"How Our Nudging Campaign Went Viral: Taking the Detour"

Diede Vendrig

Team Lead Behavior

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Main Question

How can we ensure that cyclists follow the detours?

Behavior change always comes with resistance.

This makes the careful planning of roadworks challenging every time. Because for safe execution, it's often crucial that road users follow the designated detours to prevent dangerous situations. But this is difficult, as people are creatures of habit, often quite stubborn, and dislike change. The Municipality of Nijmegen had already noticed this during previous projects. Recently, they faced a new challenge: reducing wrong-way cycling during construction. The St. Annastraat in Nijmegen had to be temporarily closed to widen the bike path. To organize this as effectively as possible for all parties involved, they sought help.

In collaboration with BUKO Bereikbaar, a part of BUKO Infrasupport B.V., Unravel Behavior was tasked with providing the Municipality of Nijmegen and the executing party, Van Gelder, with psychological advice to ensure that cyclists would dutifully turn right instead of cycling straight against the flow, with all the consequences that entails.

How did we proceed?

For a behavioral project like this, we always follow a step-by-step process. We use the PATH model from social psychology, which involves the following steps:

Problem Analysis

We determine what the challenge is. This is discovered by asking many questions during a good kick-off meeting: what is the challenge, why is it a problem, who is involved, when does the challenge occur, and most importantly, what type of behavior are we dealing with? Is this conscious and planned behavior, or unconscious and habit-driven behavior?

A thorough problem analysis is the most important card in the house of a successful intervention. The Municipality of Nijmegen and BUKO told us exactly which part of the St. Annastraat would be closed, which types of cyclists frequently use this route and now needed to change their behavior, what possible alternatives were available, and what the biggest challenge would be within those alternatives. The latter was mainly about the possibility that cyclists might cross over instead of taking the detour, secretly cycling against the flow, with dangerous consequences. So, there was work to be done.


After the problem analysis, it's important to research the underlying factors of the (un)desired behavior. We conducted interviews with cyclists on-site in the St. Annastraat, cycled all possible routes ourselves, and observed the current behavior of cyclists and the location in great detail.

We also conducted thorough literature research into previously proven effective interventions in the field of traffic psychology. Additionally, we researched behavior in a broader context. For example, we looked into ways to reduce resistance to change in habitual behavior.


In the testing phase of the PATH model, we combine all factors into a process model that clarifies which psychological motivations are interconnected and have influence on each other, either reinforcing or inhibiting each other. Then, we always conduct a Driver Analysis (see below) to clarify which drivers stimulate or inhibit the desired or undesired behavior. This makes it possible to select the right factors for the best result in behavior change.


After this extensive preliminary phase, we were able to proceed with the actual interventions. Here, we could be creative while remaining evidence-based. We provided 19 recommendations that the Municipality of Nijmegen and BUKO could immediately put into action. These recommendations were aimed at both communication prior to the changes and communication on-site during the detour.

One of the recommendations was to positively reinforce people when they exhibit the correct behavior. Through gamification, we advised transforming the detour into an actual race with a starting and finishing line. Research shows that this positive emotion after performing new behavior strengthens the likelihood of habit formation and increases the chance of repeating the desired behavior.

Additionally, we advised showing social disapproval when people ignored the detour, as our research revealed that this could inhibit undesirable behavior. While the goal is always to minimize unwanted behavior as much as possible, complete prevention is rarely achievable. Therefore, we recommended displaying a disappointed child when cyclists couldn't resist the temptation to cycle against the flow. This social disapproval did not go unnoticed, with reactions on LinkedIn like: "And quite amusing if you're cycling in the wrong direction, on the Esso side. Then there's a sign with an angry child. I did feel a bit caught yesterday when I didn't follow the course. Great initiative!"

Another recommendation was to emphasize the speed of the detour by using icons of a moving bicycle along the route. We also displayed the progress of the detour, culminating in a finish arch at the end of the detour. Due to the commitment principle in psychology, we find it satisfying to see how much progress we're making, contributing to the continuation of positive behavior.

Getting to work

After providing our advice, it was up to BUKO Bereikbaar.

They ensured that the advice we provided was seamlessly translated into actual tools. The designs were turned into real signs, which they quickly and skillfully placed in the right locations. They also placed the finish arch at the end of the detour for an extra positive "celebration moment."

The Municipality of Nijmegen was ready. Van Gelder could proceed with the construction work, and cyclists could be detoured in a positive manner.

The success did not go unnoticed. Our nudges went viral on LinkedIn, Dumpert, and TikTok. Really cool, of course!

Do you also have a challenge in the field of behavior change?

Challenges like these make our psychological hearts beat a little faster. At Unravel Behavior, we're always eager to unlock our scientific treasure chest to make the world a bit more beautiful or safe. Do you also have a challenge in the field of behavior change? Don't hesitate to get in touch. We're here to assist you!

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Unravel Behavior is a behavioral influence agency. But just a little different. We combine creativity with neuromarketing. Art with science.

By employing proven techniques from psychology, we make your interventions more effective and help you achieve greater impact.

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