Like many of you, bikes and bike transportation find their way into many of my conversations. Of course, I don't mind. I love to talk about bikes! These interactions generally fall into three categories, depending on the background of the person I'm talking to:
1. Biker to Biker
2. Biker to non-believer
3. Bike to curious non-biker
Category 1 is the most comfortable. If I'm talking to someone who rides themselves, they usually "get it" and the banter generally moves in the direction of a great trail to ride on, a recent epic ride, the current weather and riding conditions, or the latest bike equipment. All fun stuff that leaves everyone energized and thinking about the next ride.
Category 2 can be more awkward and difficult, but can also be satisfying in their own way. The non-believers often have the attitude of "never in a million years" and might see bikes as a kid’s toy or a recreational vehicle that some people use for exercise. The fact that biking is a valid transportation mode that is very practical and sustainable is usually lost on these folks and the reasons that it's not for them (whether these reasons are valid or not) may well be deeply cemented in their minds. These conversations can be frustrating, but usually there is some ego boost value in the conversation, to know that I easily accomplish something healthy and beneficial to the community that they consider so impossible and unrealistic.
Category 3 is maybe the most interesting to me. These are the people that are not biking currently, but are at least somewhat intrigued in the concept. They are often curious, ask many questions, and you can almost see them visualizing themselves riding to work, riding to run errands, and riding for many of the short trips they currently make by car. They probably see some barriers (again, they may or may not be valid), but they also show at least some awareness of the benefits of bike transportation, and they might even be thinking "maybe I could do that too, if…" I love having conversations with these individuals, helping them break down their barriers and obstacles, and giving them the confidence to try integrating bike riding into their everyday lives.
For some insight into the fascinating category 3 group, take a look at the graphic below. This slide shows just one small piece of the results of the 2009 Resident Transportation and Green Study, conducted by the Southeastern Institute of Research and LDA Consulting for Arlington County. The full survey and results can be found at Commuterpage.com/research.
The question asked was "what could Arlington County do to make it easier for you to ride a bicycle" and the survey group is representative of the general population. Note the most common response at 38% was "Nothing would encourage me." Bah humbug. These are probably the Category 2 folks from my classification above. They are not biking now, and there is not much that can be done to get them biking. However, the good news is that 62% of Arlington residents do have some input on what can be done to make it easier to ride. Some of these folks might be riding already, but many fall in the "curious non -biker" group of Category 3. These are the people with at least a glimmer of hope that can be helped! The responses are mostly infrastructure related, and many of them are being addressed, particularly in the more urban areas of Arlington, D.C and Baltimore. Of course, we need more, and the survey results certainly strengthen the case for separated bike facilities such as bike lanes, cycletracks and off street bike trails. These features also contribute to "make it safer" covering all of the top three on the wish list.
I also believe that many of these curious non bikers often just need a nudge of encouragement, a vote of confidence, and some information on safe routes for bike riding, safe cycling classes, and other resources such as BikeArlington.com, goDCgo.com and WABA.org. We can all provide this nudge in our daily conversations and interactions, especially when we notice we are talking to someone in the most likely to be influenced category 3 group. What’s in it for us bikers? More people riding means more motorist awareness of cyclists which leads to safer riding conditions. Increased bike transportation also justifies increased investment in bike lanes and other infrastructure, leading to more people biking. The virtuous circle that benefits all of us.
So enjoy your conversations about bikes at the water cooler, the stop light, or the grocery store, and be aware of what category your acquaintance falls in. Focus in on those that show a glimmer of interest and whenever possible, give them some encouragement and help them envision themselves incorporating cycling into their daily lives. The right nudge might just lead to one more person on a bike and that means better biking for all of us.