Yesterday, I talked about how bike education tends to be marketed based on safety, and that safety messages are fundamentally rooted in fear. This kind of message is fairly effective to reach the 60% of people who are interested in riding more, but concerned about traffic and safety issues. The challenge of how to make the marketing message not a self-perpetuating theme can be tackled by educators in the content of their courses – providing solid skills and statistics to grow rider confidence and create perspective on relative risks and rewards.
The 8% of cyclists who are confident or fearless, however, pose a variety of challenges to bicycle educators and advocates. Some of this 8% are very effective cyclists – from lane positioning to trail etiquette and appropriate compliance with traffic control devices, they do a pretty good job. Some of this 8%, however, aren’t effective cyclists. They’re very effective at creating bad public relations for those cyclists who are, however.
Safety isn’t a message that has meaning to the cyclists who willfully go the wrong way in traffic, blow stop signs, disregard other trail users, and otherwise earn the negative comments so common online about cyclists. Their behavior ends up harming the portion of the 8% who don’t ride like jerks, and provides an additional deterrent/concern for that 60% who might be persuaded onto their bikes more frequently in the presence of better infrastructure and good bicycle rider training.
As I said: Once you get the 60% in the room, you can provide statistics and skills to balance out their perception of fear. How do you get the fraction of that 8% who ride like jerks in the room? Not only do you have to reach them in the sense of getting them to listen, but then you need to package the bicycle education message in a way that has meaning for them. They already feel confident. Safety isn’t a good message for them, because seriously: If safety is a big concern you don’t blow traffic signals in the presence of traffic.
I think this question is harder to answer than the 60%, but is still worth answering because of the damage that over-confident cyclists who ride any-which-way do to the cause of getting the 60% more involved, and that they do to the overall goal of greater acceptance of cyclists as traffic. Unfortunately, I don’t know that anyone’s come up with a good response to this problem, because the psychology of it is daunting, and the population to be reached with the message is such a minority compared to the easy pickings and quick wins represented by the 60%.