Stop the irrational bike bias

The case for car-centric planning

Did you ride your bike to work today? If so, you’re part of the vaunted 1 percent. If, instead, you took the trolley or the bus, you’re still among the elite — the small minority of San Diegans who eschew the car in favor of modes favored by the powers that be. But in San Diego, despite the machinations of government and strident voices of “alternative transportation” advocates, cars still rule.

I’m looking at a pattern of grids, laid out in various colors and superimposed on a map of downtown. Composed of “greenways,” “cycleways,” “transitways” and “autoways,” it’s termed a “layered mobility network,” the centerpiece of the 104-page Downtown San Diego Mobility Plan. Promulgated by a consortium calling itself Civic San Diego, the plan was approved by a unanimous San Diego City Council on June 21. Advocates believe it will usher in sweeping changes to the ways San Diegans get around, a clean, green rebuke to the automobile. The Union-Tribune and the other usual suspects in the media lauded the 30-year blueprint that purports to transform downtown to a bike-commuter’s paradise where motorists will be squeezed into fewer and narrower lanes, handing cars their long-overdue comeuppance. Throw in a prediction of reduced greenhouse-gas emissions, they exult, and it’ll be eco nirvana.

But there are dissenters, those who contend that cities should be car-centric, because that’s what Americans prefer.

Randall O’Toole: Urges governmental neutrality when it comes to how Americans choose to travel

Randall O’Toole: Urges governmental neutrality when it comes to how Americans choose to travel

One such proponent of the car-centric society is Randall O’Toole of Bandon, Oregon. He’s an avid cyclist, but he’s also a think-tank guy, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, who opines that it’s time the car got its due and that — despite the hype heaped on other modes of transport — Americans appreciate the right that the automobile has wrought on the Republic.

When I spoke with O’Toole, he wanted to make sure that he wouldn’t be construed as anti-bicycle or anti-public transportation. His stance is that the best form of transit is the one that pays for itself, which leads, he says, to vital questions: Why should the government subsidize non-automotive transportation, and if said modes can’t make it on their own, why should they be preferred? O’Toole urges governmental neutrality when it comes to how Americans choose to travel, adding, “That neutrality should extend to financing. There should be no subsidies to any form of travel.”

To hear certain city-planning types talk, one might think that the bicycle is the cure-all for San Diego’s transportation woes and the key to prescient development. But not everyone is convinced that bikes are two-wheeled messiahs that will deliver the county — or any other urban conglomerate — from the ostensibly self-evident evils of the automobile. Indeed, there are many on the other side of the proverbial bike lane who contend that, in truth, there is a panoply of rational reasons to favor the much-maligned horseless carriage over not only bikes, but the less “sexy” alternatives — the trolley, the lowly bus, and the feet, as well.

If you’ve ever been downtown in your car, sitting at a light and waiting for a mostly empty, honking trolley to get out of the way as the surly conductor glares at you, it’s part of a plan, says O’Toole. He maintains that, in addition to ladling out fat subsidies, municipalities have implemented other measures to disincentivize auto travel. “Not only have cities given up trying to relieve congestion, some have gone so far as to deliberately make it worse. For example, Los Angeles has actually gone to the trouble of ‘uncoordinating’ its traffic signals. In the past, there’d been signs posted reading, “signals are set for 30 miles per hour.”

I spoke to another think-tanker, Baruch Feigenbaum of the Reason Institute, which, like Cato, champions the libertarian ideal of the laissez-faire economy. I asked him to comment on the Downtown Mobility Plan.

“Bicycle needs” in Downtown San Diego Mobility Plan — the thick blue lines indicate “high bicycle demands.”

“Bicycle needs” in Downtown San Diego Mobility Plan — the thick blue lines indicate “high bicycle demands.”

“If the streets are underused and there’s room for the bicycle lanes, I have no problem with San Diego putting them in. They’re relatively cheap to install, assuming all you’re doing is re-painting lines or painting the bicycle lane green. That’s fine. The challenge is that when you have a lot of car traffic in that area, the bike lane will make congestion worse. Since car traffic seems to be dominant in San Diego, motorists are the folks we should actually be building the infrastructure for. There is a subsidy for automobiles, but it’s typically much smaller than the ones for other forms of transportation. Cyclists don’t pay for the use of the infrastructure they’re utilizing; there’s no ‘bicycle tire tax’ or anything like that. But we should be planning for the way people actually commute, not the way we’d like them to commute. Since most San Diego residents are driving, I’m hesitant to take away lanes for cars and allocate them for bike use unless there’s excess capacity.”

Governmental disfavor for the auto is inextricably intertwined with the new urbanism movement. As city planners revisit notions of density, one sees governmental favoritism for cyclists and pedestrians over motorists. O’Toole states, “You can actually see that preference in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s ‘transportation pyramid.’ It puts pedestrians and bikes on top, public transit below, multi-occupant vehicles below that, and at the very bottom, single-occupancy vehicles. They’re not neutral, in essence stating that the higher levels of the pyramid are ‘morally superior’ to the lower levels.” O’Toole believes that one’s personal transportation preferences shouldn’t guide public policy.

“I love trains, and I love cycling, but I try not to promote policies that ask other people to subsidize my hobbies.” Central to O’Toole’s thesis is that those who use a given mode of transportation (e.g., the automobile) shouldn’t be forced to pay for others’ choices, such as the trolley, bus, or bike.

“The only people who might be smugger than cyclists are vegans,” asserts O’Toole. “Planners and anti-automobile people believe that automobiles are bad because they pollute, have deadly crashes, and use energy. So they think that any alternative is better because it’s assumed that it doesn’t have those drawbacks. Actually, cycling, although it doesn’t pollute or use energy, is more dangerous than driving. Transit uses a lot more energy per passenger-mile than driving, yet they still put transit above automobiles. And light rail is actually more dangerous than automobiles per passenger-mile. So the ‘moral superiority’ argument fails when you look at the actual numbers.”

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In a world where we have had three record heat years world wide this clown urges more use of the automobile.

Automobile infrastructure doesn't even come close to "paying for itself". Motorists are heavily subsidized by ALL taxpayers since more than half of the taxes for building and maintaining roads comes from the general fund.

And let's not forget the free subsidized parking everywhere...giant parking lots that are rarely full; all that land set aside for the free use of motorists when they get to their destination.

Cycling is only more dangerous than driving because of...wait for it...motorists hitting and killing them.

This article's facts just don't stand up. I'll start by saying that as LOW INCOME HISPANIC WOMAN, I walked & rode my bike to work because I couldn't afford to buy a car until I was 25 yrs old until I could afford to get a car. Here are some REAL statistics:

1: The more bike lanes that are built the more people do ride their bikes. New York and Washington D.C., bike commuting doubled from 2008 to 2013. US Census - NYC and DC, protected lane pioneers, just doubled biking rates in 4 years. The average protected bike lane sees bike counts increase 75% in its first year alone.

2: Bike lanes REDUCE the amount of accidents. One of many stats is "New York City's protected bike lane on 9th Avenue led to a 56% reduction in injuries to all street users, including a 57% reduction in injuries to people on bikes and a 29 % reduction in injuries to people walking & 84% reduction in sidewalk riding. "

3: It does NOT increase traffic. They shorten crossing distances, control turning conflicts & reduce traffic weaving, NYC's protected bike lanes reduced injury rates for people walking on their streets by 12 to 52 percent.

4: NOT true only young, white "Hipsters" ride bikes: "The median age of frequent riders were between ages of 46 and 64 in 2000." • Race: "People who indicated they are multiracial or a race outside of the choices given by the Census (Hispanic or Latino, White alone, Black or African American alone, Asian alone) had the highest bicycle commuting rate at .8%. Hispanic or Latino workers had the second highest rate at .7%." (From http://bikeleague.org/content/new-census-data-bike-commuting

May 2014). More Stats: From http://bikeleague.org/content/new-census-data-bike-commuting May 2014): • Education level: People with graduate or professional degrees bicycle to work at a rate of .9%, followed by people who did not graduate high school at .7%. • Commute time: The average bicycle commute time is 19.3 minutes & most bicycle commutes were between 10 to 14 minutes long. • Regional differences: Rates of bicycling to work tended to be highest in large cities, this was particularly pronounced in the Midwest. In other regions there was not a large difference between rates in medium and large cities. • The number of people who commute to work by bicycle increased about 60% over the past decade according to new data from theU.S. Census Bureau. • During the years 2008-12, about 786,000 Americans commuted by bicycle, up from about 488,000 in 2000, the Census says. That jump is the largest percentage increase of all commuting modes tracked by the 2000 Census and the 2008-2012 American Community Survey.

Even though there are less bikers than cars, we should still have lanes to help keep them safe & encourage healthier & environmentally friendly lifestyles. It's also as important for low income who use bikes because they can't afford a car.

Cat Ortiz

I just finished cycling across the U.S., for the second time, tourist and commuter, League of American Bicyclists trainer, member Adventure Cycling Association. Many large cities across the U.S. have better cycling infrastructure in place now than San Diego. Many smaller towns have better cycling infrastructure than San Diego. Of the 3,400 miles across the U.S. from Anacortes, WA to Washington, DC I rode approximately 1,000 miles of Rails to Trails, inner city bike paths, and Canal Path bikeways, including all the way from downtown Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC about 320 miles. Whenever I was on a bike path or designated bike route, there were many local cyclists of all ages, sizes, and income levels. They always had a smile on their face, or offered a pleasant "hello". Sadly for him, I didn't see Mr. Toole (author) out there enjoying the outdoors. Bummer for him. Lastly, his data and opinions are misleading.

The assertion that cyclists don't pay for the infrastructure they use is a Neo-liberal fantasy. Sales tax and property tax contribute to the general fund which provides funding for most non-freeway street maintenance. Most cyclists also drive cars. This article is not carefully researched and shows a reactionary anti-cyclist bias.

Coming as it does from a guy in a Colonel Sanders costume, the argument that civic planning devolves into a conflict between the vicious, anti-car, cycling "lobby" and the League of Innocent Motorists doesn't make much sense to me. I've heard that false dichotomies are a form of logical fallacy, but what would I know....

What an absurd, baseless article. Not only is it replete with unsubstantiated assertions, many of which are patently false, but the author just parrots the biased opinions of just one guy.

Fact-checking? What's that?

Why is The Reader playing dead and settling for being a soapbox for this character? What happened to this publication's (apparently erstwhile) reputation of investigative journalism?

There's no attempt whatsoever to present balanced viewpoints with representation from opposing sides. There is no, none, zero, nada, nothing, not a word to present the thoughts of urban planners (who are, after trained and experts in city planning), or of bike users (who know a little about cycling), of transit officials, or of environmental people. These sides are all seen through O'Toole's distorted, slanted lens.

This is shameful journalism ... if you can call it that.

It would have been nice if there had been some opinions from bus/trolley riders. Seems like we got insulted but not represented. I've been commuting this way for years and I'm not alone. I'm usually surrounded by students, blue collar workers and tourists(especially on the green line). The new trolleys can load a lot more wheel chairs, bikes and strollers than the old models(which have way more comfortable seats), so even if the passenger count isn't high it can still get crowded. As for the 12 people average on a 40 passenger bus, that bean counting, desk jockey,  the author keeps quoting from obviously never rode a bus or trolley during rush hour. Terrible article, almost as bad as the pit bull piece from awhile back.

A Time magazine article dated May 12th 2015 lists Portland, Oregon as one of the Nine best cities for bicycling to work. The 2016 Portland Bureau of Transportation lists 7.2% of Portland Population commute to work by bicycle. Roughly 12% use public transportation to commute to work. Remaining is approximately 80% of the population still commuting by car. Possibly the bigger picture for San Diego should be planning for the choices people are willing and are not willing to make. Judging by many of the comments here, the prioritization of one mode over another as the transportation end-all has pitted cyclists and cars against one another. Continuing improvements for alternative modes of transportation along with efficient reality based planning for the 80% auto dependent population would be the broader perspective. Unless there is a magic wand I don’t know about, you can not force people to conform to one ideal. Providing options and encouragement to take alternative modes is highly commended. A “Head in the Sand” approach to how the City will provide as we move forward will not adequately plan for now and the foreseeable future.

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