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Segregated cycle lane on Harbour Road Dun Laoghaire, Dublin Alamy Stock Photo
Active travel

A new study says that a dislike of anti-car policies tends to change once plans are implemented

The ESRI found that the impact of active travel schemes is often more positive than people expect.

OPPOSITION TOWARDS TRAFFIC policy changes and active travel schemes are overcome when people see the beneficial changes after the measure is implemented.

That’s according to a new ESRI study on active travel infrastructure design and implementation.

Shane Timmons is a senior research officer with the ESRI’s behavioural research unit and one of the study’s authors.

The study reviewed international evidence on the effects active travel schemes designed to promote cycling and walking have on public opinion.

He notes that “opposition to traffic policy changes is not unique to Ireland” but added that in many countries, “people become more positive about changes once they are implemented”.

He also said that open consultations with communities and local businesses to address their concerns about traffic and safety are helpful.

“Policy can benefit from more targeted research on how communities anticipate and respond to change,” said Timmons.

The ESRI found that the impact of active travel schemes is often more positive than people expect.

The report noted that the public often tends to underestimate the environmental benefits of active travel schemes and that retailers “strongly associate the presence of car parking spaces with turnover”.

However, international evidence shows that while car drivers may spend more per trip, cyclists tend to spend more frequently, which can lead to higher accumulated spend over time.

Despite the benefits of reduced emissions, better air quality and improved public health, proposals to alter infrastructure to facilitate active travel frequently face opposition.

The ESRI study points to several “psychological biases” that could be at play and limit public support for these schemes.

One such bias is the “status quo bias”, which is the tendency for people to prefer things to stay as they are, even if change may be beneficial.

The report also noted that “once initial opinions have formed, they are difficult to shift”.

“People tend to interpret new information in ways that match their existing beliefs, to downplay information that contradicts these beliefs, and to seek out information that supports them,” the report added.

As a result, the report recommends that public consultations about active travel schemes “should prioritize communicating accurate information on anticipated effects as early as possible, in order to ‘pre-bunk’ against potential misperceptions”.

The report also highlighted design features of active travel schemes that could promote uptake.

This includes segregating cycle lanes from other traffic, painting cycle lanes a different colour, and increasing secure parking facilities for bicycles.

The report notes that increased parking facilities can help address the gender and age gap in cycling, and adds that shower availability at work can encourage active travel among commuters.

The ESRI noted that “these benefits are greater when initiatives are accompanied by traffic calming measures, such as reduced speed limits and raised crossings at intersections”.

The research was commissioned by the National Transport Authority (NTA) and Fingal County Council.

The NTA’s head of Active Travel Investment Joe Seymour remarked that “it can often be hard for communities to fully see the benefits of an active travel scheme before it is implemented”.

He added: “We have seen, time and time again, how people’s views can change once a project has been delivered and its positive impacts begin to be realised.

“Helping people see that, at the early stages of any project, is now a key focus for us in the NTA and our Local Authority partners.”

Meanwhile, David Storey, director of Environment, Climate, Active Travel and Sport at Fingal County Council said “we are already using this ESRI research to help us make design and communication choices that will close that gap between understanding and behaviour”.

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