In his recent article, Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss proposed that a poll be taken to really gauge the type of transportation infrastructure Santa Barbarans want. But as is so often the case in these matters, how a question is phrased both reveals the biases of the questioner and influences the answers likely to be received.
The premise of Mr. Hotchkiss’ proposed poll is that our transportation infrastructure is a direct consequence of our desire: we desire to drive, therefore we should build roads for cars. By backward inference, the roads that have already been built are an indication of our collective preference for driving.
But it is equally true to say that what we desire is a consequence of what has been built. My desire to drive my car is greatly influenced by the existence of wide, fast streets, low-cost gas available every couple miles, freeways, free parking, and all the other affordances that make driving remarkably painless and guilt-free in our culture. (Can you imagine driving without all those things?) Conversely, the lack of equivalent bicycling infrastructure kills my desire to ride my bike. Ride where there is no bike lane? No thanks, I just don’t want to.
Additionally, Mr. Hotchkiss presumes that one transportation mode must necessarily come at the expense of any others. But, as the recent examples of the restriping of Cliff Drive and Haley Street have shown (in which there has been no impact on car traffic that I have observed), some of our streets are over-provisioned for cars, and our civil engineers have proven their skill at designing multi-modal solutions. In any case, my garage, like many others, contains both cars and bicycles. Why not support both?
Lastly, if Mr. Hotchkiss is permitted to stereotype bicyclists as showing up “en masse to promote any expanded biking plans” (emphasis original), may I be permitted to call out the car-only advocates who predict gridlock and catastrophe whenever pedestrian or bicyling improvements are proposed? Their dire prophesies invariably fail to materialize.
The question is not as simple as, Do you want to drive or bike? Our desires and our built infrastructure influence each other in complicated and subtle ways. I propose that a better question is: What infrastructure will foster the transportation choices that will in turn create the kind of community we want to live in? For me, that community includes being able to drive, and equally to walk and bike.