Does this Encourage more Bicycling?

hollandAndreas Rohl, bike program manager for the city of Copenhagen spoke at this year’s National Bike Summit.

From Bike Portland:

On the topic of safety, Rohl had a particularly memorable insight. Of course it’s important, he said, but it’s even more important to not put too much focus on it. If you tell someone to think of an elephant, he said, they’ll think of an elephant. His point was that if advocates and planners are always talking about safety (which the U.S. is very guilty of) than people especially the ones advocates are trying to attract will assume it’s a dangerous activity.

We’ve brought this up in prior articles as it relates to the constant public message that cyclists must always wear a helmet.

Last month Copenhagenize noted the Dutch Bicycle Council’s collection of positive cycling promotions. Those photos certainly make cycling look safe, accessible, convenient and fun. There’s no lycra and almost no helmets.

ride-of-silenceContrast that with the Ride of Silence events that mourn cyclists killed or injured while biking — putting the focus on how unsafe cycling can be.

Does this message encourage more people to ride a bicycle?

Does this message make it more or less likely that parents will let their kids bike to school?

Certainly there’s a time and place to remember our fellow cyclists who’ve been injured or worst. No one is opposed to that.

And that remembrance certainly could be part of an annual (and very positive) blessing of the bikes event. That could encourage more bicycling.

For that we say, “Amen.”

[In the next revision of m-bike, we will be looking at how we portray cycling safety to the non-cycling public despite that not being our target audience.]

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6 Responses to “Does this Encourage more Bicycling?”

  1. Streetsblog » Is There Such a Thing as Too Much Emphasis on Safety? Says:

    […] like to talk more about the safety issue — or, more precisely, the perception-of-safety issue. M-bike.org, a Streetsblog Network member in Detroit, has a post comparing the Dutch approach to promoting […]

  2. Dave Says:

    I think the answer is emphatically “no, this does not encourage more bicycling.” In Portland, 50-60% of the population says they don’t cycle at all, or cycle less than they otherwise would, because they feel it is unsafe. Yet, cycling fatalities and injuries (as well as overall traffic fatalities and injuries) are at the lowest they have ever been since they have kept track of such things (in the 1920’s).

    So, why do they feel cycling is dangerous? Because their bike tells them so. Their bike’s owner’s manual tells them so. Their local bike shop tells them so. Their local media tells them so. Their politicians tell them so. Not in so many words, but the idea and the feeling given is that cycling is dangerous and you need helmets and reflective vests and lights brighter than car headlights in order to be safe.

    All that says “cycling is not for me” to a huge portion of the population.

    What the Dutch have done, is work to make cycling inherently safe in their cities and even in the country, by providing separated, convenient infrastructure, by limiting the freedom of automobile users, and by creating law that puts vulnerable road users ahead of automobile users; at which point, they don’t need to rant and rave about how you need to be safe while on a bicycle. And guess what? It’s worked. The Netherlands has the safest traffic in the world, for all modes of transportation, nobody feels that riding a bicycle is dangerous, and they are right.

    I think most of the time, helmet laws and all of this ‘safety’ propaganda is simply a cop-out, so that no real attention has to be given to the deeper issues of how to make traffic safer. They can just say “oh, he wasn’t wearing a helmet, stupid man,” even if they were in a collision that wasn’t their fault or didn’t involve head injuries (and this happens).

  3. fpteditors Says:

    In the U.S., cycling in auto traffic with no more than a white line for protection NOT safe.

  4. Blessing of the Bikes in Detroit | m-bike.org Says:

    […] As we noted earlier, we think this sort of event puts a much more positive spin on cycling. […]

  5. Dave Reid Says:

    That’s a really good point. Scaring people about safety issues, when biking is truly very safe, surly doesn’t help encourage new riders.

  6. Ride of Silence: Good intentions, wrong message | m-bike.org Says:

    […] year we noted that events like the Ride of Silence do not encourage more people to ride bicycles. Rides modeled […]

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