This blog post started with 141 Happy New Years, but its roots go back at least a decade. Cycling advocacy is often about relationships with the people we encounter on our bicycles each day. In the Washington, DC area, it seems like isolation is most people’s tendency… We’re all very important people. The car radio, headphones and mobile phones all conspire to turn our attention inward. This is a problem because it means that we encounter cars, pedestrians or bikers, rather than individual, living, breathing humans. By nature, humans want to simplify what we see and encounter so that we can concentrate on what we think is important. We’re not always as attentive as we should be to our surroundings.
The challenge is to turn our attention outward and inspire others to do the same. In other words, we need to treat everyone with the respect that we’d like to receive. The great side benefit is that we’re more in tune with our surroundings and are better able to move through our commute safely.
How do we make that change? That brings me back to the 141 Happy New Years. On January 2, 2014 I rode to work like I always do but with one change. I said “Happy New Year” to every person I encountered on my ride…. all 141 of them. I didn’t just say it to pedestrians and runners that I rode past. I said it to drivers, cyclists and people sitting at the bus stop. I’m usually quite talkative with the people I encounter on my rides, but this was definitely taking it to the next level.
What was the reaction? Overwhelmingly positive! Virtually everyone responded positively and out loud. My Happy New Years were met in kind. I heard from walkers, cyclists and drivers… some of which had to roll down their window to say it. The police officer pulling over a driver said “Happy New Year”…. so did the person she was pulling over. The dog walkers in Rose Park sang it back to me as I wished them Happy New Year at full volume. Walkers that I’ve encountered every day for years wished me a Happy New Year.
What did this achieve? I gave cycling a voice. Ringing a bell lets people know I’m approaching. But as my friend Dani says, that’s the bike making a noise. By giving a positive, vocal message as I pass by, I become not just a biker, I’m the biker that says something nice to me every day. People, including myself, are no longer looking inward. We’re all looking outward and are more in tune with our surroundings… even if it is just for a few moments. It is progress.
Take the time and talk to the people you meet. Wish them a good morning, a happy Friday or a pleasant evening. Talk to everyone that you encounter. Some will respond positively, some won’t, some may respond negatively. EVERYONE will turn their attention to what’s going on around them with a little more detail. That is grass roots advocacy…. and it works!
Happy New Year!