Saturday, February 26


Part 3 of a Continuing Series
"Little Things Mean a Lot"
I can't count the number of times I've heard "BUILD IT AND THEY WILL COME." Like most slogans, this one is also demonstrably false. There are many places where virtually no cyclist-specific infrastructure at all exists, but cycling is robust and on the increase. On the other hand, this post could be entirely filled with examples of things intended for cyclists that go completely unused or are useful primarily to amuse us. "Where's Steve going with this one?" you might be asking yourself at this point.

Well, I'm not saying that cycling infrastructure can't add value for cyclists, nor that examples where infrastructure has helped mightily don't exist, but rather that it is simply that careful thought and consideration are more important to achieving more cycling than simply throwing money at cycling in massive projects that cost lots of money and generate big news stories, or drawing lines on maps to make nice connecting grids. In reality, to cyclists, "LITTLE THINGS MEAN A LOT." To illustrate the point, I will cite two "little" examples of how details ENCOURAGE people to ride their bikes. I will also cite two "little" examples where details send a less pleasant message. For anyone who does not think the principle also applies to bigger ticket items, I'll include a short sample list of big facility considerations.

My first example is from Saint Sauveur, Quebec. For reasons unknown, I stopped by a McDonalds last week for the first time in years. I think it was because I was certain I could handle the level of French necessary to get low carbohydrate food that I didn't just pick off a deli or grocery store shelf. It is not too hard to order a "McDouble sans ketchup." The sight in the photo below caught my eye. I had never seen such a thing at a McDonalds before except where some ordinance mandated it. While I am more sensitive to such things than most people, it sent a message: "cyclists are valued here" in a way that municipal bike lanes and "bike friendly" signs cannot. It told me that some businesses here had realized that attracting cyclists could improve their bottom line. While I didn't have a bike to ride, I went back there the next night. When people realize that cycling is getting thought about, they're going to ride more. It isn't simply the facility itself.

The Message This Quebec McDonald's Bike Rack Sent CANNOT be Purchased. With or Without Bike Lanes/Paths Nearby, it Says "Cyclists Valued Here"
I plan to write a letter to the McDonalds Corporation relating my impression and WHY I patronized that McDonalds a second time. In my letter, I will not mention that it is a lousy bike rack, poorly placed, nor that McDonalds food is not much better than simply going hungry. When businesses get enough such communications, they will begin to internalize and value cycling, and consider ways to market to cyclists. THAT will benefit them and cycling because more people will cycle. The facility building is the least of it. A nearby WalMart, is the case with many WalMarts, has a bike rack. Actually, it was a much better bike rack than the one at McDonalds. The WalMart bike rack had two feet of uncleared snow that had been thrown onto it during parking lot snow clearance. I don't plan to write a letter to compliment WalMart on putting a bike rack in. The dirty snow precluded warm fuzzy feelings from me about that WalMart.

My first BAD example is drawn from PaddyAnne's excellent blog, Pedal Talk. In it, here, she talks about a trip where she used two bike lanes to take a package on her bike to ship. My example is somewhat flawed because the lady in question is a more determined cyclist than many, but her photo, shamelessly stolen  and reproduced below (with a few Steve A additions), shows a different message sent to people considering cycling to the destination in question. It is not that the shippers were hostile to cycling. They simply didn't think about it or didn't think it was worthy of any attention, or didn't care. THAT sends a message to potential cyclists that they don't really count. I do not know if Paddy Anne has plans to write those responsible for THIS, but I'm a grumpy sort and not all of my letters tell owners they got my positive notice.

While Not an Obstacle to Cycling, THIS Facility Sends the Message: "We Don't Care and Can't Be Bothered"
Even a Sign Suggesting Cyclists Park Here Would Have Been MUCH Better
My second GOOD example is drawn from Hoquiam, Washington. At City Hall, the aggregate of the two signs in the photo below send a message that "we have thought about you and here's what you ought to do" to any cyclist coming to city hall. If I were considering riding my bike to do business at City Hall, I'd see that sign and know to go around back. If, on the other hand, they'd simply put the upper sign up, a lot of people might draw less encouraging conclusions. I do not know if they added the lower sign after receiving complaints from grumpy types or simply thought about things up front, but the current message is one I'd consider a positive one, despite the big "NO."
Note that the Inclusion of the Lower Sign Sends a Different Message Than if Only the Upper Sign Had Been Used
You Don't Even Need a Wrench to Steal a Bike Locked Here
Colleyville City, on the other hand, has sent a less attractive message to its cyclists. On the walls of its municipal complex, are posted signs saying "No Bicycles or Skateboards." What's more, within sight of these signs, there are "alleged" bike racks that are shown in the two photos below. They DO look "bikey" at first glance, but as noted in THIS POST, a simple action would result in the quick theft of any bike that used them. To me, the combination sends a message that "we're just going through the motions and can't be bothered to do what it really takes, even though it would not cost a single penny more." Ironically, there is a very good bike rack within steps of the library entrance. A sign change to "No bike riding or skateboarding here, bike rack to right" would have sent an entirely different message. I have never used these bikey racks and have never seen any other cyclist use them either. I lock my bike to something secure.

Sign on Colleyville City Hall. I Imagine No Guns are Allowed, Either. This Sign is About 30 Feet From the "Thief Friendly" Bike Rack
Taken individually, none of these examples make a strong statement, but cumulatively in a given area, they create an environment in which people feel increasingly comfortable riding their bikes - or not. In the US, unlike places like China, only a very small fraction of the population ride their bikes out of economic necessity.

When it comes to Multi-million dollar facilities, the principle is EXACTLY the same. A facility that is built simply because it follows some rail line that doesn't go anywhere cyclists WANT to go within a reasonable distance will not attract much use, NO MATTER HOW MUCH IT COST. A facility that continually exposes users to obvious hazards will not succeed, either, because word will get around. A facility that treats users like second-class citizens will find limited use. Yes, the notion of "build it..." is insufficient by itself to make them come. It takes an accumulation of positive messages to potential cyclists that say "cycling is something you WANT to do." Brains need to be engaged first, and THAT happens less often than you might imagine. IMO, keeping cyclists in mind all the time, and the little ways that "in mind" shows up goes further to explain the explosion of cycling in some places more than the paths and paint and the dollars dumped into concrete and asphalt. It really is the thought that counts. When you are thinking, the money that gets spent, whether it is a lot or a little, is spent far more productively.

Source HERE.  Can You REALLY Simply Build Bike Facilities and Expect People to Come? As With MOST THINGS, the Devil is in the Details
BTW, I LOVE the Cotton Belt Trail - It is Like a "Bike Drag Strip" Where an Encounter With a Ped or Cyclist is Rare
DISCLAIMER - I Have No Way to Judge the Accuracy of the Counts Above
Actually, the notion that little things mean a lot ought to be really good news for cyclists in an era when governments seem unable even to pay for basics like police, fire, and teachers, and when other governments are flirting with outright bankruptcy. It means much progress can be made anyway. Signs are cheap and businesses improving their sales actually increase government coffers.


Anonymous said...

I remember getting to the parcel shipping building and being incredibly disappointed in the bike rack conditions - the lack of them! This, after riding such excellent lanes to get there. I had to sacrifice the cord normally wrapped on my front wheel, to instead secure my bike to the fence - I removed the quick releases on this bike because it is my city-bike and theft is so rampant. But I didn't like having to do that, even for the short time it takes to drop of the parcel. In the shippers defence - if there is any, they are new to this particular building, but they since they did think of parking spots for the car they could have also thought about cyclists!

Good post, I enjoyed reading it. Honestly though, couldn't you have found a Tim Horton's while you were in Quebec? It would have been much more patriotic to your host country. :)

Steve A said...

I not only FOUND a Tim Horton's, but I went there each morning, learned to say "tres grand café avec une crème" well enough that I'd get answered in French rather than English. At that point, the lady would make a lot of rapid inquiries and the gig would be up. I even took a photo of the Saint Sauveur Tim Hortons, which did NOT have a bike rack.

The problem eating at Hortons is that their sandwiches are more complicated to convert to low carb than are McDonalds and, unlike the Hortons in BC, most of them north of Montreal are not sharing space with Wendys.

I imagine I'll find a way to work my Tim Horton's photo into a future post. In the meantime, roll up a rim for me.

danc said...

Nice discussion as always.

Regarding "... Traffic Counts" info, what is the transportation and recreational split? A recent local count of multi-use path (MUP) found less than 4% of the all users where commuters. The NCTCOG slide title "Pedestrian and Bicycle TRAFFIC Count" is misleading if it primarily recreational users.

Was "No Rollerblade, Skateboarding or Bicycling Allowed" in a pedestrian plaza? Possibly a more specific sign "No Rollerblade, Skateboarding or Bicycling Allowed on Sidewalks" is warranted. Operating bicycles on a sidewalks [or pedestrian space] is a poor safety space but NOT adverse to cyclists.

Khal said...

I have to disagree with splitting bicyclists into "transportation" vs. "recreation" destinations, at least if it is done with prejudice. When we do auto traffic counts, do we make such distinctions in terms of daily traffic counts?

Sure we take destinations into accounts in order to MANAGE traffic,i.e., make sure we can handle peak daily loads into an industrial park, or weekend traffic to the beach, but we don't treat motorists going to the beach as second-class citizens or somehow less worthy of good roads. Money is made working, and money is spent playing. Its all part of the economy and needs transportation support.

Velouria said...

Bicycle parking facilities are unimportant to me, especially since most racks used in the US don't fit my bikes anyhow. For that reason, I hardly notice them and they play no role in encouraging me to cycle. Bicycle lanes on the other hand have made a huge difference in motorist behaviour where I live. It was very stressful to cycle on certain roads before the lanes due to motorist aggression, but not those roads are downright friendly.

Steve A said...

The sign didn't say "no bicycling," it said "no bicycles." Replacement of the "es" with an "ing" would have sent an altogether different message.

Velouria makes an important point. Different things are important to different people. That is one reason why the totality of the message rather than simply one element or another is what is needed.

While I agree with Khal that "t versus r" isn't legit, his own blog post almost suggests that "t" usage is something your next door neighbor engages in while "r" is something that "others" do. THAT is a distinction worthy of future myth treatment.

cycler said...

Recreational paths may or may not draw cyclists from further away, but bike lanes and other facilities which link useful destinations can definitely encourage people to use them instead of walking or driving from point A to point B

Khal said...

Guess I'll have to re-read my own post, Steve.

Chuck Davis said...

Regarding splitting bicyclists into "transportation" vs. "recreation" categories notwithstanding destinations and/or where or how they ride is a major and repeated error that so called advocacy groups make

Steve A said...

Other than environmental groups, I have heard no one suggest that roads to carry cars to local parks is not legitimate as a use of transportation money. Few argue against on-street parking, though that is not even recreational use of the road, nor is it transport. Chuck makes a strong point that it is mainly advocates of various stripes that so paint cycling.

Chuck Davis said...

It is from the new initial rail and MUP riders of any decree that the serious (whatever in hell that means) road riders graduate from

Most of the off road riders that I know do have road bikes also; there are also serious off road competitive types who do commute on beater/training "MTB" bikes, that simply are not part of the local advocacy scene nor are they invited to be a part thereof

The result is a seriously diluted/anemic advocacy membership base that otherwise might be an enhanced resource pool

danc said...

Steve road: The sign didn't say "no bicycling," it said "no bicycles." Replacement of the "es" with an "ing" would have sent an altogether different message.

Good catch.

Steve A said...

Danc: We cyclists may be few, but we're touchy. Being few, we are unlike the ubiquitous drivers of pickup trucks that don't even consider that a "no trucks" sign might be construed to apply to them even though those same drivers happily park in "truck parking" spots and some get truck license plates for their vehicles. In our family, I refer to the Land Rover as "the truck." My wife refers to it as a "car."

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading it. Honestly though, couldn't you have found a Tim Horton's while you were in Quebec?
beach bike

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