advocates tone down the rhetoric.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)
Some of the most important insights from the National Bike Summit (which wrapped up Thursday morning with a bike ride) came from an unexpected place. Douglas Meyer, a marketing and communications specialist with Bernuth & Williamson Consulting, shared research on Tuesday that delved into how bicycling is perceived by senior policymakers and Congressional staffers from both political parties. His findings underscore that the bike movement is evolving and its advocates must evolve along with it.
For years, advocates have fought for dedicated funding streams, they’ve asked for their “fair share,” they’ve evangelized the myriad virtues of bicycling to those who don’t “get it,” they’ve yearned for acceptance within mainstream culture and among policymakers, and they’ve proudly labeled themselves, “bicyclists.” According to Meyer’s research, that all needs to change. Many advocates also assume there’s widespread and entrenched opposition to bicycling on Capitol Hill. That mindset, says Meyer, is wrong.
“Advocates are being a little too evangelical. There’s a risk of bicycle promotion becoming the equivalent of selling snake oil.”
— Douglas Meyer
Meyer’s research, which was commissioned by the League of American Bicyclists, was based on 30 in-depth interviews and an online survey taken by advocates at the Summit. The insights he gleaned are invaluable and should be mandatory reading for everyone involved in bike advocacy.
A big takeaway from Meyer’s research (and the Summit overall) is that bicycling should no longer be considered a fringe activity. From the huge positive impact of bike-sharing and the proliferation of protected bikeways in U.S. cities; to US DOT Secretary Ray LaHood’s efforts to legitimize non-motorized transportation — the national profile of cycling has never been higher. That means advocates must shift their frame-of-reference.
“Bicycling advocates now have a seat at the table,” said Meyer during an interview on Wednesday, “So instead of convincing people that they need that seat, now they need to sit down and start working together on solutions.”
What about the supposed opposition to bicycling that many legislators have?
“I found that much of this opposition was much less about the ends and more about the means,” Meyer explained. “It wasn’t necessarily an opposition to bikes, the opposition is to larger issues like how government functions. People may be agnostic about bikes… It’s not to say that they’re avid supporters of cycling, but they weren’t avid opponents. They really just had questions about where the money comes from and who makes the decisions about where it goes.” The way Meyer sees it, those are the same questions being asked about a lot of issues, not just bicycling.
So get over it. “Bike advocates might be taking this all a bit too personally,” said Meyer.
made possible by:
- Planet Bike
- Pro Photo Supply
- Readers like you!
There’s a whole lot of passion in the bike movement. Maybe too much. Based on his interviews, Meyer thinks it might be time to tone things down a bit. “Advocates are being a little too evangelical,” is how he put it. “There’s so much good news about biking. We all know its many benefits; but that tends to backfire… There’s a risk of bicycle promotion becoming the equivalent of selling snake oil.”
On this note, Meyer shared a quote from one of his interviews:
“When someone who is not already a supporter of bicycling hears (from an advocate) how cycling is going to save the world, they simply don’t believe it.”
To help tone down this evangelism, Meyer recommends building alliances with unlikely suspects and working hand-in-hand with other modes to find solutions.
“‘One less car’ is the worst thing to say,” said Meyer. Or, in the words of one of his interviewees: “It can’t be about critical mass and kicking ass. It has to be about multi-modal, progressive, transportation options.”
Another faux pas, according to Meyer, is any talk of demanding a “fair share” of funding. “Those words just don’t seem to resonate and they immediately brought up the question of, ‘Where does the revenue come from and how is it allocated?’ which leads to a sense that people who bike are not paying into the system.”
Meyer shared several anonymous quotes from interviewees about funding issues:
“Focusing on having a dedicated funding source marginalizes the issue*, rather than… (an) approach where you accommodate all the needs and let the money go to that.”
“Advocates need to recognize the pressures on the Federal budget, and instead of relying on the dedicated funding…focus on how to access…the money (that is there).”
“One of my concerns is how the bike community is always arguing about ‘getting their fair share of funds.’ Everyone in transportation is always kvetching about not getting their fair share, and it is annoying…It shouldn’t be about parity but about results.”
Another part of Meyer’s research that is worth noting, is his call to stop using labels like “cyclist” or “bicyclist.” “I know ‘cyclist’ is part of your identity,” said Myer, “But I heard some pretty strong words about toning that down a bit. There are a lot of other people out there who might want to ride their bikes but they don’t want to call themselves cyclists.”
Resist these labels, warned Meyer. “Be inwardly bike-centric, but outwardly multi-modal and mainstream.”
I was very pleased to see these ideas being shared at the Summit. I haven’t written or said the words “cyclist” or “bicyclist” (or “motorist” or “pedestrian” for that matter) on this site for years. I’ve also long thought the continued advocacy for dedicated, set-aside funding streams is a losing strategy. It’s also worth noting that these findings are somewhat inconvenient for the League. There newly unveiled mission statement reads in part, “We are bicyclists” they’ve had entire campaigns devoted to a “fair share” for safety.
If you love bicycling and want to persuade others to feel the same way, Meyer’s report is full of great information on how to communicate effectively. Download it via the League’s blog (PDF).
More coverage from the National Bike Summit here.
wait, who is the dog and who is the tail?
Sadly, to be part of the solution in our current political ecosystem, this means we need to construct a morally ambiguous “human powered travel industrial complex”.
As revolting as that might be the NPR story I heard today about diabetes related costs being >20% of all US health care costs (and >33% of Medicare costs) suggests that enlisting the health care industry might be a good 1st step.
How does the health care industry profit from less diabetes?
It doesn’t, but the health insurance industry benefits from more people paying for their own diabetes, hence the movement that you often see sold as “affordable healthcare for all.”
Or just tax sugar and junk food for the externalized costs that are borne to all of society, health and unhealthy. Taxes will go to offset health care costs while reducing the rates of obesity/diabetes.
This is a our transportation system in a nutshell.
By incentivizing outcomes instead of procedures.
Hitting the nail on the head. Every movement had zealots and there are scores of examples of what happens to the ones when the zealots are able to take the reins.
the majority (funded by rich people and their business interests) loves to focus on “zealots” and “extremists”.
This really struck me, because I’ve thought its a path forward:
“Everyone in transportation is always kvetching about not getting their fair share, and it is annoying…It shouldn’t be about parity but about results.”
But the challenge is how to get at those results. In an environment dominated by traffic data on cars and freight, and travel demand models based on cars – its hard to make the case. I think if there was a way to show changes from bikes, in engineer-speak, it would help. But I won’t hold my breath….
Fantastic analysis and findings. I’ve long thought that the “One Less Car” shirts that so many advocacy organizations give out or sell to their members do more harm than good. For starters, I don’t believe that car owners want to be confronted with the idea that they’re making a bad choice, largely because they may feel as if they don’t have any other choice but to drive. (And many of them legitimately may not.)
The other issue with such messages is that in places where bike commuting is growing in the U.S., people who bike to work aren’t seen as people who replace car commuters. Even as an “avid” bike commuter, when I see someone wearing a “One Less Car” shirt I think, “Oh really? Because I’m pretty sure if you live in Brooklyn and work in Manhattan if you weren’t biking to work you’d be taking the subway.’
And ceasing to use labels such as “cyclist” or “bicyclist” is huge. “People on bikes” seems to be better.
Really great stuff.
Yes! I’ve always thought “One Less Car” shirts/stickers only polarize the issue more and helps fuel the cars vs. bikes nonsense. It might not be as bad as our local news reporting, but it certainly isn’t helping anything. It’s smug and childish. Ugh.
Are there any “One More Bike” stickers out there 🙂
and my favorite: http://worldsbestbikestickers.com/Bike-Stickers/Car-Swarm-Bike-Sticker.html
It can also be construed to mean that there is one less car for motorists to deal with. But instead it’s a holier than thou approach.
Another thing I hear from a lot of transportation engineers is that “One Less Car” isn’t really going to happen, because transportation demand, like anything desirable, tends to expand to the available supply. Take a car out of the traffic mix, and another will just take its place. At least until bike mode share is way way higher.
This is BS. Keep pushing for a bicycle filled world! I was waiting for the part you refute his rhetoric, but it never came.
I, too, was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Made me think of a recent BikePortland piece regarding statements from a certain clueless Washington legislator regarding how cyclists are egregious polluters—-
From the piece above:
“On this note, Meyer shared a quote from one of his interviews:
“When someone who is not already a supporter of bicycling hears (from an advocate) how cycling is going to save the world, they simply don’t believe it.”
let me rephrase slightly :
“When someone who is already a supporter of bicycling hears (from an idiot who unfortunately is in a position of some political power) how cycling is going to ruin the world, they simply ______.”
You can fill in the blank.
I don’t think it’s the be-all, end-all, but I don’t think it’s all BS either. I think what Meyer has brought up can help people be more effective as advocates. Simple fact is that bicycling in America has changed a lot in the past decade, so advocates need to change along with it. What worked in the 1990s or even the early 2000s doesn’t work now. And I don’t think Meyer is saying to stop “pushing for a bicycle filled world.” I can think of lots of ways to push — and push hard — without being evangelical about or being outwardly anti-car, and so on.
For instance, I’m a proud bike evangelist and I think the position cars have in our cultural-political landscape is terrible… But it’s all about style. I often use the term “advocacy style” to explain to folks that there’s a lot of art to being an advocate. Everyone has their own style and I think everyone should really look hard at themselves and always question how well/how poorly their style is working.
Well at least you’re now admitting you’re anti-car.
I really don’t think “anti-car” accurately describes my relationship to cars. I own a mini-van and I drive it now and again. I am not anti-car. Cars have there place and they are useful tools for specific jobs. Just like a bike is. Thankfully, I live/work/play (most of the time) no more than 4 miles from my home so I can live 90% of the time without having to use that tool.
Very few people live, work, and play 4 miles from their home.
Secondly, I’m pretty sure many people don’t want to be confined to such a narrow region in their lives. If you want to visit Mount Hood for the day or go to the Oregon coast, what do you do?
People regularly led these narrow lives a hundred years ago where they never ventured more than 10 blocks from their homes. Many of them didn’t have options. Today, thank god, we do.
“confined”? I think I wasn’t clear. I go on trips now and again… But I have purposely set up my life to have a small circle so that it’s easier for my family and I to ride bikes and walk places instead of driving a car.
Like I said, we own a min-van and we are not afraid to use it! (And yes, we drive to Mt. Hood, the coast, way across town, to California to visit family, and so on. Cars are awesome for getting out into the world.)
What are you talking about? People who study travel behavior find that most trips actually are well within the 4-mile radius you mention. Can you point to a study that suggests otherwise? Or are you extrapolating from your experience? I’d venture that is quite true for lots of people right here in Portland. Not everyone is predisposed to go to Mt Hood or Smith Rocks or the Coast all the time. When my family goes to the coast we take the bus. It’s ridiculously cheap and easy once you know the schedule and have done it. http://www.tillamookbus.com/ The more people take it the better the service is likely to get.
I’m sorry that you think of how many of us live today as narrow and obsolete. I can assure you that many of us don’t think of it that way at all.
44% of trips are longer than 4 miles. What it doesn’t answer is what percentage of people make a trip longer than 4 miles in a week or any realistic timespan? My guess is that number is larger than 44%.
We’ve heard it before: Solution X does not solve all the problems so it’s no solution. Of course bikes don’t meet all transportation needs. Neither do cars, buses, planes, or skateboards. That doesn’t negate the importance of appropriate transportation. If someone wants to drive a two ton vehicle one mile to get a loaf of bread, so what? That $2.50 loaf just cost them $4.50. Just allow others to walk or bike safely and peacefully so they can have the same access without the added expense.
“If someone wants to drive a two ton vehicle one mile to get a loaf of bread, so what? That $2.50 loaf just cost them $4.50. Just allow others to walk or bike safely and peacefully so they can have the same access without the added expense.”
The symmetrical live-and-let-live notion you’re suggesting sounds nice, but it isn’t really accurate. Ivan Illich is instructive here. Everyone can’t drive one mile to the store–it would be pandemonium, not to mention the parking requirements. But everyone can walk or bike to the store (yes I know a few can’t, but probably fewer than are unable to drive). Doing so does not preclude others from getting there.
“Of course bikes don’t meet all transportation needs. Neither do cars, buses, planes, or skateboards.”
I hear you suggesting that all modes have their strengths and weaknesses, that what is important to know is that they’re basically equal, each serving a niche of transportation consumers. I don’t see it that way at all. Walking and biking cost basically nothing and don’t externalize costs onto others. Infrastructure requirements are minimal to nonexistent; what infrastructure we have (sidewalks, bikelanes) only exist because the streets, on which all varieties of travel existed up until a century ago, have been given over entirely to the automobile. You don’t need a timetable, a fare, a gas station or a ticket. Once upon a time walking and/or biking did meet pretty much all transportation needs. They may again one day.
Even Carfree Cities author J.H. Crawford admits that cars have perfectly valid and relatively harmless uses outside of human scale areas of urbanization.
Since the post WW-II suburb building boom we as a society have acclimated ourselves to a financially and environmentally unsustainable over the long term. The only reason they were sustainable for so long was the extremely low cost of petroleum fuels and the lack of majority car ownership.
Remember that cars seem a godsend for public transportation in dense cities compared to the preceding polluter: the horse. Almost everyone was willing to give up the piles of horse waste for exhaust that seems to go away.
Due to the nature of his study (and his employer) he’s looking at a narrow lens of federal funding. The movement and issues are often not engaged on that level. I know that I never am. The people we work with on Dinner+Bikes (dinnerandbikes.com) are sold on the bicycling issues and want to know how to apply pressure locally, what the talking points are, and what the stats are. Sure, they hate divisive evangelism too, but understand the place of having someone further to the left of them in order to appear more reasonable. His lens is too narrow.
The problem with endorsing this stance at this stage in the bike movement without caveat, is that it’s anti-thetical to its momentum. Having safe bike lanes so that anyone, anywhere can as freely and safely ride a bicycle from point a to b, without having their lives endangered, as automobile drivers do, should be the target. If you think of that as a sort of hemeostasis, then the bike movement, or better put, the fair share of public road movement, has a lot of pushing to do against immense suppressing forces (i.e. auto industry, oil industry and all of their investors worldwide). In other words, BS, lets get some results from our reps in the government.
How is this BS?
My takeaway is that the data shows that using emotionally charged rhetoric to increase our cities’ bicycle friendliness isn’t as effective as using language around multimodal transportation and promoting a larger mix of legitimate transportation options.
We all have the same goal: make our cities safe and convenient for cycling. It sounds like you’re disagreeing with the tactics on how we get there (and I know you’re not alone so let’s talk about it).
Let’s think about what would happen if we could start over in Portland completely–just redo our transportation systems from scratch. What would this city look like? The perfect transportation restructuring would not be a city awash only in green pavement and “bicycles only” signs. Cycling isn’t–and won’t ever be–feasible for everybody. Take Copenhagen for example. Bike share in Copenhagen is about 36%, which is an incredible number–but it’s not everybody. They have a great multimodal mix of public transportation, bicycle network, and some room for cars. People have options, and they’re all safer than we currently have.
My point is that politicians and the general public seem to be more receptive and open to transportation equity and multimodal transportation, with safe cycling access being a large part of that mix. Downplaying the importance of things like light rail, busses, and other forms of public transportation makes the “cycling community” (ugh, sorry) look unreasonable and selfish, and it weakens our argument. Is it politics? Sure. But we’re playing in their system, and this is how things get done.
Remember the goal: make cycling safe and convenient. All Meyer is doing is giving an evidence-based recommendation on how to get there.
“isn’t as effective”
not so fast. I don’t think we’ve yet seen how ‘effective’ a different tone is. I think what he’s finding is that, as ‘are’ pointed out, certain folks don’t like to hear bikey folks asking for money. But nowhere am I seeing that the money or the results wished for will flow more freely with the different tone being suggested.
Jonathan’s recent article about $6M to be spent in downtown Portland on multimodal safety improvements, I think, points to some of the pitfalls of the “working hand-in-hand with other modes to find solutions” approach. It sounds great, but why should we assume that this is going to result in a better outcome for those who ride bikes? This rhetoric also reminds me of Matt Garrett talking about moving beyond the silo-approach. and we know how sincere his agency has been following up on that. Ha.
“When someone who is not already a supporter of bicycling hears (from an advocate) how cycling is going to save the world, they simply don’t believe it.”
Perhaps the fact that ‘they simply don’t believe it’ is the problem. The German federal government believes it. http://www.kopf-an.de/ What do they know that Meyer’s interviewees don’t?
“When someone who is already a supporter of cars hears (from an advocate) how cars are ruining the world, they simply don’t believe it.”
9watts, would love to have you join us!
Interesting – I was thinking of Portland as an example. One takeaway I got from the piece above is that dedicated funding is working against bicycle advocacy, but it’s my understanding that Portland has benefited substantially from a law that says a portion of transportation funding must be spent on bicycling infrastructure (1% is it?).
I agree with much of this advice, but I’m all for dedicated funding. The challenge is that most of the folks who don’t directly benefit from it can’t follow the money… or the indirect benefits. And the reality is, most policy is driven by “benefits” that often disguise underlying financial gain (or protection from cost) to an industry or corporate representation (aka lobby).
Well, look at it this way: even if you are right, if you alienate everyone else, nobody is going to listen to you.
Sure, the entire world may go off a cliff ecological-wise, but nothing is going to change if you demonize potential allies.
This is a marketing strategy for lobbyists. It is directed at decision makers and funding. But that is not the only, or the most important, aspect of the cycling movement. What has got the lobbyists their “place at the table” is in large part the fact that more and more people are riding bikes and identify themselves as cyclists. It is that growing movement that has made bicycling mainstream. It would be a mistake to abandon strategies that build that growing movement in order to win short term political victories.
That is not to say he isn’t correct in terms of the messages for elected officials and decision makers. But it would be a mistake to adopt those as the primary message for those who want to promote bicycling. Building the movement is a lot more important than winning a few dollars for bike projects. And the messages that win people over to cycling are by definition, “evangelical.”
agreed. meyer’s message was directed specifically to the question of coming to DC year after year and crying for transportation dollars.
I suspect that Blumenauer, Oberstar, Secretary La Hood, and at times President Obama wearing a bicycle pin on their lapels didn’t hurt the cause. That’s a form of identification as a “bicyclist”, though I haven’t personally heard either Obama or La Hood say they ride bicycles. I don’t know that I can personally have much effect on budget – even at the city level (I’m active on my city’s bicycle advisory committee) – but I’ll always identify myself as a “cyclist” and vote against anyone who publicly challenges my right to using the roads. Mostly though, I’ll continue to do what I think is the best form of bicycle advocacy – getting out there and being seen riding (with a smile on my face).
BTA used to have a message on their phone, “Smile at the motorists, you are having a better time than they are.” I always thought it captured a perfect passive/aggressive attitude toward sharing the road with motorists.
It seems to me a smile on our face when riding is the greatest form of bike advocacy there is.
What we are hearing here is advice on how to be more effective lobbyists. What we are hearing is that they no longer need us to knock on the door to get in the room or stand outside and scream to be heard. They need us to deliver talking points about specific legislation in a tone that says we expect our concerns/interests to be seriously considered. I think don’t think that advice should be dismissed.
On the other hand, we shouldn’t start believing that the cycling movement is just another interest group lobbying in Washington and Salem. We need to keep doing the hard work of getting more people out on their bikes. And that requires a different message. In fact, too much emphasis on the dangers/problems/difficulties created by lousy transportation facilities is counter-productive.
I’d like to see a freedom/choice type of discussion. In too many parts of the US, there is little or no choice when it comes to transport options, but in many of those places, freedom is a battle cry.
the actual study, to which you have provided a link, was a comparison of perceptions of “advocates” at the summit and federal “policy makers,” apparently staff for several legislators and at DOT. the focus was on the constant [alleged] clamor from “advocates” for a piece of the federal pie. the takeway was the federal pie has already been sliced, go local to find your piece [or crumbs, if that is how you want to see things], and quit whining. since whining for a piece of the federal pie has been the raison d’etre for the summit for at least ten years [one of the “policy” respondents even said, “oh, it’s the bike summit people again”], i cannot think this report was welcomed by tim blumenthal or andy clarke.
Some great points. The marijuana industry is going through the exact same growth where people realize, like bicycling, it’s a mainstream issue and cannot be approached in the same way as it was 10 or even 5 years ago. The conversation is changing, and when you just banter out the same thing over and over people tune out. No matter how right you may think you are, how you speak is just as important as what you speak.
Personally, I think bicyclists need to clamor for taxes on bike activity that helps pay for new bike infrastructure. It doesn’t need to be onerous, but having a share in paying for the infrastructure would heal a lot of problems in town regarding entitlement. People won’t write as many angry emails about new bike lanes when they see a pot hole.
People can’t keep saying they own a car and therefor they don’t need to pay for bike improvements. That completely ignores the funding issues of transportation (much like car drivers saying they pay for roads 100%, when that is not true given the funding problems of the Highway Trust Fund, etc).
Come to the table with reasonableness and fairness, and the “us vs. them” mentality will be bridged a lot.
Another one to explore: mandatory law of having to ride a bike with a a helmet, regardless of age.
I support that as a positive health/safety impact, but what if the bike community got together and decided they wanted to spur legislation to regulate their own activity? That would be a good gesture. If you have to wear a seat belt in car, you sure as hell should have to wear a helmet.
Be an advocate, but be an objective advocate.
with the caveat it cannot be diverted to fund other projects. Truthfully, I would pay a $50 annual tag were it directed to separated transportation projects. I am not sure everyone would be as willing as I, but not spending money on gas and car stuff frees up a lot of dollars, and once safe separated routes become more available and more useable by more people, the common sense decision will drive the choice of mode, rather than one predicated on fear of the possibility of the worst.
But I mostly agree with Meyer, that our mode choice should not define ourselves. We don’t usually refer to someone as a transit user, a pedestrian, a motorist as an identifier..why cycling and cyclists? I would prefer to be regarded as a person ..who sometimes rides a bike to get where I need to be.
Wrong. Cyclists already subsidize motorists.
So we all need all those welfare drivers to clamor for more taxes on roads so everyone else can stop carrying their burden 😉
And mandatory helmets cost more in lives than they save, unlike seat belt laws which are the other way around.
More cyclists = better health & money & time saved. Don’t believe me? How about Conservative Mayor of London Boris Johnson? He says that more cycling means:
“It means more seats on the Tube, less competition for a parking place and fewer cars in front of yours at the lights. Above all, it will fulfil my aim of making London’s air cleaner.”
So stop demanding more congestion, dirtier air and poorer people. Demand more cycling for everyone instead.
Cyclists do not subsidize anyone as they do not pay any into the coffers. In order for a subsidy to occur, payment specifically needs to come from this group. Bicyclists simply cost less than automobiles especially when you factor in externalized costs; air pollution, property damage, congestion, medical emergency services, etc.
The majority of funding for PBOT comes from gas taxes and parking fees. Only 2% comes from the general fund.
We need more bike infrastructure but we don’t have the money. We need to increase the gas tax but bicyclists need to help out too, it makes the equation politically impossible.
As for the helmet comment, would you rather your head hit the pavement with a helmet or without? This notion that helmets more dangerous is just pure junk science, that is epidemiologially erroneous.
“In order for a subsidy to occur, payment specifically needs to come from this group.”
My income and property taxes (I don’t own a car) fund local and state road construction and maintenance. You can look up the percentages, but your 2% figure is wildly off the ratios I’ve seen posted here. http://www.vtpi.org/whoserd.pdf (see below for excerpt) I think more general comparisons suggest that taxes and user fees related to driving cover only 30-50% of the monetized costs of driving/infrastructure/etc. (And there are non-monetized costs we don’t need to go into here right now.)
I pay for roads even though I don’t have a car (which we all know are a nontrivial factor in deciding how much road to build and how quickly it is again time to fix those roads) How exactly is that not a subsidy?
I’m not saying that as a non-car driver I should be exempted from contributing to the maintenance of transport infrastructure, but since that contribution is widely understood to be disproportionate to the wear that said infrastructure experiences due to my activities (direct and indirect) I object to your point that this is not a subsidy. Please explain.
On page 11-13 of the report linked above we find the following:
“Overall, local and regional governments are estimated to spend $300-500 annually per automobile in general taxes on local roads and traffic services, averaging more than 6¢ per mile driven on local roads (Litman 2009; SSTI 2011). Only 0.7¢ of this is paid through vehicle user charges, meaning that driving is subsidized through general taxes by about 5.6¢ per mile on local roads. Automobiles also impose other external costs, including parking subsidies, congestion and crash risk imposed on other road users, and environmental damages. Pedestrians and cyclists tend to impose lower costs than motor vehicles and bear an excessive share of motor vehicle external costs, particularly crash risk and pollution exposure. A shift from driving to bicycling and walking provides various savings and benefits, including benefits to motorist, including reduced traffic and parking congestion, reduced chauffeuring burdens, and reduced accident risk and pollution emissions.
For an average household, the costs imposed approximately equals the costs they bear, but people who drive less than average and use non-motorized modes tend to overpay their share of costs, while those who drive more than average underpay. This indicates that non-drivers pay more than their share of transportation costs.
The automobile industry has published studies which claim that motorists pay more than their share of costs (Dougher 1995; Spindler 1997), but they violate standard cost allocation principles by including all vehicle taxes rather than just special user charges, and by considering only highway expenditures, ignoring local roadway costs and other external costs associated with motor vehicle use. Virtually all studies that use appropriate analysis procedures conclude that motorists significantly underpay the costs they impose on society (FHWA 1997; ICLEI 2005; Litman 2012; Parry, Walls and Harrington 2007; van Essen, et al. 2007).”
That’s a good link for an overall look at an aggregate of cities, but Portland appears to be different in the sources of the funds we rely on:
See page 5 showing the pie of sources of funds. 2% from general fund.
You can argue until the cows come home about you paying other taxes; but until we fix our convoluted tax system in regards to user fees and movement of money from one fund to the other — we’ll be debating “who pays” what for some time.
My overall argument is we need more user fees and less property taxes. Ideally, gas taxes should be increased a bare minimum of $2 (not joking) and there needs to be a reasonable tax mechanism on bicycles.
That way people can decide which form of transportation they want rather than being subsidized by another mode. A lot of people would end up biking more and you’d see positive movements for other alternate transportation modes like transit, simply for the fact that running an automobile with externalized costs is, well expensive.
But that doesn’t mean cars would go away or that I am arguing for a punitive system. Cars are an effective transportation means and we all benefit from them. Rather, it’s about options based on the cost to run those options.
“See page 5 showing the pie of sources of funds. 2% from general fund.”
Have you looked at your property tax statement lately? There are plenty of bonds listed there that my taxes are paying down. Looking at that pie chart you directed our attention to, I see 35% of transportation infrastructure funds coming from gas taxes and fees (right about where I suggested it would be), and 34% from bonds. How exactly is the percentage that comes from the General Fund so crucial here?
I don’t get a property tax statement — I don’t own a home.
Bond measures are what people vote for, I assume that’s what you mean.
The 2% is important because it’s what we can see as directly going into PBOT from non-user fee sources.
Yes, there are other categories, but try and find out where those sources of money came from, and further ask yourself if they came from a automobile user or bicycle user, or both — and if those people enjoy paying for said services.
That’s the crux of my argument. Allowing more people to pay for their mode whether bikes or cars will help solve some of the convoluted movement of money.
I’m not arguing for some libertarian playground where you go to the park and pay to look at a tree; but transportation is quite different than many other forms of government agencies whereas the collection of user fees is very feasible, and entirely practical. That would be the biggest difference.
Personally, I am miffed at the visceral reactions I get towards proposing for bicycle user-fee taxes, and for making a relatively consistent argument.
“I am miffed at the visceral reactions I get towards proposing for bicycle user-fee taxes, and for making a relatively consistent argument”
If consistency is what you are interested in, then, as several folks have pointed out here lately, the government (tax payers) should probably be paying us who manage without a car because we are saving the city and state coffers so much money by not burdening our infrastructure with one more car, one more passenger mile, one more pothole, one more asthma case, one more hospital transport, one more fender bender….
The user fee for bikes argument I don’t think makes any sense because people who bike are not burdening anyone with costs that such user fees are presumably meant to offset. Can you think of any?
At least in the transportation field user fees and taxes and such tend to be levied on activities that either cost public money to provide or burden the public/public coffers or both. Bikes and biking don’t fit either of those categories. But if you can articulate how they do, please share your insights.
“The user fee for bikes argument I don’t think makes any sense because people who bike are not burdening anyone with costs that such user fees are presumably meant to offset. Can you think of any?”
Well, the Eastbank Esplanade cost about 30 million dollars. It’s a wonderful piece of bike/pedestrian infrastructure; but it’s not free. But you know what? We need more of these types of connections, and they cost money…money that isn’t there and is going to be politically difficult to get. We need to address these constraints and the status quo of cars being heavily subsidized and bike riders paying “nothing” needs to change. It’s a toxic narrative to sell to the public. We need to explain the costs and reduce taxes from income/property taxes that go towards transportation and increase user fees. That will gain the trust of the public and explain to people that freeway lanes are expensive and cost money and that biking, walking, and transit are effective means of transportation that are way less expensive.
“At least in the transportation field user fees and taxes and such tend to be levied on activities that either cost public money to provide or burden the public/public coffers or both. Bikes and biking don’t fit either of those categories. But if you can articulate how they do, please share your insights.”
Bikes do a good job in controlling external costs. The biggest issue is it costs money to build bike specific infrastructure — but that is EXACTLY what we need to get done in order to get more people to bike. But where do we get the money? Sorry, but painting a sharrow is not going to get someone who is reticent to start biking.
Some external costs:
I’d argue the health benefits are a net positive, but accidents are common and when accidents occur, they burden the health care system (in line with my helmet argument, and why we need to change that). Bike thefts/crime and money used to investigate them. Lost parking revenue from gallery bike racks (plus cost to purchase and install).
These are fairly nitpicky when compared to automobiles which the big ones are: injuries, death, property damage (I’m reminded of the two MAX incidents), congestion, oil trade deficit, environmental impacts (pollution, old car waste and disposal, oil leaks, etc.).
My biggest one with cars:
Fire trucks respond to more car accidents than they do fires. Who pays for that? Gas taxes need to be raised that go towards this — and we need to stop having new bond measures to build more fire houses and have the costs borne to the driver and not the general tax payer.
If some fuddy duddy conservative balks at this, kindly point out that this is a very fiscally conservative argument regarding taxation.
Sorry I ranted, what was I talking about again?
This reeks to me of the old “pay for the services you use” school of thought, to which I reply that I would gladly divert the money I spend to send other peoples’ kids to school to build better bicycle access to roads. And then you’d say to me “but with the school system everyone benefits from having the citizens of our future well-educated!”, which is equivalent to the kind of rationalization I could use about me saving the planet (and traffic congestion) by doing what I actually enjoy, which is leaving my subsidized car in the garage in riding my bicycle.
It seems the larger point here is a sense of social contract, which seems to have gone out the window on many dies of the argument.
The fact is that, until we find a way to:
— make it affordable for everyone to live closer to where they work,
— make all jobs pay a true living wage, AND
— shut down the HIDDEN costs of driving (which are subsidized to promote more driving, folks!)
THEN we can begin to have a meaningful argument about promoting more biking, walking and transit use and less driving.
But right now, we’re not doing the work needed to make all of these things happen. So too many folks still need cars to get everywhere they need to go. Those of us who have managed to fashion our lives within such a small circle of travel are the truly privileged ones right now, and to deny that is to deny our power in helping to bring about real change.
Let the bike summit people bang their heads against the wall if it makes them feel better to keep begging for the same things.
Instead, we should be working on systemic change that redistributes some of the wealth and a lot of the opportunity in this society so that more people can afford to live so simply, so deliberately and so locally.
Everyone benefits from education. Not all people benefit from the car, and likewise, not everyone benefits from bikes. I don’t think a disabled person in a large wheelchair is necessarily in need of a bike lane — although I understand that bike lanes can reduce congestion and have a net positive in cars.
For me, I use transit (70%), walking, biking, and a car. You’re approaching this scenario as an either-or situation. We live in a city, cities, require transportation, not all modes are meant to be relied on.
“not everyone benefits from bikes.”
That seems like a real stretch. I can’t think of a single demographic group that would fit that description.
Right, and the farmer in the country would probably be miffed at how nobody benefits from cars. There’s always another person with a different lifestyle than you.
You’re the epitome of what this article is about and the argument being made:
I’m a bike advocate. I don’t care about other modes of transportation. Look at me.
We live in a society. Not a bike society or a car society. Both have legitimate purposes and uses, but one is not necessarily more important than the other.
http://www.portlandonline.com/index.cfm?a=383750&c=57785 (page 5 & 6 of the paper document, page 8 of the electronic one, with a nice pie chart on page 9) says:
PBOT’s FY 11-12 resources are summarized in Figure 1…Gas taxes and parkeing revenues provide the largest source, about 38% of the total…The remaining funding is provided by a variety of customers that purchase Bureau of Transportation services, such as other City bureaus, or is obtained by the Bureau of Transportation, often in the form of federal, state and local grants…
Sure looks to me as though user fees aren’t paying for the majority of PBOT funding, even though drivers are using the majority of resources on our public roads.
Yes, what does a grant mean? Where does the money come from? How is the principal plus interest paid down for bonds? Are user fees used or are other funds used? Would you say those tax dollars being paid for these are from bicyclists or car commuters? Or maybe just transit riding folk?
Do you see the problem we have here? We simply don’t know and won’t now until we have a proper funding mechanism in place. We need to stop paying for so much transportation from general funds, and rely more on user-fees.
I’d conclude that more dense, connected development patterns served by transit and accessible by bike would be built if we allowed people to pay for the reasonable majority of their transportation choice’s cost. I’m not saying it needs to be 100%, but building Phoenix-style developments would probably be out of the question.
As far as direct general funds, only 2% of PBOT’s budget comes from that fund:
Note, bond sales are 34%, which is scary.
Right, and that’s why motor vehicles should pay more than they do now. How does making bikes pay more than they do now help improve that disparity?
I agree that government budgets should be more transparent and less muddled and intermingled than they presently are, and I agree that assigning costs to those who use resources improves the balance of public resources (but within that there’s also the “benefit of the commons” which must be reckoned), but I’ve looked at quite a few documents regarding public highway funding and the overwhelmingly vast majority (like, one or two exceptions which have obvious flaws) conclude that motor vehicles massively under-pay for the resources they consume, leaving other road users covering their tab.
Some of the docs I’ve looked at are linked in three posts in this thread:
“but I’ve looked at quite a few documents regarding public highway funding and the overwhelmingly vast majority (like, one or two exceptions which have obvious flaws) conclude that motor vehicles massively under-pay for the resources they consume, leaving other road users covering their tab.”
I made a long reply a couple of hours ago regarding exactly this, but it’s oddly waiting for moderation approval, as well as some other comments of mine.
I agree 100% completely. Cars are greatly subsidized. All modes should pay, except walking (I believe this because it’s an innate form of transportation), to pay use fees. Do I expect transit to cover their costs? Of course not, there’s a social responsibility to certain modes.
Long story short, I am saying bikes need to pay taxes, but I am also saying we need cars to pay much more in taxes (really, user fees, you can avoid them if you don’t drive), and we need to shift the burden of transportation costs from income/property taxes to a more user-fee system. Don’t want to pay for an expensive car when living out in the suburbs? Easily solved by moving to a closer-in location.
Here’s a good book you might like:
How come cyclists are mentioned as users who don’t pay their fair share but pedestrians get a pass? By that logic, pedestrians should pay a per mile fee for using the sidewalk.
Unfortunately, too many “cyclists” and cycling advocates are rational, and coming to the table suggesting “token” measures that pander to the irrational notions of motor-centric “policy makers”–and actually curb the ability or desire of many to try bicycling for transportation–is anathema to them. It would be to me.
How does a bike helmet keep one from being pitched away from the controls and a multi-ton vehicle to continue as an unguided missile?
Tell you what, when you’re in the hospital from a traumatic brain injury and sucking down a milkshake because that’s all you can eat — you and your loved ones would probably have wished you had worn a helmet that fateful day.
There should be a law that says if you hop on a bike, you need to wear a helmet. We have one for cars regarding seat belts and it’s not even questioned, even though what are the odds of a car accident?
“There should be a law that says if you hop on a bike, you need to wear a helmet.”
No, there shouldn’t. There is a big difference between a seat belt and requiring someone to wear a helmet. We don’t make motorists wear helmets, even though it would make them safer. We don’t require pedestrians to wear one either.
I agree, people would be wise to wear one. I don’t agree we should start limiting people’s ability to get on a bike by requiring them to wear one. The risk from not wearing a helmet varies considerably depending on when, wear and how you are riding. Whether that risk is worth it is something people should evaluate for themselves.
“The risk from not wearing a helmet varies considerably depending on when, wear and how you are riding. Whether that risk is worth it is something people should evaluate for themselves.”
Same goes for a seat belt in a car. Why must we make seat belts mandatory? Short answer: there’s other people on the road. A bicycle rider cannot control what’s around him or her, including other cars and other bikes no matter how “evaluative” they are.
I don’t even trust half of the US population to make an evaluative on most things in life, that is why we have laws that slightly “burden” risk-averse people such as myself.
And in line with my comment about fire trucks responding to more car accidents than they do fires, and how drivers are getting away with externalizing these costs onto the rest of society and not just their own group; a bicycle rider who gets their brains blown out on the curb won’t be paying anything for the city worker to power wash their frontal lobe down the drain, and they won’t be paying for any said medical responses such as fire trucks…not to mention the elephant in the room called the US health care system.
And that is why we have laws and regulations so we can more or less control people’s individual behaviors that can become out-of-control societal problems.
“I don’t even trust half of the US population to make an evaluative on most things in life”
That of course is the problem here. You are equating the benefits of wearing a seat belt with the benefits of having a helmet. But that likely isn’t true. The primary danger to cyclists from a collision with a car is not that they will hit their head. There is overwhelming evidence that the primary danger in an auto collision is being thrown around or out of the vehicle.
You are also equating the burden it places on the user. Which is certainly not true.
“The primary danger to cyclists from a collision with a car is not that they will hit their head.”
I refuse to accept this without a study.
I feel like I am arguing against logic here.
Why not be safe to avoid any risk at all?
I simply will not drop the helmet issue. It’s so in-your-face-stupid not to wear them. It’s like I am arguing against people who say not to use a clean needle for intravenous drugs because the odds of getting HIV are 67 cases to 10,000, or .67%:
I’d bet the risk of head injury is higher than .67% from riding a bike. I won’t be sharing needles and I’ll be wearing a helmet — the risk to myself and the societal cost are not worth it, although we are all humans and make mistakes — I just wish to reduce the risk when there’s an easy solution.
“I refuse to accept this without a study.”
So, you demand a law to enforce your opinion without any evidence to support it?
“I feel like I am arguing against logic here.”
Yes, you are arguing against logic. You are arguing that not wearing a helmet while riding a bike at 20 mph or less is the same as not wearing a seat belt that restrains you from hitting numerous hard objects that are immediately in front of you in a vehicle that travels 70 mph. You are definitely arguing against logic.
“Why not be safe to avoid any risk at all?”
Because that is no way to live life.
“It’s so in-your-face-stupid not to wear them.”
Yet, bicycles are commonly ridden all over the world without them.
“It’s like I am arguing against people who say not to use a clean needle for intravenous drugs because the odds of getting HIV are 67 cases to 10,000, or .67%:
I’d bet the risk of head injury is higher than .67% from riding a bike.”
Again, demonstrating the inability of people to accurately assess risk.
“So, you demand a law to enforce your opinion without any evidence to support it?”
You assume it’s opinion. http://www.nhtsa.gov/Bicycles. It’s also common sense that if your head hits the pavement without a helmet, regardless of speed, it can be traumatic if not deadly. This is not a point that needs a peer-reviewed study.
I don’t buy into the notion that bike helmet laws discourage people from biking and that less bikes on the streets means drivers are more dangerous and that results in some sort of “freakonomics” ending.
Driving a car, statistically based on passenger miles or VMT, is by far one of the most safe modes of transportation. Safer than light rail, too, last I checked.
“Yes, you are arguing against logic. You are arguing that not wearing a helmet while riding a bike at 20 mph or less is the same as not wearing a seat belt that restrains you from hitting numerous hard objects that are immediately in front of you in a vehicle that travels 70 mph. You are definitely arguing against logic.”
There is no judgement in wearing a seat belt in a car. It’s the law whether going 10 mph or 70 mph. You keep bringing up scenarios of going a certain speed, making a judgement, assess the risk, etc.
“Because that is no way to live life.”
That’s fine. Then you maybe we can have a system where you can pay for the costs of your reckless behavior? Sign on the X for opting out of seat belts and helmets and we can send the bill to you and/or claim your estate’s goods for payment.
“Yet, bicycles are commonly ridden all over the world without them.”
So? And most European countries have much better bike infrastructure that’s separated from the roadway. And a lot of other countries have worse fatalities and injuries on their roadways than we do.
“Again, demonstrating the inability of people to accurately assess risk.
Heath professionals don’t allow for people to assess risk regarding IV drug use. That is why there are needles exchanges and people are constantly reminded not to share needles — because the risk is too great, even when it’s proven, statistically speaking, to be quite low.
You assume it’s opinion.
Yes, since the link you provided doesn’t support your opinion.
“It’s also common sense that if your head hits the pavement without a helmet, regardless of speed, it can be traumatic if not deadly.”
No doubt, its equally true for anyone walking up the stairs or driving a lawnmower where there is pavement. The question is how often does this actually happen?
“Driving a car, statistically based on passenger miles or VMT, is by far one of the most safe modes of transportation. Safer than light rail, too, last I checked.”
More links that don’t support your opinion. As I recall, flying is safer than driving. And it is about as useful a comparison when talking about trips where one might walk or use a bike.
“There is no judgement in wearing a seat belt in a car.”
Because we have assessed the risk of not wearing one is too high. I might add, that wearing a seat belt substantially improves your control over your vehicle. So for the driver, requiring a seat belt is like requiring someone to wear their glasses.
“Then you maybe we can have a system where you can pay for the costs of your reckless behavior?”
Again, you have no real evidence it is reckless. Just your opinion.
“Again, demonstrating the inability of people to accurately assess risk.
“even when it’s proven, statistically speaking, to be quite low.”
Like I said, demonstrating again the inability of people to evaluate risk, even from statistics.
I wear a helmet because I need a rider’s-eye-view platform for my helmet-cam.
Tell you what, you don’t ‘should’ on me and I won’t ‘should’ on you. Avoids that whole ‘ad hominem’ thing, doncha know? (especially since you don’t know me)
You seem to have missed my point that use of seatbelts has a direct benefit to innocent bystanders which does not apply to bike helmets.
Beyond that, regarding bike helmets, I’ll just assume that you’ve considered all the pros and cons, read all the literature both for and against (and there’s plenty on both sides from very reasonable people with very valid arguments) and come to your own conclusion about how you will act. I give credit to most people on most bike forums that they have also done so. At that point, further discussion without additional input of factual data becomes akin to a religious argument. As Neil (who also wears a helmet except when he doesn’t) recently put it over on his CGOAB forum: “People seem to want to keep bringing up helmets again and again. Please, and I say this in the nicest possible way, SHUT UP ABOUT HELMETS! Nobody wants to hear about it. No opinions will be changed. Just stop it. Please.”
libertarians do in fact continue to question mandatory seatbelt laws, and statistics continue to show seatbelt use well below seventy percent in states that do not have a “primary” law. as far as “what are the chances,” we are still killing about forty or fifty thousand people a year with cars. fairly recent highway safety stats show 1.32 fatal crashes and 1.47 fatalities per 100 million driving miles.
I love evangelizing, but always get a bit disappointed when folks’s eyes glaze over. So, I have to reluctantly agree that these are good points…
A shift is indeed needed.
The problem is that we are stuck on a path (motorist dominated) and this is hard to change.
When the average person sees cyclists as outsiders, they are not going to support spending money on cycling infrastructure. We need to show that cycling (and pedestrian) infrastructure benefits everyone and makes cities much nicer to live in than motorist dominated cities. We need to show that cycling (and mixed mode) can be much more convenient and enjoyable than being stuck in traffic.
The economics is clear cut – cars are a drain on the economy, but cycling is a net positive (so incentives to cycle make much more sense than taxing cyclists).
Au contraire – it’s not so clear cut. Policy is driven by legislators influenced by lobbies and PACs who represent business entities, some of the largest being oil/gas companies, auto manufacturers, and insurance agencies. Their work happens behind the scenes, as far away from the public eye as possible, but on the other side of the spectrum you have the media. Arguably, mass media is one of the biggest influences on public perception, and I challenge anyone to watch an hour of television and count the number of automotive-related advertisements, let alone the content within. We’re in an auto-dominated culture (it’s always represented “freedom”), and unfortunately, for the ‘uninitiated’ this often relates the bicycle (and its infrastructure) to challenging the resources required to enable the car. Really, I think Americans in general have the mindset that anything that’s not directly related to their individual need(s) will challenge their ‘rights’ to funding around satisfying those needs (be it education, senior care, welfare, transit, healthcare, etc.).
Since you and I share the need to have access to safe bicycling on the roads, it’s pretty clear-cut to me.
Douglas Meyer isn’t in the changing the world business, he’s in the consulting business. What’s good for him isn’t what’s good for everybody else.
The League of American Bicyclists hired a consultant to give an expert opinion on how they should best approach communications and advocacy. What is the problem with that?
This is the message in his PDF: “Keeping cars safe from bikes”. WTF?!
He’s basically telling people to act powerless and hope for the best. Why bother? Who’s paying this creep?
My understanding of that message is that you have to talk to drivers who may not really care all that much about giving cyclists “special” road space. What they care more about is NOT HITTING a cyclist who “comes out of nowhere.” People act in their own self-interest, so while they may not care if you have a bike lane, they do, in fact, care about not being responsible for your injury. So if you go to a community meeting filled with drivers, you can say to people, “Look, we want to make sure everyone’s safer, including drivers who share the road with cyclists.” I don’t believe he’s honestly saying cyclists are a threat to motorists.
1. “Keeping cars safe from bikes” was an example he used of how cycling opponents currently think.
2. The League of American Bicyclists commissioned the report–they’re the ones “paying this creep”
3. The consultancy he works at only services nonprofit clients, helping them figure out how to best communicate so that they can achieve their goals.
Now what do we do with our “cars-r-coffins” t-shirts?
The word ‘evangelism’ suggests religion, something that often jeopardizes rational thought.
Passion is good if it’s effectively directed to accomplish desired objectives. I think it’s true that biking advocacy may have allowed itself to be characterized too much by a kind of ‘biking is going to save the world’ evangelism, rather than practical, nuts and bolts strategies for getting things done.
The important thing is to just shut up, sit down, and wait for things to… go back to the way they were in the 50s–when all the bike advocates (all 3 of them) were blissfully silent.
Where did you get the idea that anybody is recommending being silent?
“Be inwardly bike-centric, but outwardly multi-modal and mainstream.”
Exactly! Vote, advocate, contribute, and chill out a bit. It’s the “honey/vinegar/fly” thing. If you don’t get it, you’re not helping.
“If you don’t get it, you’re not helping.”
why is this phrased so monotheistically, so all-or-nothing? I’d like to think that everyone’s take is welcome, from Ben Hurt Chariot Wars to BTA’s legislative advocacy. Just because I think one is a little over the top and the other sometimes lacking conviction doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t have the full panorama.
I think that is also what makes bikeportland so fantastic – it encompasses and documents and reinforces the astonishingly vibrant spectrum.
I wrote nothing about god.
Sometimes, one adds color to their picture so that it communicates more clearly and is easier to consume.
Basically; come to the (transportation) table with thoughtful (bike-centric) solutions that aren’t at the expense of others (drivers/mass transit riders/pedestrians/skateboarders/etc/etc) and we are likley to move the conversation faster, and in a more productive direction. Get it? If not, you’re not helping.
The monotheistic reference was a riff on the evangelism trope. Monotheistic religions tend toward all-or-nothing; one-way; my-way-or-the-highway kind of thinking, rather than a more inclusive approach I was advocating.
I get it–what you are saying. I just don’t agree with the ‘If not, you’re not helping’ part. Saying that makes you sound either omniscient or arrogant.
“There’s a risk of bicycle promotion becoming the equivalent of selling snake oil.”
gimme a break. This guy is a paid consultant who will take the side of whoever is paying him
“Look at our services to learn more about how institutions have engaged us to help them thrive in today’s rapidly changing nonprofit landscape, or take a look at our client list.”
But…but the League of American Bicyclists were the ones paying him for this report. Are you saying that LAB are not on the side of the cyclist?
They commissioned a report from an independent consultant to tell them the truth about how they can best communicate with politicians on how to move bicycling forward. The report just showed his findings. Sounds like for some reason you’re offended by this? I’m confused.
let me give you an example from right here in Portland of how this kind of arrangement can go awry. Two years ago, approximately, Clean Energy Works Oregon (CEWO) hired a marketing firm to run an ad/billboard campaign for them. The result were three images of ‘old’ household technologies: a washboard, a crank telephone, and a phonograph that were cast as outdated, made to look ridiculous, and contrasted with what CEWO would do for your house and your energy bill if you hired their contractors to fix up your house.
The problem was that the three technologies the marketing firm chose to highlight in this way all relied on human power to accomplish these domestic tasks. Anything CEWO would do that might replace those outdated devices would result in an increase in energy consumption. You bet some of us were offended.
It isn’t so black and white, you know. Hiring someone to figure something out can easily run off the rails, send mixed messages, or worse.
I remember those billboards. It’s a good point. After a recommendation from a consultant or firm is made, the ownness is really on the organization that paid for the work to implement as they see fit. In the case of CEWO, somebody on their internal marketing team should have absolutely recognized the broader implication of the billboards and requested a change in the creative.
I don’t see a problem with this cycling communications report because I happen to believe that he’s right, but I do understand that not everybody feels that way.
“There’s a risk of bicycle promotion becoming the equivalent of selling snake oil.”
Snake oil is an expression that originally referred to fraudulent health products or unproven medicine but has come to refer to any product with questionable or unverifiable quality or benefit. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Snake_oil
So David, you AGREE with the quote ?
Absolutely–because he’s right. There is absolutely a risk that cycling will be perceived by non-cyclists as the next Acai berry, the next gluten-free diet, the next magic cure-all–just like snake oil.
Again, this is about perception, not reality. It doesn’t matter if it’s actually true or not if the people in power believe it to be true.
You have to put yourself in the shoes of somebody who hasn’t ridden a bike since they were a kid and doesn’t understand how, with not very much money relatively, we can change our cities into amazing bike friendly places.
You have to understand how much noise is coming at these people (policy makers) all day long. Yelling louder about the benefits of cycling and how it’s going to save the world isn’t going to get their attention, just like trying to convince your friend who loves to eat a steak every now and then that being vegan is going to change the world and he’s a bad person for eating steak.
You have to start with common ground, and the recommendation in this case is to begin with focusing on multimodal transportation. Nobody’s saying that cycling is bad, or that its benefits aren’t proven. All that’s being discussed is the best way to communicate so that we can meet our goals.
I was at the summit and heard Meyer speak. You have to understand that the people at the summit were getting ready to lobby…aka talking to people outside the Portland bubble, even outside the bike culture. To communicate effectively you need a good baseline with the person you communicate with… Meyer provided that I think.
I took away that if I shift some terms in my communication, I will be able to get different funding sources and have people who are not pro-bike get it… Nothing wrong about that… It’s spin.
yeah, they were getting ready to lobby. what was the ask? federal money for bike facilities. and this guy’s message was congress is tired of hearing it. where does that leave you? putting out some vague message about how the bike industry generates a lot of local money, and then actually the hard ask was this:
second page, tell DOT to “set a national performance goal to reduce bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities,” so states will allocate a larger share of, you guessed it, federal money from MAP-21 to “improving bicyclist and pedestrian safety.” which is exactly what this guy says on pages 15 and 23 of his slide show _not_ to say.
membership fees well spent?
I read that as “vaseline…” Whatever works.
The problem with a lot of advocacy is that it tends to focus on the immediate and measureable. And because so many decisions come down to the cost element a lot of the shouting is going to be to the wind.
Where I believe advocates would be much more successful is in taking a longer-term view in fighting for legislation that will require town planners to include bicycle lanes for those wishing to cycle, and for the inclusion of cyclining lanes wherever traffic levels and width of road allow for it. These are relatively low-cost measures which can presumably be introduced without breaking the bank. But then as a UK resident it is not really my place to comment on USA issues.
“You have to understand that the people at the summit were getting ready to lobby”
The problem here is that some people have taken advice for messages targeted at one audience and applied them generally:
“Yes! I’ve always thought “One Less Car” shirts/stickers only polarize the issue ”
Shirts and bumper stickers aren’t messages directed at elected officials. But this kind of advice can easily be misapplied to support pre-conceived preferences.
There is nothing wrong with developing a message with the right spin for a particular audience. But there is a danger when people start to apply that spin helter-skelter to other audiences.
“‘One less car’ is the worst thing to say,” said Meyer. Or, in the words of one of his interviewees: “It can’t be about critical mass and kicking ass. It has to be about multi-modal, progressive, transportation options.”
That is true when walking through the capital. It is not clear it is true when trying to strengthen the bike culture out on the street. “mutli-modal progressive transportation options” is just jargon. It almost begs to be satirized. Most cyclists aren’t policy wonks. We just want to make biking easier and more fun. We want more people to share in that experience because that makes it easier for everyone, including ourselves.
By all means, train people who are meeting with legislators to deliver messages that work. But make it clear that those are not necessarily messages that will work with other audiences or for other purposes.
I am not afraid to admit to being anti-car.
From the perspective of quality of life, safety health, or the environment, there is nothing good about our addiction to single occupancy motor vehicles. Moreover, I view “advocates” who are willing to kiss the @#$es of bought politicians for a few crumbs of transportation funding with hostility. Many bike “advocates” will moon on about infrastructure but are completely unwilling to admit that the Dutch pedestrian and cycling renaissance did not come about by being nice to SOV motorists. Dutch protests made critical mass look like an informal pub run. Until pedestrians and cyclists are willing to ACTIVELY challenge the dominance of the SOV, the type of lobbying Jonathan described is (IMO) tilting at windmills.
wait, are you saying critical mass is _not_ a bar crawl? i guess i was doing it wrong.
Echoing others, maybe that’s good inside-the-Beltway advice, but out here in the real world I’m going to continue calling myself a bicyclist, I’m still going to keep pushing for facilities that work for cyclists, and I’m going to keep pushing the little-understood message facilities money spent on bicycling facilities SAVES money on other transportation facilities.
And I’m going to keep doing this as long as we have car-dominated intersections that are dangerous for bikes. As long as we have bike routes that disappear and reappear without warning, or aren’t signed well enough to follow without a map. As long as cyclists encounter the occasional motorist yelling “get off my f**** road!” (actual quote I heard a few years ago). As long as non-cyclists still think cyclists are in the way and getting “free ride”, when in fact we’re freeing up space and resources for them. In short, as long as we’re a car-dominated country.
My desire to reduce the dominance of the car does NOT make me anti-car. Just as my desire to have the poor and middle class share in some of the productivity gains of the past 30 years does NOT make me anti-capitalist. Just as my desire to have the bill of rights apply only to humans and not corporations does NOT make me anti-corporation. It’s about balance, not being “anti” something.
Can we consider the typical rhetoric of a another special interest which happens to have fabulously good results in their lobby? Do you consider these statements divisive and evangelistic?
* Obama’s favorite vegetable: James Brady
* Gun control means using BOTH hands.
* Dial 911 and die.
* Waco was another Indian village.
* Win the war on crime, arm the victims.
* I fired a warning shot, into his chest.
* We’re not hunting ducks, we’re hunting tyrants.
* Traveling unarmed is like boating without a life jacket.
* Gun control is people control.
I find myself doing a stealthier evangelism these days. I find, as Meyer says, that most people here like the idea of biking. If you listen to them when they talk about what keeps them from riding or riding to work, you can offer suggestions from your own knowledge and experience.
But I fully support our zealots, our maniacs riding up 39th in the dark, as well. Both approaches are helpful.
Driving kills more Americans than anything else.
Americans fear car death more than anything else.
Terrorism is defined as causing fear.
Therefore, cars = terrorism.
LOL? Well, then why do so many moms fear letting their kids walk or ride their bikes to school?
The real question is why aren’t bike advocates running hard hitting commercials with grieving moms asking, “Why didn’t Congressman Carthunkie want my child to be safe?”
I wish this consultant worked for the NRA, then maybe we wouldn’t have people machine gunning 1st graders. The tiny minority of gun extremists in the US hasn’t shaped US safety policy for a generation by acting more mainstream. There’s a lesson there.
It’s past time to get tough. How about a PAC funding attack adds with weeping victims from our unsafe roads? “Congressman Carwhacker voted for freeway pork over my child’s safety.” Fade from a picture of a laughing Rep. Carwhacker to a child cyclist torn and tangled in the road.
How about going after the state and federal gas tax? That’s something with broad populist and conservative appeal. If the money is just all going to make transportation unsafe and wasteful, like the CRC, get rid of it. That will get ODOT’s and Democrats attention.
How about fighting government waste? Freeways waste billions to move the same number of people that a few thousand dollars in bike projects could move.
How about a bikes versus big government argument? It’s hard to imagine a bigger government project than the CRC.
How about horse-tradding Machabikenelian tactics. Hey, if you want us to stop gathering signatures to lower the gas tax, we want this bike project.
How about describing “bike projects” as what they really are– freeway mitigation measures. ie, If that lethal river of cars you built wasn’t splitting our community down the middle, now, we wouldn’t need that bike bridge, would we?
Crafting the form of your message to the needs of person you are trying to reach, not just what you want to hear, makes perfect sense. It’s basic political messaging, but it’s surprisingly hard at times.
Gay marriage is a perfect example of this. People who already support same sex marriage think about the issue in terms of basic equality and civil rights. People who are on the fence aren’t persuaded by those arguments, and they certainly aren’t persuade by talk of rights and benefits. Reframing the external message to focus on making the issues about real people, love, and commitment vs. abstract political theory has worked very well. Just an example of how you can both tailor your message to your audience while making remarkable progress on an issue.
I think the takeaway from this is that as a cyclist we think about bikes differently than the people who we can move into our corner. What appeals to us, and might appeal to them after they are sold on bikes, isn’t what will get them to the point of being sold on bikes.
Who was the state legislator who was seriously offended about five years ago when a bike advocate showed the cover of Bill Maher’s “When You Ride Alone You Ride with Bin Laden” book? I seem to recall an upper Midwest state like Minnesota, but this representative seriously went off on the poor bike advocate, completely thunderstruck with the suggestion that her righteous self could possibly be aiding the terrorists as she drove her children in her SUV to keep them safe.
Hmm, or if we changed the interest group here, we might say something like “Don’t be militantly out, just be pro-gay-rights on the inside but look mainstream on the outside.”
Not to get too dramatic, but we’re being occupied by an army of motorists who cause tens of thousands of deaths a year, backed by billionaire oil firms and their slick lobbying firms, and the received wisdom is “shut up, be nice, and don’t piss off the powers that be.” Um…well, you take your approach and I will take mine.
Hardly. If you actually applied what was being said in this report more literally to the gay/straight example, it would read:
“Don’t try to convince straight people that being gay is going to save the planet and make you a better person. Just be gay, own it, and work on communicating that all lifestyles, gay, straight, and everything in between are equal and deserve respect.”
when cyclists have their stonewall i will be more willing to compromise.
but he conflates “multimodal” with “mainstream.” so while it might sound like “align yourself with pedestrian and transit advocates,” it does also say “hide the bike.”
The wisdom isn’t to shut up and be nice, the wisdom is to message in a way that actually works for your audience. If you run around antagonizing people who are likely supporters through all or nothing language you lose them. Speak to them using the right message and they will be advocates for the cause.
What I took from this article was someone from INSIDE the system was letting us know how things work. How to achieve a common goal.
Advocates are those advocate for a goal(or whatever). Radicals tend to pursue being radical. Working at being radical and asking for mainstream changes seems to be at odds with itself. I was a student of the 60’s and I know well what being a radical or zealot involves (besides having good, solid goals) in the political process. We tend to end up fighting instead of making changes.
Remember “Occupy Portland”? The goals were good, quite good. I too wanted answers, but they never came. I always felt the method was lacking (sic). Standing on the street corner screaming at passers-by that they all are going to hell draws attention to an issue, but few converts.
Perhaps a good question might be: Are some wanting to make a change for the good, or are they wanting to make their change for the good? There is a difference.
” I was a student of the 60’s and I know well what being a radical or zealot involves (besides having good, solid goals) in the political process. We tend to end up fighting instead of making changes.”
You may have been a student IN the 60’s, but you certainly are not a student OF the 60’s. Because anyone who was, would realize that most of the successful social movements from civil rights, to anti-war, to feminism, to environmentalism to gay rights all started with radicals and zealots who demanded change. It was only the last stage in that process where the “insiders” were finally able to actually create that change. People like Martin Luther King and Cesar Chavez, who we now hold up as idols, were criticized as zealots and radicals in their own day. They eventually became mainstream leaders working both inside and outside traditional politics, but there were many others who continued to work only on the outside.
This silly argument between outsiders and insiders happens in every successful movement. In fact, its an indication of success. The truth is we need both practical insiders taking what we can get, and less practical “zealots and radicals” holding out for their vision of a completely different world. Its not one of the other. Its both.
I think the point is, is biking a hobby, a lifestyle, a passion, or a way to get from A to B
and the “policy insiders” quoted in meyer’s report clearly think it is a recreation, and his advice is, work with that, transportation sounds too radical.
“Everyone benefits from education. Not all people benefit from the car, and likewise, not everyone benefits from bikes.”
The problem with “user fees” is that this is not true. Everyone does benefit from motorized vehicles and everyone does benefit from bikes. And everyone benefits from transit. “Users” only get some portion of the benefits.
The problem of assigning costs is less difficult than figuring out how to assign benefits. You can easily make the argument that bike lanes and sidewalks primarily benefit motorists by keeping those users out of the public right of way. I guess the alternative would be to provide tunnels for motor traffic and let the “users” pay for them.
Whether to dilute our message has been a topic of much debate for decades. Either way, we live in a society of car evangelists, where our critiques of the system and demand for fairness and equity are viewed as bike evangelism. The fact remains that we are paying a lot in time, money and lives for a broken system, so when we talk about equity, it’s not fair to say that argument is old and tired.
“Bike advocates might be taking this all a bit too personally,”
And that is because cyclists view themselves as a persecuted class of people, much like evangelical christians or tea partiers.
Beth, your ideas are the right ones–alt. trans needs to be backed up by:
Hard controls on the value of real property to keep a lid on housing costs
Reforms of labor law–it should be a felony to fire an employee for time-related reasons, and likewise to hold appearance standards for employment
Bust our post-WWII zoning which forces car trips by separating residences and services/places of employment
Remove motor vehicle operators from the protections of the US Consititution and Bill of Rights–if you drive, it should be in a climate of fear of police.
We have to talk about the “hard” as well as the “soft” solutions to our indefensible transportation and energy policies.