Nadia Williams

Nadia Williams

This site is a showcase for my research and writing related to active travel. I am a TU Dublin Research Scholar. My particular interest is in communications related to cycling and cyclists, as this topic provokes a particularly virulent response. The currents of communication are not harmless: they go with us onto the road, and affect our behaviour as road users. They are with us in boardrooms where policy decisions are made. They have a seat at the table of design teams deciding the physical shape of our roads. They sit on the shoulder of the Gardai making decisions on road policing. They are there in the budget allocations decided by the powers that be. Therefore the largely negative discourse related to cyclists plays its part in making roads less safe and less welcoming to vulnerable road users.

In plain language, the virulence directed at cyclists in all our media communication, including social media and “traditional” media, plays a part in frightening near-misses, unpleasant intimidation, injuries, and yes, also deaths of cyclists on Irish roads. Likewise, it plays a part in the dishearteningly low modal share for the bicycle in Ireland – only 1.7% in 2017.

We cannot afford to shrug and say: “That’s just the way it is. Ireland is just not a cycling country.” The climate crisis cannot be ignored. Our behaviour is going to change, either by force as the consequences of the way we live result in societal breakdown, or by choice if we recognise the harm in our way of life and change it intelligently. Transport “was responsible for 20.2% of Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas emissions in 2018”, with road transport by far the biggest contributor. The means of transport responsible for the biggest share of this pollution is the private car. Electric cars are not the answer.

On several occasions I have heard people express feelings ranging from indifference to hopelessness when it comes to their ability to matter with regards to addressing the looming climate crisis. This area, transport, is one where we each as individual actually can make a difference. We don’t need to passively wait for clever new technology to be found sometime in the hazy future: alternatives are in our hands right now, right here. We need to walk and cycle more.

How do we accomplish that? Sometimes this feels like a catch-22. Drivers are the majority group so roads, road policing, and government decisions related to roads are all geared to serving the majority. This makes roads hostile to the minorities. This sustains the driver majority, which sustains resistance to the change needed to reduce that majority.

I am one of many researchers devoting ourselves to finding out how to break this impasse. My specialism is media discourse, and the social psychological currents both created and reflected by the discourse. I am, in a nutshell, uncovering the psychology at the root of the status quo, and aim to use that knowledge to find ways to change it.