One piece of the puzzle of Denver's growth as a bike city, explored in-depth in this week's feature, "On a Roll," is the city's initiative to launch a bike-safety campaign. The effort's been in the works for months, given the rise in collisions between cyclists and cars. Top city officials met in August to discuss ideas for a marketing push. Here, we take a closer look at efforts in other cities that Denver is looking to for guidance.
In the lengthy and sometimes heated meeting back in August, officials from Public Works, the police department, the mayor's Office of Sustainability and other agencies joined bike advocates and local civic groups to discuss the challenge of bike safety and what kind of campaign could help contribute to the solution. The stakes for this effort were elevated by the high-profile hit-and-run earlier this summer that left a cyclist dead on Lincoln and Speer.
Steve Sander, who is heading a marketing effort scheduled to launch sometime next spring, led the meeting, explaining to those in attendance that the goal was specific: to discuss the best options for messaging in a safe-streets campaign. He opened, saying:
Today's meeting is about, is there a role for a public-safety campaign and how could we use a public-safety campaign as a rallying cry to get everybody to focus on how their behavior might affect what's going on on the streets?
However, the discussion quickly veered into contentious debates about who is actually at fault in collisions and how a city can meaningfully create safer streets. At stake are complicated questions of how cities and advertisements can actually encourage behavior changes.
Before things got too heated, though, Sander handed out colorful printouts of campaigns at other cities that have already launched different initiatives aimed at safe cycling and sharing the road. While looking through these, officials debated what kind of message would be most effective. Most agreed that a campaign that is inclusive and positive -- and doesn't unnecessarily demonize cyclists or drivers with negative reminders about laws -- would probably work best.
The full report is below, but here are some highlights of campaigns that could be models for Denver.
San Francisco has a "Coexist Campaign," which has this message, according to the Municipal Transportation Agency:
Increased competition for space on the streets can sometimes make moving around San Francisco a less-than-pleasant, even intimidating experience.
With an increasing number of people using bicycles for transportation in San Francisco (1 in 25 adults, according to David Binder Research Poll, 1998), there is an increased need to accommodate bicyclists and motorists on shared streets.
The San Francisco effort is focused on changing people's behavior, with this kind of goal:
We expect to start a dialogue between motorists and bicyclists about their interactions on the streets. Too often, we stereotype a group of road users based just on one or two isolated experiences. This campaign will remind us that the vast majority of people -- whether driving or riding bikes -- want to do the right thing, to share the road, and to just get along. By starting a public dialogue about co-existing on the streets, we hope more people will show a little more patience and a little more civility on the road.
Here are some other images from the Coexist Campaign, via sfmta.com:
Through the Public Works Department in Minneapolis, the city has developed an "ambassador program," described on a city website like this:
The Bike Walk Ambassador Program provides education and outreach to places of work, schools, higher education institutions, and neighborhoods. We provide services to encourage people to bike more, walk more, and drive less.
More specifically, that program focuses on youth education, higher education outreach, workplace outreach and bicycle and pedestrian planning and technical assistance. Chicago
Chicago also has a similar Bicycling Ambassadors efforts, with a bike-safety and public-awareness outreach team that attends city events. Here's how the group describes itself:
Ambassadors attend events year round, especially between April and October, talking to Chicagoans about bicycling. Ambassador events include: outreach at music festivals in Grant Park, neighborhood health fairs, block parties, and farmers markets. Ambassadors also give bicycle safety demonstrations at day camps, libraries, and schools, as well as bike to work presentations for area businesses.
Additionally, Chicago has a "Share the Road" campaign, which consists of "targeted roadside outreach" that includes efforts to encourage specific behavioral changes:
• Stopping cyclists who run traffic lights and stop signs and educating them about bicycle laws
• Taking positions at high-traffic zones encouraging cyclists to not ride on sidewalks
• Stopping cyclists who are riding without a white front headlight and providing them with one
• Educating motorists about safe driving around cyclists and pedestrians
The group has more images of the campaign, like this one, available on Flickr.
Portland, a city which Denver is often compared to in terms of progress in bike infrastructure, has a program called "Portland By Cycle," which offers rides and classes that encourage residents to cycle for recreation and for commuting. The city also has guided bike rides.
This initiative includes Saturday morning rides, summer and autumn series and a "Women on Bikes" program.
Washington D.C. D.C. has a "Street Smart" awareness campaign, which includes advertising, such as this dramatic video:
This is how the campaign is described on its website:
Street Smart is an annual public education, awareness and behavioral change campaign in the Washington, DC, suburban Maryland and northern Virginia area. Since its beginning in 2002, the campaign has used radio, newspaper, and transit advertising, public awareness efforts, and added law enforcement to respond to the challenges of pedestrian and bicyclist safety.
The Street Smart program emphasizes education of motorists and pedestrians through mass media. It is meant to complement, not replace, the efforts of state and local governments and agencies to build safer streets and sidewalks, enforce laws, and train better drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians.
It seems to use more intense advertising, like this.
Continue for comments from Denver's Department of Safety and for the full Public Works report. Daelene Mix, director of communications for the Manager of Safety's Office, who helped organize the bike safety campaign meeting, says she thought this kind of effort was important given the growing attention around bike accidents.
"There seems to be a need for a safety campaign," she says. "And in my opinion, I don't think it's just about bicycles. I really think it's about multi-modal awareness."
She adds, "Denver prides itself on being a walkable, bikeable city."
Like many at the meeting, she emphasizes that it is not about casting blame, but about encouraging awareness and changes in behavior, as is seen in some of the campaigns in other cities.
"It's not just about motorists...or bicyclists," she says. "It's about being conscious of your environment and being conscious of the fact that we are one of those cities on the rise as far as having a diverse transportation system. We want it to be safe for everyone."
John Hayden, chair of the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Coalition, who was one of the critical voices at the meeting, says he doesn't want to see the city pour money into an effort that is basically just ads on the street -- especially considering some of the more active initiatives with ambassadors and education that other cities have.
"They...want to put some signs on buses that [say]... 'Bicycles stop at red lights, or 'Cars, be nice to bicycles,'" he says. "That's what I think that meeting was about, and I think...it's a waste of money.... To have that be the focus of their energy is unfortunate."
He adds that education and better infrastructure have to be a part of the discussion.
"If we are talking about bicycle safety, we have to be talking about all of it," he says. "And they didn't want to talk about all of it -- they wanted to talk about a PR campaign, which has its place, absolutely, but not independently."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
More from our Environment archive: Unscientific bike survey: Do Denver residents know the cycling rules of the road?