As I was writing a comment on the TU Bike blog it struck me. I now know the question that is at the root of it all. It’s what would solve all of our problems. It would stop people from riding on the wrong side of the road. It would stop drivers from honking at bicyclists for going too slow. It would encourage moms, dads, sons, and daughters to pick up a bicycle and make a change in their life for the betterment of everyone. The question is so simple and yet so complex.
How do you get people to care?
This may take some clarification so let me try and explain. I don’t mean people on an individual level, which is I think how most people are trying to go about it these days. I mean people in a broader aspect; the same way the anti-smoking adds of the nineties have converted an entire generation from eventual smokers into non-smokers. We’ve all done our part on the small scale. With the work ABR we have done our best to teach people about bicycling and empower them to take a hold of their life when it comes to transportation. ABC has done its best to promote bicycling through advocacy and information.
What I would like to see is an eventual shift in society away from centering peoples’ lives around cars. Without a national push I don’t see that happening. It’s different for us though. We are in the thick of it. I think it’s safe to say that everyone reading this right now has at least an interest in bicycles with or without the coalition. We would ride even if there were no lanes. It’s just how we’re programmed.
Maybe there is no clear answer. Maybe we just can’t reach the right people. When I look at cities like NYC, San Francisco, and Copenhagen though I see what could be. Granted all of those cities have a massive amount of cars, but they also have many people that made the decision to commute by bicycle as well. It really boils down to three things safety, money, and time.
Most people are comfortable driving a car, and why shouldn’t they be. They are big, solid, and have a safety rating to indicate that you will not die. This is something that does not come with a bicycle. All we have are our whits and helmets in case, knock on wood, we ever do get into an accident or just plain wipe out on the pavement. Although you are relatively safe riding a bicycle it is not perceived as such. I am not going to go into why, but if you want more people to ride you have to convince/show them that bicycle riding is not all that dangerous as long as you follow the rules of the road.
Money, on the other hand being logical in nature, is a lot easier to quantify. The question is simple. How much would someone pay for the luxury of owning a car? The minuet someone surpasses that number they will either starve or change; hopefully change. For me that number was zero dollars and zero cents which does not speak to using or renting a car because they do have their uses. I made the decision early on that I would not buy a car winter or no winter. I am lucky I suppose in that I live relatively cheaply in the center of Albany so everything, at least for me, is within biking distance. I also don’t have kids which helps, and the hills of Albany don’t present as much of a challenge anymore either.
The problem with this is that I don’t think people look at the whole cost of buying a car when they make this decision. They look at their monthly payments and they go, “Okay, I can afford this.” Which they can, but what if they saved that money and bought a bicycle instead? They would be rolling in so much money they would not know what to do with it all. If you figure with insurance, gas, car payments, and maintenance you could buy a really nice bike every few months.
Time is one of the constant thing I hear as a reason against bicycling, and although you will get faster the more you ride I can understand this one. When I schedule something I always have to take into account the time it will take me to get there. For some people this is unacceptable, but when you think of all the things you are missing when you are in a car, the feeling of the air rushing past you, the exercise you are getting, etc. , time seems less of a worry because it is not being wasted just used in a different way.
I know bicycling is not for everyone. There are people in this world that physically cannot, but until we find the solution to these deterrents getting people to care will be hard at the least. You can throw as many “share the road” signs at them as you want.
This article ended in kind of a downer so let me leave you with an amusing anecdote I heard recently. Apparently WalMart, underestimating how cheap people are, has a thirty day no questions asked return policy on their bicycles. Dick’s has a similar policy, but instead of thirty days it’s ninety days. Apparently there is a women that gets a bike ever month to three months by buying a bike at WalMart and returning it, and then buying one at Dick’s and then returning that one essentially getting a brand new fully assembled/calibrated bike.
When I heard that it floored me. Not that she is gaming the system to get a new bike, but the genius of the whole thing. While I am toiling away keeping my bikes in good condition, buying parts and such, she spends no money and gets a new bike every month to three months. She wins hands down.