the moment and from that course part of me thinks I’d pay the levy because in time people would buy more of my produce as they move away from processed food. The other part of my things Aussie farmers are doing it really tough – way harsh than the media is prepared to tell us – and they don’t need additional costs. Me personally I avoid the big supermarkets. I shop at a shop around the corner that sells local produce from SE Queensland and Northern NSW. It’s more expensive, – as well as organic, fresh and local – but I don’t have any food waste, so in the end it works out that I spend the same $$ on food shopping. I’d like to get a farm box but the pick up point is not convenient for me.
    I’ve not really answered your question but yes we should think of the pro’s and con’s with endorsements.
    At the end of the day, here in Australia, we need to have a rethink about cycling. We need action, money and a delivery model, whether we chose to do that with or without a rock star is irrelevant. we just need to do something!
    Thanks for commenting and happy to chat offline
    Rachel