03 February 2011

High Season for Danish Fear Merchants

Car Friendly Fear Banner
Reading the first part of the book Fighting Traffic - The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City has been an uplifting experience. It's fascinating to read how 'the street' that had been a space for people since cities first were formed was defended so passionately by citizens in the first quarter of the 20th century when cars started their domination. Inspiring to learn that people didn't just shrug in resignation but rather fought tooth and nail to preserve our liveable cities.


After you rise high it is farther to fall. There is a constant flow of mad proposals from around the world. Things like Banning earbuds for pedestrians and cyclists (but as BikePortland put it, that's a bit mad when the deaf are allowed to cycle - and walk around cities) and banning children as passengers on bicycles.

What amazes me is that I don't need to travel to get depressed and frustrated. It's all around us here in Copenhagen and Denmark. It's high season for fear merchants unanimously backing the automobile horse and continuously sticking a broomhandle in the wheels of bicycle culture, development of liveable cities and rationality.

Here's a round-up of the 'safety campaigns' we've seen over the past few months in Copenhagen. Above, the banner reads: "He listened to music and died in traffic. Traffic demands all your senses..." It's hanging boldly over the street as a confirmation to all motorists that it's not their fault. The bulls may run free in the City of Frederiksberg.
Danish Fear Merchants - Ignoring the Bull 1
Here's another one from the same series. "She texted, and died in the process..." This is second year in a row this campaign has been used - which is probably a testament to lack of creativity rather than budget restrictions.

Danish Fear Merchants - Ignoring the Bull 2 Ignoring the Bull
Another repeat performer are these walking hazards - stickers warning pedestrians that this city prioritizes cars and that all responsibility lies with those who choose 'old-fashioned' forms of transport. Apparently the people behind this campaign have calculated that pedestrians tripping over their stickers would be an extra behavourial ruler-on-the-knuckles for the naughty walkers so sub-standard glue was used.

Car Friendly Traffic Campaign
These pictograms on our cycle tracks showed up last year and we wrote about this Car Friendly Campaign in Copenhagen. As mentioned in the previous article there was no corresponding campaign for motorists, which is the case with all of these fearmongering campaigns. Which, by default, reduces the already low levels of credibility of these campaigns to almost zero.

Danish Fear Merchants serdudethele
On this busstop, and all over town late last year, a new campaign was hyped called Ser du det hele? - Are you seeing everything?. It was yet another campaign going after pedestrians, with focus on youths. Here's the website wherein they cement the dominance of automobile traffic - and the folly of even thinking that something could be done to restrict the destructive capabilities of cars - with a couple of films. The campaign is a product of Byens Trafikråd - City Traffic Council and with taxpayers money they show the world precisely how not to market liveable cities and rational safety campaigns.
With THAT said, this is one of the few campaigns that are rather neutral. "Give a little bit of space to the elderly in the traffic". Simple, to the point, no safety nanny finger-wagging.

Ignoring the Bull Way Back 2
Which brings us to the Danish Road Safety Council - Rådet for Sikkertrafik (eller Rodet for Sikkerpanik) who have been ignoring the bull for decades. The title on the magazine cover, above, reads Watch Out! We've blogged about this vintage bull ignoring before. Even back in the 1950's they were protecting motorists by promoting reflexes for pedestrians and cyclists instead of working intelligently to reduce traffic dangers.

It's shocking and rather distasteful that a non-elected council wields such great influence in a democracy. It's bloody scary. Helmet promotion in Denmark started with these people - no science was harmed in the creation of their campaigns - and now they are revisiting their idea about pedestrians and cyclists wearing reflexes.
Danish Fear Merchants - Reflex
Their campaign was launched late last year and, amazingly, featured in many newspapers. As far as I'm aware there is very little science done on the subject of reflective vests - maybe one or two studies. Not that that stops the Safety Council.

Fear For Sale in Denmark Fear For Sale in Denmark
I've noticed that The Danish Road Safety Council is now profiting from their fearmongering, selling wares in supermarkets like this family pack of reflective gear at left. At right is a game for children on sale. Indoctrination about how to let cars go about their business.

In the Fighting Traffic book I was amazed to learn that playgrounds for children didn't exist before the automobile. There were campaigns for playgrounds in the early part of the 20th century but when the car started muscling its way onto the streets, the call for playgrounds grew. Auto clubs were among the loudest advocates and companies selling playground gear escalated the craze with their marketing. Follow the money.

I'd be interested to hear from readers if Road Safety Councils where you live also profit from selling safety gear. Please add your comments.

I don't think it's appropriate. Insurance companies get involved in safety campaigns for obvious reasons - selling policies. But a Road Safety Council making money? It just feels wrong. Or why don't they just open a car dealership and put all their cards on the table.

Another previous example from Copenhagen - Fear Central is this scary campaign for using lights - compare it to the Dutch way of promoting cycling positively by clicking at the link at the bottom of the the page.

It's no surprise that cycling levels are falling in Copenhagen. Despite the fact that the number of cars on the roads has been historically low over the past couple of years. Despite the hard work of the City of Copenhagen and its Bicycle Office. Despite so many factors.


Motordom, through marketing and spin, reversed the negative perception of the automobile in society in the 1920's. Reversing the perception of what streets are for that had existed for several thousand years. The people involved in the above campaigns still have a bag - produced 90 years ago in another country - pulled firmly over their head. They are, it seems, incapable of thinking progressively and their work is a broomhandle in the spokes of the development of Copenhagen as a liveable city where people on foot and on bicycles are placed ahead of machines.

Barcelona Precaucion Vehiculos Crazy Speeds
At left: Pedestrian warning at Barcelona Airport - with no corresponding warning for cars.
At right: Sign in a taxi in Abu Dhabi. "Speed limits are for your safety!", it says. 80 km/h?! in cities? My safety?! And, amusingly, 60 km/h IN AIRPORTS.
Melbourne Overkill Melbourne Ignoring the Bull
At left: Earbud bans? What about distracting intelligent pedestrians with overcomplicated texts at crosswalks?
At right: Classic Ignoring the Bull in Society's China Shop in Melbourne. Again, no signs for motorists.

I've just finished the chapter in Fighting Traffic about how the police were the greatest allies for the public in the fight to keep the streets for people. Yes. The police. What a difference a century makes. Not least here in Copenhagen.

Once again, let Copenhagen be an inspiration for cities and towns around the world with regards to infrastructure and bicycle culture but there is no need to look to us for inspiration for promoting cycling positively.


behoovingmoving said...

I thought of this string of posts today when I was driving my car, and came to an old man standing at a pedestrian crossing, just looking dumb. I think I muttered something like, "well come on pop, make up your mind." He insisted on waiting for me to go first. By this stage I was feeling ashamed for having expected him to be walking as though he held a valid a pedestrian license.

Paul Martin said...

Here in Brisbane, Australia there are plenty of examples of this - it's car-central here.

From extremely short pedestrian crossing light durations to signs warning bicycles of 'cars exiting driveways' when it should be the other way around... I have considered 'modifying' the sign to target the real threat.

On my ride home from work I have to giveway to cars adjacent to a large roundabout before I can cross. Sometimes I have to wait up to 10 minutes for a gap in the high-speed boy-racer (girls too) traffic. It's offensive. Pedestrians are treated with even more contempt and are often seen scurrying across the road like vermin. How have we allowed this to get so bad?

I welcome massive rises in the oil price - perhaps we can then direct the energy to where it matters (making things like wind turbines, solar panels, passive-solar houses, ...food) and stop wasting it by burning it in an engine...

kfg said...

". . .the call for playgrounds grew. Auto clubs were among the loudest advocates . . ."

Auto clubs among the loudest advocates for separated facilities to clear the streets for them?

Things that make you go, "Hmmmmmm?"

"It's shocking and rather distasteful that a non-elected council wields such great influence in a democracy."

Wake up and smell the boot, brother.


Who profits?

Anonymous said...

Fear has always been a pretty good motivator. How are you going to get motorists to use a seatbelt? Buckle-up because you look so cool! Maybe reality is a little better in that sense: buckle-up or you're going to become a projectile when you slam into the car in front of you.

So I see how the same mantra usually crosses over to other safety campaigns. I don't buy into conspiracy.

You know over here in North America, a couple of hundred years ago, the streets were extremely dangerous - they were filled with shit and garbage, and carts moving goods around often ran people over. I'm sure people were afraid then, too.

Miguel Barroso said...

Unfortunately, here in Portugal, it's even worse... we don't have a bike modal share that can be measured, car use has been growing consistently in the last 30 years, and we now have one of the biggest car ownership rates of Europe, the biggest km/Km2 of Highways, etc, etc..

Add to that, a recent campaign, promoted by the Portuguese Automobile Club, warning pedestrians, that they should be aware on zebra crossings. All this, with the government and municicpalities support. Talk about ignoring the bull... Check out this clever article exposing the perversion of the campaign:


(ALERT - Google translation - pawns=pedestrians, etc...)

ATX Bikette said...

Haha its funny today I drove to the grocery store and the HEB i frequent is served by several bus stops. I guess someone decided to make the pedestrians lives easier because there are now explicit stop signs before the crosswalk. So I stopped and let this old man go by. The car on the other side zipped by.
It will take time I suppose. But at least Austin is taking some care.

Anonymous said...

I think you missed out on another bill to make it illegal to have a child under six on a bike in Oregon. Which is pretty ridiculous.

Prohibits person from carrying child under six years of age on
bicycle or in bicycle trailer. Punishes by maximum fine of $90.


kfg said...

Tim - It is already illegal here in NY for under one year old. Bakfiets bassinet; $50 fine.