The following infographic was posted this past weekend on Twitter by Brent Todarian, an urban planner and supporter of active transportation based in Vancouver BC. It’s from a grass roots movement to promote cycling in Scotland, and it does a great job of reflecting the societal disconnect between what we say and what we really believe.
If you read what I write here with any regularity, you already know this. The problem is that other people don’t know it and there are a lot more of them than there are of us. What’s worse, most of them don’t view cycling and walking as transportation solutions at all. This is because they’ve constructed their lives in a manner that favors the use of a car. They could construct their lives differently, but they don’t see any need to do so. Preaching to these folks about the benefits of cycling is pretty much a lost cause.
Yet that’s what most cycling advocates do. It feels to me like more of a money grab than anything real. Hire a consultant, draft a bicycle master plan, build 2 blocks of protected bike lanes, throw down some green paint and then promote your city or town as bicycle friendly in an effort to attract tech workers. Maybe your mayor cycles to work once or twice a year, too. It has become a cliche, and not surprisingly, it changes nothing.
So we need to rethink how we’re spending our human capital. We need a new story to tell. Mine starts with children. Most parents want to talk about their children. They love them and they want what’s best for them and there’s no doubt that bicycling is better than riding a bus or being dropped off at school in a car. They intuitively understand this and like it. Many of them may have ridden bicycles to school as children themselves.
So I have been thinking about this a lot. Maybe Safe Routes to School is a way to leverage all that we know about cycling that is good. I’ve known of SRTS for a long time but I didn’t know where it came from. I assumed it was just some USDOT government program. I was wrong. It turns out that the Safe Routes to School movement started in Denmark in the 1970s, about the same time Stop de Kindermoord was changing Dutch culture. That’s interesting. Two of the best cycling countries on the planet got there by focusing on the safety of children and later, after adults saw what could be done, they started cycling too.
I recently sat down with a couple of economic development people here in Iowa and Safe Routes to School came up. I don’t think these folks really view bicycles as an economic driver, but they intuitively understand just how much sense it makes for children to cycle to school. We talked about side paths and budgets, for sure, but we also talked about ways we could make the streets safer for everyone and what benefits we’d gain as a community if we could. We discussed the need for lower speed limits and a culture that supports multiple forms of transportation. We discussed education and enforcement of existing laws, again, in the context of children. These are things that cost pennies and return huge dividends. They understood in a way I don’t think they would have if we were talking about adults on bikes.
The ultimate goal of cycling advocacy is to create cyclists. We have to get better at it. When we swing the numbers our way it will be easy to flip the pyramid and get the money we need to build out infrastructure. It’s going to take time. Safe Routes to School is an established program that provides an opportunity to engage non-cyclists with a compelling story and generate support. It’s an opportunity to promote education and enforcement so that motorists don’t speed and get sloppy around crosswalks. When this happens, everyone wins…even the motorists.
If you’re in one of the states on the map below and interested in talking about this with an eye towards focusing local officials on bicycle friendliness, let me know. We can start online, you can come to Iowa, or I can come to you.