Barriers to active travel: perceptions of a safety

Active travel faces many barriers. One is our perception of safety or fear. As a society, we seem to be getting more fearful and anxious, as recent research implies. Our perceptions of safety are important, especially in active travel. Psychology and neuroscience have come a long way in explaining our human nature. The availability cascade is a contributing factor in our perception of risk.

Rational or not, fear is painful and debilitating, and policy makers must endeavour to protect the public from fear, not only from real dangers.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, 25 October 2011, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Location 2463

Feeling fearful

Lachlan Roberts, New transport network raises safety concerns for women at bus stops, The RiotACT, 2 September 2019

Mum of two Sandra Wiens said the reason she stopped taking the bus was due to her feeling unsafe walking to and from the bus stop, and Women’s Centre for Health Matters said she is not the only woman who feels this way.

Lachlan Roberts, New transport network raises safety concerns for women at bus stops, The Riot ACT, 2 September 2019

Ms Wiens said she no longer takes the bus and will now drive her car to and from work, one of many women making the decision to hop off the network.

Lachlan Roberts, New transport network raises safety concerns for women at bus stops, The Riot ACT, 2 September 2019

Women’s Centre for Health Matters CEO Marcia Williams said the centre kept hearing from individual women about how the new bus network had affected them, so they decided to conduct a survey to find out how the changes have affected women and their sense of security.

Lachlan Roberts, New transport network raises safety concerns for women at bus stops, The Riot ACT, 2 September 2019

“Quite a few women are telling us that they aren’t catching buses anymore because they don’t feel safe at and walking to their bus stop. It’s not the bus itself or the change in route, its the bus stop and having to navigate from that new bus stop to home.”

Lachlan Roberts, New transport network raises safety concerns for women at bus stops, The Riot ACT, 2 September 2019

“We know that a woman’s perception of safety will stop them from using places or spaces,” she said. “For women, it’s about the perception of safety, so even though the bus stop seems safe to Transport Canberra, women will not use it if they don’t feel safe.

Lachlan Roberts, New transport network raises safety concerns for women at bus stops, The Riot ACT, 2 September 2019

The availability cascade

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman explains the availability cascade.

An availability cascade is a self-sustaining chain of events, which may start from media reports of a relatively minor event and lead up to public panic and large-scale government action. On some occasions, a media story about a risk catches the attention of a segment of the public, which becomes aroused and worried. This emotional reaction becomes a story in itself, prompting additional coverage in the media, which in turn produces greater concern and involvement. (Location 2415)

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, 25 October 2011, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The issue becomes politically important because it is on everyone’s mind, and the response of the political system is guided by the intensity of public sentiment. The availability cascade has now reset priorities. (Location 2421)

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, 25 October 2011, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The Alar tale illustrates a basic limitation in the ability of our mind to deal with small risks: we either ignore them altogether or give them far too much weight—nothing in between. (Location 2444)

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, 25 October 2011, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

As Slovic has argued, the amount of concern is not adequately sensitive to the probability of harm; you are imagining the numerator—the tragic story you saw on the news—and not thinking about the denominator. (Location 2447)

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, 25 October 2011, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The combination of probability neglect with the social mechanisms of availability cascades inevitably leads to gross exaggeration of minor threats, sometimes with important consequences. (Location 2449)

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, 25 October 2011, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

In today’s world, terrorists are the most significant practitioners of the art of inducing availability cascades. With a few horrible exceptions such as 9/11, the number of casualties from terror attacks is very small relative to other causes of death. (Location 2451)

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, 25 October 2011, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Paul Slovic trusts the experts much less and the public somewhat more than Sunstein does, and he points out that insulating the experts from the emotions of the public produces policies that the public will reject—an impossible situation in a democracy. (Location 2459)

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, 25 October 2011, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

Rational or not, fear is painful and debilitating, and policy makers must endeavor to protect the public from fear, not only from real dangers. (Location 2463)

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, 25 October 2011, Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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