24 July 2009

How Cities Are Promoting Cycling

Here's another rundown on how cities are promoting cycling around the world. Anyone who has seen Sesame Street may remember the song "One of these things is not like the other..."

The punchline is at the end of the post.

Offical film from Transport for London

Official film from the City of Geneva

Offical film from the City of Copenhagen:

Official film from the City of Gothenburg

Official film from the City of Paris

Official film from New York's Department of Transport

Five bullseyes/nails on the head/ and one sad, misguided, feeble attempt at car-centric fearmongering thinly disguised as 'promotion'.


mikey2gorgeous said...

Surprised me there - I thought the punchline was going to be for the London one as in the UK it's mostly talk & no action on bike promotion!

cgm said...

I work on cycling/alternate transportation programming in a smaller city in Canada. The radically different affect and aesthetic between the London and NY ads so perfectly crystallize everything that I am up against here. Everything needs a manual, liability and risk management is king; and there is nothing that high-contrast clothing, a helmet and a $200 training course won't solve.
The good fight is being fought, but North America, the weak-kneed safety rhetoric and corporate mediation injected between something as simple as riding a bicycle is absolutely endemic to city planners, transportation projects, and government agencies. It drives me nuts.

Kiwehtin said...

Mikael, just thought I'd point out when you wrote "at car-centric fearmongering", I'm pretty sure what you meant to say was "one sad, misguided, feeble attempt: car-centric fearmongering thinly disguised as 'promotion'".

Pontius Pilate said...

Amen to that. The NYC PSA is a disgrace.

Kelvin said...

The "Safety Coalition" the NYC ad mentioned apparently is composed of 8 groups: four are NYC gov bodies, two are auto-related, one is everything-but-auto, and one is for bikes. So no real surprise at the direction the ad took.

If I was with the last two groups I'd distance myself immediately from an ad that just lists a bunch of auto safety features and a banged-up cyclist.

Then again, cycling advocacy in North America (esp. US) have always carried a holier-than-thou attitude, so I wouldn't be surprised that this plays right into their martyrdom complex.

Bob Patterson said...


Would you please share what search parameters you used to find these videos? I'm curious to see other choices.

nathan_h said...

If I can find anything positive about my city's PSA, it's that the shot of the helmet is presumably meant to establish that the shiny thing did not have magical powers to protect the rest of the person's body. (I won't bother to listen with audio.) For this point you may as well go all the way, strap a helmet onto a tombstone or something, instead of pretending that "body shop" ERs can fix up humans mangled by cars.

Also keep in mind that this announcement is not even intended to promote cycling, it's to tell motorists to look out for us. But the whole thing, especially the way it assumes television viewers (those regular folks!) are drivers, is patronizing and just plain wrong for a city where most people do not own cars. A better angle would be, "if you do drive, do look out for the rest of us walking and riding bicycles..."

And, finally as most people reading this weblog already know, this is not the right way to invest in cycling safety in the first place. Safety would be much improved by redirecting funding from "safety campaigns" to simply "promoting cycling". (Look at the stats, bureaucrats!) Motorists can't forget to look for us so easily when there is a constant stream of bicycles on the roads. Telling people to drive more carefully is at best a waste of money—we've been doing it forever, and here we are with some of the worst drivers in the first world—and at worst counterproductive, as in this case. This PSA is telling anyone with a television that riding a bicycle will put them in the emergency room, discouraging riding and making things more dangerous for such brave and bold people (ha ha) as myself. Thx, NYC!

portlandize.com said...

I think the U.S. should change what they print on their money from "In God We Trust" to "The Fearful Citizen is the Only Safe Citizen."

That's clearly a more accurate picture of what our leaders believe.

aprilstarchild said...

How do I grab the film from Geneva? I want to put it on my facebook, but I can't figure out how to link/embed it.

Sean said...

I live in NYC and have mixed feelings about our PSA. Sure, it doesn't make viewers want to jump on a bike, but that's probably not its intention. It's intention, I assume, is to improve the level of safety for people already riding a bike by encouraging them and, probably more so, motorists to "look." I don't mind this intention.

Unfortunately, I think people are used to gore and I'm not sure how much it really sticks in their brains. The NYC health department also uses gore to discourage smoking - smokers with missing fingers, holes in their throats - disturbing stuff.

The campaigns from other cities promote cycling in general. This is easier: get some attractive people, nice music, and show how much fun cycling can be. Specific issues, especially serious ones, are trickier.

I'm curious, Mikhael, if you have examples of how other places have addressed safety issues such as "looking," using lights at night, using hand signals, etc. in a non-gory, fun manner. Any examples?

townmouse said...

@Sean - there are plenty of UK examples of 'look' campaigns (including quite a gory one with a motorcycle and one with the gorilla) and they were running a cheerful singing hedgehog ad quite recently (hedgehogs are notorious for being run over) promoting reflective wear when out at night, whether on a bike or foot. Sorry no links, but How We Drive has plenty of examples of safety campaigns

caroline said...

Hey Everyone,

Make your own PSA about cycling for the Biking Rules PSA Competition, still or moving image, and have a chance to win up to $4,000 US dollars or a new Kona bike: http://bikingrules.org/PSA

Here is a great example on Streetfilms: http://www.streetfilms.org/archives/bikingrulespsasubmission/

Noah said...

Why do you hate New York City?

workbike said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who notiuced the undamaged helmet. Maybe there'S a subliminal message going out there.

I can see the points being made, but the most recent effort from London is one telling cyclists to keep out of the way of trucks because they can't see you. At least this is the other way around.

ERK said...

I agree with the above posts that the NYC "look" ad certainly wasn't in the same vein as the others. Though I think you meant to write "car-centric fearmongering thinly disguised as 'promotion'". Which, while it may be that, does serve a purpose as was pointed out by Sean, above.

Contrary to what appears to be the popular belief on this blog, NYC is making some progress regarding cyclists' rights. Granted, we can't lay claim to cycling in ways that the Netherlands, Belgium, or Danmark can, though this is no reason to use us as the poster child for cycling ignorance.

Tens of thousands of New Yorkers travel by bike every day, and no, the city doesn't much care about our day to day problems, but progress IS being made, however slowly. I personally know of many great places to ride around here with any amount of bike lane width/separation/color/traffic/etc.. you could desire. I can also rattle off over a dozen improvement projects the city is presently working on to help us out.

Lastly, how is stating the obvious about the bad elements of our society (read: sedentary car culture) helping us get away from it?

Perhaps we can be more constructive in the future eh? I'm sure given the bicycle film festival that recently took place in DUMBO, there are likely plenty of positive films about cycling in NY out there.

Just a thought or two...

Shane Rhodes said...

Seems to me that the Gothenburg ad is saying "biking is great when your young but when you grow up and have kids then you can drive."

I also agree that the ads are taken out of context and that the NY ad isn't like the others because it was telling motorists to LOOK, while the others were clearly made to show cycling is fun. I think that was your point but it would have been made better if the NY ad was made to show cycling as fun but then showed people crashing, all wearing helmets or making a visit to the ER.

I agree that the US could do better to encourage the positive and less 'fear mongering' but I think there are a lot of communities doing some of that positive work and this post just feeds the stereotype of one way communities are 'promoting cycling'.

Just a cyclist said...

The NY PSA appears to be a sign of progress:

Stating that the drivers attention is the cyclists best protection while having a puny bike helmet in the picture - is at least a step in the right direction, putting focus on a cycling safety issue of real importance above one of lesser importance. Although this might have been inadvertently.

Apart from that, the gory part and the reference to the ER, is, of course, not what is needed if cycling is to be encouraged.

W. K. Lis said...

I find it interesting that in Europe and Asia, the wearing of helmets is secondary. They ride bicycles more than here in North America, and is less than a problem. Isn't it amazing that bicycles aren't covered with warning stickers like those we see on ladders (which no one reads).

Mikael said...

American-made bicycles often have Warning Labels on them. Strange but true.

Jacqui said...


I don't think the parisian ad is that much better than the new york one as far as promoting cycling. In some ways it's worse because it puts on the responsibility on the cyclist for their safety (telling you to constantly be watching out for car doors and cars that are not giving way will make you a safe cyclist), whereas the New York one is targeting drivers.

I had a look around for ads or sustainable transport a while back and this is what I found http://www.transport-impacts.com/2008/09/08/ads-for-cycling-and-public-transport/. You did a much better job at searching out promotional material. Anyway, it's a good blog so keen up the work.