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The Parable Of The Bicycling Advocate… 8

DrBehooving2

Photo of Dr. Behooving courtesy of Dr. Behooving himself / RateMyVelo.com

My fellow advocate buddy Dr. Steven Fleming scribed a parable earlier this year that nicely illustrates a topic that we discuss on here often: how do we solve transportation and environmental issues using pragmatic solutions without turning people off.

Dr. Steve is an Architectural Theorist, a professor of architecture at the University of Newcastle in Australia, and creator of cycle-space.com (formerly the Behooving Moving blog). He has been traveling the world exploring different cities’ cycle space, and plans to release a book of the same title.

People are often turned off by advocates who have genuine intentions but take the wrong approach to selling their cause. The doctor illustrates this in his “parable of the cyclist who fixed things for everyone” (reposted here in its entirety):

“A public health advocate, an environmentalist, a transit planner, and a keen cyclist, are walking along when they come across a discarded sleigh with three empty harnesses (one might call that a troika).

The public health advocate promptly jumps into the sleigh, and says, “You guys pull and I’ll steer.” A week later they’re all worn out from delivering cheesy posters about riding tandems and flying kites, and notice no one is riding tandems or kite flying these days. It seems no one wants to look like the geeks in the posters. And of the handful still riding tandems, the stokers are defiantly smoking.

The environmentalist pushes his way on board the sleigh. “No more cutting down trees for your posters! Let me do the steering.” A week later they have walked around seeking, and finding, a carbon neutral fuel for the cars. This fuel is so cheap and plentiful, the roads now have ten times the traffic. Their nation is stuck at the wheel, eating fast food.

“Get out hippie, I’m driving,” the urban transit specialist says. So they all drag him around for a week, as he borrows heavily to spend money on trains. Only when their country is broke and full of overweight people on trains, do they look to the cyclist and remark that he has next to no pulling power anyway, so may as well steer for a while.

Within a week the cyclist has relegated the cars to a handful of roads. The other streets are filled with fit cyclists with money to spare, and all the car parks have been turned into farms. The public health advocate, transit planner and environmentalist wish that right from day one, they had lent their pulling power to whatever best suited the cyclist.”

Check out Cycle-Space.com for more interesting thought-provoking articles from the colourful professor.

i share the road

James D. Schwartz is a Transportation Pragmatist and the Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at james.schwartz@theurbancountry.com or follow him on Twitter.

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  • http://twitter.com/tonyatoms Tony Adams

    This reminds me that the saddest day in the history of Chicago bicycle advocacy was when the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation watered down its mission by becoming “ActiveTrans” and taking up the causes of walking and transit.

  • http://twitter.com/tonyatoms Tony Adams

    This reminds me that the saddest day in the history of Chicago bicycle advocacy was when the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation watered down its mission by becoming “ActiveTrans” and taking up the causes of walking and transit.

  • Gclarke

    The professor appears right at home in his ivory tower and I’m sure his book will sell a dozen or so copies among his disciples.

    Advocate or kook? Perhaps just eccentric.

  • Gclarke

    The professor appears right at home in his ivory tower and I’m sure his book will sell a dozen or so copies among his disciples.

    Advocate or kook? Perhaps just eccentric.

  • Gclarke

    “People are often turned off by advocates who have genuine intentions but take the wrong approach to selling their cause.”

    As I read about the Occupy Wall Street protesters I started to think about bike advocacy and how both movements appear to be quite alike.

    Occupy seemingly has no leaders or clearly recognized organization supporting the movement. Bike advocacy also appears to have no clearly recognized organization speaking for the majority of cyclists. The League of American Bicyclists and Canadian Cycling Association are self proclaimed advocacy organizations but their message is reflected in their scant membership levels.

    Occupy is a movement representing a powerful demand for something new and an expression of everyone’s frustration with business as usual. Bike advocacy is also an expression that the car centric policies and road use status quo has to change and there is a demand for something different and a vision of something better. The “we too can be a Copenhagen” grand vision or grand nightmare depending on your view.

    Occupy has captured a great deal of attention and disruption although some criticize the protests as diffuse in message or lacking in substance. Bike advocacy has generated a lot of attention and disruption, as in Critical Mass, especially in major cities, but the demands appear to be as diverse as the cyclists themselves and target a small segment of the overall biking population.

    Occupy protesters appear to stand against the evils of capitalism gone astray but can’t articulate a clear message of what they stand for. Bike advocacy appears to stand against the evils of road use policies but then break down on what they stand for; vehicular cycling, bike lanes, bike paths, complete streets, dedicated funding, helmet use, safety standards, etc.

    As the New York Times wrote on October 18th; NEW YORK — They brave the elements, the police and uncertainties of life on the street, but probably the hardest thing anyone in the Occupy Wall Street demonstration can do is join something called the “Demands Working Group.”

    And perhaps this is where bike advocacy stands. As cyclists we brave the elements, hurried motorists, traffic congestion, and the uncertainties of life on the streets but probably the hardest thing any cyclists can do is come to a common set of demands across the cycling spectrum. Or said another way, what do bike advocates actually stand for?

    The Times article quoted Janet Kobren, an experienced activist saying, “Who are they talking to? I see them as kind of teenagers saying, ‘I want, I want,’ to their parents.”

    Maybe the expectations for change by the Occupy movement are far too loftily. If the goal is to generate discussion and “stir the pot” a little then they have accomplished their mission. For bike advocates the goal maybe the same –just stir the pot a little and hope for the best.

    In the mean time I have to occupy my city streets as I ride off to work.

  • Gclarke

    “People are often turned off by advocates who have genuine intentions but take the wrong approach to selling their cause.”

    As I read about the Occupy Wall Street protesters I started to think about bike advocacy and how both movements appear to be quite alike.

    Occupy seemingly has no leaders or clearly recognized organization supporting the movement. Bike advocacy also appears to have no clearly recognized organization speaking for the majority of cyclists. The League of American Bicyclists and Canadian Cycling Association are self proclaimed advocacy organizations but their message is reflected in their scant membership levels.

    Occupy is a movement representing a powerful demand for something new and an expression of everyone’s frustration with business as usual. Bike advocacy is also an expression that the car centric policies and road use status quo has to change and there is a demand for something different and a vision of something better. The “we too can be a Copenhagen” grand vision or grand nightmare depending on your view.

    Occupy has captured a great deal of attention and disruption although some criticize the protests as diffuse in message or lacking in substance. Bike advocacy has generated a lot of attention and disruption, as in Critical Mass, especially in major cities, but the demands appear to be as diverse as the cyclists themselves and target a small segment of the overall biking population.

    Occupy protesters appear to stand against the evils of capitalism gone astray but can’t articulate a clear message of what they stand for. Bike advocacy appears to stand against the evils of road use policies but then break down on what they stand for; vehicular cycling, bike lanes, bike paths, complete streets, dedicated funding, helmet use, safety standards, etc.

    As the New York Times wrote on October 18th; NEW YORK — They brave the elements, the police and uncertainties of life on the street, but probably the hardest thing anyone in the Occupy Wall Street demonstration can do is join something called the “Demands Working Group.”

    And perhaps this is where bike advocacy stands. As cyclists we brave the elements, hurried motorists, traffic congestion, and the uncertainties of life on the streets but probably the hardest thing any cyclists can do is come to a common set of demands across the cycling spectrum. Or said another way, what do bike advocates actually stand for?

    The Times article quoted Janet Kobren, an experienced activist saying, “Who are they talking to? I see them as kind of teenagers saying, ‘I want, I want,’ to their parents.”

    Maybe the expectations for change by the Occupy movement are far too loftily. If the goal is to generate discussion and “stir the pot” a little then they have accomplished their mission. For bike advocates the goal maybe the same –just stir the pot a little and hope for the best.

    In the mean time I have to occupy my city streets as I ride off to work.

  • Sheridesabike

    I’ve encountered various advocates through work and too many never accomplish much because they are so married to their position that they can’t begin to acknowledge anyone else’s point of view. Three quarters of the year, I’m almost always on my bike but with snow season approaching I’ll probably be riding in our (one) car most of the time. I’d love it if the streets and multiuse paths were free of snow and ice but they won’t be. The Phoenix drivers who visit our mountain town for skiing will be just as reckless, unused to driving in snow, as they ever are so I’ll mostly go by car. If bus service came to my part of town I’d gladly use it but it will likely be many more years before that happens. All I want are options, not judgments when I make the transportation choice that’s best for me. I’d guess the lucky residents of Copenhagen have those options and that’s what makes it such a cyclists’ paradise.

  • Sheridesabike

    I’ve encountered various advocates through work and too many never accomplish much because they are so married to their position that they can’t begin to acknowledge anyone else’s point of view. Three quarters of the year, I’m almost always on my bike but with snow season approaching I’ll probably be riding in our (one) car most of the time. I’d love it if the streets and multiuse paths were free of snow and ice but they won’t be. The Phoenix drivers who visit our mountain town for skiing will be just as reckless, unused to driving in snow, as they ever are so I’ll mostly go by car. If bus service came to my part of town I’d gladly use it but it will likely be many more years before that happens. All I want are options, not judgments when I make the transportation choice that’s best for me. I’d guess the lucky residents of Copenhagen have those options and that’s what makes it such a cyclists’ paradise.