Government is very well-intentioned about trying to improve safety for bicyclists. Sometimes, they can be misguided though.
The Florida Department of Transportation and the University of Florida picked a Tampa firm called Dunn&Co to create a bike and pedestrian safety ad campaign for the Tampa Bay region -- Fla DOT's District 7 area. Dunn&Co called it, "You vs. Vehicle: You lose every time."
Here's the press release
I have not seen a shred of the print ad or content behind this "You vs. Vehicle" ad campaign, so I'm going on the campaign's mere title. But the very title made my head hurt. As usual, nothing about taking steps to change the motorists' behavior; in fact, just the opposite -- the title message empowers motorists that they're king of the road and that if you're a bicyclist the best thing you can do is just watch out and stay clear.
As I'm programmed to do (I am a former newspaper reporter, after all), I got on the phone today and called Troy Dunn, the firm owner, because I wanted to share my thoughts and hear the ad creator's response. I told Troy I haven't seen the ads or content but I had concerns about the title and its message. I said the real issue is that we have to educate problem motorists and bicyclists about using the roads together.
He disagreed and said there is no way to change aggressive, dangerous or reckless motorist behavior so the best thing for bicyclists and peds to do is be on full alert and be cautious to avoid being hit. Yes, bicyclists need to be smart and alert and visible -- but any safety campaign has to include addressing motorists.
So then I wrote the following letter to the Florida Bicycle Association today:
I look forward to seeing you at the FBA summit in Tally tomorrow. I'll be traveling with Jim Shirk, a fellow Hillsborough County BPAC member, from Tampa and look forward to chatting with our local state legislators. At least two have agreed to meet us.
I'm writing to bring a new ad campaign about bicycle and pedestrian safety in Florida to your attention. I understand the University of Florida and the Florida DOT hired a Tampa ad firm called Dunn and Co. for this campaign.
Dunn's winning campaign is called "You vs. Vehicle: You lose every time."
Here's the press release: http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/03/prweb5184344.htm
You probably have heard about it by now.
I have not seen any of the campaign's print material or content, but its title concerns me greatly. As the director of SWFBUD (South West Florida Bicycle United Dealers), I called the ad firm here in Tampa today and expressed my concerns to the firm owner, Troy Dunn.
I'm concerned that the title misses the point that bicyclists are co-users of the public roadway and that both bicyclists and motorists have to be educated and informed about how we interact on the road. Mr. Dunn informed me that it is impossible to change aggressive, reckless and irresponsible motorist behavior that imperils the safety of bicyclists and pedestrians. So the best thing bicyclists could do, Mr. Dunn told me, is simply be on the alert and be cautious for cars that obviously are much bigger. Mr. Dunn informed me that the "share the road" mantra is stale and lacks punch. That might be so, but a "You Vs. Vehicle: You lose every time" campaign title seems to me that it emboldens motorists to feel they own the road and bicyclists don't have a place.
I hope you also see the flaw in the ad campaign title and immediately advise the DOT that a "You vs. Vehicle" title and message is not appropriate.
A recent League of American Bicyclists letter in response to the proposed Hillsborough County bike safety action plan also touched on the matter about how dangerous motorist behavior was left out of the equation in regard to bicycle safety. Tim, you might recall the FBA signed that LAB letter. (I believe it was Dan Moser who signed it).
I plan to bring this up to the DOT tomorrow and hope you will address this as well.
Director of SWFBUD
Co-founder, Seminole Heights Bicycle Club
Hillsborough County BPAC member
I heard back from Tim Bustos, the FBA's new executive director, and he informed me the FBA will be addressing this matter with the FDOT.
I also sent my letter to the SWFBUD bike shops. Rick Fidanzato, owner of ABC Bicycles and the Trek Bicycle Store of St. Pete, responded this way: "Thank you for catching this! This is terrible. We must understand that cars are driven by PEOPLE! It is a very negative ad campaign and will destroy any headway bicyclists have made. You are correct when you say that motorists will be empowered by this slogan. It is a very negative and auto-centric slogan. We must change all behavior, but there are significantly more people driving cars than bicycles in this area. With gas prices soaring, obesity rates still increasing, and no sign of any significant public transportation plan, bicycles will become more prevalent on the road. We still must "share the road". Without this mantra, bicycle riders will surely "lose every time".
Thank you again for your attention to these matters. Good luck this week at the conference. I am looking forward to your thoughts when you get back."
And then, there's my good bicycle advocate pal Joe Mizereck of Tallahassee, who created the "3 Feet Please" yellow bike jersey. Joe wrote to me in response to the ad campaign title, "My gut reaction is this is absolutely absurd. I hope I am missing something, but I am very concerned about the intent and theme…very concerned."
So, my hunch is that Troy at Dunn&Co. might be hearing from a few more people about "You vs. Vehicle: You lose every time"