Marketing 101: For The “Streets For Cycling Plan 2020” Crowd

Summary

Cycling Activists are all about passion and very little thought is given to what they are doing since they have no “doubts” about the correctness of their message. Here is an example of a discussion concerning the misfire in the creation of a Protected Bike Lane on the West Side:

Reply by Manny Fuentes, 9.2 mi. 11 hours ago
My question is : Did anyone do any research in these areas BEFORE they wasted tax-payer money on putting in these lanes in this area? For instance, did they ask the locals what they would think about these lanes? Did they tell them how it would affect parking, both street side and in the lots for the chucrches/businesses? Any studies done in this area?
I think that the reason that this is going to cost us MORE tax-payer money, is that the area is just against change overall. They don’t want things to change what they have come to know as “normal”. Maybe that is why it has become “underserved”? They don’t wanything to change.
Also, was there enough effort made to “teach” or educate the area residents how to deal or use the new parking schemes? Maybe the confusion is part of their dislike of the new situation?
I”m just throwing out ideas….Maybe we can use these to help out in the future.

Respectfully,

Manny

Reply by John Greenfield 9 hours ago
Manny,
From the Grid Chicago post, here’s what CDOT Deputy Commissioner Scott Kubly had to say about the issues you bring up:
I called Kubly for his take on what happened with Independence. “We had talked to the alderman about the lanes a year ago and discussed them at several public meetings for the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, including meetings at Garfield Park and Douglas Park,” he says. “But there were folks who hadn’t been tracking the project who had a number of concerns. I think we will definitely try to engage the local alderman more in the future. All parties could have done a better job of communicating.” He adds that the premature ticketing, likely done by a combination of police and Department of Revenue staff, was also due to crossed wires.
“This has been a good learning experience for us,” Kubly says. “In the future we’ll make sure there’s no ticketing until the lanes are completed. And we’re learning how to better communicate what the changes to the roadway are. We might have temporary signage and put flyers on windshields explaining how to use the floating parking lanes. When we installed the new [two-way protected] bikes lanes on Dearborn it was a reaction to what happened on Independence. We spraypainted ‘parking’ on those parking lanes to make it obvious where to park.”
Noting that the Lawndale residents seemed to view the new configuration as a hassle with no upside for them because they see little demand for bike lanes in the neighborhood, I asked Kubly how CDOT plans to avoid this scenario in the future. “We need to communicate that this is actually a benefit for all users,” he says. “People perceive protected lanes as bike projects but, pure and simple, they’re safety projects. We’re trying to find alternative uses for excess right-of way so we can slow cars and make it safer for everyone.”
Kubly says CDOT plans to make more of an effort to get the word out to community stakeholders about its bike lane proposals, pay more attention to special uses like church parking in the design process, and work harder to educate the public about the function and benefits of the new street layout. “You can turn this into a bad experience or a good experience. We’re choosing to do the latter.”

Reply by Anne Alt 2-10 9 hours ago
Manny – I was a community outreach volunteer for the Streets for Cycling Plan 2020. In most areas of the city, getting residents to come out, get information and offer their thoughts on the plan was a challenge. There was publicity about the meetings, but most residents did not attend. The plan was developed through input from those who did attend.

I’ve said from the beginning that education and outreach to coincide with the introduction of new lanes would be critical to their success. I think it’s unfortunate that CDOT, aldermen and neighborhood chambers of commerce haven’t done more to get the word out and ensure the success of these changes.

In areas like the west side, we tend to have a “chicken or the egg” dilemma with most new bike lanes. The streets where many of us would like to have them currently don’t get a lot of bike traffic, so non-cyclists in the neighborhoods may not perceive a need for the lanes. Once they’re established (as long as they’re not constantly violated by cars), more cyclists are likely to come.

We’ve had similar issues with some south side bike lanes (such as King Drive). I’m currently pushing for one of the biggies yet to come – Vincennes. Many of us on the far south side could really benefit from having lanes re-established on Vincennes (as well as viaduct repair at 83rd St.). We definitely have a “chicken or the egg” situation there. Bike traffic is low, and there isn’t going to be a significant amount without improvements to make it easier to ride between neighborhoods. For those of us who were involved on the south side, getting those improvements so we could get around easier, as well as encouraging others to ride, was a big motivator.

I applaud those aldermen who have supported the plan. I hope that we can get more buy-in from south and west side aldermen as the route network continues to expand. If you live in a ward where you’re not sure of your alderman’s position on bike routes, speak up. Contact the ward office and let them know that you want bike lanes.

Reply by Tony Adams 6.6 mi 7 hours ago
This whole thing is particularly frustrating for those of us on the southwest side who still don’t have any kind of bike lanes on most of Archer despite the fact that it does get used by a lot of riders and that there are no viable alternatives due to a tangle of the canal, the interstate, the airport, intermodal facilities and other rail lines.

Reply by Anne Alt 2-10 7 hours ago
Archer and Vincennes are complex ones for the planners. I know that Archer is more complex due to the mix of zoning/property usage.

Does anyone on the planning team have an update about Archer? I know several people who would *love* to see bike lanes there.

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi 6 hours ago
The way the CDOT schedules meetings makes it very hard for people with day jobs and any moderately long commute to offer input. Consistently holding MBAC meetings at 3:00 means that few commuters will ever attend. The Streets for Cycling Plan 2020 neighboorhood meetings were at 6:00, making them difficult for people who commute out of their neighborhood to get home in time for. I left work early to attend one of the Streets of Cycling Plan meetings and was one of the few Loop office day job commuters there, despite being in a neighborhood full of office job commuters. The meeting I went to was domenited by retired people and stay at home parrents because that’s who was home in the early evening.

Reply by Anne Alt 2-10 5 hours ago
I agree that the MBAC meeting schedule is not conducive to people with regular day jobs. However, there were weekend meetings for S4C. They weren’t all on weeknights. Also, the weeknight meetings lasted until 8 or 9 p.m. It wasn’t perfect, but they did attempt to accommodate different schedules.

Reply by Cameron 7.5 mi 4 hours ago
I understand that scheduling meetings like this is hard, but when complaining about low turnout scheduling has become the elephant in the room. Holding weekend meetings in the Loop and and early evening weeknight meetings in neighborhoods to me seems counter to where the target audience would be. Even pushing weeknight meetings back to 6:30 or 7:00 (or in descriptions encouraging people to show up late rather than not all) would make it easier for more people to attend.

Reply by Anne Alt 2-10 3 hours ago
I understand your point about timing, and agree that later evening neighborhood meetings would have been better. Please understand that I’m not trying to pick a fight about this. Just trying to shed a little light on the realities of public meetings.

One of the biggest issues is a lack of large enough venues being open and available after 8:00, especially since public library budget cuts reduced hours at nearly all neighborhood libraries – often one of the more suitable and neutral venues. Parks are often a good option, but hours have been reduced there, too, and there are a limited number of fieldhouses with large meeting rooms that are open in the evening. Anyone who has tried to book a location for a public meeting in the last couple of years without paying $$$ has probably run into this harsh reality. Some churches may welcome meetings, but most people don’t consider them neutral territory, and some may not come if it’s not their church.

However, in the bigger picture, scheduling isn’t always the issue in non-participation. I’ve organized and/or attended meetings for many different organizations over the years. Even with a membership group, the percentage of people who actually come and participate is usually small, regardless of when meetings are scheduled. The percentage is even smaller when you’re talking about a community meeting.

Just my $0.02 from being involved in many different projects and groups over 20+ years…

Reply by John Greenfield 2 hours ago
I think it’s a lot harder to get people to come out for meetings about bike facilities in neighborhoods where there isn’t currently a lot of cycling. I attended several sparsely-to-moderately attended Streets for Cycling meetings on the South, West and Far Northwest sides. The only meeting held in a neighborhood that already has a lot of cycling, Lincoln Square, was packed.

Reply by Anne Alt 2-10 2 hours ago
Absolutely. And my example about lack of meeting venues available in the evening is one of city budget cuts having many unintended consequences.

TakeAways

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the biggest problem with Cycling Activists is that they are arrogant and do not understand that fact. When I use the word arrogant here I am doing so with an eye towards what Western Missionaries did in the 19th Century as they went from one “heathen” country to another attempting to spread the Gospel to indigenous peoples.

Every place that they visited where bare female breasts was the norm, then attempted to interject their notions of decent dress into that culture. The same thing is flourishing here in Chicago. Activists who have been “involved in many different projects and groups over 20+ years…” are the worst offenders because they are more Evangelical in their approach than Capitalistic.

By its very nature Cycling Activism is all about using monies earmarked for a specific purpose in such a way as to empower a community. The problem is that Protected Bike Lanes area bit like that insurance television advertisement with the giant banana being handed to the guy in the Empire State Building a few minutes before King Kong climbs up to his window. He has no idea why anyone would want or even need a giant banana. But once King Kong reaches into the window he is able to connect the dots.

Advertising is the art of convincing people to spend money they don’t have on something they don’t need.

Will Rogers

What leaves Cycling Advocates destitute in situations where a community has little interest in what they are selling is that they are not very skilled at “generating need“. They approach the idea of brining their brand of “religion” to the natives as essentially the bringing of the Gospel to bare breasted tribes. That is the essential nature of “arrogance“. Only in the case of protected bike lanes they love to blather on about the lanes not being “bike projects” but rather “safety projects“.

Poppycock. The bald fact is that there are earmarked dollars that have to be spent somewhere or they get “lost“. The volunteers for organizations may not realize it but the fellow who is sitting behind that desk in some governmental department or working for an organization is being “paid“. Nothing he says can be trusted. He is nothing more than a K Street lobbyist who is there for the paycheck and as is readily evident unable to deliver a product (in this instance protected bike lanes) that are in decent shape and as a result are “unsafe“.

Thinking Like A Capitalist

The first order of business is to stop thinking like a Socialist. You are not delivering a religious experience to people. You are in fact trying to gain buy-in for some earmarked dollars that will make somebody in City Hall or Active Transportation Alliance or able to justify their salaries. If you fail to grasp this fact you are stupid. If you do then you can hold your nose as you go about trying to sell refrigerators to Eskimos.

When hookers ply their trade along city streets they do not set out of a morning and stand at corners complaining about the lack of customers. Instead they analyze who it is they are targeting as customers and that means men over 30 years of age who have money to spend and are probably downtown drinking in bars. They set up shop just beyond the outskirts of the night life district or if they are high class hookers they dress up in finery and sit around in bars or hotel lobbies looking to attract customers.

What they do not do is grouse about the lack of involvement of their potential customers. If wearing a red dress brings in more business their wardrobe changes to suit their business model.

Now if you are selling automobile servicing and you own a car dealership you sit down and ask yourself when are my customers likely to be able to get their servicing done. What that means is that you eventually realize that staying open until midnight is likely to bring in business from those folks who work until 6 PM and cannot take off work.

If you have folks who cannot make it in the evening then you offer free transport to their offices when they drop off their cars for servicing. And when they return after work you make sure that care is washed and ready to go. Thinking like a Capitalist is how you stay in business. But when you already have the money in hand as is the case with cycling advocacy groups you can think like an arrogant missionary and not realize it.

Selling Involves Networking

What you will notice in the discussion I show above there is a tendency to label the low income community residents as uninvolved. Nothing could be further from the truth.

You just have to drop your arrogant know-it-all posture of delivering bicycle safety to the heathens and think like a minister in their community. African-Americans are largely organized around social structures like churches. In fact the big problem with the protected bike lane is that it interferes with people parking close to their church on Sundays. Doh!

How stupid do you have to be to not connect the dots? If you want to reach these folks then ask the pastor for permission to use the church lobby or perhaps set up an information booth just outside the church to sell your ideas. You know you kinda do what you did when you asked white bicycle commuters to stop by a booth set up on Kinzie or was it Milwaukee earlier last year.

If you plan to get buy-in you need first to present a logical case for what it is you want to do. Try getting schools in the area to allow you to have a short presentation to students to get them involved, hand out flyers for their parents to read when the kids get home. Plan to do your marketing to parents who attend parent-teacher conferences in the evening.

Oh, and if you simply cannot find a time that works well in the evenings on a weekday then by all means try Saturday AM. You should be able to find places outside (or even inside) of grocery stores, etc. In fact you really need to get the business people in the area involved with this sort of thing since it is likely to be of benefit to them to have folks stopping by their places of business on bicycles.

But above all you need to work through the clergy in the Black Community if you want to be effective. Pastors whose congregations are younger are your best bet. But before you approach these folks you need to analyze your message as it appears on social media outlets like Chicago ChainLink Forum. Having racist comments delivered by folks like Gabe is not the best way prepare for your incursion into black culture. He and others of his ilk might not see the harm in calling the entirety of the West and South sides “shit holes” but perhaps you could ask the pastors their opinion of that kind of talk.

As I have said several times before the problem with ChainLink is not that your software interface needs revamping but your entire group needs a renewing of its collective mind. You come off as racist, arrogant know-it-all missionaries who are just trying to save the niggers from themselves. That sort of thing simply will not fly very far.

Here is a great example of the kind of arrogance of which I speak:

Grid Chicago wrote about their research as follows:

For another perspective I contacted Ben Fried, editor of the transportation news website Streetsblog, which has documented the famous battle over protected bike lanes on Brooklyn’s Prospect Park West, as well as opposition to protected lanes in low-income communities. He argues that protected lanes are a safety win for all neighborhoods, and says it’s important that underserved areas like Lawndale get their share. Last year proposed bike lanes on King Drivein Bronzeville were changed to buffered lanes after local clergy voiced concerns about parking. “You really don’t want this to create a precedent where neighborhoodswithout much bike infrastructure continue to be left behind on street redesigns that make everyone safer,” he says. “That’s not fair to anyone. Church parking can’t take precedence over public safety.”

George Wallace and Bull Connor would have been proud to read these words. In times before theirs the Great White Fathers of this land told the  Native Americans essentially the same thing, only at the end of a gun barrel rather than a lynching rope. Those days are gone.

Side view of seat horn - Courtesy of Easy Racers

Side view of seat horn – Courtesy of Easy Racers

You need to get smart and less arrogant. You need to think like a Capitalist not a Socialist. You cannot force people to accept your grand plan for their streets when it interferes with what they find most precious and compelling. And how on earth did you plan to see a bicycle safety plan to folks who don’t ride bikes?

You first need to get them on bikes and then sell the safety plan. I can tell you in one short word what seems to attract comments from every Black Female I and my wife have encountered in the past three years of riding in the city, recumbents. Without question these long wheelbase bikes have consistently drawn comments of appreciation from middle-aged black women.

If you can get these bikes into the hands of black females you will start a revolution in the black community where cycling is concerned. I can almost bet the farm on this. Find some way to get a Women’s Workout World group or perhaps a Curves group to sponsor weekly rides on these bikes. See what transpires. If you get the women involved the girls and younger men will follow.