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Should Bikes And Cars Be Treated Equally? Pt. 1

Transportation Secretary LaHood’s policy statement on prioritizing non-motorized transportation has rightly been receiving a fair amount of attention. The National Journal’s Transportation Experts blog has picked up on it. They asked  their experts “Should Bikes And Cars Be Treated Equally?”

League President Andy Clarke has posted two comments. Here is the first:


“Secretary LaHood’s announcement related to bicycling and walking certainly didn’t go unnoticed in the nonmotorized, or active transportation, community. Unsurprisingly, the new policy and approach has been hailed as the dawn of a new era, long-overdue recognition of the value and importance of bicycling and walking to our communities and to our transportation system; and a welcome opportunity to finally play on something approaching a level playing field.

Keith and other respondents have already covered some good ground on the myriad benefits of accommodating active transportation, providing real transportation choices, and enabling more people to ride and walk for more of their everyday trips. I think everyone can agree that if more people rode and walked more often, that would be a good thing – for individuals, for communities, and for the nation; in relation to health, energy independence, congestion, climate change, and even the economy.

 However, Greg Cohen provides a timely reminder of the pushback the Secretary’s new direction will inevitably face from a disgruntled few and so it’s worth addressing some of the less obvious benefits and issues. My organization, the League of American Bicyclists, is a group of cycling enthusiasts, to be sure. But it would be wrong to try and portray this new policy as being about a few bike paths and a handful of lycra-clad Lance Armstrong wannabees getting some special treatment because they caught the ear of the Secretary.

LaHood’s policy addresses fundamental issues of equity – one third of the population has no drivers licence; the independent travel needs of tens of millions of people in urban and rural communities alike have been “overlooked” during our 60-year fascination with creating a monoculture for cars. Tens of millions more are locked into expensive car loans, hellish commutes, and excessively high transportation costs that are frittered away at the gas pump because of this blinkered and ultimately unsustainable approach.

LaHood’s policy isn’t just about the bike. For livable, sustainable communities to flourish and grow people need choices and alternatives – bicycling, walking and transit live and die as one. If it weren’t for DC’s metro and bus system I probably wouldn’t be a regular bike commuter, and I wouldn’t walk as much. Our metropolitan areas are going to be adding 100 million people in the next 30-40 years and whether you love cars or not it’s pretty clear that if those 100 million people all arrive with two cars and drive 50 miles a day… things are going to get ugly.

LaHood’s policy isn’t just about spending more money on bikepaths, it’s about investing our ongoing expenditures wisely in a transportation system that accommodates everyone – on complete streets.  Very often, that requires little more than putting the same lane stripes down in a slightly different configuration – no extra cost, just a little more thought. The vast majority of bicycle travel will always be on regular streets and highways that don’t require any special treatment – but it would sure be nice if traffic signals detected bicyclists, if arterials had bike lanes and cycle tracks, and if rural roads had paved shoulders. And it turns out these things make sense for other users AND save us major highway repair and replacement costs into the bargain.

LaHood’s policy isn’t about interstate bicycle travel – just as the vast majority of car and truck trips are not that long either. In fact, 50% of all the trips people make are three miles or less. Transportation policy isn’t just about commuting or interstate trucking. Only 15% of all trips are to and from work – the vast majority are social, recreational, educational, and related to family business; these are often more manageable by bike and more local than the journey to work.

LaHood’s policy is all about equity and efficiency; and ultimately it has huge potential benefits to all travelers and our individual and collective pocket books. The Dutch invest in bicycle travel because their economy depends on truck and train traffic to and from the North Sea ports. They can’t afford to have their highways bunged up with single-occupant vehicle trips – they don’t have the space and nor does their environment have the carrying capacity to manage it. For the cost of just a few hundred feet of the proposed rebuild of the I-5 Columbia River bridge from Portland to Vancouver, the Portland region could achieve a 20%-25% mode share for bikes – doing more for regional congestion, the trucking industry, air quality, and obesity levels than the entire bridge “improvement” project.

So yes, we like the Secretary’s new policy and think it’s right in line with the Administration’s and state and local government’s desire to address a whole host of issues and problems. Remarkably, we can also offer one more thing: it’s fun. Turns out that bicycling is a prescription people actually want to take.”

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