Cities everywhere are working to improve transportation options to reduce reliance on automobiles and for this reason bicycling as another mode of transport is taking off. But there’s a lot of push back because in the U.S. car culture is king, and the hidden argument against bikes is rarely made public.

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The Hidden Argument Against Bike Share (and Bike Anything)

Now that bike share stations are being placed around town, people are freaking through various complaints and vandalizing the stations. So a fews days ago I went to a bike share town hall meeting, hosted by our local council member. Here are some of the arguments against bike share that I heard:

"We didn't know a station was being proposed here."
"The stations take up space for needed parking."
"All the bike stations are making more traffic congestion."
"Now it's more difficult for businesses to get deliveries."
"Bike share is a commercial venture, not appropriate for public city streets."

The neighbors were most upset about a bike station at Clinton Avenue between Myrtle Avenue and Park Avenue. So I went there to investigate. The block is 900 feet long, so on the both sides there's a total of 1800 feet of possible public curbside space. After you take away the space that's off limits because of driveways and fire hydrants, you're left with 1500 feet. So under the proposed scenario, the bike share station at this site gets about 115 feet (7%) of the space of the block and cars get the rest, 1385 feet (93%). Here's the impressive visual I made for the meeting to back me up (with colored pencils):

Visual

So people are complaining that 7 percent of the curb public street is too much to give to another form of transportation. (Keep in mind that throughout the district the amount of space for bike share is much less because there isn't a bike share station on every block. We can think of this block as the worst case, most local scenario.)

Now imagine if my drawing were a public pizza that you were sharing with others and it was decided that your group would get the green wedge. On one hand perhaps you wouldn't complain because you never got a seat at the table before. But then you find out that some people are mad because they think your group shouldn't even get that much, that 7% is too generous.

Here's the hidden argument against bike share and anything bike related that's just not being expressed: "We are not concerned about equity. It doesn't matter if it's fair, we don't want to share the public streets with another viable form of transportation regardless of how much space they want or need. It doesn't matter if the end result may be better for the city, we don't want to share." Instead of stating this hidden truth, we get other superficial complaints to distract the public and the self from understanding that the root cause of this conflict is the failure to accept that equity is the issue, made especially hard to accept because habits are engrained, an accustomed way of life that's based on automobiles is tied to most of our culture's identity. So instead of dealing with the real issue, we get other complaints and fights because giving way to bicycles means that our lives will become more difficult. Convenience over equity.

VisualOne argument that shows how far this lack of reason goes is this one: bike share will make traffic worse. Here's similar reasoning: It's like filling up a glass (with one ice cube inside) with water until it overflows and then claiming that the problem with a glass of water spilling over is the ice cube and not all the liquid that was poured into the glass! Sure, remove the ice cube and you get a bit more room for water, but the ice cube isn't the source of the problem. The problem is too much water. The ice cube is just evidence that the customer is interested in more than drinking warm water.

Life is complicated and cities have innumerable interests moving them in every direction. We can choose to focus on the noise that's created by it all and then, as a result, get caught up in various tangents that will keep us quite busy but if we can slow down we'll understand that the cause of this struggle is equity. But few people talk about it.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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