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 Desperately trying to cement, in the public consciousness of it's citizens, the rather outdated philosophy that cars rule supreme and everyone else are mere pawns to be swept aside without regret.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.


Edward said...

Yeah, NYC is falling behind. Ugh.

nathan_h said...

It won't surprise you that we lucky New Yorkers also get to pay our DOT to compile and publish extremely fishy statistics about helmet effectiveness. On page 16 of this fatality report (lead by pictures of the most unappealing lycrists ever) we are told that 97% of killed cyclists were not wearing their special safety helmets. Now, if foam helmets are really 97% effective at preventing Death by 2-Ton Auto we need to go back and retest them, and also perhaps reevaluate the laws of physics.

But I think maybe the unheard-of rate has something to do with the gaps in reporting alluded to in the report, as well as the fact that the data's veracity relies on the virulently anti-cyclist NYPD to report it.

In the study's 9 year period they only counted 4 dead cyclists who wore helmets. I've read about at least that many in the past year from news sources that actually dig deep enough. Helmets are fairly popular here and of course some people wearing them are killed by the same recklessly driven multiton vehicles that kill the rest of us. In the case of killed cyclist Lefevre, the police originally claimed that he wasn't wearing a helmet, until they were proven wrong.

So, there you go. 97% success is easy to achieve when you exclude the data you don't like, or just outright lie. Now our DOT is telling law abiding pedestrians to "know the code" in order to still get killed by turning motorists who don't give a shit about any code.

New York! What a city indeed.

ubringliten said...

I left that city for a reason and livability is that reason.

plaukas pyragely said...

Thanks for interesting 20/30/40mph stats. And my city actually cheered and celebrated the switch from 30 to 40 mph like it's a win for everyone. Ah East Europe..

Robert said...

In that vein, here's a video of the attitude that nothing is sacred when motorvehicles are on the move. It amazed me that no-one cared to stop their vehicle and protect this 3-yr-old.

John said...

I see no problem with warning people not to do things that increase their risk of being involved in a traffic crash.

Mewshi said...

I agree with John on this one. There's nothing *wrong* with saying "use lights at night on a bike!" (which is probably the law anyway...) and "Don't just dart into the road!" The problem comes when those become excuses to harass or hate non-motorists, and when nothing is said to the motorists to help improve safety of those around them.

Zack said...

While I agree that you can't simply target peds and cyclists, we need to do what we can to be safe too. Even if we're *hopefully* moving in a positive direction, the fact remains that too many motorists are distracted, speeding, or just outright violent. We can't control their actions, but we can control ours, but doing two of the things pointed out in the ads - paying attention when crossing streets and making sure we're as visible as possible. Will these always make you safe? Sadly not. But they're steps that we can personally take, while also trying to affect some of the other problems through advocacy. As a cyclist, at least daily I have pedestrians just walk out in front of me, often midblock, without looking before or during doing so. I'm observant and traveling at safe speeds so I can safely avoid them, but a brief glance on their part would have avoided the potential conflict in the first place. And until we can also get speeds lowered to reasonable levels and change motorist attitudes/behaviors (for which I don't hold much hope in many areas) trying to avoid these type of potential conflicts is in our own self-interest. Because in the end, when we come into conflict with motorists, we peds and cyclists are almost always the loser.

djangosChef said...

@John, @Mewshi, @Zack,
That there are things that individual pedestrians or cyclists can do to make themselves safer is not a particularly helpful basis for an ad campaign. You want to personally encourage your friends and loved ones to be careful? Fine.
But if you want to make a city a safer place to be a pedestrian and/or cyclist, perhaps your ad campaign should focus on the source of the danger, and hold drivers responsible for the couple of tons of vehicle they send hurtling down the street.
Ad campaigns send messages to everyone who sees them. So, what message do drivers get when you tell everyone what pedestrians are supposed to do to stay safe?

Lars Barfred said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lars Barfred said...

I read a study on speeds on Manahattan, based on all Taxi-cabs. The average speed across the day and week, varied between 8.5 and 16 miles an hour. So at least on Manhattan 30 M/h is pretty rediculous, as speed limits much above average speeds just help create more congestion

teacher said...

< Like I say all over the world in my Bicycle Culture by Design talk, if your cyclists behave badly, you have crappy infrastructure. Period.>
Hold on a second. What kind of infrastructure is going to stop people from using iPods and making my bell useless? What kind of infrastructure is going to stop people from texting while riding, thereby putting all the responsibility on me to try to beware of them? Barring the complete segregation of cyclists, what kind of infrastructure is going to stop cyclists from intimidating pedestrians?

When you put mass into motion with force you take on responsibility, the bigger you are and the faster you're going, the more responsibility you are taking on; your deepest responsibility is to not harm those who are slower and smaller. I think if everyone everywhere understood and lived by that sentence all would be well. Until they do, the nature of man will trump whatever conditions you set up to control that nature.

I do completely agree that the car is the Bull, but it is so because of the way that people think and behave; it gives a lot of the wrong people much too much power. A lot of that thinking is shared by people on bicycles. Btw, I'm a pedestrian and a cyclist.

Dwight said...

Interesting that there is a poster for car/bike conflict and a poster for car/pedestrian conflict but no poster for bike/pedestrian conflict. As a pedestrian in NYC I have felt myself at risk once in the last month from a bad driver and about eight times from rude aggressive cyclists. Maybe because I can report a bad driver's license number, but once a bad cyclist has sped away there's no recourse. I agree with Teacher, the best infrastructure will not cure arrogance.

Tallycyclist said...

The best infrastructure won't eliminate all arrogant behavior but when the masses begin using it, then the fraction of those who cycle with unnecessary aggression will become a small minority and will really stand out among the crowd.

A hostile environment for cycling will only scare some people and/or agitate others. Some people are naturally more aggressive whether they walk, bike or drive. But when you add anger to the equation, how else would you expect them to behave? I too am a pedestrian and cyclist, and do not enjoy sharing the path with lots of people choosing the other mode of getting around. But given the choice of a sidewalk or sharing a narrow lane with cars moving 45-50 mph, I choose the sidewalk.

Dwight said...

@tallycyclist, this is like the ten year old bully who gets abused by the twelve year old bully and responds by abusing eight year olds. After experiencing fear and tyranny in the streets at the hands of cars,irresponsible sidewalk cyclists such as yourself are inflicting fear and tyranny on pedestrians. The inevitable backlash will only make it harder for cycling to expand in NYC. Do you expect people who have been injured on the sidewalks to respond by supporting more investments in infrastructure for cyclists?

The bicycle is the Bull from where I stand. There are no cars on the sidewalk, almost no cars going the wrong way, and very few cars that fail to yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk with the walk signal lit. But there are many bikes on the sidewalk even where there are bike lanes empty of cars, lots of bikes going the wrong way, and very few bikes that will yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. The occasional well-mannered bicyclist stands out - I saw one stop at a red light today and thanked her. The more bicyclists there are the more it seems to be a war on pedestrians. If other bicyclists do not exert peer pressure on scofflaws like tallycyclist it's going to get ugly.

Lars Barfred said...

@Dwight, Nevertheless cars succeed in killing 99,99% of pedestrians who are killed in traffic. Cars routinely kill pedestrians in the street, running red lights, in zebra-crossings and yes on your precious sidewalk. Cyclists on the other hand very, rarely happen to kill anyone, on a global scale.

It reminds me of the fear of the New York subway, in even the worst crime-ridden era, a thousand times as many were killed (talking only of crime not traffic) in the streets of new York, than in the subway. yet people felt much more safe in the streets.

Lars Barfred said...

@Dwight, Nevertheless cars succeed in killing 99,99% of pedestrians who are killed in traffic. Cars routinely kill pedestrians in the street, running red lights, in zebra-crossings and yes on your precious sidewalk. Cyclists on the other hand very, rarely happen to kill anyone, on a global scale.

It reminds me of the fear of the New York subway, in even the worst crime-ridden era, a thousand times as many were killed (talking only of crime not traffic) in the streets of new York, than in the subway. yet people felt much more safe in the streets.

Tallycyclist said...

@Dwight Interesting how you came to the conclusion that I am an irresponsible "sidewalk cyclist" without even knowing me. It seems you are one of those "all or nothing" people when it comes to judgement, and I don't take people like that seriously.

If you did actually know me and how I cycle, then you would realize that first of all I only ever ride on sidewalks < 1% of the time, and when I do there are no pedestrians because these busy roads are just through-ways with no stores, etc., that no one would want to walk on to begin with. The only time I share with pedestrians is on the campus walkway. I have never had close encounters with pedestrians even during class changes, and I doubt I ever will going at 8-9 mph. Nor will I seriously kill or injure anyone at that speed in a collision.

Fortunately cyclists are not the ones killing almost 40,000 people in the US each year in traffic collisions. Otherwise, judging by how much a lot of people already dislike us, we would probably fall victim out of the necessity to "shoot first."

Michelle said...

Great illustration from the Swedish Road Directorate. That's exactly how it feels to walk in a North American city. Remain vigilant at all times! (What's the source? I'd love to see if we could use it here in Ottawa.)

One major problem with behavioural campaigns like the one in NYC is that politicians and bureaucrats love them. No threat to the status quo. So the misguided "advocates" who focus on controlling cyclists and pedestrians get all the money and political attention.

I have no doubt that if everyone switched focus from controlling the targets to controlling the threat, change would come faster than we think possible.

dothebart said...

In cologne they were thinking out loud to turn "Ring", which is a road that goes through inner city with pedestrians and shops, into a 70 km/h speed limit zone (from the current 50) then the majors son was run over by some drag racers.
Guess what? This plan instantly vanished.

Nate said...

The movement for Liveable London also states that at 30 mph there is an 80 percent chance of survival. Apparently not just the appalingly anachronistic DoT of NYC is using that stat.

Lars Barfred said...

I have seen 4-5 different research on survival and speed, they closely correlate, I am sure if the research set-up was identical, and they all had very high samples, they would come out with identical survival rates.
There is an apparent reasonable explanation, why we are so good at surviving 20 m/h and not more. Before the automobile, we for 100.000´s of years never travelled at higher speeds or met objects which did, unless we stepped of a very high cliff.

Anonymous said...

I walk, bike, and yes also drive and have no problem with driving slowly and yielding, but this doesn't mean I'm OK with people walking and texting, head down, right in front of my moving vehicle, mid turn or across the road mid-traffic. When I'm walking and biking I sure pay attention. Perhaps this would be less offensive if it were accompanied by a campaign warning cars that they have no more rights over the bikes/peds. And I think the Onion was actually targeting stupid people who don't pay attention to the cars as they walk.