New Bike Safety Ads Take a Confrontational Approach
The New York Times
June 23, 2009
By Sean Patrick Farrell
Last week the Department of Transportation, cycling groups and drivers’ organizations started a new campaign aimed at bicycle safety. Called Look, the campaign features posters, postcards, a radio spot and a video ad encouraging people to be more aware of other road users.
The campaign is aimed at both cyclists and drivers and hopes to “increase the culture of respect on city streets,” said Dani Simons, director of strategic communications with the D.O.T. Ms. Simons, who used to work for Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group for cyclists and pedestrians, praised the city’s efforts to increase safe cycling with new cycling lanes and routes but noted that more can be done.
“It’s up to people to behave safely,” Ms. Simons said, “to look before opening a door or to stop at a red light.”
Though some of the campaign’s materials, like a postcard reading, “Helmet hair is beautiful,” are whimsical, the TV ad, which features a bloodied and bruised cyclist being transported in an ambulance, is a graphic reminder that bicyclists are vulnerable on city streets.
Look logo The campaign is sponsored by the city’s Bicycle Safety Coalition.
The campaign was put together by the New York City Bicycle Safety Coalition, which counts the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission and the New York City Bicycle Messenger Association among its members. The coalition formed in 2006 in response to a 40 percent increase in bicycle fatalities from 2004 to 2005.
A recent study [pdf] found that 92 percent of New York City cyclist fatalities resulted from crashes with automobiles. According to the D.O.T., over 3,000 collisions between cyclists and drivers occur each year in New York City.
“Awareness is the biggest issue,” said Leah Todd, a spokesperson with Streets Memorial Project, the group responsible for the white cyclist memorial ghost bikes. Ms. Todd praised the campaign but said her group would like to see more enforcement of traffic infractions that endanger cyclists and pedestrians. She said she knows of three bicycle fatalities so far this year.
The TV ad, shown on major networks often during morning hours, juxtaposes automobile safety terms with close-up shots of the injured cyclist. The words “crumple zone” are superimposed over a shot of the man’s contused ribs, his worn sneakers appear with the phrase “emergency brakes.” The final shot of the man, being wheeled on a gurney into a hospital with his bicycle helmet resting on his lap, is graced by the words “body shop.”
The ad fades to black as white text appears, reading: “The best protection a cyclist has is our attention. There is one thing we can all do,” the campaign’s logo appears, reading, “Look.”
Looking is also the subject of a popular British cycling ad, called Awareness Test, which features a moon-walking actor in a bear costume amid a group of basketball players. The point of the video, which has been viewed more than six million times on YouTube, is to keep an eye out for cyclists (and, one presumes, moon-walking bears.)
The New York ads take a decidedly more confrontational approach, not unlike some of the more striking efforts by the city to curb smoking with ads of the amputee Maria from the Bronx.
“That woman sticks with you,” said Ms. Simons, noting that in a media-saturated city, getting out a message often requires a striking campaign. Radio ads voiced by Wallace Wright, a wide receiver and special teams player for the Jets, and outdoor ads round out the campaign.
“What the D.O.T. is doing is going in the right direction,” said Bill DiPaola, the executive director of Time’s Up, the environmental nonprofit organization often associated with Critical Mass rides.
Mr. DiPaola said he hoped that the campaign would extend to permanent “Share The Road” signs like those used in many other American cities.
“Cycling is improving in the city,” he said. “The more infrastructure and the more signs, we feel in the long run, the streets will be safer and there will be more respect for different kinds of transportation.”
Ms. Simons hopes to expand the campaign to focus on cyclist-pedestrian safety this fall, no small issue since cyclists do not always follow the law. The NYC Bicycle Safety Coalition, which has “I brake for bikes” bumper stickers for drivers, is already handing out “I brake for peds,” stickers to cyclists, she said.