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A Stigma too Far? Research looks at how cyclists are perceived in a car-dominated society

18 June 2013 Taylor & Francis

New research, published in Mobilities journal, looks at why cycling is still a peripheral form of transport despite efforts to boost its popularity during the last 20 years. Discrimination is said to be a large part of the problem and this stigma creates problems for policy makers trying to buck the trend.

The article by Rachel Aldred argues that the label ‘cyclist’ is part of the problem in itself as men and women as individuals have differing attitudes and requirements. Campaigns have up until now ignored this distinction, which has worked to their disadvantage. The argument even extends to the equipment and clothing worn by cyclists, which may be seen as inappropriate, even off the road. This then reinforces the existing stigmas against cyclists, resulting in the further politicising of the ‘cyclist’ image.

In fact, it is the ingrained attitudes and interactions between road users that contribute to the creation of stigmas. Aldred observes that “the social interactions in question occur within motorised street space, structured by legal, infrastructural, cultural and policy environments. According to the DfT report, interactions with cyclists tend to involve assumptions by ‘other road users’ that cyclists are incompetent, ignorant, illegal and unconcerned for their own or others’ safety.”

The issue goes beyond this and into the world of sport and the fine balance between cycling as an everyday mode of transport and public opinions on the stressful world of professional sport. This position in popular culture arguably works “Alongside other negative connotations of cycling (e.g. as a sign of poverty), (and) there may be a tension in the portrayal of cycling as ‘healthy’ or ‘sporty’; it offers potential access to a privileged yet also contested identity alongside the risk of failure.”

It is the combination of these pressures that has created a strong and complex stigma against cyclists that seems to be as strong as ever. Aldred is concerned with how policy makers form their decisions and sees a need for more awareness of the problem to be present before decisions are made in future.

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