A new study has found that cyclists are more caring than drivers, with the authors saying that the findings suggest that “the benefits of cycling over driving are more profound and sustainable than previously thought.”
Published in the November 2023 edition of the Journal of Environmental Psychology under the title Orientation towards the common good in cities: The role of individual urban mobility behavior, the study was based on annual surveys of the general population in Germany between 2014 and 2019.
It aimed to explore they relationship between cycling and driving in urban environments and disposition towards the “common good” – a concept linked to social cohesion that has been the subject of increased focus in recent years, particularly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Within the study, orientation towards the common good was ranked according to four separate measures – “political participation, social participation in organisations, neighbourhood solidarity, and neighbourly helpfulness.”
According to the authors, led by Harald Schuster of the Faculty of Psychology at the FernUniversität in Hagen, North Rhine-Westphalia, “cycling rather than driving was positively associated with orientation towards the common good in all models.
“Cycling was the only variable that was a significant positive predictor for all four facets of orientation towards the common good after controlling for possibly confounding variables (homeownership, personal income, education, sex).”
The authors said that the findings were explained by the different experience of the surrounding environment, and the opportunity for interactions with other people, that drivers or car passengers have compared to those who cycle for everyday trips.
Noting that the private motor car “dominates public space and has become the dominant norm for urban mobility,” they said that “because of the design of cars, the interactions car passengers have with their direct environment are significantly reduced,” chiefly because the vehicle insulates them from the outside world.
“It is likely that the different ways in which people use and interact with their environment lead to differences in the perception of orientation towards the common good,” the study suggested.
“We assume that the frequency and directness of interaction with the neighbourhood environment influences the extent of perceived orientation towards the common good. For instance, when neighbours have the opportunity to talk to each other or have the opportunity to see positive changes in the neighbourhood directly this might positively affect perceived orientation towards the common good.
“People's mobility behaviour might increase these opportunities in a way that people who walk or cycle through the neighbourhood have more opportunities to meet, talk and interact with their environment. This may increase their experience of orientation towards the common good.”
In conclusion, the authors said that “this research demonstrated that mobility behaviour is associated with the orientation towards the common good.
“These findings are significant for policy and planning because the benefits of cycling over driving are more profound and sustainable than previously thought,” they added.
As we often mention on this site, it’s worth bearing in mind that many cyclists also drive, and choose to use a car or bike depending on the journey being undertaken – indeed, market research consistently shows that in the UK at least, adult cyclists are slightly more likely than the population as a whole to hold a driving licence.
And while that underlines that very often, drivers and cyclists are one and the same person, differentiiated only by the mode of transport they happen to be using at the time, that certainly doesn’t mean that their experience of the world while using a car or a bike is identical.
If you ride a bike and also drive, ask yourself this question – how often do you spot something in your local area that you haven’t noticed before when cycling compared to when you’re driving? And when was the last time you had a friendly chat with a fellow motorist while waiting for the traffic lights to change?
Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.