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How to Talk to a Conservative About Cycling

Lest the actions of a handful of Republican governors sour transportation reformers on the party forever, today we bring bike advocates some conversation tips to introduce yourself, and your cause, to conservatives. As we all know, cycling is all about efficiency and self-reliance. Conservatives should love it!

Network blog Commute by Bike is showing the way to bring in supporters from the right side of the aisle, with a column by Tom Bowden, an avowed conservative who is also a cycling activist and a board member for BikeWalk Virginia. Bowden's advice is to focus on the economic and health benefits of cycling as an individual choice, while avoiding potentially controversial topics like climate change and ending American auto culture. Sounds tough, but here goes:

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If you must meet a conservative face-to-face, wear a suit! It won’t kill you. Think of it as camouflage – you may find them nodding their heads in agreement even before you open your mouth. Note: Some business suits actually contain trace amounts of Lycra and Spandex.

Remind them that cycling is cheaper than building more roads. The more cyclists, the MORE room for cars on existing roads. The more cyclists, the less concrete we need to pour. The less concrete, the more money for deficit reduction, tax cuts—or for bike projects in their home districts.

Bottom line (and that is what conservatives like to think they are all about): Cycling saves money, saves lives and makes us stronger as individuals and as a nation. Spending money to support cycling is like putting money in the bank–it pays big dividends at low risk. It’s as all American as Mom’s apple pie. How much more conservative can you get?

Thanks to Bowden for reminding us during these polarized times that bicycling and safer streets aren't tethered to any particular political ideology. A case in point: Tea Party congressional candidate Jim Schneller of Pennsylvania, who ran his campaign this fall for Pennsylvania's 7th Congressional District "50 percent by bike and 50 percent by public transportation."

Elsewhere on the Network today: Spacing Toronto reports that the local transit authority ran an impressive $60 million surplus this year, but local advocates aren't optimistic that the new administration will use the money to reinvest in the system. And UrbanSTL asks why we don't advise first-time parents to keep their babies safe by driving less.

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