From Latent to Blatant

The comments section droolers who always complain that there aren’t enough riders to justify bicycle infrastructure have, as we know, their heads on backwards. There weren’t enough drivers to justify the automobile-centered infrastructure that went in beginning in the second third of the last century, either. Building the infrastructure (along with massive advertising, government oil, loan, and sprawl subsidies, and the intentional destruction of alternatives such as urban rail systems) soon enticed people to buy cars and start playing on all those “free” roads.

Starting in the ’70s, the concept of “induced demand” crept into the engineering lexicon–though not into the political one. Traffic engineers have known for decades that building roads doesn’t cure congestion; it causes it. Case in point: we’ve been adding lane-miles madly for seventy years in an effort to reduce congestion, yet congestion is worse than ever–and not just here, but everywhere it’s been tried. Worse, the resulting sprawl has caused cities to grow in geography while often actually losing population, becoming less pleasant, less efficient, and more expensive in the effort to make more and more room for cars.

Which means less and less room for people. As Lewis Mumford said forty years or so ago: “Adding highway lanes to deal with traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to cure obesity.” A car makes a person obese indeed–he or she now taking up some eight hundred square feet of public space, but not working or buying any more than a pedestrian, tram rider…or cyclist.

Meanwhile, there is a huge population of latent cyclists out there. Surveys have shown that you can categorize people into four groups, divided by their attitudes towards cycling. To quote the Portland Bureau of Transportation, they are:

  • The Strong & Fearless (1% of the population)
  • The Enthused & Confident (7%)
  • The Interested but Concerned (60%)
  • The No-Way-No-How (33%; they will probably never ride, even in Amsterdam)

Another quote from PBOT:

Survey after survey and poll after poll has found again and again that the number one reason people do not ride bicycles is because they are afraid to be in the roadway on a bicycle. They are generally not afraid of other cyclists, or pedestrians, or of injuring themselves in a bicycle-only crash. When they say they are “afraid” it is a fear of people driving automobiles. This has been documented and reported in transportation literature from studies, surveys and conversations across the US, Canada, and Europe.

There’s another thing they’re afraid of, though–and that is of getting their bikes ripped off while they’re at work, enjoying a coffee, browsing the shop, or digging through cabbages at the farmers market. All the bike lanes in the world won’t address that fear–you need bike parking. Lots of it. And that’s what the photo up there hints at….

I snapped it at Paper r Plastik, one of my favorite coffeehouses, and one located on a particularly bike-unfriendly stretch of Pico Boulevard. Since Gina and I often meet up with pal John Vu to ride there on a Wednesday morning, I filled out the DOT form to request two sidewalk bike racks for the place.

One of them showed up recently (we’re still waiting for the second), and, as you can see, Gina, John, and I still have to lock to poles and meters (two of our bikes are out of camera range). Even in a not-very-bikey neighborhood, enough people were wanting to ride rather than drive that the rack is now full whenever I go by.

LA is ignoring a huge constiutuency by moving so slowly in “implementing,” as they like to say, bicycle facilities.

Instead of wasting billions on car lanes and parking lots, just to crush property tax receipts, hold back business, and still make traffic worse, we should be trying to change all those latent cyclists into blatant ones, all over town. Racks, stripes, signs are cheap; even separated bike facilities are cheap compared to car lanes–especially for the capacity they provide.

And the gift they would give to our city’s merchants, and to the emotional life of our neighborhoods, would be almost immeasureable.

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