30 September 2010

Danish Police Back Death Penalty for Cyclists

How Not to Promote Cycling
Okay... it's an attention-grabbing headline, sure. But it's not even my own invention. The Danish Police are going after cyclists and scooters this week across the kingdom. They do so a couple of times a year.

The police are probably very good at a lot of things but let's face it... marketing isn't one of them. It's safe to say that they get all their marketing tips from the equally hopeless Danish Road Safety Council, and then they promptly make it even worse.

John Sckaletz is the head of the traffic police in Copenhagen and he has actually said this week that, "The traffic law is the only law where the death penalty still applies". He said that. That's the police's "cleverly worded campaign" at the moment. Well done! Well thought out! How very positive!

The police want to "put an end to" cyclists who roll casually through a red light or across a pedestrian crossing. They are clearly of the opinion that such infractions should be regarded on equal terms with the crimes committed by hardened criminals. So for four days this week they are firmly putting their shiny boots down and making the world a better place.

No, of course they're not going after motorists for speeding, reckless driving or polluting. That borders on logical and would certainly not fit into a police campaign.

It's autumn and usually around this time there are police campaigns for remembering your bicycle lights. Not this year. John Sckaletz said that the popularity of magnetic lights like Reelights on Danish bicycles means that it isn't necessary to focus on lights this year. Thus the Culture of Fear campaign about the Death Penalty.

Nevermind that it has never - ever - been safer to ride a bicycle in Denmark. Or that Denmark is second only to the Netherlands regarding traffic safety for cyclists.

Nevermind the fact that the 'shocking' behaviour of Citizen Cyclists is largely unchanged since the invention of the bicycle, around 125 years ago - as highlighted in this satirical text from the 1930's we blogged earlier.

No, no. Let's continue the war on bicycles that is raging in Denmark. The negative branding of urban cycling is reaching new heights and bicycle traffic has stagnated and even fallen across the nation.

Here's a fine example of scare tactics in a previous autumn bike lights campaign from Denmark:
Use Your Head

Compare it to how they broadcast the same message in the Netherlands:
Remember to Turn on Your Lights... but remember to turn them off. (I'm s-o-o-o looking forward to going to the Netherlands to work next month...)

The Danish police have done little to encourage cycling in Denmark and they are traditionally negative about most ideas that would increase bicycle traffic and encourage people to leave their car parked at home. The one exception is their recent flexbility about allowing for right turns on red for cyclists.

The job description of the police is quite clear. They uphold the laws that are passed. It seems, however, that the police are content to stare at the lawbooks and mechanically chant that 'laws must not be broken and fines will be given for those who do' instead of looking up and around them. At the society in which they live and work. At human nature. And help contribute positively to the growth of bicycle traffic, the taming of the bull in the china shop and the noble journey to creating more liveable cities.

Fines haven't changed human behaviour in 125 years. Nor has finger-wagging. It's time the police in Denmark hired a decent marketing consultant and started thinking more positively about all the good things that bicycle traffic contributes to our society.

As it is now, they're going after amateur pickpockets in a crowd of agressive, heavily-armed thugs.

Via: Avisen.dk and other media


Erik Sandblom said...

Perhaps there needs to be a "use your head" campaign for the police?

Seriously though, that's so telling that they couldn't do the lights campaign so they decided to do another campaign instead. The road authority in Sweden wants to build new roads (surprise) but nowadays the purpose of the new roads is to lessen car traffic. A lot of people actually buy this, we need more roads to lessen car traffic. I thought building bike paths and railways were the way to lessen car traffic, apparently I'm mistaken.

Moral of the story: citizens need to get involved in transport policy and not leave it to "experts".

Kim said...

The police are the same everywhere, they go for the easy targets...

@Erik Sandblom the desire to reduce road traffic back in the 1980's lead to the building of Europe's largest car park here in the UK, it is called the M25. Did we learn the lesson? No, of course not...

I have a few suggestions for transport policy in my Manifesto for active travel, what do you think?

Road Bikes said...

Well, you shouldn't be too surprised. Police forces worldwide have a history of such 'communication' errors, even here in the UK.

Still, I really hope that they don't mean to imply what you're article title infers!

From a road bikes fanatic in the UK who's thinking (praying for) of his fellow cyclists across the water in Denmark.

portlandize.com said...

It makes me so angry to see police in Portland doing stings to catch cyclists carefully rolling through stop signs on quiet neighborhood streets when nobody else is around and giving them tickets, while half a mile away is an intersection of two 5-lane roads where every single light cycle about 3-5 cars just simply blow the red light, and I've never once seen a police officer there checking on it. Pardon my language, but what a fucking waste of time and money.

Green Idea Factory said...

Mikael, it might help if you put this into the political context... here is my shot at it: Copenhagen is governed by a so-called red-green coalition whereas two right or centre-rights parties with the unofficial support of a far-right party control the Parliament (similar to what may be finally approved in the Netherlands, of course).

The police enforce laws and - beyond cycling - these include a ban since 1 July on 13 breeds of dogs (meaning death, expulsion or permanent restrictions whilst on public property - and most animal experts disagree with this and in fact NL threw out a similar law in 2008) and the notorious restriction on residence permits for anyone under age 24, even if they are married to a Dane... which means that these couples move to... Malmo!

portlandize.com said...

Erik Sandblom: that's simply the only accepted means of reducing traffic in the U.S. as well - build more and bigger roads for cars. Clearly we can see how well that works, since now we have gigantic roads, and even worse congestion.

Thankfully some of our city planners are starting to see through that, but still most major changes they make (including changing speed limits, on ALL roads, including locally managed ones) has to go through the Oregon State Dept of Transportation, whose general motto is "move more cars faster". Not to mention, anything they put in the roads has to be approved in that lovely guidebook of acceptable traffic devices put out by the National Highway Administration, which is again pretty much "move more cars faster".

There is a nearly insurmountable pile of crap in the way of almost any kind of positive political change in the U.S., it seems. Seems that the only way anything ever happens, is if SO MANY people start doing it that it just becomes impossible to not allow and accommodate it.

portlandize.com said...

Speaking of...

BikePortland Jonathan Maus
RT @tabarnhart: 3 motorcycle cops at 26/clinton. bikes, maybe it's time to obey the law.
3 minutes ago

This is almost exactly the spot I was referencing above.

Frits B said...

GIF: I don't think the political situation in the country has much to do with this. Just last week internal police documents popped up here in the Netherlands which revealed that the still active former government (center left) has instructed police to write more tickets, or the officers will face a cut in their salaries. All this just to rake in more money. And police of course pick on the easy targets: cyclists riding on sidewalks, coasting through red lights, not having proper lights.

Green Idea Factory said...

@Frits B: Perhaps, but, e.g. if I learned anything from living in both the Czech Republic and Germany, Social Democratic parties vary widely.

Green parties also vary a lot, e.g. in Estonia as I understand it they supported the idea of cyclists riding on pavements (and got their way). I don't see GroenLinks suggesting something similar...

It also seems fair to say that in general some things are going in the same way in both DK and NL... people are going from being tolerant to being scared, and politicians like to stay in office.

SNTDAS (someone needs to do a study) on cycling conditions under right and left governments.

djangosChef said...

... et al indicate that a portion of the indirect costs of car ownership is attributable to the cost of traffic policing. What will these officers do as bicycle modal share increases?

mikey2gorgeous said...

Soeone needs to do a definitive study of what cycling laws actually achieve. I don't believe there's ANY significant risk posed by bikes doing whatever they want. We let pedestrians walk anywhere, anytime - why do we not credit cyclists with the same ability to get about as when they walk??

Even the UK Dept of Transport said (in 1993 & still current)...
"Observation revealed no real factors to justify excluding cyclists from pedestrianised areas, suggesting that cycling could be more widely permitted without detriment to pedestrians"

Green Idea Factory said...

@Mikey: True, cyclists very rarely kill pedestrians BUT there is huge area between death and absolute, convulsing, tranquil public space cultural orgasm. In other words, cyclists can be fucking annoying or almost threatening. (I have mentioned the situation in this forum many times re: walking my old dogs off-leash in Berlin - officially-tolerated here - and its poorly-conceived mixed-use pavements).

A lot of this can be solved by kicking private automobiles out of streets so that people feel safer cycling in the middle of the spaces between buildings, rather than the sides. Small amounts of this can be solved with voluntary cyclist education, carrots in the form of cheap or free lighting, and so on.

Travelling Thor said...

I appreciate what you're saying here in terms of police marketing and attitude, but I think you might be going a bit overboard. I don't think that the police completely ignore car based infractions, and to pretend otherwise is unfair.

Cars are certainly more dangerous than bikes, but while they are legal I don't see that the police can go after them "for polluting" as you would like. In a city like Copenhagen where a large portion of people use their bikes to get around, I don't think it is unreasonable for police to crack down on real offences. Bike riders do need to take a degree of responsibility on the road, and if they are rolling through reds, or harassing pedestrians by going through cross walks, then a fine is warranted. Obviously some discretion should be used not to fine someone going through a deserted cross-walk, but what you have presented here is not that. You seem offended that they would target bike riders at all, which seems contradictory for someone who wants bicycles to be taken seriously as a form of transportation and a part of everyday life.