A Hierarchy of Needs for Cycling? [Part 1 of 2]

So you want to make your city a great place for cycling. Where do you start? 

Which conversations do you want to have? Fun? Safety? Inclusivity? Delight? I think it depends on how far along your city is. There will always be visions of cycling utopia for your city, and I want to better understand how to get there. 

Let's start with Maslow's idea of human needs and see where this gets us. 

 Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Image credit: FireflySixtySeven  CC BY-SA 4.0  , via Wikimedia Commons

Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Image credit: FireflySixtySeven CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

When it comes to human needs, we have an intuitive understanding of which needs are more basic than others, and it is based on this understanding that we prioritize our personal resources. For example, if all you earned was ten dollars a day, you will probably choose to spend that money on food, clothing, and basic shelter. You would want to find somewhere safe to sleep. Only with significantly more affluence would you indulge in the arts, spend time with your friends, and even purchase a very nice car to demonstrate your prestige to your friends. Abraham Maslow proposed this pyramid in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation". 

In 2005, Alfonzo's paper "To Walk or Not to Walk? The Hierarchy of Walking Needs" adapted Maslow's hierarchy to describe environments which support walking. Alfonzo uses a similar five layer pyramid to illustrate how we may consider the feasibility of walking. 

 Image credit: Alfonzo, M. A. (2005). To Walk or Not to Walk? The Hierarchy of Walking Needs. Environment and Behavior, 37(6), 808–836. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916504274016

Image credit: Alfonzo, M. A. (2005). To Walk or Not to Walk? The Hierarchy of Walking Needs. Environment and Behavior, 37(6), 808–836. https://doi.org/10.1177/0013916504274016

In 2012,  a masters thesis by Noor Scheltema further adapted this pyramid for cycling, with the division between "satisfiers" and "dissatisfiers". Again, this pyramid presented with the idea that the top conditions can only be met when fundamental condition (safety) and precondition (directness) have already been established. 

 Scheltema, Noor. ‘Recycle City: Strengthening the Bikeability from Home to the Dutch Railway Station’. Delft University of Technology. www.recyclecity.nl.

Scheltema, Noor. ‘Recycle City: Strengthening the Bikeability from Home to the Dutch Railway Station’. Delft University of Technology. www.recyclecity.nl.

In my previous article "Thinking about Bikeability: From Safety to Delight", I wrote about how my experience of cycling in the Netherlands fundamentally changed the way I think about cycling as an activity. What changed? Why do my old ways of thinking no longer seem relevant?

Could it have something to do with this pyramid?

Perhaps I think more about the comfort and attractiveness of cycling because I live in cycling luxury. This luxury is afforded to me by a compact urban environment, free from the dangers of menacing traffic.  Because of this luxury, my research and my daily conversations with other people now focus on the top of the pyramid: "how do we make cycling delightful?" rather than "how can I stay safe and live to bike another day?" 

In part 2, I will share with you my own adaptation of the cycling hierarchy of needs.