(If you’re going to be ugly, get a car.)
Picture yourself driving your car along the motorway. Suddenly a massive plane, vastly larger and faster than you, WWWWHOOSHes past you. It misses by a terrifiyingly narrow breadth.
The experience leaves you shaken. You question whether driving is the best way to get around when pilots can get away with driving like that. You tell a friend later and she says, “Driving’s so dangerous. Why don’t you just take the plane like everyone else?”
There’s a good reason that car traffic is safely separated and protected from jet aircraft. Stop turning a blind conscience to this danger: write to your local representative right now and demand protected cycle lanes.
Yesterday I saw a video that shocked me. It’s a Scottish current affairs show, which first regales the viewer with (sceptically voiced) insights into bicycle infrastructure in the Netherlands, then descends into a debate (from 5:00) over whether Scotland should invest in safe bicycle infrastructure.
Representing safe cycling: the chair of CTC Scotland who (not mentioned) is an experienced trauma surgeon. Representing mockery of cycling: a ‘journalist’ (not mentioned: motoring journalist) who is (also not mentioned) a member of (anti-bicycle organisation) the Institute of Advanced Motorists.
Takeaway: willful ignorance delivered in a charismatic and light-hearted fashion wins against dull facts in a monotone.
Have you seen the (frankly excellent) film Thank You for Smoking? The debate reminded me of this scene where the highly effective tobacco lobbyist demonstrates to his son how to win an argument.
Compare (academic, scolding) anti-obesity ‘education’ with slick, we-bring-joy campaigns from Coke, McDo et al.
Compare tobacco marketing – pushed by ‘cool‘ friends, based on fashionable role models – with (academic, scolding) anti-smoking campaigns. “Don’t guilt-trip me! Don’t lecture me! I can make my own decisions, thank you!” (To see a good use of persuasion, cast your eyes over this guilt-free, norm-acknowledging anti-smoking campaign from Canada here.)
Compare (academic, lecture-y) climate change warnings with the emotion-based ‘common sense’ of denier literature.
Compare Bike to Work Day campaigns – healthy, fun, statistically safe! – with your average slick car commercial - freedom, status, power, control! (The Cycle Chic movement and, here in NZ, Frocks on Bikes are largely on to the right idea.)
Takeaway: ‘Education’ is largely a pointless waste of money, unless we deliver it with charm, humour, laden with meaningful human values, delivered in an entertaining way and with a single-minded focus on the benefits that will win over the audience. Hearts (as well as minds) demand to be won.
I admit I sometimes ride on the footpath. Never at more than a slow jogging pace. Never ever when I’m in a hurry. Never without the utmost attention and priority to people on foot and shop doorways. Never without a genuine smile and a thank you if people choose to step aside to let me pass. Sometimes with a polite tinkle of my little bell to let people know there’s a bike behind them. Usually at walking speed – pushing the bike takes up more space. Always striving to make a good impression. Never an issue.
With half an hour to kill, all my errands run and no destination in mind, I decided to enjoy the sunshine and simply meander round town. I was moving at a time-wasting pace, peeping into the odd shop window and people watching from my saddle. Not wanting to get hit by a car or bus while doing this, I rode on the footpath. It was wide and only one other person was on it the whole length of the block.
Oh, wait! A middle-aged gent steps onto the footpath. He glances daggers at me and strides determinedly toward my tiny (Brompton) front wheel with eyes that say ‘I’ll run you off the road’. ”It’s a footpath, you know,” he seethes, just loud enough to hear.
Technically what I’m doing is still illegal (in some countries, including here). In Japan, everyone rides on the footpath at some point. The footpath Japanese ridewith utmost attention and priority to people on foot and shop doorways – but if you want to go fast, you get on the road. Same in most countries: it’s illegal but tolerated, as long as you’re causing no danger. This is my principle.
I meander easily out of his path and ignore him. He changes direction sharply so he doesn’t continue headlong into a brick wall.
This is where I made a decision. From now on, my efforts to make a good impression of bicycle users will be a full-on charm offensive.
There are so many ways I could have dealt with him. Here are some, from least effective to (perhaps) most.
- “Grow up.”
Argue / Play with his words:
- “What’s making me move – my hands?”
- “Are wheelchairs not allowed here? Mobility scooters?”
- “It’s a sidewalk: are jogging and skateboarding not allowed?”
Try to understand his attitude:
- “Why do you hate bicycles?”
Help him see the bigger issue of infrastructure:
- “Ever tried walking along the road here? There’s a good reason people choose not to mix with cars.”
- “How safe do you consider the bicycle paths that New Zealand provides?”
- “Consider why bicycles mix better with people than with cars.”
Build a relationship in which I listen to and try to understand him in order to build enough trust that he might listen to and try to understand me:
- “Excuse me, hi, I’m Adam. What’s you name, sorry? Do you ever ride? …” And a productive and understanding relationship (hopefully) starts.
I might also have been able (largely in jest) to point out that he had just ‘jay’ walked across the street, which is technically still illegal (in some countries, including here), and is just as daft a law as flat-out banning all bicycle use on the footpath.
Tory Street’s a fine street. On one hand, it reminds me of home: I hail from the same town as Sir Robert Peel, whose Tamworth Manifesto rebranded the Tory Party into the Conservative Party. It’s also a fine street because Tory’s narrowness and teaming streetlife forces drivers to slow down and pay attention.
And right now it’s even more fine. Because it’s ‘closed’.
Wellington City Council should be congratulated heartily on this prototype example of using mode-segregated infrastructure to make life safer for people on bikes and boots. Tory Street has never felt so… attractive!
Roadworks will be continuing until ‘late January’. Make the most of it.
In Australia, “57% of riders were travelling at 20 kilometres per hour or greater at the time of the crash. … MACCS has demonstrated a relationship between increased bicycle speed and the risk of head injury.” [Monash University]
Even in the safest bicycle country on earth, ‘sports cyclists’ (on mountain bikes or racing bikes) are at significantly higher risk of injury than ‘utility cyclists’ (on normal sit-up bikes). [Bicycle Helmet Research Foundation]
In London’s bike share, in the first 4.5 million trips no-one has been seriously hurt or injured, compared with about 12 people seriously injured for every 4.5 million trips on personal bikes. Comparing non-serious injuries on bike share bikes and personal bikes shows a 1 to 3.5 ratio. [Transport for London]
Same story on Washington D.C.’s bike share. [Boston Globe]
Takeaway for current bike riders: Sit up, slow down, safe up?
Takeaway for policy-makers: Ditch the helmet law for non-sports cyclists?
When a kid gets knocked down by a motorist while on a bicycle, you normally hear calls for better cycle training, high-visibility clothing and helmets. (From people like this.)