If you ask the average Copenhagen bicyclist what makes him or her feel unsafe in traffic, this is the initial and surprising reply: cargo bikes (taking up too much space, impossible to pass on narrow lanes), girls on granny bikes with loaded baskets (that would be me, then), bicyclists texting or otherwise busy on the phone and bicyclists riding in pairs, side by side. I know this because I had the occasion to participate in a survey on the subject. None of these answers are mine. Not one of them makes me feel unsafe, at the most I recognize them as mild annoyances. What makes me feel unsafe in traffic is reckless drivers, large trucks with low visibility and drivers preoccupied with their phones (I can't begin tell you how many I see every day, in trucks too). Once we got over listing what I can only call the annoyances, we all agreed that the "hard traffic" and especially trucks and taxis are the scariest (don't even get me started on Copenhagen taxi drivers).
The reason we were gathered was to evaluate the latest traffic safety campaign from the Road Safety Council. Nothing we haven't seen before. I will not bore you with the details, suffice to say it sucked, and I am willing to bet you it will not work. But done right it could save lives, and that makes this particular waste of money and advertising space so dangerous. An assignment this important should be offered to forward thinking advertising agencies, only the best, and never the same twice in a row (unless proven extremely effective). We need a fresh approach.
What if a campaign for once was not based on fear (!), or set on making us adversaries, banging the old Us Against Them drum? Imagine instead a campaign focusing on how we are in this together, how people in cars are the same as people on bikes (we are, you know), and at the end of the day what we all want is to get home in one piece, having caused no harm. Or what if you as a bicyclist was encouraged to take it easy, and enjoy the ride? Could that shave off some of the annoyance felt by those who just want to get from A to B as fast as possible? Or what if you as a photographic experiment turned all the cargo bikes into double-barreled vans, illustrating just how much more space they would then take up? How much more they would pollute? Maybe then we would not be so busy sneering at them on the bicycle lanes. And maybe then even the drivers would see us in a more favorable light.
I am not saying that all bicyclists are saints, when you factor in the amount of us riding daily, there are bound to be a few bad apples (hello). But overall I feel safe around other bicyclists, especially in heavy traffic. Even if we are just a small group, cars are less likely to take crazy chances around us. We ought to re-think the way we look at each other on the lanes because the more there are of us, the more privileges will come our way. Wider lanes, more lanes, clearly marked corners and so on. A good campaign could go a long way towards making traffic both safer and more pleasant all around. Imagine a campaign promoting not fear, but understanding? Dare I hope?
One less car.