Why Bicycle Mobility Starts With Community

It’s a fact that bicycles are great for a lot of reasons, but facts aren’t the reason why people buy cars. Consider that if facts were a consideration in the purchase of cars people would just say “no” outright on the basis of the price of a car, and then there’s the maintenance cost, fuel, parking fees, insurance, and the steadily declining value of a very expensive liability and non-investment.

The truth is, people buy and use cars because of (1) personal convenience, (2) utility, and (3) status. These are the three main things why bombarding people who use cars with facts, guilt, and shaming will never work in getting them to convert to bicycles or support bicycle mobility. What will happen, instead, is we’ll create an ever widening gap between us and them in a situation where we actually need all of us to be on the same side.

What we need to do, instead, is try to find common value that allows us to have a decent conversation and eventually find a common solution. That common value is mobility and because we, as bicycle-riding members of the public, are actually the ones asking for a change, we need to take the lead in finding and creating a reason why everyone should participate in that change. And it’s important to realize as well that, even though the climate crisis is the most important thing we should all be thinking about, we need to recognize the fact that for people sitting in an airconditioned car the climate crisis is not necessarily an immediate concern. For most people who ride in cars their problem is just having more time to do more things so they can make money and pay for their car, and just like us they also worry about their household bills, debt, and tuition for their kids. They’re not different from us, and they’re certainly not the enemy because in the face of the climate crisis we cannot afford to be against each other. To put it bluntly, we do not have time to argue with each other.

There are a lot of ways that we can work with people who drive motor vehicles in a way that will make them listen and acknowledge our opinions, rather than be locked in an eternal combat of bad words, blame, and shaming. Because people are mainly concerned about creating more time for themselves by using cars and motor vehicles, we can show motorists, for example, how bicycle lanes can be a means of getting real-time information about road traffic so they can find other routes, as access for bicycle messengers that can help them transport physical things they might need to deliver somewhere on time, or better yet show them how they can save a ton of time if their kids and other members of their family can ride bicycles to get to school or run errands instead of scheduling their day around giving everyone a ride in their family car. There are a lot of possibilities for collaborative rather than a combative approach to bicycle mobility adoption at scale, and it will help create a better sense of community that is essential for long-term success.

It’s easy to get angry, frustrated, or impatient about people in cars (and other motor vehicles) but it’s important to realize that they are as much a part of the world we’re trying to improve, as we are. Making things better is never about making people do things, if that actually worked there would be no candy wrappers and cigarette butts on our streets, and all of us would be eating healthy things instead of junk food.

What we have to do is create the environment where a greater number of people (including motorists) can begin to develop the intention to try or support bicycle mobility, we need to help people develop a positive attitude towards bicycles and diminish whatever negative impressions they have (including agressive treatment from cyclists), there has to be social support for people who might be considering becoming a bicycle user or someone who supports bicycle mobility, and lastly we have to make it easy for people to become involved – nobody should have to fight for their opinions before they can be a part of what we’re trying to accomplish because it takes a community to achieve what we want to achieve.

The truth is, if we really want bicycle mobility to work we need to start with changing the way we treat each other (even though it’s a really hard thing to do) because when that happens our sense of responsibility for each other will become the common value we share at the heart of everything else that we do. We always talk about “Bayanihan,” that thing in Filipino culture that describes the act of people-helping-people as a community. Well, this is the perfect test to see how we put that into actual practice where the rubber meets the road.

Read more of what I’m thinking about!

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