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?