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US DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx on the end of favoring cars

Posted by on May 20th, 2016 at 12:44 pm

DOT Sec Foxx.jpg

Six years ago former US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood surprised everyone at the closing reception of the 2010 National Bike Summit when he climbed up on a table and made a short but sweet speech.

“I’ve been all over America,” LaHood proclaimed, arms outstretched over 700 bike advocates. “People do want alternatives. They want out of their cars; they want out of congestion; they want to live in livable neighborhoods.”

The next morning he followed that up with a policy document that he said marked “the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.”

Fast forward to Wednesday when current DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx came to Portland. He struck resonant chords about America’s failure to diversify our transportation system, but as evidenced by the FAST Act that passed under his watch, federal transportation funding and policy shows no signs of ending its long romance with the automobile.

So when I got the unexpected opportunity to ask Secretary Foxx a question, the first thing that popped into my head was that indelible image of Ray LaHood standing on a tabletop in that Senate ballroom on Capitol Hill. I wondered if Secretary Foxx had any insights into how we might usher in this era LaHood once spoke of.

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Here’s the question I asked:

“Secretary Foxx, your predecessor stood on a table at the National Bike Summit in 2010 and announced “The end of favoring motorized transportation at the DOT.” And yet, here we are, six years later and, as you said yourself a few minutes ago, we still have a car-dominant transportation system. What can we do to change that paradigm so that biking, walking, and transit can be the dominant modes and we start thinking of driving and cars as sort of the “appendage” [a term he used in a speech a few minutes earlier] over on the side?”

And here’s his answer:

“I think we’re going to need cars. We’re going to need a mix of transportation options. I think we have a supply-side mentality right now at the federal level where we presume that 80-cents on the dollar should go to the automobile within the Highway Trust Fund. And I actually think over the longer term we’re going to need to look at a more performance-based system where we look at things like: How it congestion best reduced? How do we increase safety? How do we move significant numbers of people most efficiently and effectively and cleanly. And I think that’s going to push us into a different mix of transportation choices.

But I think it’s a slow, gradual process. Look around the world and no country has created a multimodal system overnight; but I think that’s ultimately where we’re headed. We have to have a mix of transportation choices. It includes the automobile, but it’s not exclusive to the automobile.”

If you’re itching for major changes to the status-quo, this isn’t exactly an earth-shattering answer. But since most people resist real change, maybe Foxx’s measured tone is the best way to bend the arc of transportation toward justice toward people who walk and bike and take transit. As an activist I find that trying to strike the tone that brings about the changes I want without excluding the people I need to bring along to make it happen, is a constant struggle.

— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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58 Comments
  • Avatar
    John Lascurettes May 20, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    His wish-washy, half-hearted answer is disappointing. I understand change is slow but there’s zero actual commitment in his words.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley May 20, 2016 at 1:09 pm

      Yeah, I was hoping for something more exciting. FANTASTIC question, though, Jonathan!

      Since Foxx will be losing his job in six months, it’s a pity he didn’t at least take a more definitive stand. The fact that he chooses to be noncommittal at this point in the administration says that he really doesn’t have much faith in the country’s ability or desire to change.

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        wsbob May 20, 2016 at 4:55 pm

        Maybe the next president will keep him on, especially if it’s Hillary or Sanders. For him to suggest some change in today’s transportation infrastructure, change that correlates very little with the travel needs people today need to meet, isn’t going to do much to change the paradigm presently in force.

        “…And I actually think over the longer term we’re going to need to look at a more performance-based system where we look at things like: How it congestion best reduced? …”. Answer in part to the first question asked of DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx, in this story’s interview

        I give Foxx high points for his effort in trying to keep the point of the question he asked in the above quote, foremost in the minds of people that sincerely are looking for realistic ways to reduce road congestion today.

        It’s important to consider how much it may be, that greater provision for walking and biking on key routes between neighborhoods and destinations beyond, could possibly help to reduce congestion arising from excessive motor vehicle use on highways, thoroughfares, and even neighborhood streets. Like Foxx asked though: How is congestion best reduced?

        If use of bikes for travel rather than motor vehicles, really were the single best answer to that question…theoretically, cities could, within a very short period of days or weeks, reassign an main lane, on highways and thoroughfares with more than one lane in each direction…exclusively to bike use. Seriously…would doing that reduce congestion, and would it be the be a good way to reduce it, let alone the ‘best’ way to do the job?

        Sounds as though Foxx may know what the country is up against in terms of arriving at good changes to the long standing practice of relying heavily upon motor vehicles to meet so much of people’s travel needs today. I’m thinking Hillary is going to get elected…so I hope she’ll at least consider having stay on.

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          David Hampsten May 21, 2016 at 8:14 pm

          I’m sorry, but what exactly is wrong with [auto traffic] congestion?

          Sure, there are cost in terms of concentrated pollution at congestion points, rather than system-wide, as well as the loss of time and the increase of frustration as we hurry to get from point A to point B; but think of the benefits:

          1. Auto congestion encourages auto drivers to drive bikes past the traffic, or else use transit, and do other stuff while getting to their destination.

          2. Congestion encourages auto traffic to notice local small businesses during the crawl, rather than rush to the distant big-box retailers.

          3. Congestion encourages residents to move their households to locations closer to work, either in time or space, reducing VMT (vehicle miles traveled.)

          4. Congestion discourages sprawl. I live in a city that takes pride in its lack of congestion, it has freeways and expressways coming out of its ears, but covers an area larger than Portland but with half its population and density.

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            soren May 23, 2016 at 11:00 am

            I am a huge fan of congestion and parking stress. The more the merrier!

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        9watts May 20, 2016 at 10:27 pm

        “Since Foxx will be losing his job in six months, it’s a pity he didn’t at least take a more definitive stand. ”

        Being wishy-washy on cars will serve him well as he passes through the revolving door into the private sector. … until cars dry up and blow away quite independently of how much we may feel they are necessary.

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      Eric Leifsdad May 20, 2016 at 3:53 pm

      Yeah, “I think we’re going to need cars.” was the beginning and end of that answer.

      Who cares if we “need” cars? When talking about favoring non-car ways of getting around, the key thing is for planners to look at every destination (house, business, etc) and *first* make it easy to arrive there by bike or on foot. *first*.

      Just look at the thing you want and take care of that *first*.

      Now, how do we let cars get to these places without ruining it for everyone else? Well, you can close streets to through auto traffic (cheap) or you can build sidewalks and separated bikeways (expensive.) Big spectrum.

      People in cars can use freeways and major roads to go around or write to the auto connectivity office (formerly neighborhood safety and livability hotline) and ask to please have a through auto lane in the next gas tax hike / toll road / whatever.

      Simple.

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    KristenT May 20, 2016 at 1:09 pm

    I understand that change takes time… but it would be nice if those “taking a look at” questions could at least show some progress in looking for the answers, instead of just chugging along at status quo while we talk about looking for the answers some day.

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    Dave May 20, 2016 at 1:36 pm

    I think it is pretty earth-shaking–this is the US Secretary of Transportation.
    Obama is 2 for 2 in high-quality Sec Trans’s.

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    Dan A May 20, 2016 at 1:40 pm

    Where is the All-Powerful Bike Lobby when you need them?

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    BB May 20, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    6 years latter and people still die.

    Maybe the government should make a report card on its progress?

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    ethan May 20, 2016 at 3:30 pm

    It would help if they didn’t fund giant, sprawl-inducing highways. Why are those being funded still?

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      Pete May 20, 2016 at 3:49 pm

      Worse, it’s the debt on previously funding them that they’re trying to figure out how to fund now.

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        9watts May 20, 2016 at 10:28 pm

        Hear, hear! I would love to see an article by Michael on this subject. I think far too few people understand this.

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    Pete May 20, 2016 at 3:52 pm

    Other countries didn’t create multimodal systems, they inherited and fostered them. Ours instead accelerated adoption of a single mode and helped globally proliferate it.

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    Bontrager May 20, 2016 at 5:21 pm

    LaHood said: “People do want alternatives. They want out of their cars; they want out of congestion; they want to live in livable neigh(bor)hoods.”

    He must have smoked a big monster joint with BHO just before that speech. His claim is laughable – for the most part, people are happy with their cars – but they do want less congestion on the roads so it’s easier to drive their car. The vast majority would never consider biking or public transportation. People like cars – always have – and will continue to do so as long as they can afford them. Even the author, JM, loves to get in a car and go out on a road trip to some nice cycling location on weekends.

    The obsession with car-hate is ridiculous.

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    • Anne Hawley
      Anne Hawley May 20, 2016 at 8:23 pm

      Where do you get “obsession with car-hate” out of LaHood’s statement? People do want out of their cars. People are aware that their commutes eat up their lives. Even the drivingest people I know would prefer to have options other than spending hours a day inside their cars, even if they love the make, model, performance, color, and features of their lovely lovely cars.

      The fact that many people here, including Jonathan, own and use cars should tell you that there’s no “obsession with car-hate”. Just a strong preference not to be forced to drive, and not to be threatened on the road by car-drivers while riding a bike.

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        Bontrager May 20, 2016 at 10:41 pm

        Sure, we all want less congestion on the highways. We are not forced to drive. Those people stuck in bumper to bumper stop/go traffic every morning and evening CHOOSE to commute that way. They could bike or take MAX or a bus, or carpool, or maybe move closer to their job (guarantee of a layoff if you do) but they CHOOSE to commute by car, because they prefer that mode to all other choices.

        The “car hate” is a continuous theme on this website – I’m not talking about LaHood’s statement – although being a political figure he would say something hateful about cars to an anti-car audience in order to please them.

        He’s delusional if he thinks people want out of their cars. Look at the freeweays in every city in this country. People love their cars. Some love them so much they’ll spend big money to buy a Tesla, or a Ferrari, or a Porsche, or a Lamborghini, or a monster truck with an engine that would pull 2 fully loaded 18 wheelers up to Timberline Lodge like ragdolls. You’re trying to tell me people want out of their cars? Dream on.

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          9watts May 21, 2016 at 6:42 am

          “They could bike or take MAX or a bus, or carpool, or maybe move closer to their job (guarantee of a layoff if you do) but they CHOOSE to commute by car, because they prefer that mode to all other choices.”

          You keep saying this; keep concluding from the fact of the car’s ubiquity that the only way we can explain it is because of consumer choice. But how fair or realistic is that view? Have you considered that some people don’t see this as a choice? I don’t quite follow the ellipse in the part of your comment I quoted above, but it suggests some of these constraints, these factors that complicate matters when it comes to whether people CHOOSE to drive over using some other mode, they may not have any experience with, or friends they can ask about it. This conversation with you would be more interesting if you tried to engage those of us who are pushing back a bit on your statements.

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            Dan A May 21, 2016 at 9:47 am

            People choose cars like my wife chooses what to eat when the kids want to go to Burger King. “Ugh, I guess I’ll get the big fish or whatever.”

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              Eric Leifsdad May 21, 2016 at 10:50 pm

              “whatever” brands hyundai, kia, scion, and “whatever” models like CRV, murano, corolla, … sometimes driven by people apt to turn in front of you, pass on the way to a stop light, whatever

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      9watts May 20, 2016 at 10:32 pm

      “The vast majority would never consider biking or public transportation. People like cars – always have – and will continue to do so as long as they can afford them.”

      A bunch of hooey.
      Yes, cars are the dominant mode and as such they have displaced all the myriad ways of getting around. Subsidized as they are, and crammed full of creature comforts, of course they appeal to lots of people who
      (a) have no experience using anything else,
      (b) already have an expensive car where most of the costs are fixed, not variable so their incentive to keep using it is pretty strong,
      (c) jettisoning the car (though many are doing just that) is not easy given (a) and (b) and that most of their peers probably also rely heavily on a car.

      But
      (e) most people I know who have jettisoned their car wouldn’t go back for anything.

      Tell us a bit about yourself, Bontrager. Do you bike for transportation? What brings you here?

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        Bontrager May 21, 2016 at 11:32 pm

        I’d venture a guess that the majority of Americans who grew up in this country have been on a bike – at least as a kid.
        Anyone can sell a car to reduce their “fixed” costs. That’s what many do if they lose their job – some just turn the keys back to the bank. Costs gone.
        Why does it matter if your peers use a car? Will they shun people who don’t use a car?
        I agree there are big advantages to not owning a car such as money, money, money. Cars are not cheap to own/operate. 🙂
        I do bike for transportation but I also drive a car. The car is easier and faster but there are disadvantages also. I drive the car more than ride. I mostly use the bike for exercise and an occasional trip to the store, etc.

        Nothing wrong with cycling or not owning a car – excellent options for those willing to do it – with many advantages. But most will choose a car as long as they perceive that they can afford it.

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          9watts May 22, 2016 at 6:56 am

          Thanks for your reply, Bontrager.

          “The car is easier and faster…”

          But is that really the case? I know as a society we have told ourselves this for generations. But in my experience it isn’t so simple. Often the car is neither easier or faster. If I want to go to Salem, it is easier and faster, especially if I don’t count the aggravation and cost of getting a tuneup or new tires, but most of my transportation needs are around town, and I find the bike MUCH easier and MUCH faster. For me it boils down to *habit* and the willingness to do a full cost accounting.

          “… but there are disadvantages also.”

          We agree.

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            Bontrager May 22, 2016 at 6:02 pm

            For most folks, driving a car is easier. It does depend on where you are going and what you are doing on any particular trip – for short, in-town trips, a bike can be a good option for many people. But most will choose the car anyway. Commuting 15 miles to work on a bike can be done, but it’s a huge hassle.

            There are advantages and disadvantages to everything in life:
            Ice cream tastes good, but rots your teeth and makes you fat.
            Riding a bike 15 miles to work causes you to be in shape, saves you money, and you don’t pollute as much as in a car, but it will take longer, you may be hit by a car, you’ll breathe plenty of car exhaust in most cases, you’ll be sweaty if you ride fast, you’ll probably need a shower, you may be cold/wet, you may have to take all the accessories off your bike to ensure they don’t get stolen, if you forget your belt your pants may fall off causing your boss to fire you, and at the end of the day you have to put your bike back together and ride home breathing in more car exhaust, possibly getting hit, etc.

            🙂

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              9watts May 22, 2016 at 6:41 pm

              “Commuting 15 miles to work on a bike can be done, but it’s a huge hassle.”

              It might be a good idea to talk first to the folks who do this, don’t you think?

              I’d venture it is a whole lot quicker than walking, and might even be quicker than the bus (depending). I typically beat the school bus when I biked 12 miles each way to high school.

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                Bontrager May 22, 2016 at 10:30 pm

                I’ve commuted 15 miles to work (one way) occasionally. I also bike-commuted to work less than 3 miles one way every day for a year – rain or shine. I assure you that commuting to work by bike is a huge hassle – and that commuting by car is much easier – I am a certified, highly experienced expert on the subject. 🙂

                There are advantages/disadvantages to both – but the car is far “easier”.

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                Pete May 22, 2016 at 11:49 pm

                You’re an expert on your commute. My experience car commuting was what got me into bike commuting and reignited my interest in recreational riding (and even what some might call bike advocacy). On my last commute of 10 miles, I rode primarily on a bike path away from traffic next to a creek and suspect I took in less pollution than all those drivers. Time wise it was at best about equal to driving during non-commute times, and faster by a long shot than sitting in silicon valley traffic. I saved time and money by showering at work as well (rather than waiting my turn at home). Now I work from home and even miss the regularity of the exercise, but I dread having to drive to our nearest office for meetings, and almost everything you’ve quoted as ‘fact’ is the opposite in my world.

                But in truth I think you’ve missed the fundamental point that so many have commented on, and that’s that people choose the car in America because of what we’ve created there. I travel the world for business (often with car-free colleagues from our Vancouver, BC headquarters), and in so many places have NO problem getting around without a car. (Chiba last week, Paris and Barcelona before that, and Seoul next week, just some recent examples). Yes, those countries have higher taxes and their own financial challenges, but they also don’t have a Federal Highway Trust Fund that’s tens of billions of dollars in debt yet still doesn’t allow people to easily bike (or even walk) in so many places where car-centric planning still persists.

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          soren May 23, 2016 at 10:59 am

          But most will choose a car as long as they perceive that they can afford it.

          Cars are affordable in the USA because they receive enormous direct and indirect government subsidy. If people who drive were charged user fees/taxes that cover a modest fraction of the societal costs of driving other modes would be far more competitive. (Heck, even the land dedicated to roads and parking is a staggeringly large public subsidy of driving.)

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      John Lascurettes May 20, 2016 at 11:30 pm

      for the most part, people are happy with their cars – but they do want less congestion on the roads so it’s easier to drive their car.

      There isn’t any getting rid of congestion — except to get people out of their cars.

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        Bontrager May 21, 2016 at 11:11 pm

        False.

        Add 2 or 3 lanes to all Portland area freeways, and POOF, all the congestion would be gone – until the population grew again and filled them up. So, there is another way to eliminate congestion other than getting people out of their cars.

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      Dave May 23, 2016 at 8:14 am

      So…..drive from Portland to Seattle on any weekday using I-5. Then, take the Amtrak Cascades on the same trip. If you don’t look at your car at least a little less affectionately after that contrast there’s something wrong with your head.

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        GlowBoy May 23, 2016 at 12:26 pm

        No question, if you are going from central Portland to central Seattle as an individual or a couple, Amtrak Cascades looks pretty good. I’ve ridden it many times, and love it.

        On the other hand, if you are going from, say, Tualatin to Kirkland, the equation changes a bit.

        Or if you are going, as I often used to, from Portland to Whidbey Island on Friday evening with a family of four and a dog, it’s harder to make Amtrak work. The last Sounder train to Mukilteo (where we’d catch the ferry to Whidbey) leaves Seattle at 5:35pm. Which means being on the Cascades leaving Portland at 12:15pm. And since the Sounder doesn’t run on weekends, getting back from Mukilteo to Seattle’s King Street Station on Sunday requires a 2.25 hour trip on 2 buses.

        Can be done, assuming (1) we spend a bunch of money boarding the dog at home for the weekend, and (2) to actually get to the family cabin in Whidbey, we’re willing to walk with our baggage and a toddler 1.5 miles over and back down a big hill, or half a mile along the beach if the tide is under 7.5 feet at the time. Believe it or not, I did lobby to make the trip carlessly at least once, but was vetoed.

        This may sound I’ve cooked up a convoluted scenario, but I think it’s actually typical of the realities people face in our current transportation system. These are the reasons families do often find it more convenient to just pile in a car and drive, as did we.

        In no way do I mean to imply that we shouldn’t radically prioritize non-car transportation higher than we do today. We should tax gasoline to the tune of several additional dollars per gallon, reduce our massive construction of oversized freeways and stroads, change signal timing to favor pedestrian and cyclist use instead of making us wait (sometimes multiple) extra cycles for “permission” to cross, build protected bike infrastructure on every major road and most minor ones, and drastically expand the speed, frequency and coverage of transit service. But until we do so, cars will still be the easier choice for a lot of people in a lot of situations.

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          Dave May 23, 2016 at 4:17 pm

          But, there are a whole lot of people whose trips could be done more easily on the Cascade. I wonder how many people really know about it at all?

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    Kathy May 21, 2016 at 11:55 am

    “The vast majority would never consider biking or public transportation. People like cars – always have – and will continue to do so as long as they can afford them.”

    I have two friends who just returned home after spending nearly 5 months in Strasbourg, France. (Over the years they have lived and worked in Strasbourg or Amsterdam for periods of several months several times.) Except for renting a car two times for weekend trips to other cities, they walked, rode their bikes, or took public transportation everywhere. They said it was an easy choice there, as those were easy ways to get around. Here, even though they live half a mile from downtown (we all live in a city far more auto-centric than Portland), they are much more reliant on their car. Not out of choice–they both love to walk and love to ride their bikes–but because that’s what the built environment and infrastructure here require.

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      Bontrager May 21, 2016 at 11:19 pm

      Quote: “Not out of choice–they both love to walk and love to ride their bikes–but because that’s what the built environment and infrastructure here require.”

      No, there is no requirement to use a car. Many people here don’t have a car – you probably know some of them. “Many” in this case is probably a large number of people but it is a small fraction of the population.

      Sure, other modes are available, and some use those and not cars, but my whole point is that given the choice and the belief that they can afford cars, the VAST majority of Americans will choose a car. This is proven by the evidence. There is nothing wrong with public transport, bikes, walking, and most folks use those modes occasionally; but for the majority of trips, a car is easier, more convenient, etc. It costs more, but when people believe they can afford it, the majority choose to go by car. Am I wrong?

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        Kathy May 21, 2016 at 11:50 pm

        Apparently you missed the part of my post where I said my friends and I do not live in Portland. Where we live, bicycling and walking can be very inconvenient, even impossible. My point was that my friends, who very happily choose to walk or ride their bikes when residing in cities where it is easy to do so, would be equally happy to do that in our fair city. However, it is very difficult and sometimes impossible to do so here. While “the vast majority of Americans will choose a car,” for many it is BECAUSE “a car is easier, more convenient, etc.” Believe it or not, there are people out there–Americans even–who would choose to walk, ride a bike, or take public transit if to do so were as convenient as those choices are in cities such as Amsterdam and Strasbourg, to name only two.

        Also, the city I live in has one of the highest levels of poverty in the US. Every day I see people walking and riding bikes who obviously do not have the option to drive. My friends are fortunate that, although they would much prefer to walk or ride their bikes, they do have the option to drive.

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          Pete May 22, 2016 at 7:53 am

          Won’t argue with your point, but why is it “impossible” where you live? My wife works barely a mile from our house and had a list of reasons why it was inconvenient… until they closed the parking garage at her office for a month for repairs. That was two years ago, and now she even bikes back home at lunchtime. She also just decided to put her car up for sale because she’s often borrowing mine anyway (and I work mostly from home). We live in San Jose area BTW.

          Might it be impossible due to the lack of infrastructure? Genuinely curious about your details; where do you live? I think one of the main points here is that generations of car-centric planning are at least partly (mostly?) to blame for biking being “impossible” in so many places.

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            Kathy May 22, 2016 at 12:54 pm

            I live in Syracuse, NY. The area of the city is 25.6 square miles (population ~145,000), with about 20 miles of bicycle infrastructure, including two 1/2 mile long protected bikeways (2-way), some paint-buffered bike lanes (a mile of which is 2-way but about to become unbuffered and one-way), lots of paint-delineated bike lanes, and lots of sharrows. The bike lanes are largely disconnected from one another. Lanes often stop right before difficult intersections. I could continue, but suffice it to say that the existing bicycle-specific infrastructure is minimal, disconnected, and largely inappropriate. The city expects to add about 8 miles in the next few years.

            I-81 divides the city east and west, and I-690 divides the city north and south. They intersect in downtown. They severely limit possible–let alone safe–crossing points between the quadrants of the city.

            Of course there are many streets that are relatively safe for riding a bike. I compare it to Portland in the 1970s. (I lived there and rode my bike there then–SE 25th and Brooklyn.) But even on “safe” streets, there are always tricky spots along the way. For example, my 3.6 mile ride to work doesn’t include any bike infrastructure, but it does include some neighborhood streets and some bigger streets that have wide shoulders and generally don’t have a lot of traffic. Nonetheless, there are a few intersections that can be quite tricky.

            We also have the ironic Erie Boulevard East, which is located where the Erie Canal used to be. It is wide–4 to 6 lanes, with huge median strips along much of it. It is flat. But it is totally for motor vehicle traffic. I am a confident and experienced rider, but for most of the few sections of it on which I ride, I ride on the sidewalk. And for much of it the “sidewalk” is no more than a snow berm. And, of course, while there are few pedestrians to yield to (which I always do), I always have to be on the lookout for drivers turning into or out of parking lots. Most of the intersections are extremely unsafe for walkers and bicyclists. To avoid Erie Blvd. and some of the other stroads, such as West Genesee St. on the west side of the city, a person riding a bike has to go way out of their way. Besides added mileage, that always involves additional hills, making the ride more difficult. Sometimes, because of Syracuse’s hilly terrain and very few sections of town that have street grids, it is either too dangerous to get from point A to point B or it becomes ridiculously far with the convoluted path necessary to go a different way.

            We do have our share of “strong & fearless” and “enthused & confident” bike riders, but we need to make a lot of changes in order to embrace the much larger “interested but concerned” segment. I would place my friends in that last category.
            https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/158497

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              Pete May 22, 2016 at 1:49 pm

              Thanks! My parent company is based in Niskayuna and wonders why I won’t move back east for a promotion (grew up in Boston; familiar with east coast “infrastructure”).

              You bring up a good point about sidewalk riding. My city (Santa Clara) has an ordinance against it, but I recently learned that the BPAC of the city to our north fought to have theirs repealed. I’d never thought much about it previously because I’m generally against it in principle and ride only for utility and recreation now that I work from home. It came up at a PTA meeting in Sunnyvale that the new Mayor visited after doing a “ride along” with the Police Chief at the request of a bike-commuting high schooler. Many parents revealed their kids had been hit by cars while biking and initially never told them, but now ride on the sidewalk on certain sections and sometimes get stopped by police (who don’t know it’s legal).

              Anyway, when I brought up repealing it at my city’s BPAC meeting it generated quite a discussion! And then I realized I do it all the time on many stretches of El Camino Real (Spanish for “Strip Mall of the Kings”). Most of the time I’d seen either kids or people with ‘Walmart’ bikes riding on sidewalks and figured they just didn’t know better, but apparently it is me who needed to open my eyes.

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                Kathy May 22, 2016 at 3:48 pm

                I think most of the time sidewalk riding indicates that the rider does not feel safe on the roadway. I don’t do it often, but when I do that’s the reason! I even see people riding on sidewalks next to bike lanes. But I can’t blame them, because those bike lanes are fairly narrow. A lot of drivers consider them to be narrow also, because they move over going past bike riders who are in the bike lane.

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          Pete May 22, 2016 at 7:58 am

          I did miss where you answered this (my tablet has a badly cracked screen), sorry.

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        9watts May 22, 2016 at 6:51 am

        Kathy already gave an excellent reply, but I’m going to add a few things.

        “given the choice and the belief that they can afford cars, the VAST majority of Americans will choose a car. This is proven by the evidence.”

        What does that mean? What evidence? I get the feeling that you reason from what you see when you are in the parking lot at Home Depot, or on TV Highway and, like Pangloss, you conclude, tautologically, that this must be the best of all possible worlds. https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Candide

        “There is nothing wrong with public transport, bikes, walking, and most folks use those modes occasionally; but for the majority of trips, a car is easier, more convenient, etc. It costs more, but when people believe they can afford it, the majority choose to go by car. Am I wrong?”

        Now we’re getting somewhere. And let me say that I appreciate you engaging on this issue. You make some decent points, and I think a lot of people might agree with this, new, framing of the issue. However, I feel that the issue of transport choice is, simply, more complex than this, and if you look around, beyond the US, where our proclivity for subsidizing gasoline, highways, bailing out the auto industry, looking the other way when people at the wheel do foolish things like kill others, etc. is unmatched anywhere, you will notice, as Kathy already suggested, that people seem to express a different bundle of preferences. While we have been inured into thinking of cars as cheap, convenient, ubiquitous (and have as a society gone to great lengths to arrange things so it seems that way, see above), the reality is that they are, per se, none of these things.

        I can get where I need to go in Portland easier, cheaper, and with greater personal enjoyment on a bike and with a trailer, than I can in a car/pickup/van. I prefer this, hands down, and others I know who have had the experience also get it. They may still keep their car, not switch, and I get the reasons why they may not. Where you and I differ is that you think that reluctance to switch over all boils down to something like do I want skim milk or whole? But the choice of which transport mode is vastly more enmeshed in our history, economy, consumer culture, advertising, social class, status, habit, and as such it is very tricky to pull out a statistic and make broad conclusions about any inherent preferences.

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        Pete May 22, 2016 at 2:08 pm

        People’s behavior is often dictated by public policy, frequently without them even knowing it. Seatbelts were once optional, and their mandatory use was repealed by voters twice in my home state before the insurance lobbies hit the federal government hard and they threatened to withhold funds for states without it. Voter arguments were as passionate as our helmet debates, but it still went from personal choice to “personal freedom (!)” to ‘common sense’ in just a generation or two.

        About a decade ago, ~70% of Portlanders polled opposed banning plastic bags, and it may have even been shot down if voters had their say. Now people there are accustomed and you likely see the majority of people carrying their own reusables instead of opting to buy bags for the nominal fee. Do you think it would pass if presented to voters there now?

        My point is, people’s ‘free will’ to choose cars may not be as free as you (or they) think.

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          Pete May 22, 2016 at 2:09 pm

          (In reply to Bontrager).

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          Bontrager May 22, 2016 at 6:12 pm

          I don’t think people are stupid. I think they know exactly what their options are. They see people riding bikes and buses/trains to work. They choose cars. Maybe some are lazy – just a guess. Maybe they prefer to devote their time to their job and don’t want to take the extra time to commute by bike/bus/train/carpool. I think many are under an ominous gun at work to perform and literally do not have time to do anything other than drive their car. They need to get to that desk and start scrambling, literally, for survival every day.

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            9watts May 22, 2016 at 6:48 pm

            “They need to get to that desk and start scrambling, literally, for survival every day.”

            No one who works at a desk is literally scrambling for survival. They are probably not even figuratively scrambling for survival.

            “They see people riding bikes and buses/trains to work. They choose cars.”

            We obviously see this differently. I’d suspect that most people do not choose their mode of transport in the methodical, rational, cost benefit manner you suggest, but rather go about it in a much more subconscious, habitual manner than your comments allow.

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              Bontrager May 22, 2016 at 10:21 pm

              Many of them are fighting for the survival of their job. They may owe hundreds of thousands on a home and their 2 Mercedes while paying for their 2 kids to attend an Ivy League school. If they lose that job and can’t get another one soon, that life insurance policy may start to look like a viable way for the family to survive for a while longer. Don’t think this is a rare situation.

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                Pete May 23, 2016 at 12:00 am

                Sounds a little like my sister. After our dad passed I convinced him to leave her money and I used it to pay off her debt of $60K. Despite her then running out to borrow $18K to buy a car (to replace her perfectly good one), I then set up a Roth for her and started putting my own money into it under the promise (and IRS threat) that she wouldn’t touch it until 70 (she turns 60 this year). I was doing pretty well with it until I got an email saying she tapped into it because she’s in dire straights again, and it supposedly has nothing to do with her car loan.

                Even if she wanted to bike commute in her city, it’s a place I won’t even risk riding – and that says a lot. It’s too bad, because an active work commute might have prevented her from adult onset diabetes from being overweight. (Are you starting to see some common threads here yet?).

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            Dan A May 22, 2016 at 7:49 pm

            Lots of people drive to the gym so they can walk on a treadmill. Let’s not pretend that just because people do it that it makes sense.

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              Bontrager May 22, 2016 at 10:16 pm

              Sure, they drive to the gym. They may use machines there that they don’t own, may have buddies there, perhaps the conditioned air is more comfortable than the hot/cold/wet air outside. Perhaps they are going there so they can use the showers of the opposite s e x. It’s legal now – but let’s not pretend that just because people do it that it makes sense. 🙂

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                9watts May 22, 2016 at 10:17 pm

                I think you just tipped your hat.

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            Pete May 22, 2016 at 9:27 pm

            I’m willing to bet that huge majority you refer to haven’t fully vetted their options. You caught my story about my wife’s excuses, yes? She had certainly seen people riding, even had some casual riding experience herself, but getting into the habit of riding to work was far easier than she assumed, and like me, she’s grown to abhor the times when she has to drive to work. (Ironically it was parking once she got there that was the initial incentive to try something new).

            And by the way, ‘stupid’ is subjective; we still face epidemic numbers of lung problems induced by smoking, type II diabetes, and drug and alcohol abuse. Yes, an individual’s challenge to overcoming any of these situations seems insurmountable, and debates still rage on as to the role that their own individual choices may have played in them.

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    Dan A May 23, 2016 at 9:56 am

    Since we’re on the subject of choice, my son is starting middle school next year, and he would like to continue riding his bike to school, which he has done by himself for the past four years.

    His middle school is 1 mile away, and to ride there would require him to navigate these 6 intersections.

    Bethany/Oak Hills
    https://goo.gl/maps/kHSswZKsa3p

    Bethany/Bronson
    https://goo.gl/maps/RGvVza8ucKQ2

    Bethany/Hwy 26
    https://goo.gl/maps/qPko69ZteBB2

    Bethany/Hwy 26
    https://goo.gl/maps/KSNnAUaefQ92

    Bethany/Cornell
    https://goo.gl/maps/ckGLDqJ8nRm

    Cornell/Twin Oaks
    https://goo.gl/maps/gko4a2YoYn42

    Looks like a fun bike ride for an 11-year-old, yes?

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