Archive for category politics

get out of that car

Not long after reading that Senator Barbara Boxer (D – CA) and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is trying to make it more difficult to ride your bike, GOOD pointed me to this study that was published by the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The study looked a the benefits of reducing car usage for short urban and suburban trips:

Reductions in PM2.5 related mortality across the Midwest are shown in Figure 2a, with the total impact across the 37,000 square mile region being 433 fewer deaths. Asthma exacerbations would decrease annually by over 2,000 cases. Also, there would be approximately 75 fewer COPD cases, while net respiratory symptoms, hospital admissions and ER visits would decrease by 93,607 cases annually. For cardiovascular disease, there would be approximately 660 fewer cases of non-fatal AMI and hospital admissions. Savings from reduced annual mortality would reach almost $3.5 billion.

Oh, and:

Based on WHO HEAT, we estimated that completing 50% of short trips by bicycle would result in average annual savings over $2.5 billion for short suburban bicycle trips and nearly $1.25 billion for short urban trips (Table 3), for a total of approximately $3.8 billion in benefits across an estimated population of 2 million people, and a reduction in premature mortality of almost 700 deaths per year.

If you’re keeping track that’s $7 billion/year in savings just by replacing a car with a bike for half of all short trips.

In this context what kind of sense does legislation that makes it more difficult to ride a bike make sense? Perhaps we should make it more difficult to drive.

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Seattle follows Portland by expanding bike lanes. Can Sacramento follow?

New bicycling initiatives being launched in Seattle echo successful projects in Portland, and could influence similar decisions in Sacramento. The new “greenways” being planned in several Seattle neighborhoods will take cyclists off busy arteries and through re-designed side streets, where speed-bumps, modified sidewalks and curbs, and special stop-signs will give priority to cyclists as well as pedestrians.

The first greenway will run through the Wallingford district of north-central Seattle, and advocates hope to develop further greenways in at least three other neighborhoods. The city takes its cue from it’s southern neighbor, progressively pro-bike Portland, which has more than thirty greenways, and which predicts that 80% of city residents will live within half a mile of a greenway by 2015.

The initiatives in place in Portland and Seattle put to shame the efforts in Sacramento, which claims to be a bike-friendly city but which has pitifully few dedicated bike lanes, no greenways, and an outdated but muscular pro-car bent. The region’s single saving concession – the American River Trail – was established decades ago, and has not been expanded or improved upon since, despite expansion and realignment of the city’s commercial and residential areas.

The Portland greenways cost an estimated $250,000 per mile, an expense which Seattle hopes to recoup through an additional car-tab fee of $60. Over ten years, the tax would raise more than $200 million for additional transportation projects to help promote cycling and walking in the city.

In cash-strapped, pro-car Sacramento, the possibility of introducing a levy on motor-vehicles to pay for bike-lane improvements or greenways seems unlikely. Many of the region’s essential roads are in disrepair and further cuts to the DOT budget are pending.

However, as pro-cycling advocates frequently point out, cycling has cost benefits that reach far beyond the immediate advantages for keen bike-commuters. An active citizenry which solves its own economic and health problems by choosing to commute via bicycle instead of motor-vehicle injects vitality and treasure into the local economy, and may even go so far as to improve the desirability of residential property in the region.

Bike lanes and greenways can’t fix every problem that plagues Sacramento, but the cost-benefit ratio is enormous, and worthy of further consideration.

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call to action

The political situation in America is…well, it leaves something to be desired and the “say no” attitude of Republicans in the legislature is…ok, I’ll try to make this post a little less about politics in general and a little more about how federal funding for cycling is about to become the next victim of political grandstanding.

The federal transportation bill is set to expire at the end of the month and, without a new law to replace it, the provisions of the current law will need to be extended to ensure that federal funding for highways, transit and bike/pedestrian improvements continues. Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has already said that he would oppose any extension that would include funding for Transportation Enhancements (the part of the bill that supports pedestrian and cycling improvements).

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) seem to be right behind Coburn:

We are not opposed to initiatives to repair and improve infrastructure, and believe there are reforms that can be implemented that would improve their effectiveness in a manner that supports economic growth. Current law requires that states set-aside 10 percent of their surface transportation funds for transportation enhancements, which must be used for items such as establishment of transportation museums, education activities for pedestrians and bicyclists, acquisition of scenic easements, historic preservation, operation of historic transportation facilities, etc. While many of the initiatives funded by this mandatory set-aside may be worthy projects, eliminating this required set-aside would allow states to devote more money to the types of infrastructure programs you are advocating without adding to the deficit.

I’m a firm believer that funding for bike projects and other alternatives to driving do a lot to improve the overall transportation system in America. And I’m pretty much in agreement with this comment (hey it looks like it’s by Richard over at Cyclelicious-he doesn’t know me, but I feel like we’re buddies) over at dc.streetsblog:

With Coburn’s grandstanding, I say screw it and eliminate transportation funding completely. If Coburn doesn’t want to fund enhancements by holding all of transportation funding hostage, I say let him.

The League of American Bicyclists has a handy link that makes it easy for you to get in contact with your Senator and tell them to continue funding the Transportation Enhancements. Get over there and Take Action.

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CHP announces new fines for cyclists

The California Highway Patrol has announced plans to introduce penalties for cyclists who use a cellphone while riding. The fine – $20 (before additional fees) is for first-time offenders. Repeat offenders would face fines of $50 for each incident.

The new penalties were outlined in a bill that was approved by the state Senate on Monday, April 25th. The bill also increases penalties for drivers who use a cellphone while driving. They could face fines of more than $500 for repeat offenses, once fees have been tacked on to the basic fine. The bill was introduced during April’s National Distracted Driving Awareness Month.

As cellphones become ubiquitous, it is not unusual to see cyclists pausing to retrieve a ringing phone from a pocket while they cruise along city streets. Motorists have been doing the same for many years, often with tragic results.

But the bill has its opponents among cycling advocates, who maintain that cyclists need greater protection, not more restrictions, when riding on the road.

“This is only going to be one more obstacle for someone who uses their bicycle for transportation.” Said Tani Walling, a bike shop owner from southern California. “Everything about how our streets and sidewalks are set up favors cars.”

Every year, law enforcement hands out tens of thousands of citations in California for drivers using cellphones to talk or text while driving. Over 18s are required to use hands-free devices, while under-18s are prohibited from using any kind of phone while driving a car.

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Lowenthal introduces “3 feet” law for cyclists

The posters in support of the bill

Democratic state senator Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach last week introduced a bill that would mandate a three-foot passing distance for drivers when overtaking cyclists on California streets. If passed, the law would give bicycle traffic legal protection for the first time against aggressive and negligent drivers who routinely assault cyclists on California highways.

S.B. 910 seeks to define what is a “safe distance” for drivers to pass cyclists, and the bill has received early support in the form of a poster campaign in southern California. The “Give Me 3″ posters have been cropping up around bus stops in LA, and have drawn attention to a growing demand from non-profit and advocacy groups for greater focus on the issue of car-on-bike violence.

Los Angeles has hosted a number of recent high-profile events in which cyclists have peacefully demonstrated against what they consider a hostile environment for cyclists: the downtown Los Angeles area.

So-called “safe-streets” legislation has traditionally had a difficult time making passage in Sacramento, which is susceptible to lobbying from the California Highway Patrol, as well as the trucking industry. Institutional opposition to bicycle advocacy is a major problem in California, where the roads represent a final frontier bitterly fought over by conservative groups who seek to maintain a motor-only advantage, and progressive, eco-friendly proponents of zero-impact transportation solutions.

Arguments against a 3-feet passing law are weak, and include assertions that such a mandate would be difficult to enforce under current conditions. This law, however, would provide cyclists with some degree of legal standing when they felt they had been bullied off the road by inconsiderate drivers. No such law currently protects cyclists, despite the fact that 16 other states have functioning 3-feet laws.

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Your bike path is unconstitutional

In case you missed it DC Streetsblog did an interview with Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) that included this gem:

SB: I was just in an EPW Committee hearing and there was some talk about the fact that some small amount of money in the reauthorization historically gets used for things like bike trails. Some people think that’s waste; some people think biking is a mode of transportation. What do you think?

DH: I don’t think biking should fall under the federal purview of what the Transportation Committee is there for. If a state wants to do it, or local municipality, they can do whatever they want to. But no, because then you have us mandating bike paths, which you don’t want either.

SB: But you’re OK with mandating highways?

DH: Absolutely, yeah. Because that’s in the constitution. I don’t see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane.

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Deputy Prime Minister told to stop cycling

It’s dangerous, cycling. Especially in London, or anywhere in America, just read Sam’s last post.

But now Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has been advised by his security personel that he needs to stop riding his bike from his home in Putney, South West London to his place of work in the Cabinet Office, beside 10 Downing Street.

Apparently they’re worried that he’ll be pelted with objects or run off the road due to his new found unpopularity, which is surging thanks to his failure to hold up one of his pre-election pledges to students: to scrap tuition fees.

Run off the road? Pelted with objects? It’s all par for the course isn’t it? I doubt the bus driver who tried to kill me a few weeks ago objected to my stance on Britain’s gun-owning laws. I think he just didn’t check his mirror.

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more than just a culture shift

I read a lot about cycling culture in the US and the growing popularity of cycling as transportation. Everybody seems to be asking what it’s going to take to become more like a certain European city. Building a community of cyclists is the first step, sure, but next we need start using that community to improve city planning.

But Copenhagen cyclists have benefited from decades of pro-bike planning decisions, while US urban planners must overcome a century of energy politics and urban policy designed to promote vehicle use.

“There was an enormous American economic engine built around the continuing expanded use of the automobile,” said Prof Owen Gutfreund of the urban affairs faculty at Hunter College in New York, and author of Twentieth-Century Sprawl: Highways and the Reshaping of the American Landscape.

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