James in Greenville wants "Share the road" messages on local buses to help reinforce the idea that cyclists belong on the road. He especially likes the campaign in Atlanta, Georgia, where real people are pictured in the ads instead of just stylized, impersonal bike icons. The real faces humanize cyclists as real people instead of just obstructions in the road.
On the Thunderhead Alliance mailing list there's a discussion about the pros and cons of the "Share the Road" message. Patty Vinyard, executive director of the St. Louis Bike Federation, wants to make biking irresistible. She feels the basic messages of "Share the road" are negative. Consider her points:
Share the road signs are yellow diamonds, which are classified in the U.S. Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices as a warning sign. The underlying message is that a bicycle on the street creates a hazard. This sign inadvertently reinforces the idea that bicycling is dangerous and thereby discourages people who do not currently bike on the streets from ever doing so.
To many motorists it means: Cars have the right of way. Bikes have to move over and let me pass. Bikes are supposed to share the road. In fact, I have heard of several instances in which, after a car/bike crash, the motorist proclaimed: “He didn’t get out of my way! He wasn’t sharing the road!”
For us as advocates, the underlying meaning is perhaps the most destructive. If we decide to use the phrase “Share the Road” in advertising and promotion, we are beginning with the basic assumption that everyone is going to continue to use their present mode of transport. So it’s like we are saying: We know you motorists are never going to get out of your car and ride a bike. But would you please give us a little consideration? Please don’t run us over while you are driving!
If we truly want more people to choose bicycling, we must put our advertising and promotion resources into developing material that makes bicycling look fun, practical, and exciting. When I searched online for examples of television commercials or public service announcements that do this, I found none. Okay, maybe one (but the guy looked lonely). But I found a lot of “Share the Road” material.
You can read the entire article here. Finally, Patty notices that most "bike promotion" advertising are safety lessons instead of anything that actually promotes cycling. She points out that car advertisers don't advertise the very real risks of driving, but show drivers having fun with their cars. Her organization created "Change Your View" videos to promote cycling as something that's fun to do. (Those reading this via the feed probably need to click through to view the video).
Finally, Kent Peterson has his own "Share the Road" story. Kent is the Commuting Program Director of the Bicycle Alliance of Washington and he talks about the irony that his program is funded in part by "Share the Road" license plates on motor vehicles, even when they're mounted on big Humvees and other large SUVs.
What do you think? Does "share the road" send the wrong message? Or am I over analyzing a simple message?
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My belief that the signs DO help to educate the public is based mostly on my firsthand experience commuting to work when I lived in Atlanta several years ago. Part of my commute was on a fairly busy road (Dekalb Ave) and it was fairly common for me to be honked at or yelled at, especially during the morning rush hour. The rest of my commute was fine. I didn’t have any problems in downtown traffic, but on Dekalb many motorists thought I just should not be on the road. Once the signs went up, the number off motorists who reacted negatively to my presence greatly decreased. The change was dramatic enough to make me a believer that the signs did the job that they were intended to do.
I am not naïve enough to believe that road signs can actually change anyone’s attitude. If someone hates to see bicycles on the road and considers cyclists to be a public nuisance, nothing is going to change their mind. The signs are, however, effective for the drivers who simply do not know that cyclists have a right to be on the road. Maybe these drivers think that bicycles belong on the sidewalk or should stay on greenways and bike paths; I don’t know. Regardless of what these drivers do think, the signs exist to educate them to the fact that bikes DO belong on the road along with cars.
And yes, I do start with the basic assumption that most people are going to continue to use their present mode of transportation (for the foreseeable future at least). Until gas prices increase dramatically from their current level, that is just reality. I wish everyone rode and that I didn’t have to share the road with cars, but it is just not going to happen.
No, I don't think you're overanalyzing it at all. I'm sure everyone has thought of this in the back of their minds at least once or twice: "Hey, I'm trying to convince everyone that bikes are fun while griping about what a pain in the rear it is--what's up with that?"
I wouldn't say "share the road" is the wrong message, but maybe only half of the right message? I'm with James--most people do drive their own cars, and that's not going to change. Maybe we should up the ante on the hazards of automobiles? I'm not the hazard, the careless inattentive driver is the hazard! And yet driving with a phone in one hand and a sandwich in the other is seen as a perfectly normal, generally safe thing to do.
"what message does this send?" is more complicated - or maybe more simple - than we usually make it. I'm not sure signage have the clout to send messages that aren't strongly reinforced by other attitudes & behaviors. Here's the argumetns I can think of for the other side. This is a recurring theme - we *want* bicycling to be considered a mainstream activity, not a 'special hazard.' However, for many communities, that's a goal that's going to take serious time and concerted effort because it's a cultural change. We have to be careful and try to make the changes we influence keep moving thigns at their various speeds in the right direction. Lots of things get those diamond signs - railroads, schools... drivers are expected to pay more attention. Are schools dangerous? Do RR crossing signs discourage using railroads? I don't see why "share the road" means "with the car you'll continue to use forever." It doesn't say "please," any more than the school signs say "please give the students a little consideration." The message the signs send are imbued with the culture behind them - that's what we have to change. Definitely, absolutely, we tend to say "safety" and "bicycling" together too often - and to compound the harm, then we stop at "always wear your helmet and obey traffic laws!" Do we treat driving the same way? No... we act as if, with a modicum of caution, practice and training, a person can safely and efficiently use that thing to get places. People don't say "you go on the *interstate*? You are so brave! Those trucks!"
Welp, there aren't ads on the telly for bicycles. However - I dare say there is *much* more presence of cyclists *having fun* than there used to be. The weather channel and AP are reporting on year-round cyclists.
What a contrast! Peterson and the Bicycle Alliance have many very positive programs in place and the resources provided to cyclists are great. STP ideas are superior to STR but STR is a step in the right direction.
STR signs are the best StL advocates can accomplish. They're not perfect but they do remind everyone about cyclists' rights...which really is NEEDED in a city that places a high priority on motorized travel. If signs aren't important than the whole ad industry must be wasting clients' money.
Much more important than STR signs is advocacy that strongly supports cycling rights, law enforcement and Complete Streets. None of these strategies are supported in St Louis. Local funds are used to build poorly placed bike paths in far out rural areas or in areas where they're not needed.
In the last year in St Louis, major cycling routes have been made much more dangerous and pedestrian routes over highways have been permanently eliminated. Cyclists are told "to get off the road and use sidewalks" by law enforcement and local leaders suggest that cyclist "find their own paths", away from needed main routes. A few more STR signs are the only positive gain.
Making cycling "irresistible" starts by supporting bike friendly environments as advocated by the League of American Bicyclists. The video shows a cyclist riding in the middle of the road and on sidewalks...positive messages? Biking is good but this video is not.
Bicycling is especially dangerous when drivers fail to STR and are not held accountable. Positive videos on STR and keeping cycling safe are available. "Making bicycling look fun" is ridiculous at best when infrastructure and law enforcement are anti-cycling. Jack
will--DC has the bus/bike only lanes, but cars drive in them all the time and the rules are NEVER enforced. They'll only work if the local PD makes a commitment to enforce them, and I doubt there are many jurisdictions where that's likely to happen.
I think I can unequivocally say that there ARE people out there who do work very hard to make driving seem as dangerous as it can be.
My father for instance, is the producer of Red Asphalt, and has spent his life trying to teach people to wear seat belts, not drink and drive, and follow traffic laws for their safety and the safety of others.
Comparing car advertisements to bicycle safety messages is apples and oranges. The purpose of each is different.
I agree that cycling must be encouraged in a way that things like wind energy are, but that costs money. If Specialized could buy GM, why aren't they advertising on television to change public views of cycling?
They're not because they don't see the general public as their target market. And if the bike manufacturers don't see cycling as a product ready for mass media consumption, how can anyone else?