"Coexist" Message Provokes Lively Response by Dave Snyder

The SFBC made a major foray into public relations this summer with the "Coexist" campaign. Jointly managed by the Department of Parking & Traffic (DPT) and the SFBC, the campaign's peace sign logo and messages encouraged a truce in the war between bicyclists and motorists. They were intended to position the SFBC as the organization concerned about street safety, not the organization behind Critical Mass.

The SFBC's message was posted for at least five weeks on 45 transit shelters around the city (not necessarily in the most visible locations, per Infinity Outdoor's policy on donated shelter space); the DPT's message was posted on the back of 30 buses for three months (with space donated by Muni).

Surveys conducted during the development of the campaign discovered that most people don't know what the Bicycle Coalition is, but they assume we must be the organizers of the Critical Mass rides. The surveys also revealed a great deal of anger about some motorists' illegal and dangerous behavior and some bicyclists' illegal behavior, which from a motorist's perspective puts cyclists at risk of being hit.

Gregg Foster, an SFBC member at Publicis Dialog, the firm that donated its services to this project, explains, "We chose not to ignore this anger, but to address it directly with images of angry people contradicted by over-the-top messages of cooperation and appreciation. We hoped the messages would be provocative enough to get some attention beyond the first look at the shelters." It worked. The SFBC got news coverage on most TV and radio stations, in the Mercury News, Chronicle, and many neighborhood papers.

Not everyone liked them: This bus shelter poster was anonymously altered from the original Coexist message
The messages also provoked a strong response from the public and SFBC members. We received a great deal of gratitude and support for our message of peaceful coexistence, but some bicyclists were upset about the implication that bicyclists and motorists are equally at fault for dangerous streets. (Two of our images featured bicyclists thanking motorists for safe behavior; another two featured motorists thanking bicyclists.) Some members had issues with the aggressive imagery, even with the comically exaggerated expressions and words. A sign from one shelter was altered to read "Coexist? When you stop killing!" and included the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration's official statistic of 37,000 people killed by cars per year.

SFBC board member Brian Smith, who chairs the board's public relations committee, is looking forward to continuing the relationship with Publicis and the DPT. "This campaign was intended to let everyone know the SFBC is a reasonable group calling for safe streets for everyone. The next step in the campaign will focus on how sexy and healthy it is to bike commute. We may even twist a corporate campaign like 'Everyone on Bikes' with photos showing the diversity and age range of cyclists in the city. It will be a very positive, pro-bike message."