Changing the Cultural Norm

I’m reading Tom Vanderbilt’s “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)” (probably the longest subtitle I’ve ever see on a book…).  Anybody who spends any amount of time in traffic (um, that’s pretty much everybody) would find the book fascinating.  He spends some time talking about driving cultures in different nations and cities; particularly driving “norms.”  The matter of cultural norms is very important to our discussion of cycling in general and safety in particular.

Cycling in Seattle in September was for me a very different experience from cycling here because there are so many more vehicular cyclists there.  Facilities were mostly beside the point; motorists were polite bike lane or not.  Seattle motorists are used to seeing vehicular cycling on a daily (probably hourly) basis, so they don’t get worked up about being behind a cyclist.  While it’s true that vehicular cycling works better than P.O.W. cycling (Pedestrian On Wheels) even if the motorists are nasty, it sure ain’t as much fun.  And the cyclist who’s considering using the street is more likely to do so if he or she sees lots of other cyclists out there.

To me the Orlando strategy must be to identify the people most likely to embrace vehicular cycling once they understand it and who will be out there as individual cyclists in the urban and suburban environment using bikes for transport.  In Orlando that means the Critical Mass folks.  The club cyclists don’t ride for transportation nearly as much as the CM folks do.

So, those of you who are Critical Mass riders: What will it take to get you in a vehicular cycling course?  What media outlets? What key words and images resonate with you?  What will get you to sit down for a couple hours with an instructor to learn some skills and principles?  Please pass this along to other blogs and lists as you see fit.

NOTE: this is NOT an attack on CM.  I’m addressing how one rides when alone or in small groups, not in the Last Friday Mass.  I plan to be there this Friday myself.

The more cyclists out there legally claiming their rights and exhibiting riding excellence, the better for all of us.

5 replies
  1. Keri
    Keri says:

    Mighk is 100% right-on about this!

    The key to cyclists being accepted (and respected) as a normal part of the traffic mix is having more people riding as a normal part of the traffic mix. The early adopters are the ones who take the social risk (and that’s a perceived risk, not a physical one) of being out there so that others will see and follow.

    Most cyclists make cycling so much more difficult for themselves — some because they don’t know better and some because they’re afraid to be different.

    BTW, Lisa and I had the same experience in Boulder.

  2. andrewp
    andrewp says:

    This message needs to get to the campuses — UCF, Valencia, Seminole, Full Sail, etc. A lot of those folks are on bikes as a way to get to/from school. There also the ones more likely to take social risks (because that’s what you do when you are young).

  3. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    OK, but how? What are the most effective mechanisms for reaching this audience? Where do they go for trusted information? What concepts resonate with them? Who do they trust? What motivates them?
    It’s 1968 and I’m a “square” trying to connect with the “hippies.”

  4. acline
    acline says:

    I think Courteous Mass is far more productive. The point is to take the road as vehicles and obey the law.

    Keri… I’m also reading Traffic now. Interesting.

  5. Mighk
    Mighk says:

    I wasn’t talking about changing the character of the CM rides. The impact of that would be negligible anyway as it only effects a few streets for a couple hours once a month.

    I meant changing the way they ride when they are not in CM. The people who ride CM are already organized and networked, and they already use bikes around town for transport.

    Those who bike for transport out of economic necessity generally aren’t networked (as far as I can tell), so they’re very difficult to reach. (Though we see some of them in the Alternative Transportation classes.)

    The club riders are organized, but relatively few of them use bikes as transportation.

    My point is to get more vehicular cyclists on our streets. Eventually we gain enough traction that VC is seen as normal.

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