David Byrne on Changing Road Behavior: "There's No Poop On the Streets"


Can't We All Just Get Along?
In his new tour of the world by folding bicycle, Bicycle Diaries, David Byrne acknowledges that few cities have blazed a bicycle path quite like his hometown of New York. At a Barnes and Noble event last night, someone asked how the city might fix New Yorkers' aggressive attitudes towards bikers - particularly those of surly delivery truck drivers. Other talking heads present, Bicycle advocate Paul Steely White of Transportation Alternatives and the city's bold transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, had been describing how a continued increase in bike lanes and bikers would help shift the culture.

But the white-haired bike-rocker had another upbeat take on the likelihood that New York's famously fast and furious drivers, pedestrians and bikers could get along -- and the chances that anyone might make lifestyle changes that benefit others.

We all need to have some manners and courtesy for other people. To some extent we've gone through eight or ten years of the encouragement of a bully culture, whether it is in Wall Street or in politics. But we've turned a corner and I think that's kind of coming to an end.

But more than that, I think yes, cyclists need to learn to ride with the flow of traffic and stop at red lights, and pedestrians need to learn to not walk in bike lanes and cars et cetera, et cetera, all that. But okay -- and I say the same thing to myself all day, and sometimes people tell me too -- New Yorkers, they're just gonna jay-walk, do whatever they wanna do. That's New Yorkers.

But a few years ago, if you'd said, 'We gotta get new Yorkers to stop and pick up dog shit off the street,' my answer to you would have been the same. It would have been: 'You're not gonna get a big man stop and pick up the shit of a little dog, almost with his hands, and carry it around - that is not gonna happen!'

And lo and behold, now there's no poop on the streets! People can change their behavior - they don't need to be whipped, they don't need to be thrown into jail, don't need to be handcuffed. They can change their behavior when they realize it actually benefits everyone.

Shifting Attitudes On Cycling and Much More
In a city and country where the rise in cycling has come relatively recently, shifting attitudes around cycling won't happen overnight. It won't come about through punitive efforts by local governments. And as the trend has come largely at the feet of a certain cultural group -- the audience and Steely White's labeling of cycling as "chic" confirmed this -- neither will it happen if cycling remains just an eco-activity, a platform for what some consider the self-righteousness of those who are often defiantly opposed to things like automobiles (raising my hand here).

Attitude shifts can be encouraged, but often that's best done gently and through conciliation. It's a lesson not just for cyclists and other street users but for big corporations and grassroots NGOs, even for China and the U.S. too.

As Sami pointed out the other day about "the art of the eco argument":

All too often, these arguments seem to be more about one person feeling better about their own actions, than any serious belief they will change someone else's mind. I have a recurring fear of the environmental movement sitting in yurts at the end of the world - congratulating each other because they weren't the ones who ruined the climate. It's not enough to be right. We have to win too.

More at TreeHugger on David Byrne and Cycling
6 Ways to Diffuse Anti-Cyclist Road Rage
Modern Sport of Cyclist Harassment Now Against the Law in Missouri
David Byrne Dreams of a Perfect City
David Byrne Talks Cycling
Update on Toronto Cyclist's Death: It Gets Complicated
Physically Separated Bike Lanes