This is an open letter from Steve Cook to Frank Hotchkiss in response to Frank’s recent article: Bikes over Cars – Which Do You Prefer. Steve Cook writes articles for Santa Barbara View called Santa Barbara by Bicycle.
I read with concern your article in the Santa Barbara View titled: Bikes over Cars — Which Do You Prefer. Concern, for a number of reasons, including:
• your suggestion that a telephone poll be conducted to survey residents when the majority of U.S. households use a cell phone as their primary phone. How do you expect to reach these households? Virtually no one answers their phone if they do not know who the caller is, and few want to run up their cell phone minutes talking to someone about a survey. In particular, 2012 data show that 60.1 percent of adults aged 20-29 live in a household with only cell phones. 58.2 percent of renters only use cell phones. 51.8 percent of adults living in poverty use only cell phones. And, men, as a group, are more likely to use only cell phones than women. These are 2012 data, so we can assume the percentages are larger today. So, my question is: who are you targeting with your ‘unbiased’ telephone survey? Will these individuals answering the telephone survey be more or less likely (biased) to ride a bike in SB?
• your percentage is low per the latest data for Santa Barbara. As I recall, the number is closer to 7%, not 3.5% One thing to remember, as I’m sure the planners have told you, is that one bike on the road displaces one car on the road as 80% of the cars are used by sole occupants. Further, a bike on the road does not indicate a non-car owner, as most bikes are ridden currently by car owners. Those of in this category ride bikes for a number of reasons, including: improved health, better parking, convenient shopping, quicker commutes to nearby services. Would you prefer to see the number of cars on the road increase by 7%? I think not.
• the positioning of your article is bikes vs. cars. Why not both? Myself, I have 5 registered vehicles, and many bikes. Given the opportunity, I much prefer to ride my bike, including for commerce. And, when I ride my bike, I’m freeing up a parking space for someone who won’t or can’t ride, or who needs to purchase a high volume of goods in excess of the carrying capacity of their bike. With a more bike embracing infrastructure and ‘mentality’ in town, there is no reason not to expect that the percentage of riders for commerce will increase substantially. There are many great bike designs for cargo and groceries and we see them in town, and on the westside regularly.
• the future is hard to predict. Many people were in the camp that the cell phone could not change and the direction of design would come solely from Microsoft, Nokia or Motorola well off into the future. When Apple introduced the iPhone many prominent people said it would be a failure. As we all know, this began the dawn of a new era in technology usage due to fundamental design. We have an opportunity to do something similar in our little town with bicycle transportation if we pull together to make it happen. We will also need to do some thinking about driverless cars in the not-to-distant future: they are coming. And they will not likely need to park as much either as they will probably be shared among groups of friends, much like personal, driverless taxi cabs. The future of cars is neither speed or convenience alone, but intelligent coordination of pooled resources and coordinated car-to-car management of routing, speed and collision avoidance. Will you turn your back when Google comes knocking on our door to light the path for advances in this arena too?
• safety. One of the leading rationales for increasing bicycle infrastructure in a city is to improve the safety for bicyclists. With more bike ‘lanes’, and with appropriate education of both bike drivers and car drivers we can see increased bike riding in our town. This is not the only way to do so. For example, we can increase the number of people in town riding bikes by training them how to legally ride safely by ‘taking the lane’, thus using more of the existing lanes in town primarily for bicycles. This is the preferred method to ride by many as opposed to using a bike lane, and when done properly, it can as safe, if not more so, than using a dedicated bike lane. You see, the existing lanes are not “car lanes” — they are lanes and are legally available to be used by bicycles. Of course, this will have some impact on car drivers since most of our lanes are sub-standard and the car drivers will be waiting to legally pass the increasing number of bicycles. And, as you know, car passing won’t happen on the majority of our streets due to the small lane width and the many double yellow line markings. So, without more bike lanes you can expect traffic to become more encumbered in town as we move forward.
• Bike corrals – there are two approved corrals which will be implemented in the coming months downtown next to many businesses. These corrals were approved, as you know, with the consensus of the adjacent businesses. The reason they are wanted is to increase the density of the consumers on a block given that one car space displaced with a corral will allow for many bicycles (i.e., 8 to 1 or 12 to 1 improvement in shoppers). This is smart planning. The research shows that business receipts go up when these improvements are implemented.
• The assumption that all bike riders are not safe bike drivers. Like all drivers, there are those that run lights, stop signs, and go the wrong way on streets because it is more convenient. We have laws to enforce these errors of judgment and execution and we should enforce them. The Bicycle Coalition has regular training classes to teach people the rules of the road — both in class and on the road training. We encourage you to come to a class.
I invite you to join us in re-thinking how we commute, shop, and enjoy our town. This does not need to be us vs. them. This does not need to be progressives vs. non-progressives. This should be smart planning based on research that is proven successful in other cities and towns.
As Alan Kay said: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” So, let’s work together and make these needed improvements happen.