Bike-haters. I can spot them a mile away. The first dead givaway is their use of the term “bikers” to describe cyclists (usually said with a Dick Cheney-like snarl of the upper lip). In their minds, “bikers” aren’t simply people trying to get from place to place on nonpolluting 2-wheelers, but annoying obstacles in the way of their benign automobiles, which is why God made roads in the first place, you know. In their fevered minds, traffic congestion is caused by bicyclists, not cars. The addition of a few miles of bike lanes among the thousands of miles of roadway in Southern California evidence that the dreaded “bikers” are advancing in some imaginary “war” on innocent motorists. Armed with the sense of entitlement that comes with 60-odd years of transportation policy that has privileged the automobile over all other modes of transportation, they prepare to do battle with these nefarious terrorists of the pavement.
The latest example of this retrograde mentality is a recent anti-bike screed by Mark Lacter in a recent edition of LA Biz Observed. What set Lacter off, apparently, was a community meeting held to discuss the possibility of some new bike lanes in Santa Monica and Westwood, an area of the city literally choking with cars. The city, he claimed “is being divided again” between “bikers in search of more space” and “motorists looking to hold on to what little space they have.” Right. With more than 64 square miles of surface street space and untold acres of parking space, a few more bike lanes are barely a drop in the sea of acreage given over to the automobile (Shoup, p. 657). The fact that every inch of street space we build eventually becomes choked with cars is not the fault of too many people riding bicycles.
Lacter claims bike lanes are all part of some “grandiose transportation scheme,” concocted by city bureaucrats at the beck and call of a cabal of “biking supporters.” Hmmm, no wonder the oil and automobile industry quake when they are confronted by the all-powerful bike lobbying juggernaut. Yeah, if only. Actually, this is another trope of the bike haters: cynically deploy the idea that there is some divisive “bikes vs. cars” war going on, when in fact all that’s happening is cities confronting the reality that they’re going to need multiple forms of transportation in the future if they are to continue to grow and not be continually gridlocked (not to mention reducing carbon emissions). Redesigning streets to accommodate more bikes and transit is a big part of that solution.
Another part of the bike hater’s argument is the specious claim that, as Lacter puts it, “bike lanes are frequently empty,” without considering whether the lack of a safe, practical network of bike lanes might be a reason for fewer people choosing to commute by bike. As a previous post of mine discussed at length, studies show that when there is a safe network of protected space for bikes on the roadways, ridership goes up—often way up. Also, just because a bike lane might appear empty at a particular moment, does not mean no one uses it. Moreover, we mandate parking lots for cars, even though they’re not always in use and we have sidewalks for pedestrians even though they’re not always full. Why should bike lanes be treated differently? Here’s where Lacter gets confused. No sooner does he claim that the bike lanes are empty, he then says “increased [bike] ridership has only made L.A. streets more dangerous” and complains about all the bicyclists he sees on the sidewalks. Well, which is it, Mr. Lacter? You can’t have it both ways.
The bike hater never claims to be anti-bike, mind you, it’s just that, he doesn’t want bikes on the sidewalks, doesn’t want them mixing with automobile traffic, and doesn’t want bike lanes. Ah, there’s the rub. He doesn’t think people should ride bikes, period. Maybe these “bikers” should all just drive cars, adding to the already gridlocked traffic, slurping up more oil, and spewing more carbon into the atmosphere. And what should we do to accommodate all those extra cars? Billions for freeway widening? Jackhammer sidewalks to add lanes to our roadways? Bulldoze neighborhoods for more parking garages?
Anything but those pesky bike lanes.