Learning by doing, lessons from the BITS project

24 January 2023 - Published by CIE Communications

‘The way to make better decisions is to make more of them. Then make sure you learn from each one, including those that don't seem to work out in the short term: they will provide valuable distinctions to make better evaluations and therefore decisions in the future. Realize that decision making, like any skill you focus on improving, gets better the more often you do it.’

This is a quote attributed to the actor Anthony Hopkins. Who knows if he has ever said or written this, but does it really matter? If Mr Hopkins didn’t came up with this, somebody should have done so, as it is true in general and definitely has been applicable to the BITS project in the last 4 years.

One of the most important accomplishments of the BITS project is setting steps towards a culture of collecting (new forms of) and analyzing objective data when it comes to cycling related policy and decision making and learning from its outcomes.

Over 30 pilots have been implemented during these 4 years, often very innovative experiments on collecting new forms of data, using data to solve cycling policy puzzles, increasing the safety, speed, comfort and ease of use of cycling for citizens in the participating areas. BITS was a laboratory for the future of cycling and cycling related policies in Europe. Given the challenges we are confronted with globally and within the European space, it can be hoped for that the results of the BITS project will find their way into new and better forms of policy making that recognize the importance of cycling and cycling-related data collection as part of the solution for mobility and climate related problems.

Overall it is clear that the BITS project was a success in many ways. Regarding the advice ‘to make sure you learn from each one (i.e. the pilots), including those that don't seem to work out in the short term’ the BITS partners have learned a lot and many recommendations can be made regarding new forms of technology, data collection and cycling policy.  

Of course, not all pilots fully reached their pilot specific goals. Some pilots suffered delays, setbacks and/or met with restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the policies to curb it. Measuring impact in clear numbers (e.g. percentage of uptake in cycling) was often complicated due to changes in mobility (or leisure time) related behavior during and after the lockdowns. Emerging forms of technology require new forms of expertise that should be acquired by experience; working with data raises questions on data ownership, privacy and GDPR and the need for European standards and the abundance of new possibilities may force policy makers to prioritize on what really helps cycling and cyclists forward.  

In addition, many pilots have shown that the use of innovative forms of technology and the data they generate for individual cyclists and cycling policy makers can stimulate the uptake in cycling in the short term, by increasing the motivation to cycle, or in the long term by supporting cycling policies and infrastructural changes that reduce the costs and increase the benefits of cycling. Obviously this requires that a willingness to invest in these technologies in a systematic way and a clear vision and commitment on how a modal shift in transport can help to solve several problems that local communities are confronted with.

A vision on the future of cycling and the steps required to reach the goals set, should take into account the local contexts with its opportunities and challenges and the motivations and perceived barriers of its citizens or certain types of citizens. Not all interventions are readily transposable from one context to another. Involving citizens by tailor made communication and behavioural change campaigns or through citizen science projects may strengthen the support base for a modal shift in transport that we need globally and locally.

Most of the BITS pilots have been evaluated and are (or will be soon) available on the BITS website.