Cycling Economist

FlandersStephanie1P.jpgStephanie Flanders is a cyclist, and the economics editor of Newsnight.

In this article in the Torygraph, she considers why people cycle.

Mile for mile, you are 84 times more likely to get killed travelling by bike than by Tube. Cycling is also about 14 times riskier than going by car. But if you are cycling, you feel that you have more control over your fate. And economists know that makes all the difference to the way people evaluate risks.

Hat tip: Tim

6 thoughts on “Cycling Economist”

  1. To me the really juicy part of Flanders’ column is:

    The trouble is that we cyclists suffer from our own variant of the “control” theory of risk. Namely: we don’t think it’s dangerous to go through traffic lights, or ride up one-way streets, or cycle on the pavements. Just so long as we are the ones doing it….When I am one of few cyclists breaking the rules I may ignore the broader social costs: the reduced tolerance of cyclists by other road users, for example, or the accidents caused later by those enraged motorists we left at the lights. Now everyone’s doing it, the costs afflict us all.

    As a bike commuter, I am fully aware of the disservice we cyclists do ourselves when we break traffic laws because we think they only apply to motorized vehicles – we pay the social cost of reduced tolerance. And yet it’s often more convenient to break the law: Rolling through stop signs saves momentum, and riding against traffic on a one-way can save time.
    My approach to this dilemma is to follow the rules strictly, to the letter, when riding in traffic. I believe this sets a good example for other cyclists and gives the proper respect to motorists and pedestrians. (In particular I try to avoid the common city cyclist move at a red light – sitting in the middle of the crosswalk atop the pedals, fidgeting, waiting impatiently for the light to change.)
    When no cars are around, however, I will admit that I roll through stop signs with reckless abandon (carefully watching for cross traffic, of course). To me it’s not a matter of ethics being decided by the situation – it’s a matter of the social costs being decided by the situation. Running a stop sign in full view of cars/pedestrians diminishes the respect that society gives cyclists generally. But doing it when no cars/pedestrians are around has no social impact. (Although announcing it here so plainly probably does.)
    We follow traffic laws both for reasons of safety and respect. I personally am willing to violate some of those laws only when I believe neither safety nor respect will be compromised. But that’s still not quite it: If I were driving my car late at night and came to a red light at a deserted intersection, I would not dream of running it, even though neither safety nor respect would be violated. But on a bike I would most likely stop, glance around to make sure no one was looking, and go on through.

  2. Dave

    I agree that cyclists should follow the law when riding in traffic – not so much to give respect to motorists (I don’t have much respect for the very large number of people who drive cars unnecessarily) but because if we want to have the same rights as motorists then we have to follow the rules. If we want to build a stronger case for cyclists’ rights, we have to show that we are responsible.


  3. Oohh, dear, I do wish you hadn’t posted that photo. Something of a thing for redheads and to know that she is an economist and cyclist as well…be still my beating heart.

  4. I’m sorry to confess that I sometimes ride my bike on the pavement (sidewalk) when the road is absolutely clogged with trucks, vans and cars which cut you up if you try to pass on the inside, and expose you to the risk of head-on collision if you try to pass on the outside. If I’m on the pavement I ride very slowly, dismount if approaching an obviously nervous elderly person, give way without fail to pedestrians, and if there are a lot of pedestrians about, I get off and push. But on a virtually deserted pavement it’s often the only safe way to go, given the shocking absence of cycle lanes and traffic congestion on some major roads. It’s safer for other people as well as for me. I regard this as a much more acceptable practice than ignoring red lights and other ordinary rules of the road.


  5. Well, so she’s a cyclist. A close thing, but I have decided it doesn’t put me off. In fact, a bit of sweat followed by a shower at work is quite sexy really. So she’ll have to try harder to turn me off.

  6. Hi. Fellow Cyclist.  Children and adults are now being threatend with ASBOs for riding their cycles on a Pavement,  and in some cases, if you happen to be a "Working Class Parent" that is, and the resident of a Council Estate, the very roof over your families heads can now be taken away from you if your child/husband/brother /sister happens to be on an ASBO for cycling on a pavement, and they should dare break that order by once again cycling on a pavement.
    So beware when your child ventures out alone, it is not only the pervert you should be worried about ,  but the Police and Local Government , the Police and the Government insist you should be aware of what your family members are doing when out of your sight.  any person can receive up to 5 years imprisonment, or £5000 fine for breaking an ASBO ORDER.  So beware those of you who thought ASBOs were just made for the Lout, and Thug, No they are made for us all. Middle class, upper class and working class who dare break the law and cycle on a pavement
    ASBOs are helping keep our children locked away at home getting fat and obese, or locked away in prison getting a criminal education.

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