This week I learned about a fantastic cycling initiative that the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition carried out as part of their goal to make the streets of their city safer and more comfortable for all road users.
A friend of mine on her regular commute to work was flagged down and presented with a (reportedly delicious) organic chocolate bar to thank her for stopping and yielding to pedestrians on a crosswalk. From the label on the chocolate bar she learned about Bike Polite, a strategy of the SF Bike Coalition to reward courteous and safe cyclists with tasty treats and the option to enter a prize draw for a mid-week getaway.
I love this idea. While it would be nice if we lived in a world where everyone was automatically courteous and considerate in all interactions, the reality is that we’re too often rushed, stressed or inattentive.
We may not intend disrespect, but there are times when we could all be more considerate. In all areas of our lives and on the increasingly busy streets of our cities, lack of care, an abrupt word or visible disdain leads to tension and polarization among road users.
We’re so quick to tar an entire group when a single person behaves discourteously, openly ignores the rules, or makes a stupid decision. Suddenly it’s not about individual choices or an inadvertent mistake, but “dozy pedestrians,” “entitled cyclists,” or “incompetent drivers.”
Rather than emphasizing the negative (like with a cyclist who ignores the rules, cuts off pedestrians and blows through stop signs), Bike Polite rewards positive behaviour and models it for others.
The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s goal is not just to promote safe, civil streets for all users, but to encourage an individual cyclist to adopt behaviours that make her an ambassador for her chosen mode of transportation.
I would love to see something like this happen in Vancouver, particularly since cyclists will attract public scrutiny as long as Vision Vancouver and the city government continue to invests time and space for bike routes, which in turn draws more cyclists to city streets.
I know many cyclists who actively try to model good cycling practices, but none of us — myself very much included — are perfect.
We all have bad days when we’re impatient and our tolerance is low, or time pressures lead to us cut corners we really shouldn’t.
Of course, a chocolate bar — even a very tasty one — isn’t enough to change the entrenched behaviour of any cyclist, driver or pedestrian. But it’s a great reminder to stop and think about the attitude we bring to the road each day and consider how we affect the people with whom we share the lanes.
Kay Cahill is a cyclist and librarian who believes bikes are for life, not just for commuting. Read more at sidecut.ca, or send a comment to email@example.com.