Cycling advocates: Can we agree to agree that a bike is the best place to be?

Cycling advocates: Can we agree to agree that a bike is the best place to be?


So today, as I inadvertently got caught in the middle of a… well, a passionate exchange of opinions, shall we say, between some people who are actually fighting for the same cause, I thought, “this energy could be better used elsewhere”.

Who was involved, the back-story, the details of what it was/is about is not important for my point, which will be clear once I set the tone a bit first…

Cycling is at a point where it is rapidly gaining a foothold in the minds of the general public as well as our elected leaders. It’s constantly in the media, so if the media is using cycling to generate interest, you can therefore trust that people are interested in, and have strong opinions about, cycling on some level.

In places like Australia where the national uptake of cycling is hovering somewhere around 2%, we can then safely infer that most of the people who are being targeted by the media’s constant character assassinating of cycling are probably not so keen on cycling. If most people don’t cycle and the news mostly reports bad or controversial news, which sells far, far better than good news, then we can probably infer that the media is using a negative portrayal of cycling to bait what it believes to be the largest target audience, who presumably will engage with that negative portrayal, and will likely be of the opinion that cyclists do not belong on their roads.

Basically, a really roundabout way of saying that if it’s in the media in a negative light, then it’s probably threatening the status quo. Cyclists are apparently upsetting the status quo, and we can’t have that. That’s why cycling needs advocates.

Sure, it’s an assumption, and one which didn’t need flushing out so much, but here’s my point at long last: cycling is a hot topic and gaining momentum, but is still facing a huge amount of push-back from a huge number of people at all levels of society. What we need is a unified voice amongst our cycling advocates.

Now, cycling is a hot-button topic precisely because it is fertile ground for polarizing views. Helmet laws. Stop signs. Red lights. Using the footpath. Taking the lane. Segregated cycling infrastructure. Presumed liability. And I’m not even talking about the general public. There are polarizing views on these topics within the cycling community, and more specifically, those who are trying to represent cycling in matters relating to local and national policy.

Of course, some people might feel neither here nor there about any or all of these topics, but many people fall on either one side of the spectrum, or way over on the other. Maybe it’s because these issues call into question people’s conception of their basic liberties and rights, whether it actually has anything to do with that or not.

I have to resist going on tangents here – and there are many – but I want to keep this reasonably simple and concise. We need to have a unified voice amongst our cycling advocates or we’ll never get anywhere, and if we do we will have wasted far too much time and energy getting there. Sorry to mention the N-word, but how else did the Netherlands change their countries cycling policies other than by the citizens becoming unified over one cause, and with that unity, demanding change?

I am not suggesting that every cyclist and every organization needs to all of a sudden agree on everything, and I’m not saying that we all have to like each other.

Here’s what I think should happen:

  1. Calm down. Remember when you were a kid, and you were riding around on your bike and you came across another kid on a bike, and you were all, “hey, you’re riding a bike! And I’m riding a bike! Let’s go ride bikes!” And the other kid was all, “Yeah!!!!!!”. And that was the end of it. Yeah. More of that, please.
  2. Recognize that we will all have different areas of interest, and will have different agendas.
  3. Recognize that we all have the same, overarching goal of making cycling more accessible, and safer.
  4. Realize that the more time we spend fighting each other, the less time we have to move cycling forward.
  5. Recognize that there are bound to be a few issues that we can all agree on. Or, at least, agree on enough that we can come together as one voice. One loud, effective voice, saying a few concise things, rather than many little voices all wanting their own agenda to be met. That doesn’t necessarily mean that your competing concerns aren’t valid, it’s just not part of the plan.

Now, that does not, in any way, preclude the fact that you can still have differing opinions on all of the other issues, and can still advocate for and pursue change in all of the other specific areas that are important to you, and you alone.

What would be great is for there to be some kind of hub, some type of meeting of minds that comes together on a regular basis where all the cycling bodies at the municipal, state, and national level can locate all of the areas and specific issues that they all agree on.

That should be the first and most important priority. Find out what the largest number of people can agree on, and focus only on those issues. If you are close on some of them, do your best to figure out a compromise that everyone can be happy with.

Once you have done that, agree on a plan of attack for using your new-found strength in numbers to influence policy on whatever level it needs changing.

Votes win. Pressure works. But only when there is enough to matter. If we can agree to disagree on whatever we need to, but come together on whatever we can, then we can accomplish so much more.

I’m not suggesting anything new here, but I think that sometimes we forget that we all, more or less, want the same thing. We want cycling to be more accessible and safer. As soon as someone puts a name and a logo on something, it’s identity can take over and it can become really easy to get wrapped up in making that named and labeled thing successful rather than the reasons behind its existence in the first place. Our cause, not your cause.

I’m not pointing fingers and I’m not saying that this is necessarily what happens when a movement becomes organized, I’m simply saying that we could probably make better use of our commonalities.

So? Who would support the idea of every cycling body, big and small, coming together (somehow) and deciding on a handful of things that cycling needs in order to take the next step in its development in Australia? This could be on a municipal, state, and/or national level. Each body could bring all of their supporters, their entire network of people who care about their communities, their children, their health, their lives, and how these things can be influenced by cycling, to come together and demand that they be heard.

The one rule is that whatever cannot be agreed upon is left off the table. You can pursue these interests in your own time with your own organization, but just think about the two or three things, or even just one thing at a time, that might be able to have the backing of hundreds of thousands of people nationwide.  What would happen if somehow we organized a million people to say, formally, “we don’t want a mandatory helmet law!”, or “we demand that x% of the roads budget be spent on cycling!”, or anything else that is concise enough that can get as many of our cycling advocates and their communities to join together in one voice.

We can keep our differences, of course, but I think we’re missing an opportunity if we can’t come together on at least the basic idea that we are all interested in seeing cycling flourish, even if the path we choose to get there takes a different route. We’re all on the same team. Cyclists are still a tiny minority in most places and are up against the monstrously powerful lobbies of the automotive industry, for example, so why nitpick and find fault with another cycling advocate’s view and write them off when what cycling really needs is a unified community, if not in the specifics, then as an ideal.

What do you think? Who’s in?


Header image: source