Earlier this week, WABA kicked off its “Resolve to Ride Responsibly” campaign, asking cyclists to pledge to ride more responsibly in 2011. Somewhat predictably, this kicked off a bit of controversy within our membership. While many WABA members have been supportive and signed, others have responded with strong counter-arguments focused on the idea that if the laws regulating our roadways fail to adequately account for or protect cyclists, we should not resolve to follow them.
And that’s absolutely fine.
Nothing in being a WABA member ties anyone to a particular strategy for improving the laws regulating cyclists. But as an organization, we do have a choice to make. We hear time and time again the perception that WABA should be doing more to ensure that cyclists follow laws and ride safely. And currently, that perception of cyclists as scofflaws presents a barrier to the sort of political action that could successfully improve the safety of cyclists in the area.
Fundamentally, our goal is to change those improper laws and achieve those safety improvements, and to take the necessary steps to do so. I do believe that cyclists should ride responsibly, and I disagree with anyone who says that resolving to do so implies an apology for cycling or a backing away from that core goal.
It is true that by asking riders to pledge to improve, there is an implicit acknowledgment of imperfection and a commitment to do better. And it seems that this acknowledgment of imperfection has been the source of a fair bit of the negative feedback. Perhaps this was a mistake in tone for the pledge, but given the number of signatures already reached, we are not going to change the language and start over now. So I’ll ask cyclists to take this as an admission among the drafters that we individually have room for improvement. And if you (like us) have room for improvement, this should not prevent you from signing.
- If you disagree with riding responsibly or, the more controversial point, following the applicable laws: Don’t sign the pledge.
- If you have no need for improvement: Don’t sign the pledge.
We can accept that some dedicated cyclists who support our mission of advocating for better, safer cycling in the region may not support this specific tactic for combating the scofflaw cyclist perception and generating movement toward legal change. We appreciate the feedback. And fortunately, we pursue multiple strategies simultaneously, so we hope that others better suit you and that we’ll be back on the same strategic page soon. But simply ignoring the scofflaw cyclist perception (or debunking it endlessly on websites and blogs that only we cyclists read) is not effective.
Bottom line: The scofflaw perception is getting in the way of needed changes, and we need some mechanism to combat it. This pledge is meant to do that in order to set the stage for the next round of advocacy. With a new year, new leadership in several local jurisdictions, and a growing number of cyclists in the area, this pledge is meant to help us address the scofflaw issue and move past it to real advocacy on behalf of our members and the community of cyclists.
If you don’t like it, don’t sign it.
It’s your choice.
We think it will help make our advocacy efforts more effective, but we’ll be making the efforts to the best of our ability regardless.
Here’s to a strong 2011.
Keep riding (whether you sign a pledge or not),
I used to own a car and I hated cyclists. HATED them. Always zipped around me, ran red lights, and at times slowed me down. Then I started riding a bike. I would be different, I thought - I will stop at red lights and stay off to the side to yield to cars. I will follow the law. After about a week, I realized... the laws of a road, which make perfect sense for cars and trucks, make NO SENSE for bikes. It is completely absurd for bikers with a small agile vehicle, better visibility and stereoscopic hearing to wait for lights to turn green and come to full stops at stop signs. It is a waste of time. It is not safer for bikes to follow these laws; they are relics of an automobile world. The only way you can get people to understand this is to get more people biking. That should be your #1 goal. Get people's butt in a saddle and it will take them no time to realize that the idea of cyclists following all car-traffic laws is incredibly silly. That's the best way to spend your efforts. Not admonishing your dues-paying members for behavior that isn't dangerous and shouldn't be illegal.
Honestly guys, you're freaking killing us with this stuff! Ceding the enemy the high ground is no way to win a battle.
"The scofflaw perception is getting in the way of needed changes, and we need some mechanism to combat it. This pledge is meant to do that in order to set the stage for the next round of advocacy." But it doesn't. On the contrary, it CEMENTS the false notion that many of us break the law. The pledge, as it is, tells everyone that everyone who signs was a scofflaw. And trust me, there are going to be scofflaw cyclists after the pledge has been signed by millions. So people will think the pledge was just a lie. You don't fight a false perception by advertising the fact that thousands of people are guilty of it. You fight a false perception by advertising the fact that thousands of people are NOT guilty of it! Where is the pledge for the rest of us? Where is the pledge that we can sign that shows people that there are many more of us who already DO obey traffic laws and ride sensibly and safely? Only by giving us our version of the pledge will people realize that there are many of us who ride responsibly. The current pledge makes us virtually invisible. That is no way to combat false perceptions. If anything, it reinforces them! We need a pledge saying that we will CONTINUE to ride legally and responsibly. I would sign that pledge. I feel it's a great pity that the current pledge does not allow those of us who have been riding responsibly for years or even decades to have a voice.
@Max Thanks for taking the time to comment, I hope I can help clear up your concern. However, I do want to first note that WABA is always interested in hearing from its members, and even from interested non-members. In fact, it is feedback like yours that helps us to do our jobs better. As for the wording of the resolution, we obviously are in favor of cyclists following the laws, but you are correct in pointing out that the wording of the resolution is ambiguous. While many of our members are law-abiding cyclists, we want to encourage even those of us who follow the laws to strive for improvement. Nobody is perfect, after all, and the spirit of New Years resolutions is to do one's best to change bad habits for the better. Also, while we are very proud of our membership, we don't pretend to represent all (or even the majority) of the cyclists in the DC area. We can only plausibly represent our members, but since our efforts benefit all DC-area bicyclists regardless of whether they are members of WABA, we wanted to foster in all bicyclists the idea of taking responsibility and of personal agency in regards to that responsibility, rather than simply send a message to act as WABA wants you to. To that end, we wrote the resolution to be as wide an umbrella as possible, which required some ambiguity. While I do agree that your version of the resolution strikes a firmer note in regards to cyclist behavior, our version doesn't preclude yours. I hope this clarification has helped and that you will continue to support us as we work to make bicycling better. Daniel Hoagland
As an imperfect, law-abiding, dedicated utility cyclist and WABA member, I support the intentions of this campaign. While your stance is quite clear that you are neither interested in changing the pledge, or hearing opinion from members, as a humble member I feel I need more information. I would like to understand your choice for the inclusion of the words "more", and "better" within the vows. I am very interested to hear what you feel would be lost by the following changes: …I resolve to be a responsible bicyclist. …I resolve to respect the rights of other road users. …I resolve to follow the law. You may notice I also omitted "to make a good faith effort" from the last line. Forgive me, but it seems counter to the purpose of the campaign. I look forward to clarification, so that I am able to make a more educated decision. Best, Max Fox
I got an e-mail today from Mary Bradford, the head of the Parks Department in Montgomery County (which oversees the Maryland segment of the Capital Crescent Trail). She told me she was impressed by WABA's efforts to promote the pledge and expressed her desire to see a year without injuries to cyclists or pedestrians on the trail. We may not always agree with the folks who are in charge of the trail network (or the roads) but almost all of them want the same thing we want -- for bicycling to be safe and convenient for everyone. When bicyclists acknowledge their role in being considerate toward other users of the roads and trails, this can only help make us more effective and credible advocates.