I belatedly noticed this post from Sam H at Piedmont Publius. Sam was responding to a post I wrote about biking in Greensboro, and he expresses his ambivalence toward bike paths. He likes to use them, but ...
What bothers me is the way city planners continually shove bike transportation down our throats as part of their perfect-world vision. If everyone could only ride their bikes everywhere, they believe, we would reduce our use of fossil fuels, the air would be cleaner and global warming would cease to exist. The world would be saved.I think Sam is mistaken about the origin of Greensboro's very small number of bike lanes. The scuttlebutt I used to hear from city staff was that GDOT's transportation head, Jim Westmoreland -- himself an avid competitive cyclist -- was opposed to bike lanes, because he believed that they don't actually increase bike safety.
I don’t like perfect world visions, because there’s no such thing as a perfect world. The majority of Greensboro citizens either want better bicycle transportation or they don’t, and city planners should react accordingly. It’s a lot more simple than saving the world.
But GDOT held a number of public hearings when it started a review of its pedestrian transportation plans a couple of years ago, and the people who showed up at those meetings told GDOT very strongly that they wanted bike lanes.
At about the same time a bunch of Greensboro bike-lovers formed a lobbying group, BIG (Bicycling In Greensboro), that launched a PR campaign involving group bike rides, public meetings, letters to the editor, and guest op-eds in the local paper.
Their politicking paid off, and GDOI rewarded them with a few bike lanes in places that could easily accommodate them by simply repainting the roads and putting up a few signs. GDOT also published a map showing which existing streets are bike-friendly in our town, and which are not.
GDOT's new thoroughfare guidelines, which will come under public scrutiny in a year or so when the new Land Development Ordinance is up for adoption, make provisions for bike lanes where appropriate. But those guidelines did not come from transit utopians on city staff -- they are the product of tough committee-room skirmishes between bike/pedestrian advocates on the one hand and builders and developers on the other. Everyone involved in the process that I've heard from agrees that the result is a compromise that all parties can live with. Sounds like good city politics to me.
A lot of people presuppose that the older transportation model -- the one with multi lane, one-way streets with no sidewalks, crosswalks, or bike lanes -- is the result of "market forces" or is somehow more in line with libertarian-style individualism.
But every planning book I've read says that those whooshing thoroughfares are the offspring of mid century visionaries who were going to solve urban problems with efficient roads that would whisk happy suburbanites to and from their jobs in the gleaming center city.
Transportation decisions back in that day were much more top-down, and planners had a freer hand to ram their perfect-world visions down the public's throat. The result? High Point Road, Battleground Avenue, and their ilk The visionaries' vision failed, and now we're forced to go back and fix their mistakes. Whence comes the High Point Road corridor plan.
I'm a lot more comfortable with the kind of public input and give-and-take that goes into our newer transportation guidelines. Besides, I like to drive, walk, and ride my bike safely. And I've noticed that the new bike lanes on Spring Garden St. get heavy use, which shows to me that there was pent-up demand for them.