Two weeks from today, the Brooklyn Academy of Music will screen a series of Public Service Announcements by over 80 artists who contributed creative documentaries, narratives, and animations in support of Biking Rules, the latest campaign from Transportation Alternatives. At a time when money is tight and the climate is suffocating, biking has become more popular than ever, both as a leisure activity and an easy, cheap way to get around town.
The organization that promotes cycling with an almost contagious exuberance has a new mission to curb the traffic deaths and reinforce the importance of being civic-minded in New York City. Ahead of the event at BAM, we caught up with Wiley Norvell, TA communications director and Fuji single speed owner, to get the skinny on bad bike habits, the top three most important road rules, and to spread the word that biking is not some “rosy bourgeois Copenhagen sort of thing.” Got it?
oM: TA talks about cyclists as the “Fastest-growing commuter group in NYC…and the most obvious ambassadors for calmer and more livable streets.” How will you measure the success of the new Biking Rules campaign?
WN: Hopefully we’ll be seeing it with our own eyes on city streets. There’s a culture of survival of the biggest in NYC. Regardless of how you get around, walking, biking, or driving a big rig, it’s a very ‘me first’ culture. The film fest/Biking Rules campaign is setting a new standard of civic-minded cycling in NYC; there’s a window of opportunity to break some bad habits.
oM: Speaking of misbehaving, what are the top three most important rules of the campaign’s street code you want cyclists to foster?
WN: 1) Pedestrian’s have the right of way, always. If bicyclists put pedestrians first, it will change how street culture traditionally works, and will send a message to the world that you yield to the little guy. Cars should intuitively do the same.
2) Riding with traffic, bikes need to think of themselves as vehicles on the road, and not as pedestrians meandering at will.
3) Claim a lane. Realize that when you don’t have a bike lane, your place is on the street, not on the sidewalk.
oM: Why did TA decide to launch Biking Rules at BAM?
WN: The organization has a real civic-minded bent, and our brand is really anchored in the heart of Brooklyn’s bike belt. There is more biking in BK than Portland, Oregon. Red Hook to Greenpoint is great biking territory, populated by tens of thousands of cyclists. Obviously, we don’t just want to be out there preaching to the choir. We’re going to be reaching out beyond our own audience, targeting newer demographics with ads on TV, and with outdoor film screenings next summer.
oM: Last week, New Yorker staff writer David Owen wrote a story about how the nation’s “biggest and greenest” metropolis is New York City. How do you see NYC changing in the next decade with regard to the way we travel?
WN: Great. New York is probably the biggest transportation innovator in the country; we had that in the 1930s when we were building the country’s first highway; then the first subways; and now again with things like biking. For the future, I imagine it will still be noisy, dense, and dynamic, but infinitely safer to get around on foot and bike. Hopefully there will be a bit more civility in the way New Yorkers interact and get from point A to point B. No more statistics like 300 people dying annually in traffic. The most important thing is to make biking safer, damp down some of the tension.
oM: What’s the biggest incentive for people to bike?
WN: It’s the only non depressing way to commute. The commute is the worst part of the day for many people. It’s the best part of my day. I ride from north Brooklyn to our offices in Chelsea, and it’s a predictable 30 minutes door to door.
oM: And during winter?
WN: I ride in winter as well. Many folks who don’t ride think it’s a seasonal activity. But if you go out to the Brooklyn Bridge this winter, you’ll find lots of Long John-clad cyclists. It’s warmer than you might think.
Biking Rules launch event will be held November 17, 7-10p.m. at BAM, 30 Lafayette Ave. Admission is $12. Stay for the reception to mingle with Transportation Alternatives and drink a few Brooklyn Brewery beers. For more information on other Transportation Alternatives campaigns, visit transalt.org.
The co-founder and editor-at-large at offMetro, Lauren is a sustainable travel specialist and freelance journalist with frequent bylines in National Geographic, Bicycling Magazine and Shape. Follow Lauren’s adventures at @laurenmati.