Friday, September 19, 2008

Zombie Meets the North Florida Bike Club

This past Tuesday, word out on the blogosphere (aka BikeJax) alerted me to a bicycle related planning meeting taking place, hosted by the North Florida Bike Club. Since its important Zombie make itself known to all parts of the bicycle community--especially when it relates to Jacksonville bike paths--I made sure to be in attendance.

Before I went in, my impression was a discussion focusing on what was being done to make Jacksonville safer for bikers, ie adding more bike lanes. Unfortunately, that wasn't exactly the case.

The two big headings for the evening were the program's long-range planning and their new safety campaign.

By "long range", the implication was to include paths and lanes to be done by 2035. The way they see it, in order for shit to get done, people need funds; in order to get this funding, they need to submit a plan. Plans that are still in the works and do not have a definitive timeline. The problem with directing all your energy on the long term planning are twofold: one, nothing was being mentioned about things being done now to effect transportation routes when biking is really getting into vogue and now would be a great time to act; two, by already having a list of things that are being, well, planned to be planned, the group is not allowing for a lot of flexibility to change direction later on. Once the infrastructure starts spending the allocated funds for whatever decided purpose, it will be a hell of a lot harder to stop and redirect. Which might not be that big of an issue if we were talking long range for commuters but sadly, the people they talked to and took census of (which by the demographic I met were not urban bikers, were not of a minority and were not of a younger crowd) wanted recreational, regional sites. Don't get me wrong, I love these kinds of trails, Philadelphia has a couple really great ones that will lead you to the different counties surrounding the city. They are beautiful and they are fun, but lets remember these kind of trails are built primarily with recreational use in mind. And when your thirty year plan (that wasn't available in an organized format) focuses on suburbia paths (the top two corridors being discussed are Vilano Bridge to Micklers Landing--Ponte Vedra--and Green Cove Springs to Black Creek Trail) you not only alienate a mass of city commuters, but also ignore citywide and national trends. Trends saying more people want to bike, but they just don't know how to make it work.

Which leads to the "new", "out of the box" safety campaign. First huge problem, one of the advertising representatives admitted she hadn't been on a bike since youth and the other said he was a mountain biker/trail user. Hmm. So the safety campaign they wish to enact rests on the tagline.. are you ready.. "Thanks for looking."

Seriously? Could we be more passive?

Or sexist, because of course that sells. One of the few posters shown was a girl walking backwards with arrows on her ass with the side note saying something like "Or you know maybe we could just look out a little more."

I raised my hand at this point and asked why we couldn't be more aggressive with slogans focusing on our right to be on the road. Since a lot of drivers (including some coppers) still have the misconception that road bikes, you know, don't belong on the road. The advertising rep wasn't too happy with criticism, and I wasn't the only one showing it. Of course, this is when what is beautiful about these kind of events started happening. Other people shared their criticism and suggestions, and while the rep disdainfully shot them all down, I had a bit of change in thought direction.

Someone else brought up the idea that these kind of campaigns are negative in that they give out the impression that there's something inherently dangerous in biking. And I realized this. is. so. true. I think even I shared that misconception before, especially in Philly. When you aren't on a bike, zipping through traffic looks ten times more hazerdous than it really is. When all you hear about biking is when a biker gets hit or the whole New York critical mass fiasco, of course you're going to get a negative impression on the whole activity. And this line of thought comes directly back to what Zombie Bikes is all about; when all you remember is fucking with your rear derailler for two hours, or that time you had to change your tube three times in one day because no one ever really showed you how, of course you're going to be reluctant about biking. We're busy trying to help people learn how to fix their bikes, but maybe we need to do more.

Zombie will do what it can to support NFBC's campaign because after all it comes down to solidarity, but meanwhile we're going to run a corresponding campaign. One that really focuses on why you should bike. I'm thinking t-shirts, wheatpasting and some good ole' tables with flyers in Five points, Riverside, San Marco and Springfield. Cheap, starter bikes can be found in thrift stores or Brooklyn can hook you up. You don't know much about bikes? We can help you learn some basic mechanics. You worried about riding some of the streets? We can do more organized rides, during the day incorparting more than just your usual bike crowd. This will obviously be a multi-month campaign. But everything starts somewhere, and I think this is something Zombie will be attacking full force.


Anonymous said...

I'm really excited about all of this.
Especially this blog.
Good job buds!

José said...

I could not attend, but I am glad to read about it from your perspective.
Obviously those people don't know the value of "user participation." What is the use of designing and planning bicycle trails and facilities if you don't get imput from the users?
And when they eventually get built, they will wonder how come the facilities don't get used much....

North Florida Randonneurs said...

The NFBC did co-sponsor the event but most of the officers of the club present had no idea that the whole meeting was to be a brain storming session for how to fund MPO's ad campaign. MPO btw was driving force behind this whole thing. What I found funny about the whole thing was that this was supposed to be "for cyclists by cyclists" and yet I think only 3 or 4 people showed up on bikes. The 2 projects that they have on the drawing board, the trail out at the beach and the other one, are about as useless as bumpers on a bike to anyone that wants to go anywhere on a bike in Jax. Give me a safe way to get down Beach Blvd.