Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Illuminating result

Image from fall 2011 Critical Mass borrowed from here.
The results are in from Budapest's latest "ninja" count -- and it shows a significant uptick in the use of bike lamps compared springtime.

As you may recall, the organisers of the city's Critical Mass carried out a pilot survey of bike-lamp use this past March. Volunteer counters across the country observed more than 2,000 cyclists and found that 57 percent were in perfect compliance with requirements (having both front and rear lamps); 77 percent had at least one light (front, rear or both); and 23 percent were riding ninja style, with no lamps at all.

Last week, a follow-up survey was carried out and the improvement was remarkable. The share of cyclists in perfect compliance was up by 12 points to 69 percent; the portion with at least some lighting was up nine points to 86 percent; and the number of “ninjas” was down by nine points to 14 percent. The spreadsheet with the full dataset is available on Google dox here.

In his post on the count, lead organiser Gábor "Kükü" Kürti enthused about the "very positive" results, although cautioning that a more proper comparison will have to wait until March, when numbers can be compared from spring to spring.

Some comments to Kükü's post expressed skepticism that the result could be completely attributable to behavioural change. I'd have to agree that such a major change in mindset and habits would be unlikely to occur in just six months' time.

I was thinking there could be a few other possible explanations:
  • In springtime, you have a lot more fair-weather cyclists who are riding bikes fresh out of storage and, naturally, with dead batteries in their lamps. Whereas in fall, the riders have been riding continuously all summer and their equipment, including lamps, is mainly in working order.
  • Over the last couple of seasons, there's been a huge, and rapid improvement in the bike lamps on offer. The latest LED lights, with multiple diodes, have huge candle power and the batteries never seem to run out. At the same time, Hungarian bike shops are offering more and more commuter-style bikes that are pre-equipped with front and rear lamps powered by dynamos. It could very well be that the better offer on the marketplace has had a positive impact on lamp use even during the last six months.
  • More optimistically, we all know there have been lots of new people taking up cycling during the last couple seasons. It could be that these relative latecomers to everyday cycling are generally more safety-conscious than the more kemény mag (hardcore) types who dominated the scene earlier. At any rate, I've noticed a lot more cyclists during the last season or two who are wearing reflective vests and jerseys, along with headlamps and other lights, than I used to.
Whatever the cause of the increase, it seems to me that even last spring's results were positive enough to disspell the prejudice that cyclists are a bunch of heedless sociopaths. Even the first survey showed that the overwhelming majority of night riders had at least one working lamp on their bike. That indicated to me that most people want to ride safe -- even if only for selfish reasons of personal security. The fact that some of these had a missing lamp or one with dead batteries is not a sign of willful disregard of the law or public safety. At worst, it's a sign of procrastination or forgetfulness. 

The latest survey gives hope that there's something afoot that's influencing more people to ride with working lamps. It'll be interesting to see if the good numbers hold up in the springtime.



Bikeurious said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bikeurious said...

Dude, Budapest cyclists ARE a bunch of heedless sociopaths. They blow right through red lights, mow down pedestrians, ride on the sidewalks at high speed and text message while cycling. I've never seen such idiotic arrogance among cyclists in any other European city.

Greg Spencer said...

Hmm. I feel as though someone is yanking my chain.