14 September 2011

Scary Season in Denmark - How Not to Promote Cycling


Here in Denmark, the summer's silly season is replaced by scary season. As the air gradually cools and the leaves fade to yellow, the people who produce "safety" campaigns start firing up their stoves to cook up a new batch of car-centric fear gulasch.

The new kid on the block is the Vejdirektoratet - Danish Road Directorate with their VejKryds.dk campaign that hopes to raise awareness about right-turn collisions. We blogged about this campaign back in May when one of our readers - by chance - was invited to a feedback session hosted by Megafon.dk aimed at testing the campaign on a panel of citizens.
You can read about the preview here: Fear Campaign Sneak Preview.
Fear Campaign
The campaign is now on the streets. Compared to the original proposal it is clear that the Road Directorate listened - slightly - to the feedback panel and toned down the campaign a bit. It's still corny as hell with a "rhyme" theme. The main tagline is "Du tror du bli'r set, men pludselig er det sket" or "You think you've been seen but suddenly it happens." Cue photo of a bicycle on the street and... a shoe.

The rhyme is a step up from some of the original proposals featuring such classics as "Hun tog chancen, han skreg efter ambulancen" or "She took the chance, he screamed for an ambulance". Whatever the geeky rhyme, it's still... STILL... the vulnerable traffic users who get pointed at accusingly by these people.
The on-street campaign is clearly going after cyclists. The handful of people who might actually click onto the website will discover that the Road Directorate grudgingly provides some "advice" for motorists and lorry drivers. Cyclists are given nine tips to follow and motorists are provided with three. Lorry drivers are given six tips plus three links to a bit of extra info.

Interestingly, municipalities are provided with a page, too, with infrastructural information to follow - if they haven't already - about moving stop lines for vehicles back five metres (at a cost of about $1000, it says) and with increased safety effects. By pulling back the stop line for vehicles five metres accidents involving vulnerable traffic users are reduced by 35% and accidents involving "late or slow pedestrians" are reduced by 15%.

That, of course, is mentioned nowhere on the on-street campaign. No, that might be rational and clever.

Readers are encouraged to invent some nifty rhymes and enter the competition.
For example, "Færre biler i byen, flere mennesker på cyklen" - "Fewer cars in the city, more people on bicycles"
"Sæt denne kampagne i bero, reducerer biltrafikken din ho" - "Stop this campaign, reduce car traffic you ho". (rhymes in Danish, anyway) Feel free to add your rhymes, if not to the website, then here in the comments.

Basically, what the Danish Road Directorate is saying with this million kroner + campaign is: "We are utterly incapable of (or uninterested in) working towards reducing the number of motor vehicles in our cities". It would have been cheaper to just slap that text on their website in a nice font and then use the extra money on building infrastructure or workshops for municipalities.

For the sake of comparison, here is an article comparing a Danish bike lights campaign with a Dutch one.


So, next up is a campaign from Byens Trafikråd - or The City's Traffic Council and they drew "Pedestrians" out of the hat. (The only other name in the hat was Cyclists). They are reusing a campaign they've had for a couple of years ridiculing pedestrians for thinking that the urban landscape was created for freedom of mobility and for their cheeky inconveniencing of motor traffic. Last year they called it "Ser du det hele?" or "Are you seeing everything?", this year they just changed the name to "Kryds med forsigtighed" or "Cross with Care".

They are focused on the 13-19 year old demographic and were out on the news with scare tactics for their campaign. Even the police's usual pundit suspect in Copenhagen, Mogens Knudsen cast his views into the fray supporting the scare tactics. The same Mogens Knudsen that I debated with last year at the national cycling conference. Surprise, surprise.

Once again, there is no talk of reducing speed limits in Copenhagen and implementing 30 km/h zones like in over 75 other European cities. No visible desire to improve life in Copenhagen by reducing car traffic - which apart from being dangerous in accidents also kills ten times more people than in the accidents themselves.

On the news a label was slapped on pedestrians in connection with this campaign. "Rødgængere" - reworking of "fodgængere", meaning "pedestrians". Replacing the word "fod/foot" with "rød/red". Pedestrians who cross against the light. We know that other terms, like "jaywalking" were inventions of the car industry. "Rødgængere" is merely a label used by car-centric organisations.

Again, the read-between-the-lines message is clear. "We are hopelessly inadequate at promoting cycling positively so we just choose the easy route. Cars rule." Followed by a shrug as they head down to the canteen for lunch.

Here you can see how the Dutch promote traffic safety in the briliant Drive With Your Heart campaign. And, while we're at it, check out how the Hungarians do it.

And here is an interesting article about Smeed's Law and how drivers are rarely blamed for pedestrian injuries or deaths and how crosswalks are more dangerous than you'd think.

In other news from the Fear Factory is this recent article in Politiken - a Danish newspaper. It's all about "Send the Children Safely on their Way on Two Wheels". Take one look at the graphic. The red, international standard warning triangle with a kid on a bike in the middle.

Can you figure out where we're headed? Thought so.When the illustrator recieved the gig I'm sure there was no ulterior motive in producing the danger!danger! theme. But this is incredibly representative of the current perception of cycling in Denmark. The intense helmet promotion from the Danish Road Safety "Council" (Rodet for Sikker Panik) and the Danish Cyclists' Federation over the past couple of years has completely and radically changed the perception of cycling in the population.

The article is the usual stuff about teaching kids to ride a bike and determining when they're ready to head out alone. According to the Danish traffic laws a child can ride unaccompanied from the age of six. But these kids don't read Politiken, the parents do. And that whopping graphic is what they register. Yet another negative symbol of cycling in a long, long line of negative symbols.

I could go on. Oh, wait, I'm going to...
One of the links in the aforementioned newspaper article was to a campaign by the Danish Cyclists Federation called "Alle Børn Cykler" or "All Children Cycle". It intends to promote cycling among children and school classes can participate, earning points for riding to school and... of course... points for wearing a helmet. This is, of course, yet another sign of the safety ideology inherent in the Culture of Fear infilitrating our daily lives. Even the Swedes haven't learned the lesson and now certain people are copying the bad example.

Our colleague Thomas Krag - urban mobility consultent and bicycle guru - was wondering about this and he puts it rather succinctly:

"All Children Cycle. With a helmet. This is the message in this years Alle Børn Cykler campaign, where the helmet has been awarded the yellow jersey. In second place is the bicycle. And after that the almost completely obscured human faces covered by helmets.

It made me think about Jörg Bechmann's PhD. Bechmann is German, studied sociology in Denmark and was until recently the head of the European Transport Safety Council. His PhD is referred to here, in Danish: Automobilisation as mobility paradigm - reflexions on cars, motorists and their spatial temporalities.


Bechmann analysed the covers of FDM's (the Danish automobile association) membership magazine, and found that through the years the cover changed from showing people and cars to showing just the cars and their technical qualities.

Now bicycle communication is apparently going through a similar dehumanisation. With the thought-provoking difference that the bicycle helmet, instead of the bicycle, is taking over the images.

Isn't it a little strange? Are there any obvious reasons why it should be so?"


Think about it. The dehumanisation of the bicycle. After 125 years.

For comparison, here's a page from the Dutch Fietsersbond's website about their Fietsschool - Bicycle School.

The last example of the crisis that Danish bicycle culture is in is clearly exhibited in an article in The Guardian last week - "Copenhagen's novel problem - too many cyclists". In it a person representing Visit Denmark - the national tourist board and a representative of the Danish Cyclists Federation bang on their jungle drums about how intimidating cycling is in Copenhagen. According to THEM, the two individuals. It's hardly credible that they desperately try to project their own personal perception of "intimidating" onto a larger population.

Why on earth ask the opinion of two - we're assuming - insecure cyclists? They've clearly never cycled anywhere else. Try Amsterdam. Enjoyable but chaotic. Imagine... this is Visit Denmark advertising Danish cycling culture. Do they talk about the risk of alcoholism when talking about Carlsberg? About a friend of hers who drank too much, got alcohol posioning and had to be put in a taxi? Or about how LEGO is simply too dangerous and despite the positive safety record, a man tells you that things COULD GET DANGEROUS in the future if LEGO keeps producing such small bits of plastic?

Amazingly, (or not) The Onion has already covered this New Tourism Marketing angle from Visit Denmark: The Onion: Denmark Introduces Harrowing New Tourism Ads

Denmark Introduces Harrowing New Tourism Ads Directed By Lars Von Trier


If you've read our previous posts about the book "Fighting Traffic - The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City" by Peter D. Norton - Fighting Traffic and The Anti-Automobile Age - and what we can learn from it you'll know that the battle to limit the negative effects car traffic has on our cities is nothing new. Here in the age of demotorization the tide is changing. Some are ahead of the curve, others are hopelessly, frustratingly behind.

The Culture of Fear is alive and well and cycling - from a marketing perspective - is apparently the new smoking in Denmark

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Does "Slow your car down, or I'll throw a brick through your window" rhyme in Danish?

Edward said...

"If you want to see how not to do, have a look at how Australia blew it".

"Helmet promotion is a major blunder, take a look at the land down under".

"If you think of cycling you think of the Danes, if it's working so well why would you change?"

etc.

Kim said...

I am sure you will have seen my standard response which draws parallels with the Taliban. It is the same attitude of mind!

portlandize.com said...

This is the season when people always go nutty about bicycle lights here, and it's the same thing - you get the "Be Seen, Be Safe" campaigns, which put all the responsibility on the cyclist or pedestrian for using super-bright lights, wearing reflective clothing, etc. About this time last year was the first time I ever saw people walking on the sidewalks with reflective vests and blinking bicycle lights clipped onto their clothing.

Nothing about "if it's dark out, drive slowly" or "if you can't see, don't drive" - no, that would lose too much money for the car and oil companies.

Eff. Let's all move to the Netherlands.

Anonymous said...

Since you're already on your soap box, you might want to comment on this story - about how insurance companies/courts are lowering compensation for cyclists who were hit by a car but didn't wear a helmet.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/bike-blog/2011/sep/08/helmet-legal-status

Peter said...

This constant sense of increasing danger on our roads is a result of an inexorable trend towards safety within our cars. The safer the driver feels, the less attentive he is to the safety of his own behaviour, and that is what is relevant to us as vulnerable road users.
If you watch any motoring show, ie-Top Gear, you can see it at work. A car is considered better if it still feels safe at a higher speed. This trend shows no signs of relenting and will not without some kind of intervention.

Jean-Marc said...

Put a big sticker
"Slow your car down, or I'll throw a brick through your window" (thanks anonimous) or another motto on the pictures of this campaign.

other sticker to put on, if they rhyme... or not :

"Car-drivers, remember pedestrians and bikers exists : be care for NOT killing them"
Car-drivers, remember pedestrians and bikers exists : be care for NOT killing them when you turn right"

"Car-drivers, stop killing so much people : slow down, upgrade lenght between cars and look around !"

"be safe : increase your vision : 3 seconds between you and the vehicle in front of yours (4 seconds in case of rain, smog, snow,..)

Anonymous said...

Thinking out loudly... without having read the whole thing.

Why not change prime time?

Analyse who is cycling where and make structural changes in the reasons why these people cycle there at that time, instead of just trying to solve the problem with wider streets.

E.G. change working times and places.

lagatta à Montréal said...

I can't think of anything much more hazardous than the fact that all the children shown in the "ABC" propaganda are wearing oversized helmets that obscure their vision!