Friday, May 08, 2009
On going off message.
The above graphic is of a bumper sticker I did for the Texas Bicycle Coalition and the League of American Wheelmen back in the early '90s (membership applications are on the reverse side). I also did a giant, better version of this (Three colors! Count 'em!) that were used as bus-boards (the ads on the side of transit buses) for the City of Dallas and DART for Bike Month in 1994.
My idea was one of gratitude and courtesy rather than demand and entitlement. I had noticed that cyclists who felt they weren't being treated right (getting their fair share) often behaved in a way that invited confrontations. I also noticed that cyclists who rode predictably and courteously seldom had confrontations with motor vehicle operators. This observation has remained consistent over the last 15 years. As you act, so you are treated (exceptions always occur, but they are rare exceptions).
Even though I have a legal right to the roadway (Sec. 551-101 Texas Transportation Code), with minor but significant restrictions (the Far Right Law), nonetheless I've found that courtesy and predictability delivered better results than entitlement and demand. With this message of "Thank you", I wanted to communicate, motorist to motorist, that their courtesy was not unappreciated.
After a while, TBC felt that the message wasn't "demanding" enough (being "demanding" helps rally the unhappy, who then send in their contributions). The message was changed to, "Share The Road. It's The Law!" and then to "Give Bikes The Right!" So we went from trying to impart a "feel good" message to motorists, to imparting a feel-good message to bicyclists... which had the side-effect of "preaching" to motorists. You know how much people like being preached to by strangers, right? That's going off message.
But there's more here. The original message presumed the road was shared. The modified message assumes that it isn't, and "sharing the road" came to mean more and more having "my share" of the road... rather like a three year old child shares a birthday cake by taking HIS share. More and more broadly, the idea of sharing the road meant dividing it up into discrete areas: that's your share, and this is my share. The three cyclists' deaths in Tallahassee, Florida last year were in large part the result of cyclists attempting to hold their share of the roadway (a segregated bike lane), rather than integrate themselves as part of a shared roadway.
So, what does "share" mean to you? Do you want your share, or do you want to share?