Changing the Culture
This past weekend was a busy one for me. It started with a meeting on Friday and ended with a meeting on Sunday, with something called the 40th Mount Dora Bicycle Festival sandwiched in between. I won’t bore you with the meeting stuff, well, maybe one of ’em, but that I’ll save for later. As far as Mount Dora, it’s been a while since I last set up a booth at a bicycle event that didn’t require me to brew coffee, although a few did come by to joke about when the coffee was going to be ready.
Mount Dora marked the first time I ran the Florida Bicycle Association booth at an event as full time staff. Sure, I’ve worked the FBA booth before, even at Mount Dora a few years ago, but that was as a volunteer, not as ED, or in this case, interim ED. And it should be noted a few things have changed at the Mount Dora event, like the Vendor Village, the lead in the Chamber becoming the Mayor, and a Saturday afternoon program featuring guest speakers. I was offered and accepted a 30-minute guest speaking spot. For those who missed it, I present to you my initial write up of the speech:
My name is Becky Afonso, interim Executive Director of the Florida Bicycle Association. I’m a native Floridian from the Tampa Bay area, a member of the FBA since its second inception in 1998, and a bicycle commuter since 5th grade, which was a good many years ago.
Times of changed, haven’t they? When I was riding to school back in the day, I could do so without a helmet. It’s a law now for 16 years or younger to wear a helmet, and that’s a change for good. Another change for good, one mentioned by Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, is for zero tolerance in bicycle fatalities. Just a year ago, Secretary LaHood came to Tampa for one of two DOT Bicycle Safety Summits and stated we, Floridians, needed to change the culture. It was inspiring! It also came without instructions. How are we to change the culture?
Let me start with a true story, a story that may lend some insight into how we can start to change this culture. It’s a story of respect, perception and courtesy.
This is a photo of a car and a photo of a bicycle. These are photos of things. This is often how stories are told in the newspaper, television reports, and our own water cooler gossips: ‘A car almost hit me,’ or ‘There goes another bicycle blowing through a stop sign.’ What these photos don’t show, what we often fail to include in the stories being told are, what I call, PR: the People Reference. A person driving a car, a person driving a bicycle.
Let’s start here, let’s start with the PR and let’s respect that it’s people driving cars, driving bicycles and using the roadways, bike paths and sidewalks.
Now, I’m going to move these photos to create this scenario.
What does it make you think of? Yes, it’s a crash waiting to happen and each person involved has a role. Is it a motorist overtaking a bicyclist and then making a right hand turn? Remember, I said this a true story and I actually have a role in this scenario. So, which driver do you think I am?
Would it surprise you to learn I am the motor vehicle driver and this is taking place in a parking lot? I entered the lot without a bicyclist in sight, and as I slowed down to turn right into an open space, the bicyclist is over-taking my vehicle on the right hand side. Fortunately, there was no crash. I stopped and the bicyclist yelled and flipped me off.
So, what was your perception when you first saw the photo? What is it now? Perception is a process, so let’s try to remember that what we see isn’t the end-all of what is.
Turns out, we, the bicyclist and myself, were going into the same store, a bicycle shop. He went in first and was towards the back of the store talking with the mechanic. I went to the service desk to drop off copies of the Law Enforcement Guide and Street Smarts and I introduced myself to the clerk. The bicyclist overheard me and stated, “Executive Director of the bicycle association and you almost hit me in the parking lot. Geesh.” I looked at him and calmly said, “Sir, you were passing me on the right hand side as I was turning.” He looked away and I continued talking with the service clerk.
When I finished my business with the clerk, I noticed the bicyclist was still in the store. I could have left, but I decided to walk over to hand him my card and I did something you’re not supposed to do, I said I was sorry. Never say you’re sorry, right? Well, he looked me in the eye. He didn’t yell. Instead, his eyes softened and he started to talk to me. Talk. And he told me his story of being hit in a parking lot a few weeks ago. I listened. When he finished, I joked a little by stating that parking lots are not safe places if the ED of the bicycle association almost hitting you is any indication and that maybe over taking a vehicle on the right was not a good idea. He smiled and he put my card in his pocket. I offered to him to contact me and he nodded YES.
This is courtesy, to have a conversation and not a shouting match. Sometimes I feel we are so ready to be right, to be righteous about something, that we explode. We want the world to listen to us being right that we forget to grant the same courtesy to others. It is a two-way street. Do you want to be heard? Listen.
As a motorist and bicyclist, I respect the rules and rights both have on the roadways. I also understand the perceptions of both with regards to behavior. A little courtesy, a smile, a wave, it goes a long way. Making eye contact with other drivers on the road goes a long way to getting where you need to go safely.
As interim Executive Director of the Florida Bicycle Association, part of my job is to listen. Complaints. Concerns. Cries of being right. It’s not just cyclists I listen to; it’s everyone. Motorists, pedestrians, all the people using the roadways, the bike paths, and the sidewalks. The Florida Bicycle Association sits on two important state committees, the Florida Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety Coalition and the FDOT Bicycle/Pedestrian Partnership Council. Do you want to be heard? Come talk to me, I’ll listen. Do you want your voice to be part of the culture change for cycling good? Join the Florida Bicycle Association. Let’s ride together!
I will say, it felt good to give this speech, although I didn’t say it exactly how it is written here, but I was close. It was also good to talk and listen to folks afterwards and to celebrate a little that evening by attending a dinner with fellow members of the Boca Raton Bicycle Club; an FBA club and one of 14 bicycle clubs that I have joined.
On Sunday, I left Mount Dora around 11am to head to a business meeting in Daytona Beach. It was during this meeting that I was offered and accepted the full time position as Executive Director of FBA. No more interim, I’m IT. Things are changing for the good and FBA is on the move to change the culture. Join us and let’s ride together.