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Club Spotlight: KC Metro Bicycle Club

Earlier this year, the Kansas City Metro Bike Club released a PSA on the importance of sharing the road and safety for all on Kansas City roadways. We caught up with Steve White, President of KCMBC, to talk about the PSA’s reception in the community and also about how bike clubs can get involved in advocacy.

What’s the story behind this PSA?

All of us who have been riding any length of time have been touched by an injury or death of a fellow cyclist. But it seems precious few of us feel like there’s anything we can do about it. As the umbrella organization for cycling in Kansas City, the Kansas City Metro Bicycle Club wanted to change the perception among drivers (and cyclists for that matter) that deaths and injuries due to vehicle-cyclist collisions are unavoidable and “just happen.” 

That’s why we made this PSA. We have others in the works as well. Right now these spots are running on social media and on local TV here in KC. We’re also going to be on radio as well, and likely other media, too. And we’re doing community events, too. Drivers need to know they have a responsibility to ensure our safety on the road. And cyclists need to know it — and own it — as well.

Why use a video to share this story?

We began with video because it lets us tell our story in a compelling, visual manner that humanizes us as cyclists. We wanted to show drivers that we are no different than them so they could relate to us and unconsciously if not consciously say, “That could be me…I’m a regular person with a job [and maybe a family], and I wouldn’t want to get run down or harassed, either.” We also wanted to show them that we’re doing our part to be responsible and predictable out there. This first spot is a  :60, but we plan to do :15 and :30 spots also. 

What role do bike clubs have in bicycle advocacy and education in their communities?

Bike clubs and cycling organizations have a huge role to play in advocacy and education, and also in helping to create better infrastructure. The point we want to get across is that it needs to be about educating and advocating both internally and externally.

So in tandem with the PSA release, we’ve been doing TV and radio appearances, and educational clinics as well. In these interviews, and at various points in our PSA campaign, we acknowledge that we as cyclists need to obey the laws, be considerate of drivers, be predictable and responsible. We hope other organizations take the message we’re putting forth here and use it, that is, that it takes both drivers and cyclists working together to make safer roads. We are not media experts. Anyone can do this. And if you feel like you cannot, well, you can certainly network your way to people who can do it on your organization’s behalf.

We also need to understand that for a lot of drivers, it’s not always naked, belligerent aggression that causes these bad outcomes. Many of them just don’t know what to do around cyclists. It’s not really taught in driver’s ed, and people learn bad habits from each other out on the road. So that’s another area we’re exploring, is teaching in driver’s ed classes. Meantime, we’re messaging about it in our interviews and in the PSA campaign. That is, basically, “Here’s how to share the road safely with cyclists.”

This may sound provocative, and I hope it does because we in the cycling community MUST have this conversation with each other, continually, because it’s vital to saving lives. We as cyclists are partly to blame for the carnage that happens on our roadways. Along with that aggressive (or in some cases, just ignorant) driver, we own every reckless driving ticket that isn’t written, every vehicular homicide charge that isn’t filed, every driver that’s given a slap on the wrist when the penalty should’ve been much heavier — every time we flout the law out there. 

How can we expect drivers to give us the right of way, let alone respect or empathy, when we’re blowing stop signs and lights like we own the road? We’re all in this together, driver and cyclist, and we need to show drivers and those in law enforcement that we’re doing our part to be safe. And we need to follow through on that by educating our cycling communities on how to be responsible road users, too. When this year is up, our club will have put on 7 road skills clinics, 4 Wrench-It Series and five major pay rides. Among other initiatives such as our Ride Marshal program and involvement in cycling infrastructure improvements with area city governments. We message about safe, responsible cycling in our newsletters, social and traditional media. Four of our Board members became LCIs (League of American Bicyclists – League Certified Instructors) this year. We encourage other clubs to embrace education, to reach out to their communities with messaging about safe driving, and safe cycling.

One of our goals in this was to also make a template for other cycling organizations to follow. It does take some time, but anyone with a smartphone can make a PSA these days. Getting it on the air was not terribly difficult. We emailed local media and basically outlined some local and national stats — we’ve lost nearly 80 cyclists to vehicle collisions in the KC metro since 1991. And nationally, that number seems to hover between 600-700+ yearly. 

Our message to them is that with so many people on bikes (1 out of 3 Americans rode a bike last year), every one of those deaths is preventable, either by cyclist or driver or both. But it takes education, and bringing people together so that drivers understand we’re not “crazies in spandex” and that we understand the need to ride predictably and responsibly at all times. We have to engage each other and drivers in this dialogue and do it in an even-handed, smart manner. Because our lives depend on it.

Something else I’d recommend other clubs and cycling organizations do is talk to each other. It’s very easy to get in touch via social media these days. We can learn from one another, share ideas on what works and be that much more effective by working together. For instance, we’ve opened a channel to another club in Tyler, Texas (Bike Friendly Tyler) who are also actively advocating for safety, and shared ideas back and forth. Making efforts like this reminds us that we’re not alone in safety concerns, and that there’s strength in numbers.

How has the PSA been received in Kansas City?

From the feedback we’ve received, our first PSA is going well. We’ve had a lot of cyclists write in to us, and comment at group rides that they’ve seen it and appreciate our getting it out there, and we’re even getting non-cyclist which is really the goal — to let drivers know that they also have a role in our safety. There are always going to be some aggressive drivers, we realize that we can’t reach everyone. Those are the kind of people who will be aggressive even with other drivers. But if we can educate ourselves, and educate drivers (most of whom are willing to listen), we feel we can make major progress in reducing cyclist deaths and injuries due to traffic collisions.

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