How cycling can help people fully participate in society

Cycling can help people to fully participate in society by providing accessibility to more opportunities. It has great potential to meet people's transportation needs of dense urban areas, Morgan Geile argues in her master thesis. For her thesis, Geile conducted a study in Rotterdam South – whose population cycles the least in The Netherlands – to see why  people don’t use the bicycle more often and how cycling can improve transportation equality overall.

In her thesis for the master’s program in Renewable Engineering and Management at the University of Freiburg, Germany, Morgan Geile focused on ‘transport poverty’, an inability to achieve adequate transportation to fully participate in key activities such as employment, education, and social interaction.

Just think of how a lack of adequate and accessible transportation options make it difficult for residents to find and maintain work. This transport poverty could be caused by factors like an inability to afford transportation, a lack of available services or vehicles in which to travel or an inability to access adequate transportation. Trends toward hyper-mobility play a large role in expanding the influence of transport poverty. 

Addressing transport poverty

This hyper-mobility could be reduced by prioritizing cycling as a primary mode of transport in cities. By putting forth and supporting the argument in her thesis that cycling is a practical method to address transport poverty, Geile wants to address the lack of effective methods for combating this poverty. According to Geile, cycling has the great potential to meet people's transportation needs of dense urban areas, particularly for those struggling to access key activities such as work and school. Cycling can enhance social engagement and make neighborhoods more ‘livable’.

Cycling is a cheap, effective, accessible, and sometimes faster mode of urban transport with the potential to effectively address transport poverty in urban settings in addition to producing no recognizable negative social or environmental externalities. Enhanced cycling also contributes to sustainable urban living and healthy active lifestyles; issues not directly linked to transport poverty and social exclusion per se, but which are nonetheless important on a global scale.

Focus groups

But considering the benefits of cycling, how come some communities with cycling opporutnities still suffer from transport poverty? And what can be done to enhance cycling? For her research, Geile carried out a series of focus groups to collect and analyze the transport perceptions of individuals who live in communities known to be affected by transport poverty. In this case, the study included participants of pre-formed community groups living in Rotterdam South. Although the Netherlands (and Rotterdam) has relatively good cycling infrastructures, Rotterdam South has been identified as the area in the Netherlands whose population cycles the least.

The focus group results showed that many people agree cycling is a cheaper, greener, and healthier option, but they are reluctant to make the lifestyle change to cycle more. The majority reasons for this were reported as the difficulties of incorporating cycling with large families (many children) and the fear for personal safety: bike theft, mothers worried about children being out at night alone on a bike, and the competence of other drivers using the same paths and roadways. In short, the results reveal that the ‘human factor’ played a large role in transportation choice, as opposed to simply lacking infrastructure as other research tends to focus on.


But how to best encourage increased numbers of utility cyclists? In a series of recommendations for the city of Rotterdam, Geile focuses on safety: more (secure) parking, lighting, and more separation from cars. Also, stricter ticketing for dangerous or fast drivers, revising policy allowing motorized scooters to share cycling paths and overnight security guards and camera surveillance for bike parking areas. Other recommendation include enhancing incentives for children to continue wanting to cycle, providing specialized shared biking systems for utility bikes or attachments to support various needs such as hauling a large load with a cargo bike or using an ebike to travel a longer distance more easily.

Morgan Geile (University of Freiburg) conducted her research in cooperation with Dutch Research Institute for Transitions (DRIFT), Erasmus University Rotterdam.

More information

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