22 May 2012

New York's New Marketing FAIL

They're at it again, those New Yorkers. The city's DoT has chucked another bunch 'o money at a fancy ad campaign aimed at maintaining the status quo of the automobile's role in society.

Seriously... I can't think of any other city on the planet in recent times that has spent so much advertising money on finger-pointing and "behavioural" campaigns aimed at the vulnerable traffic users of their city. Desperately trying to cement, in the public consciousness of it's citizens, the rather outdated philosophy that cars rule supreme and everyone else are mere pawns to be swept aside without regret. Stand in the way of a Queen, you're stupid. You'll get taken. And you know what? We can afford to lose you.

This New York Postian attitude from the DoT towards a city that otherwise has great potential for being much more pedestrian, public transport and cyclist friendly is the primary reason why New York is so far off reaching any sensible level of liveable citiness. Paris makes New York like a Le Corbusier nightmare.

This approach is right out of Mad Men. "Cars! They're toasted!"

If I was a walking/cycling New York taxpayer, I'd be rather pissed that the city was chucking money into campaigns like these. One FAIL campaign is one thing, but this is just a continuation of a theme. The haiku posters of last year were in the same vein. Cars will hurt you. Stay out of their way, moron. The Don't Be a Jerk campaign went even more directly after the people who do least damage and most good to any city, instead of employing rationality and going for the motorist jugular. Like I say all over the world in my Bicycle Culture by Design talk, if your cyclists behave badly, you have crappy infrastructure. Period. Fix it, and fix the behaviour problem. Good design breeds good behaviour.

New York is the uncrowned champion of Ignoring the Bull, it seems. And they love it so much they keep on doing it. New York will always be great, sure. What a town.

But on the Liveable Cities chart, they are still stuck in Mosesland and can't get out.

Streetsblog have a write up about the campaign right here. As they point out, there is no equivalent campaign aimed at motorists. Through a link on their article I learned about the That's Why it's 30 campaign.

Look at the photo at the top of that link. Look at the poster. It tells people that when hit by a car at 40 mph (not kilometres) you have a 70% chance of dying. When the car is doing 30 mph, you have an 80% chance of surviving.

Where on earth did they get those numbers? In the rest of the world, this is the gold standard:
Hit by a car doing 30 mph - which is 50 km/h - you have a 45% chance of dying, not 80%. That's why the 20's Plenty campaign exists. This is just '30's Dirty'. Who provided NY with these stats? Not anyone who is serious about safety. Why isn't Manhattan one big 20 mph zone? In two years, 80% of Barcelona will be covered by 20 mph zones. Over 80 cities in Europe have adopted them.

If you're seriously about saving childrens' lives, you adopt 20 mph zones. This research is on of the many reasons why. This article in Forbes states that "The death rate more than doubles for pedestrians when speed increases from 25 to 35 m.p.h.. “That’s a big number. That’s something we hope all drivers will think about.” "

Indeed. Or what about this study in the British Medical Journal about 20 mph zones and the massive benefits. The BBC covers this as well, and Movement for a Liveable London has this piece on A City of 20.

Here's an illustration from the Swedish Road Directorate, showing what it's like to have 30 mph speed limits in a city. And New York is bragging about 30 mph? Is it possible to be more out of touch with reality and statistics?

Campaigns that place the responsibility on New Yorkers who walk and cycle and that allow automobile traffic to wreak the same havoc as it has done since engineers started messing with human streets back in the early 1900s are, quite simply, ridiculous. No city that continues on this course will ever achieve any decent and respectable level of urban cycling.

You know the campaigns are a massive marketing FAIL when The Onion whips up the same thing in an afternoon.

It's 2012 on my calendar. This old-fashioned approach to 'traffic safety' is embarrassing to see - especially from a city like New York.

Want to see change? It's easy. I'll give you this one pro bono, NYC. Spend all your marketing money for one calendar year on campaigns that cut to the chase. That go hardcore after motorists, and nobody else. I'm talking rational, right to the point, in yer face New Yorker style campaigns. Like the photo at the bottom of this article.

If you really want to be a world leader, go for health warnings for cars. Better yet, helmets for motorists. You want change? I don't think you can handle change. You fear it.

The great thing is that I'm getting fed brilliant material for my upcoming Copenhagenize book. So thanks for that, DoT.