31 May 2011

What if?

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?

Cargo mom

One less car. 


  1. AnonymousMay 31, 2011

    Regarding your tweet what has Copenhagen (City of?) to do with the Road Safety Council?

  2. I don't mind the cargo bikes...they are cozy and easy to overtake.
    The most dangerous bikers are -as you're saying- the hard helmet tyrants (often sporting the full Brian Riis outfit...hate those guys) plus (some) girl bikers in their 20s and 30s, yes - the granny bikers. Both groups think they own the bike lanes and do not bother to look for other bikers, cars or pedestrians. I can't count how many times I've been forced to steer clear of the slumbering female biker who just rolls out in front of me from a side street, not at all looking at oncoming bike traffic but busy sending an sms or chatting away on the phone. I find that very annoying - and life threatening at times!
    Others are just dangerous because they suddenly choose to STOP for a green light (??), bike in the wrong side of the road (the 'ghost riders'), and the ones who overtake on the bike lane without looking back first.
    Sometimes I think people riding bikes should have some sort of license for it. Too many are just not aware of the basic rules of traffic, probably because they don't own a drivers license. Either that or some sort of positive campaign like you're suggesting, Sandra.

    All that being said, I am proud of Copenhagen as a bike city, and hope we somehow can get some good bike ethics for those 'bad apples' on the streets :-) It is needed.


  3. Anonymous, my perspective is Copenhagen, you know? Classic Copenhagen.

  4. I used to absolutely hate the scooters on the bike paths. They would scare the crap out of me, speeding little mosquitos...

    A thing that I really miss about the Copenhagen bike scene is the fashion. I love that woman's shoes and stockings- anything goes while riding a Christiania bike ;)

  5. Hi Drumstick, I agree we could all benefit from a quick brush up on bicycle etiquette. It can easily be done without fear, too. And I do encounter risky behavior on the lanes from time to another, but if you tell them off, they may think about it the next time. I still have not felt afraid for my life because of the behavior of other bicyclists. But the middle aged lycra men and other hard hat bullies have been known to mess with my blood pressure..

    You know I love Copenhagen and I am proud of it too, and I appreciate all the efforts currently made to pamper cyclists.

  6. Hi Celena, yes what is that? Scooters have no business on the lanes, if you ask me.. (ha, they are probably going to crucify me for that)

  7. Scooters in the bike paths is one of the biggest problems in Amsterdam as well.

    The only reason I feel threatened by other people on bicycles in Portland is because I worry they could knock me out into automobile traffic, since the only thing between us is a painted line, and about 15 centimeters distance, sometimes. This is one big reason I try to avoid roads with painted bike lanes, I sometimes feel they are more dangerous than smaller roads with no bike lanes where you just ride in the road with traffic moving slowly.

    Fear campaigns are big here, as I'm sure you know. Whenever anyone wants to make money from something, or coerce people into behaving a certain way, the first thing that's tried here is to make people afraid of something. It's a surefire way to pass legislation - make people afraid of something, and they will vote for anything that politician say will help.

    I would also LOVE to see more positive promotion, because honestly, most of the people dying on the roads are dying *in* cars, not outside of them. Making the streets safer and calmer really benefits every single citizen of the city, but we are so ready to sacrifice everything to go faster.

    Two senators from Oregon recently proposed *raising* the speed limits on Oregon roads, and changing a law that was passed to allow cities to lower speed limits on certain types of roads without prior approval (the Oregon state department of transportation has final control over speed limits on all roads in the state, cities have to get it approved by the state before changing, except now in those special cases). And they want to increase these speed limits after we've already had something like a dozen traffic fatalities in Oregon this year so far, and it's not even half over.

    People are just still so unaware how messed up our traffic is - 30,000-40,000 people die every year in the U.S. in cars. That's nearly a Vietnam War every year, except it's women and children and husbands and fathers and they are just trying to get from home to work or school and the grocery store.

    I would love to see an appropriate level of concern placed where it is needed, and appropriate solutions applied. No more making us afraid of things that aren't dangerous so that we will go on killing each other without thinking about it.

  8. Wow, Dave, that was almost like a post within the post. Beautiful. :-)

    My number one beef with advertisers and politicians is how they with no scruples push the fear button whenever they want us to vote or spend, or just make us all stand on one leg. But eventually the scare tactics will turn into the old story of the boy who cried wolf, I am sure of it.

    The advertisements yelling at us that we are all going to die already don't work like they used to. Humor and honesty is the way, if you ask me. If a campaign wants my time, and wish for me to visit a website, they have to earn my attention, that is just how it works. And if you bully me or patronize me, that is not going to happen.

    There seem to be an urban movement here at the moment, encouraging us to slow down and smell the roses, with urban gardening projects and local initiatives like street barbecues. I see the slow movement on the bicycles too, and unlike some people I l o v e it. It is not just about the destination, forget about the damn speed and getting there five minutes faster, you know. But instead of keep yelling "speed kills" at us, how about promoting all the good stuff that happens when you do slow down?

    Ah, I could go on, haha.

  9. Sounds like we feel very similarly on this issue :) I also would love to see more promotion of how *good life can be* if you just slow down and enjoy it every now and then. Not only are you less likely to get into a traffic accident if you slow down, but you are likely to live longer for other reasons, and probably enjoy yourself more during that time. Here's to many more years of meandering through life! :)

  10. Yeah, no surprises there, haha. I will look forward to see when the media picks up on it too. :-)

  11. AnonymousMay 31, 2011

    My biggest bugbear in Cph is the car drivers who cross on red. Happens continually because they know they will never get caught. We have no red light cameras here and when the police decide to rake in some cash in fines, they do it by setting traps for cyclists turning right who are not endangering anybody.


  12. Hi Neil,
    Cars driving through red are endangering everybody, that is downright scary! But I remember reading that the police is all for the law being amended so that bicyclists can turn right on red lights. So far it has not happened. Maybe they need the fine-cash more?

    If cars pulled that crap in my area, I consider making an official looking sign warning them that they are under surveillance. Freak them out a little, and maybe save somebody's life in the process? Ha, that could be fun.

  13. okay I'll read the comments later. I love how we can feel the passion in your posts about bikes. What to say ? I ride my bike, I drive and I walk. The California roads are wide enough for everyone, but Europe is a different matter. Also it seems pretty easy to kill/be killed with or by a car, being killed by a bike seems a lot more work, doable, but way more difficult :) Good luck to you, and on a happy note, I'm almost car free... going on your side, the bright side of healthy not polluting people.

  14. Hey I´ll make that "official looking" sign for you, Sandra. With a tiny Bert twist of course. But wow, one heck of a post you wrote there. I feel it needs to be sent to the Road Safety folks.

  15. Hi Carole, it is funny I do feel very passionately about the sense of freedom I have when I ride my bike. For every time I visit Paris, I notice more bikes, I look forward to getting the full update when you move there. :-)

    Hi Bert, not only should you do the "official looking" sign for the mad drivers, you should be hired for the campaign to make happy road signs telling people to slow down and take good care of each other. Now there's a match made in heaven. :D

  16. In Montreal, we have just started to adopt bicycles as a supported/encouraged mode of transport. Unfortunately, a few people struck down by our city buses lately (it has been reported that at least 1 has died). Get this- the head of the bus drivers' union comes onto the radio and says that more cyclists on the road will equal more deaths. The bus drivers have a hard enough time without more cyclists on the road. What a door knob!

  17. Hi Celena, wow... if "door knob" means world class moron, I am with you. What a sad way to look at bicycling, especially when the fact is that more c a r s equals more deaths. Ugh. Why do they insist on talking about it like it is the wild west? It is just riding a bike.


I love comments! Go ahead, make my day. :-)