Study Finds Cyclists Are Better People Than Drivers

Well, the comments section on this one should be fun: Cyclists are more interested in the common good than drivers are, a study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found. The study used four factors to define the common good — political participation, social participation, neighborhood solidarity and neighborly helpfulness. And as it turns out, drivers are less interested in all four of those things.

“Cycling rather than driving was positively associated with orientation towards the common good in all models,” the study found. “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).”

Essentially, pedestrians and cyclists directly interact with their environment, while drivers are almost entirely isolated from it:

Because of the design of cars, the interactions car passengers have with their direct environment are significantly reduced. Sheller and Urry (2000) emphasize that no interaction with the spatial environment can take place from inside a passenger car because acoustic backdrops and smells of the city are not captured and distinctive buildings or urban artifacts are reduced to two dimensions by a perception from inside through the windshield of the car. Te Brömmelstroet et al. (2017) add that interaction with the spatial environment beyond visual channels occurs mainly at the point of origin and destination, and that there are few opportunities for interaction between the driver and the environment while en route, such as when stopping at a traffic light or standing in a traffic jam.

So now there’s evidence to suggest that cities should invest in walking and cycling infrastructure, not just because it lowers air and noise pollution, but because it would be better for society in general.

That said, the study didn’t attempt to determine whether people more oriented toward the common good are simply more likely to ride bikes, or whether riding bikes actually increases people’s interest in the common good. It would be incredibly hard to do in most of the U.S., but we’d love to see a follow-up study that measures whether or not cycling at least a few times a week changes people’s interest in the four criteria used here.

Of course, since this is America, there are plenty of people who will read the results of this study and draw the opposite conclusion. They’ll argue we’ve got to stop the bike lanes because caring about the common good isn’t ruggedly individualist enough and turns people into Godless Communists. We would argue, however, that if you see political participation, social participation, neighborhood solidarity and neighborly helpfulness as bad things, you might just be a bad person. Maybe going for a bike ride will help.

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