How To Educate?

A lot of cyclists' blogs I've read talk about how the real key to gaining the acceptance of bicyclists into mainstream traffic and the planning which it requires is education.

I see education as affecting and being needed by two sets of people: general cyclists and non-cyclists.

First, why cyclists need education. How many times have you been riding along, following the rules of the road and doing things as a commuting cyclist should: staying visible, taking the lane when necessary, etc., when you see some one on a bike whose actions make you cringe. They're riding on the sidewalk. They're riding the wrong way. They're weaving in and out of parked cars on the side of the road. They're blowing through red lights and stopsigns without even looking. Or they're dressed totally in black and it's dark out anyway.

How do we reach these types of cyclists? They may not be regular commuters, and they may not even consider themselves part of the "cycling community." They're just taking a bike ride or using their bike to get to class, or whatever. They don't have any clue about things like the League of American Bicyclists, they've never considered taking a bike safety class, and they probably don't even know that such things exist. They're just folks who decide to grab their bike one day and go out.

They're not going to read a bicycling blog or forum. That's not their interest. But they are lumped into this amorphous group of "cyclists" who are seen by motorists as one homogeneous group. Many of us work very hard to make things better for cyclists but also realize that cyclists need to do their part. How do we, as the conscientious cyclists, reach people like this?

Second, the motorists. Even less than the cyclists who don't view themselves as such, they're NOT going to pay any attention to blogs, advocacy groups, forums, etc. They have no vested interest in promoting cycling. They don't know that bicycles have the same rights to the road that they do and harass us to "get on the sidewalk." How do we reach these people with educational efforts?

I'd love to open this to some discussion: How have you done this successfully in your communities?

Update: I accidentally rejected a couple of comments... if you commented on this and you don't see your comment here, please resubmit it! I apologize for having fast fingers yesterday. I found my email notifications of your comments and posted them below...

Mike: Maybe people should have to have a cycling license?

Maybe the laws should be enforced for cyclists... running red lights, wrong side of the street, on the sidewalk.

Maybe that's a solution. Thoughts?


  1. A lot of this will change as more people take up riding in place of high fuel prices. A lot of motorists in my area (already used to cyclists) seem to be even nicer these days. I like to think it's the shame of driving alone in a car.

  2. Mike - I disagree about licenses for cyclists. Such things are just going to discourage people from cycling. They'll figure that it's not worth the time if they have to go to the DMV just to ride their bike, and some will probably even resent the state/city for intruding on what was previously a non-regulated form of transportation.

    Laws certainly need to be enforced, though, particularly those laws that are in place for safety reasons. Now, keep in mind, I see a HUGE difference between a helmet law and a law about riding on the wrong side of the street. There should NOT be a helmet law for adult cyclists, IMHO. Having a helmet on a rider isn't going to change how traffic functions or whether a rider is a safety hazard. Biking the wrong way most certainly is. If enough people started getting pulled over for bike offenses, people would learn really fast what is and isn't allowed.

    But laws where cars infringe upon bikers' rights also need to be enforced. I think the police are less likely to do that simply because they don't KNOW the laws - my own experience backs that one up to some extent. And from reading what police and city officials around the country say regarding bike-car accidents, they're usually considered to be the fault of the cyclist. And usually that's not the case.

  3. Smudgemo - I was talking to a guy at our LBS the other day about that very issue... and he says that it's not really happening that way, at least here in Columbus. The gas companies are doing a nice job of jacking the price up, up, up, and then down - but not down NEARLY as far as it went up. And then people say "well, the price went down, I can keep driving," even though it didn't go down as far as it went up originally. The oil cabal in this country knows exactly what it's doing.

  4. For a while now I've differentiated between a "cyclist" and a "yahoo on a bike". I don't know how you reach the yahoos on their bikes to get them to ride more safely. In fact I don't really see how this could be accomplished.

    The idea of cyclists requiring licenses got talked about up here a bit. My response was that the "cyclists" might be happy enough to do it, but the yahoos sure as hell wouldn't, and probably would never actually realize that such a law had come into effect.

    Helmets - I agree that it wouldn't change the way people cycle, but doesn't the imposition of a helmet law follow the same logic as a seatbelt law? I wouldn't mind seeing a helmet law happen.

    Motorists - don't know. If they start seeing far more cyclists on the road, that would get them more used to us. I guess we could lobby our Ministry's of Transportation to include a "driving near bikers" segment to the driver's training courses and license tests.

  5. Tuco - Yahoo on a Bike (YOAB) is hereby adopted as a term for a non-cyclist. I like it.

    I think Mike had a point above with his comment on enforcing the law. If the police would do this (assuming they know the law) then I'm willing to bet that more YOABs would become cyclists, or at least more informed YOABs.

    The only reason I don't think a helmet law follows the same logic as a seat belt law is that a person who's not wearing a helmet is pretty much going to be on the ground and their bike not moving when the need for a helmet comes into play. If a motorist isn't wearing a seat belt and gets hit, the vehicle may still be moving and could still potentially regain control of said vehicle. If they're bouncing around in the front seat with no seat belt on, they're still a hazard.

    Re: motorist education... My thought here is similar to yours: that bicycle-related questions need to be asked on the written tests that drivers need to take to get their licenses, and then if you converting an out-of-state license to an in-state license you should be required to take the test. That way you'd cover new in-state and new-resident drivers.

  6. I think you can lose your driver's license for drunk cycling, can't you? So why need anything more to ride a bike if I'm already certified to handle a vehicle weighing up to X tons?

    Prices will continue to climb, more people will ride/walk/carpool. Maybe slowly, but it will happen. You know the saying goes that change generally starts on the coasts and moves inward. Same thing here (I think.)

    And no, we don't need helmet laws for adults. I won't go without, but that's just me. I don't really see any downside to wearing one.

  7. Distinguishing between a "real" cyclist (whatever that may be) and a "yahoo on a bike" might be useful in discussions among cyclists, but to non-cyclists it's meaningless. Try to explain the difference to a motorist with no cycling experience and they'll just say one of two things:

    * "What do you mean? Those yahoos ride bikes, so they must be cyclists."


    * "What do you mean? All cyclists are yahoos."

  8. Treadly - you are 100% correct on your comment. That's sort of my point on why we need to reach YOABs with education. The general public doesn't make any distinction between YOABs and cyclists. The question is: how?

    Basically, YOABs have the potential to ruin everything for all of us by simply not being aware of bike laws and the like. Or, even worse, they are aware and they just don't care. As people have pointed out before, no one's going to remember the ten cyclists they saw riding properly and considerately... they're going to remember the one YOAB who was flying through traffic, cutting people off, riding on the sidewalk, etc. And when the time comes for votes on appropriations for bike lanes, trails, etc. either by the general voting public or in city council chambers, that's what people are going to base their voting on.

  9. Smudgemo - agreed on the comment about having a driver's license and riding a bike. Gaining that license also implies that you've taken the time to take drivers' education and the like and therefore you know the rules of the road.

    Perhaps, then, the answer is to transform drivers' education into an over-arching "Traffic" school - where everyone from pedestrians to cyclists to motorists takes the same course and learns the rules of the roads, sidewalks, etc., for ALL vehicles. Then there's one "license" for operating in traffic, PERIOD.

    And then such a class should be required in high schools, etc. across the country.


  10. In theory, I like the idea of enforcing cycling traffic laws more, except that the police already waste far too much time on petty stuff, and this would just add to the list.

    That said, in smallish towns such as this one, with low crime, the police have all kinds of time for petty stuff.

    I don't think licensing or required courses are good ideas. One thing that's great about cycling is its simplicity; take that away and it becomes a chore.

  11. Jaime - that last comment is *exactly* what I was going to say. In our society, driving class is the only time when where people are required to learn the rules of the road. The only time! If we don't incorporate a discussion of bicycling into these classes, it is up to advocacy groups to do a piecemeal job of it as will and resources allow.

    And I agree that police need to better enforce the laws.

    So, it terms of an advocacy agenda, there is nothing stopping us from writing letters 1) to the police department asking them to enforce the traffic laws and 2) to the BMV to request to work with them on incorporating biking into their education. Also, since I see a lot of bad behavior happening in the campus area, we could do something like set up a booth at 15th and High to advertise classes or provide info on safe biking.

    I know lots of bikers are renegade sorts who hate the thought of anyone or any law cramping their style, but I think now it's time to think of the broader community of cyclists and take personal responsibility for everyone being safe - especially as we see more and more people choose biking as transportation.

  12. Apertome - Although it's not apparent in my above comment, I agree with you. I dislike the idea of having any sort of regulation for "permission" to cycle as well, for the very reason you're talking about.

    But on the other hand, I also think that everyone needs to know the rules of the road and how the vehicle they're operating should behave on it. Unfortunately, it may be that regulation of some sort is the only way to assure this.

    And conversely, if more people are educated about the laws of the road, then the cops won't NEED to waste time enforcing the traffic laws as much. I agree that many of them are petty, but most of them are designed for safety purposes. And I think we can all agree that safety in transportation should be a priority.

    If there's a way to get people to learn the law without requiring a license or permit of some sort, I'm all for it. I just don't see another way.

  13. Hi! I am a guy trying to find a way to work in the morning on my bike. (My Lord I hate driving 4 miles to work!)
    I read some comments, and thought, "Am I a yahoo?" I am afraid I am. I have never heard of the League of American Bicyclists. I have been riding on sidewalks (People drive like a-holes, and I am scared). I do stop at stop signs and wear a helmet at least.

    Anyway, I appreciate this site and others who are trying make biking to work more accessible to people. Its funny how in today's world your first tentative steps to "joining a community" is a google search.

  14. Matthew - thanks for joining the conversation! You'll find lots of great advice on the websites listed in the right column of this blog, and I'd also recommend (I can't believe I don't have it listed) as a good source of info.

    There's nothing wrong with being a YOAB...especially if you're willing to learn about the proper and safe way to bike as a member of traffic (which you obviously are, since you're here!). One of the best ways to get advice is to frequent this and the other blogs of the guys who've been responding on this and other threads. There's a lot of experience out there that's posted for you to share.

  15. Matthew -

    Check this out: This workshop is *perfect* for what you're after. It's geared to new riders, the instructor is great, and the format is very interactive. I highly recommend it.

    Good luck!
    Consider Biking

  16. Meredith and Jamie, thank you for the tips, websites, and encouragement! It is always happy to find an online community with a pulse. I am motivated and reading.

  17. I dunno if you've seen european tv ads on youtube for cycling but it seems to me they've COMMITTED to bikes as alt transport and they are PROVING it. if you can't reach motorists and YHOB's with television then what's this world coming to? I like Meridith's thoughts on writing letters to the PD to enforce laws but also to educate them about the laws. Also having the DMV inform motorists and cyclists of their rights (and wrongs) can only help to clarify the situation, after all people do renew their licenses every few years so why not inform them of new safety and transportation options in the form of a flier? "Pop-up video" style signage in places where bikes stop would be cool and would hopefully get messages across to the youngins.


  18. What if some of the biking organizations in town raised some money and then used that money to make short radio ads? You know, something that's about 15 or 20 seconds that says ' here's a quick tip from Consider Biking/Insert Org Here. Bikers are considered vehicles and have the legal right to occupy the left hand lane. Please help to keep transportation safe in Columbus by not riding on sidewalks and, if you are a driver, respecting the rights of cyclists on the road. Thanks!"
    I'm sure CD101 and whoever would take our money just as any other business. Education works on the radio too, and if there is a good response, then maybe the local police departments/govt might recognize that it's a useful idea.
    I've always thought giving fliers with bike/car tips out to all the car dealerships and auto repair places would be a good idea too, so they can post them in their waiting lounges.


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