Getting From Here to There

In his latest column, urbanist Neal Peirce recounts the deteriorating condition of mass transit in the U.S., and details the ways in which that deterioration–if left unattended–will further depress the economy and damage the environment. It’s a gloomy picture, not just because it is clearly accurate, but because our political system is in the thrall of people who find reality inconvenient, and are determined to ignore real problems in favor of culture war diatribes against gays, immigrants and women’s reproductive rights.

Fix transit? How pedestrian (terrible pun intended)!

One of the few positive elements in this otherwise gloomy state of affairs is the steady growth in the number of people who bike rather than drive–to work, to do errands, and of course, for recreation.

As Jay Walljasper (no, I did NOT make up that name) has recently reported, biking has even taken hold in places where the climate doesn’t seem hospitable. He chronicles the things that Minneapolis, of all places, has done to encourage the growth of people who pedal, and there is a lesson for Indianapolis here.

“In a city where bicyclists of all ages and backgrounds already ride recreational trails the goal is to encourage people to hop on their bikes for commuting or short trips. This is not a far-fetched dream, since nationally half of all automobile trips are three miles or less—a distance easily covered on bike in twenty minutes.

To make that happen, Minneapolis is committed to creating separate rights-of-way for bikes wherever feasible — which helps explain why the city defies trends of bicyclists as overwhelmingly male. While only a quarter of riders are women nationally, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reports 37 percent in Minneapolis.

Research shows that most people — including many women, families and older citizens — are wary of biking alongside motor vehicles on busy streets. Having the option to ride apart from heavy traffic encourages more people to try out biking as a form of transportation.

Since the 1970s Dutch planners have separated bicyclists from motor vehicles on most arterial streets, with impressive results. Women now make up 55 percent of two-wheel traffic and citizens over 55 ride in numbers slightly higher than the national average.”

The lesson here is that how governments do things is every bit as important as what they choose to do.

Here in Indianapolis, one of the things the Ballard Administration has actually done right is focus on expanding bicycling. The Mayor has received a good deal of –deserved–commendation for extending bike lanes. But as a female rider, I can certainly attest to the accuracy of Walljasper’s report on the importance of separating those lanes from busy streets. Even my husband, a far more intrepid biker than I will ever be, tries to avoid the bike lanes that take riders across Michigan and New York Streets alongside speeding automobiles that far too frequently seem intent on running bikes off the road. A colleague of mine who doesn’t own a car, and commutes everywhere by bicycle, was seriously injured when a car sideswiped her last year.

As unglamorous as infrastructure may be, our elected officials need to learn to do things the right way. Just as it isn’t enough to pave roads if you don’t maintain them, it isn’t enough to slap some paint on an existing street and call it a bike lane.

So I’ll give Ballard an A for effort, but a D for execution. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much a description of his last four years.

1 Comment

  1. “…reality incovenient…”?

    Ok- birthday’s over. I love this forum, but seizing control of private sector health care during 9% unemployment and double or triple digit trillions in debt, deficit and financial obligations is my poster child for somebody that can’t deal with an “inconvenient reality”.

    I’ve done a fair amount of biking to work. No disagreement that some of the lanes I’ve seen over the past couple of years seem to be “traffic engineered” by the guy with the bucket of paint. Not that we can probably afford an upscale job.

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