Thursday, March 26, 2015

Negatives into Positives: A PAL Story

Preface:  I lead a wonderful group called the PAL Ambassadors.  PAL stands for Predictable, Alert, Lawful.  It is a cooperative program between Washington Area Bicyclist Association and BikeArlington to promote street safety and responsible behavior, while building a fun, volunteer-based community of ambassadors.  It is fun and EXTREMELY effective at making the region more safe.  You should join us!

At our monthly PAL Outreach Block Party we were talking pedestrian and cyclist safety issues at one of the more dangerous intersections in Arlington County… Lee Highway and Lynn Street in Rosslyn.  It is an event in conjunction with Arlington County’s Pedestrian and Cyclist Safety Initiative.  

Now to my story:

A woman who works nearby and walks to and from work daily was quite angry and a little bit confrontational about how cyclists behave around pedestrians.  Often times people expect me to reply to aggressive comments “with attitude”, so they open up with confrontational words and hands on their hips.  She is more afraid of cyclists than she is of cars in that intersection.  This fear and anger had built up over years!  Now she’s got someone to point it at…. ME! 

Over the years I’ve developed a very good technique for making this kind of interaction positive.  Listen —> Find common ground —> Share the solution —> Enlist their help = WIN!  

Here’s how it went:  

Listen: Pretty easy.  Be attentive.  Make eye contact.  Listen… I mean really listen.  Don’t interrupt.  Just listen!  She talked for almost a minute non-stop.  It seemed like a lot longer.  It always does.  I just listened and waited for her to relax a little and breathe.  She felt MUCH better when she got to the end of her talk.  I could see her visibly relax.

Find common ground:  I totally agreed with her, so common ground was easy to find.  Many cyclists behave badly in and around that intersection.  I slipped in a little comment that many of us in that intersection could behave a lot better. I was helped by a pedestrian that ran out into busy traffic and a motorist that ran the red light.  SHE brought up that pedestrians are horrible there too.  We have common ground and she helped find it!

Share the solution:  I gave a 15 second pitch for the PAL Ambassador program.  I had 6 amazing volunteers talking the talk and walking the walk all around me.  She could see people talking to pedestrians, cyclists and drivers.  She liked it!

Enlist her help:  I handed her a Kind Bar that had a PAL Ambassador sticker on it with all the info she needed to get involved.  She got a snack and the ball is in her court to become a force for good!

WIN!  I got a smile, a sincere handshake and a new force for good in the PAL Ambassador program.  I hope she follows through.  

Everyone wins!


Monday, March 23, 2015

PAL — Predictable, Alert, Lawful: A Practical Application

I’m Pete and I was hit by a car last week.  It wasn’t a bad accident.  I walked away from it.  Like most accidents, it could have been avoided.  

Quick background on me: I work for Washington Area Bicyclist Association running a program with BikeArlington called the PAL Ambassadors. I work with volunteers to improve street safety by giving life to the message of being Predictable, Alert and Lawful.

What happened?  Basically the driver drove his car out of the driveway, drove around the corner, cutting it close to the left curb and was looking down.   He didn’t see that I was coming to a stop at the intersection.  He was 50’ from his house when he ran into me head-on.  

Why did it happen and what did we learn?  

First:  Morning routines can be bad!  We all do things in the morning that maximize our time to sleep and help us remember what we need for the day.  We sometimes shortcut things, multi-task, and even start moving before we’re really ready.  

Solution — Be Predictable:  This man’s morning routine made his behavior erratic and unpredictable.  What made sense to him inside his car made it impossible for him to drive safely and for me to predict where he was going or what he was doing.

Second —  Some activities require your full attention:  We all take shortcuts and multi-task to save time and make life easier.  That’s okay if you’re making toast.  It isn’t okay if you’re walking, riding or driving down the street.  Each of those tasks requires your full attention.

Solution — Be Alert:  An attentive driver would have seen the cyclist in reflective clothing with a bright headlight even though conditions were not great.  If it is dark and/or weather makes visibility challenging, it requires MORE focus, not less.

Third:  Don’t break the law for the sake of convenience.  We all pick and choose which laws we obey and which ones we ignore for the sake of convenience or expedience.  This driver broke 6 or 7 traffic laws in the first 50 feet of his commute and they combined to cause an accident.  None of the laws he broke were really a big deal.  It was how they combined together that put a cyclist on the hood of his car.

Solution — Be Lawful:  Rules of the road are there for a reason.  They save lives.  That message isn’t just for drivers, but for pedestrians and cyclists too.  

What did I learn from this?

Good people sometimes do foolish, careless things.  The guy that hit me wasn’t a jerk.  He wasn’t aggressive or rude.  He just made a few mistakes and was a little careless.  We all do things like that, though I’d hope not while driving.  

Patience, understanding and respect make bad situations much easier to deal with.  I wasn’t always mellow, polite and respectful after accidents like this.  I’ve tried every other way to behave in bad situations and being calm and kind is the only one that protects my safety and livelihood in the long run. 

This driver was amazed at how mellow I was and had no problem at all with doing what was right in the aftermath of the accident.  If I was angry and yelling, things would have gone much differently.  

Being a PAL helps, but it can’t prevent every accident.  We all need to work together to make streets safer.  I did everything right on my morning commute.  I still got hit by a careless driver.  

RESOURCES:  WABA has a great “What To Do After A Crash” Page.  Study it, learn it and make it yours BEFORE you have a crash.