Despite the growth of exurbs and the long commutes that pair with them, bicycle riding has become more popular than ever before. Los Angeles, where I live, is hardly a city thought to be full of bicycles, but its university campuses are teaming with bikes; immigrants and urban hipsters are two wheeling it from Echo Park to Larchmont; and a walk around the Silver Lake Reservoir on weekend mornings means bike riders will zip past you, possibly on their way to biking along the Los Angeles River.
Bicycling, of course, has long been mainstream in the Bay Area and cities like Portland, but interest is growing nationally. Apparently for some bicycling enthusiasts, however, their passion is still sullied by the image of renegade bicycle messengers who terrorized pedestrians and automobile drivers alike in the streets of San Francisco. But as electronic court filings and email have caused the bicycle messenger industry to shrink, that demonic image of flying Spandex is no longer necessarily true. Some bicycle advocates, however, think that a rebranding of bicycling is in order.
The Minneapolis ad agency Cole+McVoy is linking up with the Bikes Belong coalition to launch People for Bikes, which aims to give bicycling a more sunny disposition. The site’s goal is an admirable and ambitious one: to garner one million names of support allowing bicycling to become safer, easier, and appealing. As someone who has had nervy drivers shout at me to “move over” so that my Trek bike does not inconvenience their commute, I admire the organization’s plan to give bike riders a unified voice.
Another of the People for Bikes’ goals is more daunting: snaring more federal dollars for bike-friendly projects. It’s laudable, but an uphill fight in a political culture that allows representatives and senators to earmark dollars for pet projects. Let’s just face it, leaders like the late John Murtha of Pennsylvania want their name on a highway or airport; don’t count on finding the John Boehner Ohio Valley Bike Path on Google Maps anytime soon. It’s a sad commentary of our transportation priorities in the US, but is the truth—and after stimulus spending dries up, it’s hard to see Congress spending any money on bike-related projects, even though their costs are low.
But considering that a Colorado town recently banned bicycles to mollify owners of a local casino, not to mention the hostility that cyclists often face on the roads, one of People for Bikes’ best features is its page that monitors bicyclists’ successes, from upstate New York to the Texas hill country. View the map and you may be surprised where bicyclists have scored some hard-fought victories.
Nevertheless, is such a marketing requiring the services of an advertising agency really necessarily? Call me naïve, but the surge in bicycle riding appears to me to be organic. Folks I talk to at the bicycle stand give various reasons for going from four to two wheels: exercise, health, exasperation with the Gulf Fiasco, and not wanting to sit in choking traffic.
Therefore, the reality is that bicycling advocates need to work locally. The Los Angeles Bicycle Coalition will not turn LA into Amsterdam anytime soon (well, maybe around Venice), but has done an admirable job increasing in raising awareness of the need for more bike paths in LA—and has even scored some victories.
Bicycling does not need an imaging makeover—it needs more local activism to make bicyclists safe.