Sunday, November 04, 2007

Randal O'Toole

(Image from Canal Houses of Amsterdam)

The Wash Cycle, a blog about cycling in Washington, DC, has an interesting interview with Randal O'Toole from the Cato Institute - a conservative think tank - about the futility of encouraging bicycle commuting. He said,"I don't think encouraging cycling is going to reduce congestion or significantly change the transportation makeup of our cities." O'Toole is a bicycle commuter.

"There really is very little evidence that any of (these efforts) are reducing the amount of driving. They're just making it more annoying to drivers....While I think some cycling and bus projects might be cost effective, I don't expect anything but road improvements (and road pricing) will make a significant dent in congestion."

Regarding Copenhagen and Amsterdam and their high bicycle usage rates above 30%, O'Toole said, "The high rates reported for those cities only apply to the very dense central cities. The suburbs of those cities tend to be low in density (one urban planning historian wrote that they were "indistinguishable" from American suburbs, which isn't really true, but functionally it is true) and have high rates of auto usage."

I'm wary of people who tout Copenhagen as a kind of cycling nirvana, and by extension, seem to think that we can do the same. There are huge differences between those cities and any American city. First, outside of a few of our oldest city cores that were constructed on a pedestrian scale, low density building is the norm. Greater commuting distances require motor vehicles or mass transit to get people between their homes and their jobs. The anti-sprawl zealots would gladly combine the two in one neighborhood, but it seems most American people don't want mixed use development. We're happy to keep zoning laws that separate homes and industry. And come to think of it, since much of Europe has been high-density for a millennium or so, maybe those people who left to settle here did so for a reason. High density is just a more polite term for over crowding.

Another contributing factor to high bicycle use is simple economics. Gasoline is far more expensive in Europe than it is here. If I recall right, a gallon of gas sells for the equivalent of $8. I can't speak for everyone, but I know that in our house, if it cost nearly $100 to fill the tank of the family sedan, I'd bike more and drive less.

Finally, I want to point out that for some of those who label themselves as bicycling advocates, their motives have more to do with hating and fearing motor vehicles. It's true. As O'Toole said, some efforts are aimed at making driving more annoying, and as I see it, much of the anti-sprawl advocacy has this at its heart. Being pro-cycling is not the same as being anti-car.

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Blogger Joel said...

"Finally, I want to point out that for some of those who label themselves as bicycling advocates, their motives have more to do with hating and fearing motor vehicles. It's true. As O'Toole said, some efforts are aimed at making driving more annoying, and as I see it, much of the anti-sprawl advocacy has this at its heart. Being pro-cycling is not the same as being anti-car."

Thank you for saying that. I see it so often and it always gets to me. I ride and bike commute because I enjoy both, not because I think cars are evil. Sure, I support driving less and try to run errands on my bike etc, but the best way to get more people riding is to emphasize the good, not demonize the people who don't.

7:38 AM  
Blogger Joe said...

Oh what a toole might have been a better title-

Just another of the "it won't work here" crowd. Who would have believed 40 years ago there would be a place to go walk to nowhere, filled with people paying a monthly membership to go and walk to nowhere, or pedal to nowhere, just so they could get some type of cario benefit, and in this place they sell bottled filled with water. Yes, you read that right, bottles filled with water that comes free from a fountain next to the machine. To top it all off, people often drive 10 miles to get to this place, where they walk on the treadmill for 5 miles, then they drive back home.

Oh, and did I mention they pay a monthly membership fee to do this? Yeah, an idea like that most likely sounded just as crazy as people bicycling to work, and those very same people helping to lessen the congestion on the roads. Actually the above scenario sounds WAY more crazy, yet it's reality people.

Bottom line, I'd have said people that would ride a bicycle to work are out of their minds just 3 years ago, now I fully understand the definition of irony. :)

More people on bikes has way to many benefits, even if it doesn't do a thing for the traffic issues. Oh, and as for it being annoying to drivers, cry me a river. You wanna ride in the bike lane, get on a bike, you wanna blow your horn at me for being on the road, make sure you don't hit the light red.


9:56 AM  
Blogger Paul Tay said...

Driving a motor vehicle in Tulsa is ALREADY annoying, even WITHOUT bike traffic.

The EFFECTIVE average speed limit is ALREADY 25mph, given the congestion CAUSED by signalized intersections corking traffic, just about EVERY half mile.

The problem? The City's design group is still stuck on moving more vehicles, NOT more PEOPLE.

Do we really NEED four wheels grafted onto our bodies just to move around in this town?

11:44 AM  
Blogger Paul Tay said...

Actually, what's really ANNOYING are CONSERVATIVE wise guys like O'Tool.

I don't understand how continuing HUGE government SUBSIDIES to the auto-culture is CONSERVATIVE. If market forces really had their way, cars would be BANNED, not bikes.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Fritz said...

O'Toole's information about the "futility" of encouraging transportational cycling comes straight from J Forester himself in this paper. Forester is one of the presenters at a "Recovering from Smart Growth" conference this week here in Silicon Valley, which is sponsored by O'Toole's "American Dream Coalition."

Ed, the world's declining oil resources mean that very difficult times are on the way for us, probably within your lifetime and certainly within that of your children. The American Dream was great while it lasted, but we continue to promote business as usual.

12:37 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

I think O'Toole was right on the money because we add new drivers faster than we add new cyclists. Absent a major economic shift away from fossil fuels, yes, we'll simply continue on our present course. But you can be sure that people will demand some kind of motorized personal transportation. They cannot consider anything else. Eventually some technology will arise that provides that personal transport.

And, yes, we'll still be out there on our bikes because it benefits us personally. It saves us money. We're healthier, stronger, and better balanced emotionally.

Forester has been known to go on a tear about anti-motoring hostility as a bait-and-switch for bicycling advocacy. But I'll be honest and say that I don't read everything he posts to Chainguard. He's windy and I just don't have the time or patience.

5:43 PM  
Blogger DC said...

I agree with both your main points that (1) a good cycling city needs density and (2) it's important that being pro-bike not mean being anti-car.

But I don't agree that density means over-crowding. DC is a dense city not unlike many European towns and so it could reach that level of bike use in the center city for sure. And I don't feel it's over-crowded. I think Jane Jacobs said that what makes cities great are other people. I like having dozens of people walking the sidewalks outside my house, I like seeing the neighborhood park busy and I like being able to walk to the hardware store, pharmacy, bar, etc...

I try not to be anti-car (my wife owns one) and I wish it would go both ways. I wish car people would try not to be anti-bike. The exception is this. We're getting to the point in DC where all the low hanging fruit is gone. If we want to improve cycling in DC we're going to have to start taking space from cars. We'll need on-street bicycle parking where there is now car parking. We'll need the number of lanes reduced to make room for bike lanes. We'll need on-street parking removed to make room for bikes. That's not anti-car, but it is asking cars to give something up.

4:32 PM  

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