Selling bike safety, culture and infrastructure to a suspicious public

The single most powerful political manifesto I’ve ever read was written by Dale Carnegie.

I don’t think he intended to write a revolutionary treatise. But over the years, I’ve found the suggestions contained in his 70-year old book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, are more effective in creating political and societal change than any sit-in, march or demonstration.

One in particular has been proven over and over to be a brilliant political tool: “Always talk in terms of the other man’s interest.” That is, look at it from their perspective, and think about they’re interested in, rather than what’s in it for you.

I been thinking about that since I attended a session on advanced bike traffic planning tools, hosted by Ryan Snyder of Ryan Snyder Associates, at the L.A. Bike Summit on Saturday. He talked about a number of innovative bike traffic solutions, from sharrows and bike boxes, to painted bike lanes and improved signage.

But what really caught my attention were two things:

First was the concept of Road Diets. Simply put, it’s the idea that traffic flow and neighborhoods can both be improved by reducing the number of lanes.

For instance, a typical four-lane street that carries 20,000 vehicles or less a day can often be reconfigured into two through lanes, with a center left turn lane so that turning cars don’t block traffic, while leaving room for bike lanes on either side. This reduction can actually improve vehicle flow, while calming traffic speeds and permitting a dramatic increase in bike usage — and improve safety for both drivers and riders, while revitalizing the surrounding neighborhood.

The other one was the idea of Bike Boulevards — something a number of local riders have advocated lately.

At its most basic, a bike boulevard is a street, often parallel to a major thoroughfare, that has been optimized to encourage bike traffic. At the same time, it employs various barriers, roundabouts and signal changes to discourage vehicle through traffic.

You don’t have to sell cyclists on the concept of a bike boulevard. Build it, and we will come.

But as Ryan pointed out, the problem for both of these ideas — especially bike boulevards — comes when it’s time to sell local residents and business owners on the idea. With today’s over-congested traffic, very few people are open to the idea of actually reducing traffic lanes.

And no one wants to live on a bike boulevard.

People who live there tend to envision a thundering horde of two-wheeled thugs invading their street, reducing their property values and making them second-class citizens in their own neighborhoods.

Yet the reality is just the opposite. By eliminating through traffic, a bike boulevard will dramatically reduce vehicle traffic, making their street quieter, more peaceful and significantly safer, while local traffic is still able move in and out with ease.

Streets become more walkable, as well as bike-able, encouraging residents to get out and meet their neighbors. And the enhanced landscaping and beautification projects that often are part of a bike boulevard project — in part to get buy-in from the locals — results in a more attractive streetscape.

All that adds up to a better, more livable neighborhood. And means that property values could actually go up, not down.

The same holds true for a business district. Reduced traffic flow means less through traffic, resulting in quieter streets less congestion and easier access for drivers who do want to stop and shop. Parking can be improved and streets beautified, creating a neighborhood ideal for strolling or sidewalk cafes, while the extra bike traffic could actually bring more customers to the area.

Everyone wins.

So we have to do a much better job of marketing — whatever we’re selling. Because the key to getting bike boulevards and the other biking infrastructure, safety improvements, better educated, less biased and more effective police, and acceptance of bike culture, is not to demand our rights, but to look at it from their perspective.

We have to show local authorities, as well as home and business owners, exactly how and why it works to their benefit.

And let them demand it, instead.

***

Streetsblog offers some great biking links this morning, as well as a good overview of the keynote speakers at the Bike Summit. Gary, Brayj and Drew also offer reviews, though in the latter case, I fear I have once again failed to make a good impression. Will offers links to photos, as well as photos and video of his close encounter with Lance following the Summit. Los Angeles Rides quotes from a New York Times article about riding in the city, and how we make ourselves look bad — and not just by wearing spandex. Bicycle Fixation demonstrates that once again, cycling offers better stress relief than any prescription drug. The Biking Lawyer relates the history of the Stop As Yield Law. And Los Angeles Cyclist offers parts 3, 4 & 5 in his five part story of the Ridiculous Pink Fixie.

12 comments

  1. Drew says:

    Hey Ted. I think you may have been in an unfortunate spot in that panel; Road Block’s outlook on cycling in LA, or at least the cultural aspect thereof, was ultra positive, and you and Ele had to follow that up. In looking over what I wrote, I may have been overly influenced by the juxtaposition. I think I was unnecessarily harsh, and I added a few sentences to recognize your work covering elections. While my experience has not been that biking is getting worse, I do think it’s important to balance a positive outlook with a cool-headed, practical approach to the difficult challenges bikers face.

    Thanks for linking, and I hope to see you at another event soon.

    • bikinginla says:

      Don’t sweat it, Drew. I smiled when I read what you wrote; I did make some negative comments, and I stand by everything I said. But that doesn’t mean my overall riding experience is negative. Like Will said, the bad stuff makes up just a small portion of my rides, but it’s important to deal with it. My attitude is that I’m big, experienced rider, and can handle whatever comes up. I’d just rather get it all out in the open and try to do something about it, so less experienced riders won’t have to deal with it down the road.

  2. Will Campbell says:

    FWIW, during that panel I took far greater issue with Ele’s seeming willingness to discount if not dismiss the inherent negligence of cyclists operating bikes irresponsibly under various influences, than I did with Ted’s straight talk about the conditions he’s observed and encountered.

  3. Joe Linton says:

    Thanks for speaking at and getting the word out on the LA Bike Summit… if you would, please use the keyword “labikesummit” on your posts, then they will automatically feed links onto the labikesummit.org website.

  4. [...] –Selling Bike Safety and Infrastructure to a Suspicious Public –BikinginLA. [...]

  5. jhaygood says:

    I think one of the best “what’s in it for car drivers” points that bike boulevards have going for them (and this is the Dale Carnegie part) is that they REMOVE bikes from busy auto-arteries. Bike lanes seem to get crammed into already busy thoroughfares.

    So it seems whenever possible the argument to be made is, “Hey let’s get those bikes off those busy streets” (and give us that gorgeous, tree-lined, peaceful residential street right next to it…).

    • bikinginla says:

      Good point. That should have been obvious to me, but it never once popped into my head. Providing a bike boulevard on L.A..’s 4th Street would remove countless bikes from Wilshire, 6th and 3rd streets — something that should gladden the hearts of many drivers.

    • ubrayj02 says:

      jhaygood,

      Dude – getting bicycles off of arterials is the wrong approach! An MTA survey in 2002 found that most bike trips were on arterial streets – whether or not they had bike amenities.

      The truth is that cyclists need the same access to job centers and commercial spaces as everyone driving a car does.

  6. 4SBB – LIVE THE DREAM!

  7. [...] Streetsblog LA, Road Block of Midnight Ridazz, Ele Munjeli of the Bikex Database, and Ted Rogers of Biking in LA, who joined the panel last minute. If you missed it, LA Loyalist has a summary of the panel — [...]

  8. [...] Selling Bike Safety and Infrastructure to a Suspicious Public –BikinginLA.  [...]

  9. Biking says:

    I feel sorry for you LA guys. If there was one city that’s hard to break the biking mindset into it’s LA.

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