Transportation efficiency, safety and fluff programs

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Ken Greenberg and Trent Lethco discuss the potential benefits for drivers of providing more bike (and transit) capacity on local systems.  Given the minor controversy that has erupted over the decision by Minneapolis Department of Public Works to hire a Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, I thought this article was especially timely.

One of the key transportation issues we’ve only begun to tackle is system efficiency versus system capacity. When we think about moving the highest number of people in the smallest available footprint, creating more space for walking, cycling and transit makes perfect sense. By focusing on making our existing systems more efficient, we can allow more people to travel on the roads, highways and transportation systems we’ve already built.

Every additional trip we take on foot, on a bicycle or by public transit frees up significant space for drivers, since the “footprints” of these other modes are so much smaller. The cyclist beside you is not the car in front of you; the bicycle locked to a ring at curbside means one less parking space is taken. Driver, cyclist and pedestrian are complementary rather than mutually exclusive categories. Most of us are all of these at different times. What’s crucial is the proportion of time we use each mode, and creating communities where the car is needed for only certain types of trips. For other trips, we can make more efficient choices.

Recognizing this reality, cities around the world are finding innovative ways to share their rights of way. Cities such as Amsterdam, Copenhagen, London, Paris, New York, Montreal and Vancouver are rapidly making the shift to safe and efficient multimodal networks. More than a hundred cities now have bicycle-sharing programs such as Bixi. If we decide we want our system to be more efficient, we must also ensure it has the attributes that make the more efficient choices the attractive ones – and that comes through land use, system design, pricing and skillful urban design.

Greenberg and Lethco’s article is all about efficiency, but the bike coordinator position is also about public safety.  Ward 2 Council member Cam Gordon provides an eloquent rebuttal to the Strib article:

I am concerned that the article presents a false choice between this coordinator position and public safety.  In fact, the bike/walk coordinator position is a public safety position.  According to the records from our Public Works department, there were 46 bike/ped fatalities in Minneapolis between 2000 and 2009, and 5,509 bicyclists and pedestrians (that we know of) have been hit in that same timeframe.

These are big numbers, and it’s easy to lose sight of the human suffering behind each one.  So I ask you to remember Audrey Hull, the young woman who was hit and killed in Ward 2 earlier this year, and the pain that unnecessary tragedy caused to her family and friends.

Safer, better designed infrastructure can save lives.  That’s not an assertion, it’s a fact, borne out by the studies that have looked into road treatments like bike lanes.  By helping us build more and better bike and pedestrian infrastructure, this coordinator will help prevent deaths like Audrey’s.

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