cycling utah August 1999
Bicycle advocacy - it's a simple matter of the links
By Rob MacLeod
I like to make links between bicycle advocacy and other facets of cycling. I like to nag racers that they, too, have a place in the advocacy picture and also remind bike shops that they are the front line of contact to the cycling public. They play a critical role in any change in attitudes among cyclists (or those who buy bikes). But I like most to show that everything we do on a bike is a potential advocacy action and that, conversely, bike advocacy impacts us all each time we ride.
I was reminded of this last weekend when three of us from the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee attended the first Effective Cycling Instructors' course held in the Intermountain West. Hosted by Dwight Tovey, a local Boise bike advocate under the auspices of the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), the course brought a diverse group together. And we all shared the goal of becoming certified instructors of the Effective Cycling program.
Our instructor was Fred Meredith, who was full of "war stories" of the road combined with great teaching skills and an encyclopedic knowledge of bike safety. Fred publishes a magazine similar to Cycling Utah in Austin, Tex. and is deeply involved in local cycling groups and the statewide Texas Bicycle Coalition.
A big part of the group consisted of bike cops from the Boise area, but not Boise itself These folks were great companions on a ride through the busy street of Boise. It's amazing how motorists change behavior when they see a cop on a bike. Things got even more interesting on the night rides. The cops knew all the fun streets to hit, where the meth labs were, and how to sneak up on drug deals. They even know how to use their bikes as weapons! In exchange, we taught them how to bunny hop and do track stands.
But we all came together to learn why someone needs to teach people to ride bikes. Fred first asked us who had been our first bike instructors. As expected, most cited parents or brothers. Fred asked how many of those instructors had been cyclists at the time they taught us. The answer: none. Then he said, "So imagine the same situation applied to learning to drive a car. Your mom or dad somehow gets you and the car to a parking lot, runs along beside holding the steering wheel and yelling until you can drive a vaguely straight line, then hands you the keys and sends you off to drive in traffic."
Even watching our own behavior as we did our daily bike drills in the parking lots and group rides through the busiest and nastiest streets we could find revealed weaknesses. We sometimes failed to check before changing lanes. We used inconsistent signals when turning or coming to a stop. We sometimes even failed to do the most basic test of the bike itself before we hopped aboard and rolled away-brakes, what brakes?!
The point here is that we all ride at some point in places where we have to share the road or the lane. The commuter lives in the streets in traffic, and the racer has to deal with traffic at some point on a ride. The bike cops have to get to the scene of an incident, often as quickly as possible and without the benefit of sirens and flashing roof lights. So it makes good sense to learn the skills required to survive in traffic. And each time any of us rides in traffic, it is a visible vote for bikes as a real form of transportation and recreation-that's advocacy!
With the sudden jump in qualified instructors now in Utah (from two to five!) will also come new opportunities to take Effective Cycling courses. It is not yet clear how and when these will start to happen, but keep checking Cycling Utah and peruse the MBAC web page (www.ci.slc.ut.us/government/mayor/mbac.html). Or if you have a group that would like to take a course, contact me ([email protected]) and we can set one up. There are courses on basic road riding and two courses for kids.
So the link goes like this: bike advocacy includes bicycle safety. And safe biking means you ride more and get home safe. And that's a great vote for bicycle advocacy. Get in the loop and we are all better off.
Editor's Note: Rob MacLeod is the chair of the Salt Lake City Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee, a trustee of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail Committee, and former president of the Rocky Mountain Cycling Club. His other job is as a professor in both Bioengineering and Cardiology at the University of Utah.