Cycling is a quickly growing transportation option in Columbus. In 2010, only 0.7% of commutes were by bike, but ongoing efforts are working to nearly triple that ratio to 2% by next year.
A new collaborative program called recently launched to assist with properly educating OSU students on how to safely navigate the city by bike, and to showcase how easy it can be to get around on two wheels. “How We Roll” kicked off with an official launch party last week, and we recently spoke with Meredith Joy of Yay Bikes to find out more about this unprecedented new program.
Read on for our full Q&A Interview:
Q: First, can you tell us about the organizations involved in this collaborative program and what the individual roles of those organizations are?
A: Each year, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Public Safety (ODPS) allocate federal money from the Federal Highway Administration Safety Program and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration based on identified areas of need, with the overall goal of reducing fatalities of all roadway users. Last year, in addition to funding some broad education efforts like Share the Road Ohio, ODOT and ODPS granted monies to advocacy groups to address specific geographies with high rates of bike/car crashes. So Yay Bikes! received $150,000 to implement a campaign within the University Area, because the intersections and corridors bordering campus have the highest rate of crashes in our Transportation Planning Area (i.e., Lane & High is the highest-crash intersection, Woodruff & High and Lane & Neil as contenders and the corridors from Lane & Neil to Lane & High and Lane & High to High & Chittenden have their fair share). Yay Bikes! developed a campaign called “How We Roll” targeted to university students and decided that, rather than having a traditional top-down public safety campaign originating from our organization, ODOT, ODPS or OSU, we’d conduct a peer-based outreach campaign through Bike OSU, the student organization we helped establish back in 2007. One of our staff, Denis de Verteuil, is a Master’s student in the City and Regional Planning department and President of Bike OSU, so he’s the public face of the campaign on campus.
In a nutshell, ODOT/ODPS are funding and overseeing the campaign; Yay Bikes! conceived it and has been managing the data collection & analysis, creative process, communications strategy, training, logistics, reporting, etc.; and Bike OSU is implementing it (with support from the others, of course). Additional partners include OSU Transportation & Parking, which has helped us make key internal OSU connections, and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, which has provided us with valuable data. Plus, of course, the numerous small businesses and organizations that came on board when they heard what we’re up to —Bern, Café Brioso, Paradise Garage, Zeroz, Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, Barley’s Ale House, Commonwealth Sandwich Bar, Used Kids, Mikey’s Late Night Slice, Columbus Food League (Betty’s Family of Restaurants), Wild Goose Creative, Hudson Street Hooligans, OSU Urban Art Space.
Q: So what are the short-term and long-term goals or desired outcomes from this campaign?
A: The formal goals of this campaign are first to understand the nature and extent of unsafe bicycling behaviors on and around the OSU campus and then to decrease the incidence of these behaviors. We’re attempting to stem specific risky behaviors, because people who crash have likely enacted these behaviors countless times without incident, until that one time when something terrible happens. Our research suggests that if people riding on campus do just three things — stop at red, wear lights at night, ride on the roads — they will suffer far fewer crashes. Our job is somehow to make it palatable, even cool, to do those things! Which leads to our informal goal, which is to foster a fun, positive bike culture on campus by expanding the organizational capacity of Bike OSU. The campaign will strengthen Bike OSU by helping its new leadership develop a membership program, attract people who want to take on projects, set advocacy goals and train students to share their riding expertise so that, regardless of future funding, there will remain a strong cycling presence at OSU. And that presence is what will provide us the foundation to foster a culture in which cyclists are expected to ride right.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about how this project initially came together?
A: A year ago, ODOT solicited project ideas from advocacy groups around the state of Ohio. These ideas could be broad, but had to be based on the goal of reducing bike crashes. Yay Bikes! chose to focus on the OSU area because we are familiar with it (our office is located here), we already had the connections to the community and campus, and we felt students really needed this. We were awarded the funding from ODOT. ODPS was introduced to the project, saw its merits and how the goals aligned with a program they administer, and encouraged Yay Bikes! to apply for additional funding through them.
Meredith Joy created Yay Bikes!’ How We Roll campaign based on the book Join the Club: How Peer Pressure Can Transform the World, which details what author Tina Rosenberg calls “the social cure”, or a way to exploit humans’ natural desire for belonging to effect their positive behavior change. For a public safety campaign, the lessons are to use a person’s peers to help influence their behaviors, to focus on creating a compelling lifestyle brand over providing information or employing scare tactics, to make it seem as if “everyone else is doing it”. In the case of How We Roll, Yay Bikes! will work through Bike OSU to create a vibrant bicycling culture on campus where students become invested in being a cyclist and not just riding from class to class until they have better options. Claiming “cyclist” as a positive identity and helping students see bicycling as a long-term strategy for their lives will provide them the impetus to learn “how we roll”, which will allow us the opportunity to establish a social norm of correct bicycling behavior — or what we like to call “biking like a grown-up”! Of course we only have eight weeks for the campaign so we may not change the world, but hopefully Bike OSU will be equipped to pick up the torch after fall quarter!
Q: Do you think that this campaign at OSU is significant to the larger Columbus community as a whole?
A: The How We Roll campaign is pretty innovative as far as bicycle campaigns go — you don’t often see such intensive focus on outreach and education specific to cyclists, and there’s nothing we know of happening on this scale, using this methodology, at any other university in the country. In fact, we’re having to develop completely new materials because there’s nothing out there for student cyclists that’s all that compelling! And of course no one is using bicycle tours as a method of communicating urban riding skills. So we could end up with some really fascinating results and a model that can replicated at other universities or, indeed, in other neighborhoods. Which is exciting, because neighborhood-based transportation behavior change initiatives have achieved great success in other cities but we haven’t yet tried them here — and they’re so much cheaper and quicker than infrastructure or policy change!
The educational bike tour concept itself is pretty ground-breaking in Columbus since, in addition to teaching people how to ride, we’re taking customers directly to a small business, showing them how easy it is to get there by bike. So it’s a safety and mode shift effort, but also an economic development tool that can help demonstrate the case for making an investment in bicycling. There’s already been some interest in expanding these tours beyond the OSU community, so we’re excited to see where that goes. It’d be super fun to develop bicycle tours of local businesses in all Columbus neighborhoods!
ODOT and ODPS are especially eager to see the effects of this campaign on crash reduction, and plan to share any successes broadly within Ohio and nationwide. Certainly if it works they will encourage other Ohio universities to implement a similar campaign on their campuses. Yay Bikes! will be creating a final report and Best Practices Guide from this experience to share with universities, communities, neighborhood organizations and others throughout the U.S.
More information can be found online at HowWeRollOSU.com.