Fear can be good; it can help people change their behavior, see the world in a new light, or spark the imagination. (It is Halloween season, after all.) But much of the time, fear is destructive. And fearing an entire form of transportation? Definitely limiting for both individuals and society. While there are legitimate fears associated with cycling, much of it is from lack of familiarity and experience. So that’s why in planning the communications for the Rockville Bicycle Advisory Committee’s Share the Road Safely Campaign, I decided to focus on helping people overcome fear. With a party celebrating the end of the campaign a few weeks ago, we found out exactly how successful our outreach was.
The campaign tackled the problem on multiple fronts. Through a table at our local farmers’ market, we helped people feel comfortable doing simple maintenance on their bikes, like filling the tires. Some people can get very intimidated even getting an old bicycle out of the garage, so this helped overcome that hurdle. By participating in a Memorial Day parade with a goofy cheer, we reminded people how fun cycling can be and the variety of people who participate. (Sadly, I missed this one.) Although a few Lance Armstrong wannabes can make anyone (including me) feel unworthy of riding on the same path, it showed that most cyclists have a sense of humor. A printed postcard helped people understand some of the new Maryland cycling laws, reassuring them that the police and government support these good practices. And via community rides like the Dessert Ride, we helped people feel comfortable riding on the road through good examples and factual information. For example, one woman on the Dessert Ride told us that she felt safer riding on the sidewalk. When we explained to her that sidewalk-riding is one of the leading causes of accidents (because drivers can’t see the cyclist), she became more willing to take the lane.
All of these tactics also worked to increase the total number of cyclists on the road, the primary contributor to decreasing bicycle-vehicle accidents. The ideal process is this: the more confident people feel, the more they ride; the more cyclists on the road, the more drivers look for them; the more aware drivers are, the safer and more confident everyone is, creating a positive feedback loop.
To measure the results of our efforts, the Committee worked with Sandy, a local researcher earning a professional degree in health, to do an official bike count. Sandy placed pneumatic tubes in four different locations around town that “counted” when bicycles ran over them. She did a baseline count in May, and then two more in June and September. We set a very optimistic goal that we would “Double Our Count” from the first count to the last. However, I was nervous that the goal was too ambitious – doubling the number of cyclists from one summer’s efforts seemed unlikely.
But as it turned out, even my fear was totally misplaced. At our party in Rockville Town Square, Sandy unveiled the results and they were very good indeed. The first count in May was a mere 328 bicycles recorded over a one week period. The second count was shockingly higher: 1821 bicycles over the same amount of time! Obviously, that wasn’t all from our outreach, but it definitely was a good sign. The third count in September ended up being a little lower (1729), but for a very good reason – the weather was terrible. While the June count was balmy, with an average of 75 degrees and one day with a bare sprinkling, the September count had an average temperature of 62 (low of 44!) and an icky five days of rain. As I remember having no desire to bike during that period, I was really impressed at how many people actually did. In addition to the positive result, I also had the awesome bonus at the party of winning a $25 gift certificate to one of our sponsors, Revolution Cycles, icing on the cycling cupcake.
As with so much in life, approaching cycling with fear or joy deeply colors your experience of it. I was very glad that I could help at least a few people overcome that fear this summer. At the Double the Count celebration, I was terribly pleased to be not only taking joy in my own cycling, but in how many others chose join in as well.