A First Look at Arlington’s New Bike-Ped Safety Messaging

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[By Paul Goddin for Mobility Lab]

Be a PAL - Peace 2sheet

Arlington hasn’t unveiled its new PAL marketing campaign yet, but Mobility Lab received a preview of it.

Soon to show up on ART buses, in Arlington Metro stations, and local newspapers, the new series of ads are colorful and friendly in their gentle and light-hearted admonition for drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists to show each other a little love and share the road.

The new campaign, to be rolled out at the end of this month, was created by Arlington County Commuter Services and Pulsar Advertising.

The ads are part of the county’s PAL Campaign, a safety initiative of ACCS designed to communicate the importance of walkers, bikers, and drivers to safely share the roads in a “Predictable, Alert, and Lawful” manner. That acronym still applies, of course, but “Peace And Love (and Happiness)” are the messages implicit in the new series of ads.

“These ads were created to encourage safe behavior by everyone, whether they are walking, biking, or driving,” said Pulsar’s Executive Creative Director Alberto Gonzalez. As such, the safety message of the ads approaches the audience in a positive way. Most other bike and pedestrian public service announcements (PSAs) use negative messaging intended to scare people into behavior change.

Scare-mongering is often an easy go-to for marketers, despite evidence that negative, fear-based messages such as those used in anti-smoking and drug campaigns have been ineffective in changing behaviors, especially lasting ones.

The Street Smart campaign (shows left) is one good example of a bicycle and pedestrian safety PSA that tries to scare pedestrians into being careful around cars. Depicting various sad-looking pedestrians with automobile tire tread marks on their faces, the PSA has a high level of consumer awareness.

Thematically, though, the Street Smart ads aren’t just trying to “scare the audience straight,” but they also appear to contain a “blame the victim” subtext. Perhaps this is why many cyclists and bicycle advocates I’ve spoken with dislike these ads.

Safety PSAs are needed, certainly. In Arlington, walking and cycling are not just part of the culture, but are promoted as a larger strategy to reduce traffic congestion in the region. As more people walk and bike to work and for recreation, the likelihood of interactions between different modes increases. And the stakes are high. For example, in 2014, 52 Washington D.C. area pedestrians lost their lives in collisions with automobiles.

Bobbi Greenberg, marketing director for ACCS, said, “At some point, we’re all bikers, drivers, and walkers. Our new campaign doesn’t pit one mode against the other.”

Josh Opat, a Pulsar account executive, added, “As this campaign communicates, everyone can work together to share the roads. And when they do, they can create something amazing.”

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