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A Load of Pretty Good News

24 Feb

Unless city council decides to torpedo it, the Floyd Avenue bike-walk street is going forward (see RTD story here and a very detailed account of how it worked out in a blog post by Max Hepp-Buchanan here).  The Planning Commission approved a modified plan yesterday.  And although the General Assembly killed a few bike-friendly bills, they also approved a couple, and blocked some that would have been very unfriendly.  We owe a huge thanks to the advocates from Virginia Bicycling Federation and Bike Walk RVA, along with many others, for these successes.

Modified Floyd Plan Passes

With Floyd, the city officials and consultants were apparently able to convince commission members that they had addressed concerns raised in the previous meeting, including: better signage etc. at some of the crosswalks; more specific plans for ADA sidewalk ramps, lighting, and filling tree wells; and making sure the street is marked as special corridor for people on bicycles and on foot.

The plan that passed also contained a couple of recent changes, most notably the replacement of four traffic circles with raised crosswalks at Strawberry, Rowland, Plum, and Harvie.  They will look something like this:

 

It’s kind of like a speed hump, but not as high, and also serves to highlight the crosswalk.

I was hoping raised crosswalks would find their way into the plan anyway.  They were included to address concerns of some local residents (and their council reps) and commission members.

I’m really not crazy about how much a few vocal property owners seem to be able to sway their council representatives, especially given the large majority of residents who expressed support for the plan earlier.  (Along with the fact that the few “parking spaces” they are so worried about are actually illegal and dangerous).  But getting involved more seriously in bike-ped advocacy has brought home to me the reality of what is so often said about government: it’s messy and you have to be prepared to 1) compromise, 2) to think long-term.  It’s also crucial to be just as vocal and persistent as the opponents.

We have to work on many fronts to build up support for this kind of project so that it doesn’t continue to be a major battle.  Educating and lobbying council members, electing folks who are sympathetic, having a master plan, and many other things will tilt the balance in our favor over time.

General Assembly Successes

This years successes prove especially clearly that persistence is key when it comes to the GA.  Most of what was passed this year has been proposed before, but a bill getting past of the various hurdles depends on a bunch of things that have to align just right.

Check this VBF post for the full run-down, but here are the highlights:

• Vehicles can now legally cross a double yellow line in order to give the required 3 feet of space to people on bicycles and other slower road users.

• Localities that decide to do a road diet (reduce motorized travel lanes to create a bike lane) will not lose state transportation funding for doing so.  (Previously the state only counted pavement used for motorized traffic).

• Existing law for following too closely now also applies to non-motorized vehicles.

A couple of particularly worrisome bills also died.  One would have made it illegal for someone on a bicycle to be on a road if there is a bike path nearby.  This would have banned cyclists from parts of Route 5 where the Capital Trail is, for example.

Some others, like imposing a penalty for dooring a cyclist, and requiring hands-free technology when using phones etc. will no doubt come back for another try next year.

Life in the Slow(er) Lane

15 Feb
Slow-Zone-thumb

A newly installed neighborhood slow zone in Brooklyn, NY, as part of NYC’s Vision Zero program. From BrooklynBridgeParents.com.

 

This is the last in a series of 3 posts focused around a simple idea:

We’d all benefit from slowing down.

(The two previous ones are here, focused on recent reports about the relative safety and danger of bicycling, and here, about a new movement called Vision Zero that seeks to reduce traffic deaths of all kinds to zero):

The Costs of Speed

I’m very much in favor of protected bike lanes and good sidewalks and paths, but people in cars or on foot or on bicycles still have to interact with motorized traffic even with the best sidewalks and bike lanes.  Slowing all traffic down would be the easiest and possibly most game-changing thing we could do to make things safer and more inviting for everyone, and make our communities more livable in the process.

This probably seems like a crazy idea to many because as a society we put a premium on time and therefore on speed, and because we’ve just gotten used to traveling relatively fast, especially in cars.  Driving 35 or 40 on a street like Boulevard, for example, feels normal because the street is designed that way, everyone else is driving more or less that speed, and that’s what we’re used to.  As I’ve suggested in earlier segments of this series, however, we pay a fairly high price for that — or we indirectly force others to pay it — in lower levels of safety for everyone, as well as the danger and unpleasantness of going by foot or bicycle.

The crazy thing, when you think about it, is that we’ve accepted that the way we handle traffic now is worth large numbers of deaths and injuries among people in cars as well as others.  There’s no way to prevent all collisions, but it’s odd that significant loss of life and limb are regarded as acceptable costs for driving the way we do.  And we know — it’s been proven over and over — that slower speeds make for fewer deaths and less severe injuries for people in cars as well as on bike and foot.

As reported earlier, a number of countries and now several U.S. cities have begun to say that this cost is too high — in the form of a program labeled Vision Zero.  It basically means taking measures to reduce traffic deaths to zero.  This signals a welcome and monumental shift away from accepting those costs that we’ve previously treated as an unavoidable reality .  It says, “We don’t have to accept death and injury as inevitable consequences.  We can prioritize safety and still have a functioning system that works for everyone.”

Inaugurating a new Arterial Slow Zone in NYC on a major commercial street.

Inaugurating a new Arterial Slow Zone in NYC on a major commercial street.his includes is slowing down traffic on “arterial” streets like Boulevard.  I would argue that you could slow down traffic  in Richmond and it wouldn’t make a very big difference in the time we spend traveling, but would make a big difference in safety and quality of life.

 

This includes is slowing down traffic on “arterial” streets like Boulevard.  You could slow down traffic everywhere in Richmond and it wouldn’t make a very big difference in the time we spend traveling, but would make a big difference in safety and quality of life.

“But I’m in a Hurry!” Experimenting with Slowness

It comes down to this: the difference between 20 and 30 mph, or 30 and 40 for that matter, is not that big in terms of travel time, especially when you’re driving through the city.  You usually can’t maintain a higher speed for long in any case due to signals and other cars, and the time difference in the end is no more than a few minutes.

I did an experiment last spring with the help of some friends over at Bike Walk RVA to test this out.  For purely self-serving purposes (having a nice lunch at a favorite spot), we decided to test how long it would take to get from Union Hill to a restaurant in Carytown, a distance of about 4 miles.  We did this on multiple occasions, always leaving near 1:15 p.m. from Union Hill, comparing “slow,” “normal,” and “fast” car driving as well as more “law-abiding” vs. “law-bending” bicycling.

Car vs. Bicycle

The first test: car vs. bicycle.  I imagine that one reason some do not embrace riding a bicycle for transportation is that doing so would take up too much time compared to driving.  So my partner-in-experimentation and I left Union Hill at the same time (1:15 p.m.), I on a bicycle and he in a car, selecting somewhat different routes through the city (not using the expressway).  Driving at the posted speed limit and taking into account time to park, it took him 18 minutes to arrive at the door of our destination in Carytown.  As the one on a bicycle I stopped at all stop signs and signals, and rode at what is for me a normal pace — neither leisurely nor hurried, probably about 12 mph.  It took me 26 minutes.  So, not surprisingly, driving a car was faster.  But for getting halfway across down it was a difference of only 8 minutes.  And unlike my partner, I had already burned off some of the chips I ate for lunch.

Speed Limit vs. Slow Driving

The second test was driving the speed limit vs. driving slower.  I drove the same route that my partner did on another day at the same time of day, but kept my speed at 20 mph or below the whole way.  I drove mostly on Main Street through downtown and the Fan.  It was actually hard to compare my speed to the speed limit because there are very few signs indicating the limit.  The one sign I could find on Main St. between Shockoe Bottom and Belvidere read 25 mph.  Given the general understanding that speeding a bit over the limit is normal and won’t get you in trouble, I would bet that the average speed is usually 30 mph at least.

There were certainly times that I felt self-conscious going that slow, feeling like a slow poke getting in everyone’s way.  It shows how hard it can be to resist “going with the flow” of traffic and how strong our sense of “normal” speed is.  The result?  It took me a whopping 22 minutes to travel the same route — 4 minutes more than going the speed limit in a car, and only 4 minutes less than on a bicycle.  5-10 mph difference probably doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it can make a big difference, actually, in terms of reaction time and whether someone you hit lives or dies, not to mention how the street feels to more vulnerable users.

Regular vs. “Hurried” Bicycling

As a final test, we asked a volunteer to ride a bicycle a bit faster and without following the rules of the road as strictly as I did (rolling through stop signs, etc.).  It took him a little over 20 minutes.  So going at a slower pace and sticking with the rules of the road cost me about 6 minutes extra.  If you think about the various things you do (or don’t do) in a day that take 6 or 8 or 10 minutes, it’s hard to think that you’re wasting precious time by taking it easier on the road.

Cost of Slowing Down vs. Cost of Speed

I realize that this is not a rigorous scientific experiment.  But the results are not surprising and I think they point to something.  There is a cost to slowing down — going faster and driving less carefully can get you somewhere a bit faster (assuming you don’t have an accident on the way).  And driving a car is somewhat faster than riding a bike.  But the difference is just not that big.

The question for us to ask ourselves is whether the 5 or 10 minutes we may save by virtue of the transportation and driving choices we make are worth the costs.  That can be tricky for us humans to calculate because the costs are not always right in front of our faces — and they may be costs to other people more than ourselves.

The real idea is just to start a conversation that hasn’t been happening much in Richmond yet.  To introduce an idea that many would not even contemplate because the status quo seems, well, so normal: that we might shift our priorities and the way we think about travel in a way that recognizes how much streets are not just places that each of us uses to get where we need to go individually, but really a place of coexistence and given-and-take.

What can you do?  One is to choose to drive slower — at the speed limit or even below, considering how non-motorized folks out there, not to mention people who live along such streets, are experiencing your speed.  The other is to find ways to bring up this radical idea of slowness — nudging friends and family a bit from their sense of normal speed and “where I need to be” toward sharing the road in a more profound sense.

 

Non-Floyd News

10 Feb
Protected bike lane in Long Beach, CA.  From la.streetsblog.org.

Protected bike lane in Long Beach, CA. From la.streetsblog.org.

The Floyd Avenue project has occupied my somewhat limited time to post lately, so there’s a bunch of other cool stuff to catch up on.  Here are some highlights:

Bike Walk RVA has been nominated by Bicycling Magazine for the People’s Choice Advocacy Award.  Vote here for to help this local organization get well-deserved recognition.  Channel 8 News also reported that the Mayor’s Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Trails Commission has been one of the more productive and successful of those formed by Mayor Jones.

The General Assembly is (hopefully) passing bicycle-friendly legislation.  Check out the Virginia Bicycling Federation site here for a detailed account of the legislation and what’s still in the pipeline.  It seems like the general trend (based on last session and this one) is greater support for this stuff.  In past years many such bills were killed in committee, but now many are making it to full senate and house votes.

This year there is a bill to change a policy that discourages the use of road diets (reducing travel lanes) for bike infrastructure by reducing the funding the state provides for roads that undergo such a reduction (see this Why Richmond, Why? column in the RTD for an explanation).  There are also bills making it illegal to door a cyclist (holding drivers responsible for opening doors safely), and to follow a cyclist too closely (the current law applies only to motor vehicles); and there’s one to make it legal for a person in a car to cross a double yellow line in order to safely pass a person on a bicycle.

Protected bike lanes coming to downtown!  The RTD confirmed that at its last meeting the Planning Commission approved acceptance of funding to do design work for protected lanes on Franklin and Main Streets (eastbound on Franklin and westbound on Main) between  Belvidere and Ninth Streets.  This is just the first step, of course, but a welcome sign of robust infrastructure on the way!

Chesterfield is showing real momentum with bike-ped planning.  In a relatively short time Chesterfield County has put together a bicycle and pedestrian plan, which is now open for public comment (see RTD piece here).  In time you could see a lot of multi-use paths along roads in the county.

Pedal party is coming to RVA.  According to RVA News, you’ll soon be able to join 13 of your closest friends on a “bike trolley” aka partly on wheels.  It’s hard to describe (there’s a photo in the RVA News story), but it looks like a covered bar with “stools” (bike seats) and pedals on all sides by which you will propel yourself through the River City.  So you can burn off calories in between brewery stops!

Imagine Slow(er) City Streets

29 Jan
New speed limit on Atlantic Avenue in New York City.  Image from Streetsblog.

New speed limit on Atlantic Avenue in New York City. Image from Streetsblog.

A couple of months ago I wrote a post about what the statistics tell us about the safety and danger of our streets for bicyclists.  The following is the second of three installments about the still-radical idea of (drum roll) slowing car traffic.     

Richmond is taking small but important steps toward safer streets.  Bigger steps are sorely needed.  In the annual “Dangerous by Design” report from the National Complete Streets Coalition, the Richmond area ranked lower than D.C. and Hampton Roads for pedestrian safety.  See the report here and the RTD article here.

The RTD reported last summer that city council passed a resolution put forward by Parker Agelasto adding an additional $200 to fines for speeding on sections of Cary Street and Semmes Avenue.  On Cary it’s between Addison and Meadow, and between Granby and Cherry (one block was left out because law restricts the increased fine zone to residential areas), and on Semmes between 22nd Street and Dundee.

The current speed limit on these parts of Cary is 25 mph, on Semmes it’s 35, but it’s been determined that at least 85 percent of drivers on these streets are going more than 10 mph over the speed limit.  It’s striking that it has to be that bad to justify doing anything.  And it’s also not that surprising that many drivers go this fast because it’s come to be taken for granted that going faster than the speed limit (up to a point) is acceptable.

I could see taking this effort a lot further.  It’s not easy to slow drivers down, especially if the road still encourages higher speeds.  But at least the problem is being recognized.  Richmond has a number of streets that serve as quasi-highways (another example is Laburnum Ave. in my neighborhood).  These “arterial” streets are dangerous and uninviting for pedestrians and cyclists.  The physical design often sends the message that motorists own the road, and not surprisingly, drivers act accordingly.  They could and should serve other users but are so heavily tilted toward traffic flow that people using other forms of transportation effectively shut out, or at least discouraged from using the space too.

Speeds on other streets downtown and in neighborhoods are also often too fast for an urban environment with bicyclists and pedestrians as part of the mix.  Is there really any reason why anyone should go more than 15 mph on a neighborhood street?  Combined with cultural and psychological factors that make for relative impatience, we’ve made it more dangerous and unpleasant to walk and bike than it should be.

An Emerging Movement?

There has been quite a bit of press in recent months about emerging efforts to reduce deaths and injuries of pedestrians in New York City (see this New York Times piece, for example).  A group called Families for Safe Streets, founded by relatives of individuals killed by motorists, has joined forces with local advocacy organization Transportation Alternatives to lobby city and state leaders.

Recently elected Mayor Deblasio has embraced the movement with his Vision Zero action plan, an effort to bring traffic deaths down to zero.  (In 2013, 286 people, mostly pedestrians and bicyclists, were killed by motorists in New York).

One of the first concrete results of this initiative was unveiled earlier this month: arterial slow zones (see the Streetsblog report here).  Sounds like a contradiction, right?  But that’s the point; like Cary, Semmes, Laburnum, and other similar streets in Richmond, New York has streets that serve as thoroughfares and have traditionally seen heavy and fast traffic.  In the “slow zones” the limit has been reduced from 30 to 25 mph — which probably means that many drivers have been traveling at 40+ mph.  These streets will also be redesigned and see targeted enforcement to encourage slower speeds.

It’s striking in this regard that in Richmond the effort to reduce the speed limit on Floyd Avenue from 25 to 20 as part of the bike-walk street proposal has proven difficult, mostly because the standards, assumptions, formulas etc. used by traffic engineers are so narrowly structured: these decisions are based on current traffic speeds and accident statistics, but no sense of whether the street is actually inviting to cyclists and pedestrians.  The manuals and models and formulas do not tend to take into account this basic and obvious fact: a person walking or on a bicycle is at an incredible disadvantage against 2-tons of metal and plastic.  People walking or on bicycles are by definition (very) vulnerable road users, but our roads and policies do not really reflect that fact.

It’s no wonder, then, that many people will not even consider riding a bicycle to get around and would rather not walk either: it feels too risky because, even on a relatively calm street in the Fan, there are enough cars going fast enough to make it intimidating.  That issue gets missed in the arguments that such streets are already fine for biking and walking; they may be for those who already do, but not for the large number of people who would consider it if the streets were more inviting.

I have heard the concern that the Vision Zero idea, which originated in Sweden and is now being embraced by a number of U.S. cities, that we should be careful about the increased enforcement aspect because of persisting racial disparities in who gets pulled over for traffic violations.  This is an important concern that should be taken into account in the formulation of these strategies.

Keep an eye out for the final installment in this series next week: a case for life in the slow lane, and how it’s not as slow as you might think.

 

Distraction and Privilege on the Road

3 Dec
Photo by Nate Flu, Flickr Creative Commons.

Photo by Nate Flu, Flickr Creative Commons.

In his most recent “Why Richmond, Why?” column, Phil Riggan takes on the issue of distracted driving.  For anyone who even contemplates riding a bicycle on Richmond streets, this is a huge issue.  I cringe every time I see someone using a cellphone, whether I’m driving a car or a bicycle, and that doesn’t begin to cover all of the other distractions.

While it’s probably impossible to prevent all distraction, it’s worth reminding ourselves and others that, when we’re behind the wheel of a machine that weighs a couple of tons and can very easily take someone’s life (including our own), it’s worthwhile to cultivate a degree of attentiveness proportional to those stakes.

That’s both important and difficult because, as Riggan suggests, most of us drive so much that we 1) try to do all sorts of other things while driving, like texting or phoning or eating; and 2) get so used to driving that we get a bit lazy and develop bad habits because it hasn’t resulted in anything terrible yet.  People are also inclined to think that their driving is good compared to other “bad drivers,” which also reduces vigilance.

How most of our streets are for pedestrians.  Now imagine some scaffolding along the edge to represent a bike lane… From the Swedish Road Dierectorate.

Who gets priority on our streets?  Ironically, the least vulnerable of those using them: cars.  From the Swedish Road Dierectorate.

Privilege on the Road

One way of thinking about distracting driving is not just as a bad habit, but as a symptom of privilege.  This goes back to a  point that I like to hit on quite often — because like other kinds of privilege, it’s generally taken for granted by those who enjoy it.  Our roads are designed mainly for cars and only secondarily if at all for other users.  The fact that Complete Streets policies have become a trend in the last few years is an indication of just how incomplete they’ve been for the last several decades, and for how long the problem was not seen as a problem.

I was reminded of this issue last week by a fascinating blog post entitled “What Riding My Bike Has Taught Me About White Privilege.”  I wish I had written it.  I say that because I’ve had exactly this thought a number of times: riding a bicycle on American streets is kind of like being a minority in American society.

But almost immediately after thinking of that comparison, I thought, “It would be hard to talk about that without sounding like a well-meaning but oblivious white person saying something like ‘I know what race discrimination is like because I experience the same kind of thing when I ride my bike.'”  That would be lame for many reasons, to put it mildly.

The author of the post makes clear that you can think of this comparison without pretending to equate minority status on the road with minority status in a broader, social sense.  His aim is really to suggest a way to talk about privilege to people who have it.

Trying to talk to people about privilege is hard because if they feel they are being blamed personally for it, they tend to shut down or get defensive to avoid feeling guilty.  But comparing our roadways to the structure of our society is helpful in this case, I think: no individual car driver is to blame for the way our roads are, but it’s way too easy for most of them to keep using them and not think that much about those marginalized by that system.

This is good for those of us interested in bike advocacy to keep in mind for two reasons.  The first is that white middle-class people and neighborhoods tend to be over-represented when it comes to advocacy and infrastructure.  Second, thinking about our roads this way might help us find better ways to think and talk about the built-in imbalance in our roadway system.

Cyclists Only Have Themselves to Blame?

4 Nov
How is it that Denmark has lower injury and death rates than the U.S. for bicyclists, but so few helmets?

How is it that Denmark has lower injury and death rates than the U.S. for bicyclists, but so few helmets?  From streetsblog.org.

 

At least that is what the recent Governor’s Highway Transportation Association report implies.  Spotlight on Highway Safety: Bicyclist Safety, released October 27, has gotten a lot of attention, for good and bad reasons.  The really disturbing part is the big take-away “facts” that the report highlights: cyclist deaths are reported to be increasing (16% between 2010 and 2012), and two factors — cyclists using alcohol and not wearing a helmet — are said to be major factors behind that.  You can imagine how well that confirms what skeptics of cycling and bike infrastructure already believe: it’s dangerous, and it’s cyclists’ fault.

Responses in Urbanful and other places reveal major problems in these results — problems that reveal entrenched, distorted perceptions of bicycling (see the League of American Bicyclists’ response here, and discussion on NPR’s Diane Rehm show here).

Is Cycling Becoming More Dangerous?

Where to begin?  The biggest one is that the supposed “trend” in greater cyclist fatalities is based on data from 2010-2012.  At the risk of stating the statistically obvious: 3 years does not constitute a trend.  It’s not enough data points.

Second, these statistics do not at all take into account the greater number of people bicycling.  Proportional to the number of cyclists on the road, the trend is downward: cycling is getting safer.  Even the US Department of Transportation statistics support that.

And finally, if you look at the actual numbers on a state-by-state basis, one thing really jumps out: the two states with the worst conditions for bicycling, Texas and Florida, also have the highest increase in cyclist deaths.  So does that mean that there is an especially large number of drunk, helmet-less cyclists in those states?  Or could it be that, ahem, more people are bicycling but the roads in those states are the least conducive to bicyclist safety?

Helmets and Alcohol

This points to the other glaring problem (to put it nicely).  The report states that significant percentages of cyclists who died in crashes had a blood alcohol level above .08 or above, or were not wearing helmets.  But that data was from 2012.  One year.  Even less of a trend.

Secondly, that does not mean that every cyclist included in those number died because they were impaired by alcohol and/or not wearing a helmet.  (Of course it’s a bad idea to ride drunk or without a helmet, but correlation is not causation, so it’s really hard to know how much those factors actually contributed).

The biggest problem, of course, is that focusing on these issues leaves the dangerous conditions on our roads completely out of the picture.  Countries like Denmark with really good bicycle infrastructure have lower rates of cyclist injury and fatality and very low helmet use.

So we’re back to the original point: of course we should discourage drunk riding and encourage helmet use, but it’s misguided to put those in the spotlight when two other factors loom so large: car speeds and road design.

To be fair, the report does in the end recommend measures to make U.S. streets safer for cyclists; it’s just unfortunate that the alcohol and helmet issues were promoted as the most noteworthy results.

Taking It To the Streets

Let’s hope that the skewed message of safety does not become a discouragement for potential cyclists or an excuse to not continue with expanding bicycle infrastructure.

To end on a more positive note, check out the recent local NPR piece about bike commuting and new bike lanes in Richmond.  It features a mom in Church Hill who not only bikes to school with her children, but leads a bike caravan of several kids from the neighborhood to Chimborazo Elementary.  How’s that for a headline on the state of bicycling in the U.S.?

Complete Streets Coming to RVA?

23 Oct
Cycle track (bike lane with physical separation from car traffic) in Long Beach.  From la.streetsblog.org.

Long Beach, CA: One way to make a street “complete” is to create bicycle lanes in which people of any age or ability can feel safe. From la.streetsblog.org.

Another step toward transforming our streets was taken last week in Richmond city council.  Our representatives unanimously approved a Complete Streets policy.  It didn’t get much if any attention in the mainstream press, but this is yet another measure that signals clearly that we’re moving — if still a bit slowly — in the right direction.

What is a Complete Streets Policy?

As worded in the policy (full text here) adopted on October 13:

Complete Streets are designed and operated to safely accommodate street users of all ages and abilities, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit passengers, and motorists.

Complete Streets policies serve, in essence, to rebalance the approach taken to street (re)design to give all of those users not in cars a fair shake.  In most U.S. cities for the last few decades the main focus has been accommodating cars.  Prioritizing the efficiency and convenience of car travel did a lot to discourage other forms of transportation — and made a lot of cities less inviting in general.  Suburban areas with multi-lane, highway like arterial roads — without sidewalks or bike lanes — are the epitome of this, but even in downtown Richmond there are plenty of places where it’s just not pleasant or safe to walk or bike.

So now, in technical terms, the manual that Richmond’s traffic engineers and planners use when they are doing anything to a street has to be revised to ensure a better balance.  This is especially important in Richmond because some of the people making decisions about such things have yet to fully embrace the idea of shifting priority away from cars.

Battling Misconceptions and Motorist Privilege 

Changing Richmond’s streets is clearly a long-term process — as is changing the culture that shapes how we see and use our streets.  There can be a good bit of animosity between “us” and “them” — usually car drivers versus people who bicycle.  Some things that bicyclists do contribute to that tension, but a lot of it comes from the fact that motorists are used to being the privileged majority.

That helps explain why Complete Streets policies and bike lanes are sometimes interpreted as anti-car; anything that questions or limits what has otherwise been the overwhelming dominance of cars looks like an attack on driving in general.  If you look at how much money and space is still being allocated to cars, it’s hard not to chuckle (or sigh) at the anger sometimes provoked by giving a bit more priority to others.

That’s why I was so pleased to read Phil Riggan’s retorts to a range of, well, let’s say “somewhat misinformed” responses to a recent “Why, Richmond, Why?” piece dealing with bicyclists’ and motorists’ gripes about each other.  Apparently Riggan got a proverbial ear full in response, and at least a few of them show signs of what I’m calling “motorist privilege.”  In the follow-up he does a very nice job of pointing out some of the skewed reasoning that this engenders.

A lot of it boils down to complaints about bicyclists doing “illegal” things that are actually not illegal (and are in some cases done for the cyclist’s own safety), blaming cyclists for unsafe conditions that they did not create, and — this is my favorite — cluttering up the city with their parked bicycles (!).  Riggan’s response to the latter:

One more complaint, a reader can’t stand all the bikes locked up on sidewalks, blocking pedestrian walkways. Ahem. Cars. Are. Parked. Everywhere. I must ask, where else should the bikes be parked? Dark alleyways?  Richmond needs plenty more places to lock up a bike (yes, we need to lock them to something, not just parked on the side of the street).”

Add to that the fact that you can park about 10 bicycles in the same space required by the average car.  Never mind the incredibly expensive parking decks that also generally create dead space in what could otherwise be a lively street.

Some cyclists in Latvia recently came up with a very creative way to show just how much space cars take up on the road and elsewhere compared to bicycles (see article here):

From designboom.com.

From designboom.com.

Just imagine how much nicer our city would be if we didn’t have to devote so much space for car parking and wide streets.  With the right infrastructure, bicycling, walking, and mass transit could be just as convenient if not more so than driving.  Hopefully we can make sure that the Complete Streets policy translates into streets that truly have space for everyone.