Monday Roundup: E-bikes for kids, car-hating communities, cost of driving, and more

Welcome to the week. Here are the most notable stories our writers and readers have come across in the past seven days…

Transportation injustice: In one of the most blatant, car-centric policies I have ever heard about, a town in Louisiana has started a curfew that bans biking and walking from 10 pm to 4 am. Oh hell no!! (KLFY-TV)

The cost of driving: “A team of graduate students at the Harvard Kennedy School estimate that the annual price tag for maintaining Massachusetts’ car economy is roughly $64.1 billion, with more than half of that coming from public funds.” (Harvard Gazette)

Babes on e-bikes: The creep of battery-powered bikes is going into the kids market and Portlander Josh Ross delves into whether or not your kid should go electric. (Cycling Weekly)

Cars are a death cult: I’m not sure when or if America will ever wake up to the fact that our government simply does not care how many people die on our roads. (The American Prospect)

They know: A new poll finds that the public is smarter than public officials and DOT leaders when it comes to understanding basic transportation planning principles like induced demand. (Streetsblog USA)

Car-hating communities are thriving: Check out this cool rundown of online communities and platforms that are gaining big followings for helping people understand and connect to the idea of how absolutely terrible our dysfunctional car culture has become. (Mashable)

Suburban salvation: If we want to reduce vehicle miles traveled, we should not overlook the simple solution of building more destination-rich suburbs. (Slate)

Advice for advocates: “If your goal is to open a door, try the doorknob first before kicking it down,” says this interesting piece by a climate activist about what he calls, “strategic escalation.” (Streetsblog USA)

Shout-out to Splendid Cycles! Only one bike shop in Portland was recognized in the annual Retailer Excellence competition hosted by the National Bicycle Dealers Association: the cargo-bike superstore on the Springwater Corridor, Splendid Cycles. (NBDA)


Thanks to everyone who shared links this week!

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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jakeco969
jakeco969
10 months ago

“Louisiana is a stop-and-identify state, so that ordinance is not really to hurt anybody it’s just to stop these people walking that have no reason to be walking,” he said. – Joshua Hardy, Police Chief of Kaplan, Louisiana.

Oh Wow!! I can’t get over the level of government over reach this is. The Police Chief, Mayor and City Council of this medium sized town of 4600 (turns out Racer X was right, mild cyberstalking can be pretty informative 🙂 ) have lost their minds making freedom to travel in the most natural way possible illegal.

Karl Dickman
Karl Dickman
10 months ago

Regarding “driving is more expensive than you would think,” it’s also worth considering the time cost of what it takes to earn the money needed to pay those expenses. Purely for the sake of illustration, the authors cite a figure of $26,000/household/year in public costs + direct costs. At an hourly wage of $30/hour, that represents about 867 hours/household/year spent earning the money needed to pay for those expenses. For comparison, the average vehicle travels 13,500 miles per year, or only about 15 miles for every working hour spent paying for it. I urge you not to draw too many conclusions from this: I’ve compared apples to oranges to pairs, and of course all forms of transportation have their own public and direct costs. I did this calculations to illustrate the kinds of orders of magnitude involved.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Karl Dickman

Another point to consider is that in states that work like Oregon, at least, many of the public costs of road infrastructure are borne by drivers through gas taxes and other vehicle fees, which are captured in the private costs of automobile ownership. That is, the study authors are probably double counting at least some of the costs.

Also, if drivers were not paying for roads, transit would become a lot more expensive to build an operate because TriMet would need to maintain its own road network. Same for emergency services and freight deliveries.

Chris I
Chris I
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Also, if drivers were not paying for roads, transit would become a lot more expensive to build an operate because TriMet would need to maintain its own road network.

Like some kind of tram network, since trains are significantly more energy-efficient? Don’t threaten me with a good time.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

Sure… Replacing Portland’s transportation infrastructure with trains, trains, and more trains sounds like a great way to go. I can’t imagine anything going wrong with that vision. Maybe add in some railbike infrastructure while we’re dreaming.

J1mb0
J1mb0
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

This drivers paying for the roads is dangerous misinformation that Strong Towns has disproven. They pay a drop in the bucket. If you look at the financial state of Portland, Beaverton, any city that can’t expand borders anymore – you’ll see whatever drivers are paying it is woefully inadequate. Most of the funding for roads comes from the federal level, which is most coming from debt.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

“This drivers paying for the roads is dangerous misinformation”

Federal funds come from the gas tax. If you disagree, show me a budget document that demonstrates your point.

J1mb0
J1mb0
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

You don’t remember the big hubablub in 2014 about this? They haven’t raised the gas tax since 1993. Any attempts to do so are politically killed within moments. America has a long history with loving paved roads but hating funding them.
Here is a Bloomberg article that directly answers your question:
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-13/debunking-the-myth-that-because-of-the-gas-tax-only-drivers-pay-for-roads

Here is a good Strong Towns article from back then:
https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2014/7/24/some-perspective-on-the-gas-tax.html

I read a lot of your comments, and would love to hear your views on the bleak picture that Strong Towns paints our current transit system. I have been looking desperately for counter arguments to it. I would love to go back to thinking all was as it should be. I am sure you’ve had someone give you think youtube playlist in the past, but from what you write I am not sure you have watched it. If you don’t like this format I recommend the book “Confessions of a Recovering Engineer” by Charles Marohn, the founder of Strong Towns.
https://youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJp5q-R0lZ0_FCUbeVWK6OGLN69ehUTVa

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

I’ve presented the data a number of times. ODOT breaks out it’s high level budget pretty clearly, and it is easy to find. General fund money does not pay for roads in Portland. I’m less sure about other states and other localities, and it is possible something changed at the federal level in the last year or so (a big chunk of ODOT’s budget is highway trust fund dollars).

The article you linked to generalizes across the US, and includes things like sales tax exceptions for gasoline, which are neither real expenditures nor relevant in Oregon.

To verify what I’m saying, look at PBOT’s and ODOT’s budget. The summary numbers are enough. It’s interesting and not too hard.

J1mb0
J1mb0
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

And federal highway trust fund is not paid for completely by the federal gas tax.

It’s 2023, every DOT is screaming murder about how inadequate gas taxes are. God I wish you were right tho. I advocate on the city level and we are always dead in the water if we can’t get funding for road projects from higher levels of government. These things are crazy expensive for how fleeting their benefits are – it’s almost like they weren’t worth building in the first place for the amount of development they support.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

Can you show me a source on the federal highway funds?

J1mb0
J1mb0
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Please read the Bloomberg article I posted above. I have sent you tons of links. Why don’t you send me one that shows the federal highway funds are 100% from gas taxes?

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

I have sent you tons of links. Why don’t you send me one

Fair point.

[Note: before you quibble with my math, read my conclusion in my 2nd to final paragraph. If a math adjustment wouldn’t challenge that, let’s not worry too much about it. Fair?]

First, I read the Bloomberg link, and commented on it above; it is generalized across the US, and includes things like sales tax not being charged on gasoline, which isn’t really relevant, and is especially not relevant in Oregon. I am making no claims for how things work in other states — I just don’t know. My claims are specific to the sources of funding used by ODOT and PBOT.

Also, the Bloomberg article does some bad math things, such as apportioning costs equally across households to make claims about who pays how much in federal subsidy for roads (an approach that fails to reflect the highly uneven amounts of federal tax Americans pay; I would posit, without evidence, that close to 0% of the wealthier households that pay most federal taxes are “car free”, meaning the share of federal taxes paid by car free households is quite low).

Moving on. According to GAO:

The Highway Trust Fund—the major source of federal road and bridge funding—is largely supported by gas taxes. This revenue is decreasing as fuel economy standards increase and more alternative fuel vehicles travel the roads.

It says “largely” but not “entirely” as I claimed.

Further, the page quantifies that a little:

$270 billion in general revenues to the Highway Trust Fund between 2008 and 2021.

The trust fund had about $99B in it in Oct 2022, meaning the federal government has spent $175B of general fund money on highways over 14 years. (Yes the dates don’t quite line up, you can redo the math if you like, but we’re going for broad strokes here.)

That’s about $12.2B per year since 2008.

In 2019, the Trust Fund spent $47B. Assuming that’s representative, then it does look like about a quarter of Federal highway spending is derived from general fund dollars. ODOT’s budget is around $5B, and they get $500M in federal highway dollars, 25% of which are from the general fund, that means that ODOT’s budget is about 2.5% general fund derived.

How much of their budget goes to roads is hard to discern. At least $3B and change; the next big chunk is debt service, most of which is probably highway related, but it starts to get murky at the level we’re working at. How much of their HQ is “vehicle related”? Most, probably, but not all.

So maybe we should leave it at this: I will no longer claim that Oregon highway spending is entirely vehicle derived, but I think I can still safely say “over 90% vehicle derived”, perhaps even 95%. Certainly “primarily vehicle derived” is safe, with the rest being general fund dollars that were likely paid primarily by drivers.

One final note: all the sources I looked at agree the Highway Trust Fund is in trouble, and that a modest raise to the gas tax would fix it. I’ve long advocated for a fairly robust carbon tax, but would welcome a big hike in the gas tax as a (much) inferior option. I also recognize that the gas tax needs to be replaced, and, perhaps when electrification is a bit further underway, I would support many rational alternatives. Please don’t think I oppose higher taxes on driving. I absolutely, positively do not.

Sources, roughly in order:

https://www.gao.gov/products/gao-22-104299#:~:text=The%20Highway%20Trust%20Fund%E2%80%94the,largely%20supported%20by%20gas%20taxes.

https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/highwaytrustfund/

https://www.cbo.gov/publication/57067

https://www.oregon.gov/odot/About/Pages/Transportation-Funding.aspx

idlebytes
idlebytes
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Back during the 2017 transportation bill dispute I added up 8 years of ODOTs budget and roughly 49% came from direct user fees from drivers. The rest came from other sources that everyone pays for through things like higher prices on goods delivered to us. That includes half of the Highway Trust Fund not paid for by federal gasoline taxes. So I don’t drive but end up paying for about half their budget.
 
The City of Portland is a bit better I think around 70% comes from user fees although as we see with the current budget crisis that may be changing.
 
Keep in mind that’s just the department of transportation’s costs. It doesn’t include all the externalities like the death and injury toll. 40,000 people a year comes out to a toll equal to all the gas taxes collected in a year. That doesn’t even factor in the environmental costs, the millions of injuries or the cost to clean and repair things damaged by drivers.Drivers way underpay.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  idlebytes

49% came from direct user fees from drivers.

I count freight fees as being user fees. If you don’t, your results will differ, obviously.

I do not contend that non-commercial drivers pay for the bulk of our transportation network. Of course they don’t. And of course there are huge uncaptured external costs, as there are with almost everything we do at scale.

Do you want to internalize those external costs? Good, because so do I.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

“I would love to hear your views on the bleak picture that Strong Towns paints our current transit system”

The summary answer is something I’ve said many times before: our current transit system is based on a 19th century model of fixed routes and fixed schedules that does not work well for 21st century lifestyles.

This model of transit still works in places where there is a critical mass of people making a particular trip that is difficult to make otherwise. For example, traveling through the inner core of Boston, traveling between a great many number of points in New York City, getting into San Francisco from points along a BART line, or, until recently, traveling from a place with good transit service to downtown Portland during rush hour.

Focusing on Portland, transit is simply no longer compelling for a huge number of people. It is slow, expensive, and can be very scary or gross. Not nearly as many people travel downtown at rush hour anymore, so driving now works better than it did pre-pandemic.

I’ve thought about it a lot, and I don’t see how TriMet gets its riders back. People are out of the habit. People are less comfortable interacting with one another. People don’t want to get stabbed for standing up to somebody harassing another passenger.

As it stands currently, TriMet it is sustainable neither financially nor environmentally, and it’s environmental profile will get worse as people adopt electric vehicles and we continue to phase out fossil fuels, while TriMet chugs along with it’s deteriorating fleet of diesel buses until 2050 (!).

I used to be a huge proponent of TriMet. Now I think we need to figure out the next thing in urban mobility.

J1mb0
J1mb0
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I can see how you may get confused as you brought up public transit before. Strong Towns isn’t just Public Transit vs cars. Cars, trains, active transit are all just tools in the toolbox for building a healthy and sustainable development pattern. Car dependent infrastructure is not. It does not pay for itself.

I sent you many links. Since you brought up ODOT let me bring you up to date on the latest with them. Their budget may look good to you, but it is only a quarter of what ODOT actually needs. You don’t see what ODOT isn’t doing on the budget because, we’ll, that stuff didn’t make it in. You should be paying more attention to the report cards to see how well a DOT is doing to keep up with maintenance and functionality with a given budget. Most of the US infrastructure is in pretty bad. Strong Towns states that is because Car Dependent infrastructure doesn’t pay for itself.

I haven’t found a DOT yet that isn’t under water in a critical way.

See bottom of page 6 of the draft Oregon Transportation Plan here:
https://www.oregon.gov/odot/planning/pages/oregon-transportation-plan-update.aspx

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

I don’t doubt that ODOT is deferring maintenance. That’s the story of infrastructure (auto related or not) all over the country. This might mean that current revenue sources are insufficient to do everything ODOT wants to. It does not mean that their budget is being supplemented by the general fund.

What this means for funding moving forward is anyone’s guess. The PBOT budget is looking pretty lean, and they’re looking for more funding, but most of what they want to do involves new or increased vehicle fees/taxes. The same may hold true for ODOT.

The document you referred me to states that gas taxes are woefully inadequate for meeting the goals of the OTC. I don’t doubt it. The gas tax obviously needs to be replaced, and it will be. Perhaps the OTC also needs to scale back its goals to match fiscal reality. They wouldn’t be the first government agency to do that.

Your point that car infrastructure does not pay for itself (while wrong at the moment, but perhaps true at some point in the future) is interesting. Transit, trains, biking, scoooters don’t pay their way either, and some, such as active transportation, are currently funded by vehicle fees (except sidewalks, which are funded by adjacent property owners). None have any real prospect of becoming self funding, whereas we could easily imagine a moderately higher gas tax (or other regime) that would raise sufficient funds for road maintenance. Current political feasibility aside, we know what it could look like. A self funded transit system (especially one paying for the infrastructure it used) is unimaginable.

You may be mistaken about what I want. Though I have a car readily at hand, I rarely if ever drive in the city. I walk or ride bikes almost everywhere. If I travel to places like Seattle, I’ll take the train whenever possible. I don’t really like driving much at all, and only do it as a last resort.

But I’m an outlier. Portlanders have made it clear they prefer driving to all other modes for all but the shortest and longest trips (and even some of those), as they have in most places across America. Maybe they just aren’t enlightened enough, or maybe if we build it they will come, but maybe they are telling us something about what attributes in transportation they think are important.

I’m pretty sure that if transit were available on demand, took people door-to-door, wasn’t too expensive, and felt safe, Americans would abandon their cars in droves.

J1mb0
J1mb0
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I often take away your comments as defending the status quo. Trying to bring those of me who believe our transportation system is completely and utterly broken back to having some semblance of trust in it and the institutions that designed it. I do not personally care what your individual transit mix is, I do care about how your arguments for us to continue in the same direction we have been going.

I also don’t care about what the personal wants and desires that people have. If we can satisfy those wants and desires while having a sustainable development pattern that scales and enables a strong economy, great. We should do that. What we should not do anymore is attempt to give into those demands at the cost of our future and society. Everyone wants a million dollars – but that isn’t going to happen. Functional car dependent urban design is a similar pipe dream. It was an experiment we spent entirely too many resources on and seem to continue to invest in due to some sunk cost fallacy / lack of larger perspective. It is time to grow up.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

defending the status quo; arguments for us to continue in the same direction we have been going.

I don’t think I champion the status quo as much as I recognize we are where we are for a reason, and a lot of what people advocate for here seems to require some sort of anti-democratic actions.

Other than my admittedly NIMBY pro-status-quo opposition to expanding I-5 though the Rose Quarter and across the Columbia, is there any particular example of something I’ve argued for that really sticks in your craw?

J1mb0
J1mb0
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I recognize we are where we are for a reason

And you believe in that reason. I am going to go ahead and recommend you read “Confessions of Recovering Engineer”. I really think you would enjoy it.

Sorry if I am gruff sometimes. Newish to this advocacy thing. Things have been rough since I had kids and had to actually think about their futures. I was so much more chill back when I DGAF. You are standing up for what you believe in, and I do really respect that even if I do a bad job of showing it.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

“And you believe in that reason”

It’s not so much that I “believe in it” as that I think the present is the result of a long series of evolutionary steps along a path from the past, each of which seemed right to those taking them. That creates as sort of logic to the present that is not easy to dismiss.

Why are cars so popular? Because they offer a degree of mobility and flexibility that is otherwise difficult to achieve. Sure, we’ve created an environment that facilitates their use, but that is not the result of some deep intentional conspiracy by companies like GM, rather it’s because people liked cars and wanted to be able to use them more, and they opened up attractive new development patterns and lifestyles that cars make possible. And even though we can see there are some significant negative side effects, most people seem to think the benefits to automobility outweigh the costs. Given how much we’ve built in the past 100 years, I believe there is no going back, so I tend to argue with those who think we can.

Nonetheless, I am optimistic about the future, and think the electrification and robotization of our transport system will resolve a number of issues that currently seem intractable in a way that will, in retrospect, seem inevitable.

We’ll probably also get a host of new problems in the bargain for your kids to sort out. Such is the nature of life.

9watts
9watts
10 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

This has been an interesting exchange to read. Thanks J1mb0 and watts. It reminds me of the early days of bikeportland comments when we really got into the meat of things. We had a spirited conversation about road funding in Oregon almost ten years ago: https://bikeportland.org/2013/11/12/do-bikes-get-a-free-ride-advocates-infographic-shows-why-not-96950
when the BTA tried to make an infographic. The comments might be worth (re-)reading.

I’ll just say that one of the reasons the BTA graphic collapsed in a smoldering heap was that ODOT (not an unbiased party to this conversation (no matter what our erstwhile friend wspob liked to argue)) said BOO! and the BTA instead of defending what little there was to defend about their effort crawled away with their tail between their legs. I tried for years to get someone who can read these numbers, understands the funding structure, to give it to us straight—explain, for instance, how bonds are user fees—but no one ever did.
ODOT’s claims were as I recall very similar to what watts is now saying, and I will (again) register my doubts, my suspicions. There is just so much opportunity for skulduggery, for smoke and mirrors, and ODOT does not have a good track record when it comes to veracity or budgeting.

Alas I still am unable to subscribe to comments here so it is difficult to participate in these discussions.

jakeco969
jakeco969
10 months ago

Slow day at work, apologies for the 2nd post everyone, but it just struck a chord. Should kids ride e-bikes? The simple answer seems to be no. Children deserve a chance to build muscle, coordination and enjoy the simple and addicting thrill of seeing how fast they can make themselves go. However, I grew up very rural where cars on the road were rare and could be heard from a ways off and indeed most of my early biking was on a bmx off road. So when the author talked about having confidence in traffic on an e-bike it did make me contemplate my personal bias and wonder if an e-bike was good for children. Then I got to this part….  “E-bikes lower the barrier of entry to riding a bike, generally resulting in more fun and less work.”
Right away I realized that the author was coming from a position of serious privilege and doesn’t even seem to be aware of it. I did the math and its roughly $850 for that bike and $550 for the conversion kit which seems the opposite of “lowering the barrier to entry”. Bicycling is of course amazing and to be encouraged at all ages to those who are able to, but articles like this do a tremendous disservice by making it comparable to wondering if one should buy a Mercedes or a Beemer for a child. Problems not normally considered by the majority of the population.

Trike Guy
Trike Guy
10 months ago
Reply to  jakeco969

My heartfelt *no* comes from a standpoint of child safety.

The judgement is just not there to use a powered vehicle safely. Witness the many injuries among my classmates from riding 3 wheelers in the 70’s & early 80’s – my brother broke his hand by running into a fencepost (metal) and bending it around his hand.

More and worse injuries than cycling from my memory.

Riding a bicycle, especially on flatter neighborhood streets is pretty equal opportunity. It doesn’t matter if you’re coordinated, a bit chunky or maybe undersized.

Heck, our group consisted of:

  • a kid a year younger than me (so 7-10 during those years)
  • me (8-11) with true coke bottle bottom glasses (at 17 my correction was -16, so really thick)
  • his sister (8-11) who had a congenital birth defect that resulted in her …. right? …. hand not developing
  • my brother (9-12 – but really small for his age).

We rode *everywhere* and I don’t recall anyone being left behind.

jakeco969
jakeco969
10 months ago
Reply to  Trike Guy

Completely agree and we must be roughly the same age :-). A friend’s parents acquired two Honda 3 wheelers when we were in single digit years. I don’t think they had front suspension, maybe 110cc? They were great fun until an incident involving mud, a hill, a jump, a big empty field and some kind of collision that resulted in my helmet getting cracked when my friend rode over my head. We were completely unsupervised and his parents had told me I didn’t need a helmet and that’s just how it was back then. Hard to imagine that kind of youthful indiscretion on city streets nowadays with phone zombie drivers and essentially very quiet motorcycles.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  jakeco969

My friends and I played a game we called Jart War. Amazing no one died. Obviously unsupervised.

jakeco969
jakeco969
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Oh, you can’t leave it like that. What was Jart War?? I’ve never understood why the last of the unsupervised generation were parents to the helicopter parenting generation.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  jakeco969

If you remember Jarts, it’s those plus a landwar in Asia (all in my friend’s back yard).

Cyclekrieg
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Used to have army men wars with fireworks (think Angry Birds with explosives and 9-year-olds), it was great. As an adult, knowing what I know now, the 1980s were a messed-up time in a lot of ways. But as a kid, it was great. Kids today aren’t allowed to be kids and I am saddened because it seems like my generation was the last one that got to experience things on our own.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Cyclekrieg

Kids are still allowed to be kids. I was in the elevator at OHSU with a boy who looked like he had a broken arm. Upon closer inspection, he was missing a few fingers. His father explained that it was an accident.

Oh yeah, and the gorge burned down a couple of years ago. Boys will be boys!

I can’t stand private fireworks, and being from a place where fire was always taken real seriously, San Diego, I just don’t get Portlanders’ inability to be responsible.

I understand you are making a larger point, and I agree with it. Kids are too scheduled up, too stuck to a screen (like their parents), and parents are too fearful.

Lisa Caballero (Assistant Editor)
Editor
Reply to  Cyclekrieg

OK, I feel like a spoil sport. Here’s a story:

When he was around 9 or 10, my father and his cousin used to take the rifle and go shoot rabbits for dinner.

And my grandfather, who was a sign painter, used to take my young father along on the rigged plank when he was working on a sign. My dad said the only instruction was to be still when he pulled the ropes.

Nothing like those old time single fathers.

J1mb0
J1mb0
10 months ago
Reply to  jakeco969

Once my kids can ride 20 MPH on a bicycle safely, I’ll let them get a mid-drive. No throttle ever, and class 3 should be illegal for EVERYONE imo.

Iconyms
Iconyms
10 months ago
Reply to  J1mb0

Isn’t class 3 assist up to 28 mph? Why do you think that should be illegal when going 28 is still slower than most roads and slower than you can go downhill.

Not to mention all these speeds are just software settings, you can just turn off the speed limiter pretty easily. I did it on mine, can hit 32 mph and honestly feels way safer now riding with 30-35 mph car traffic.

J1mb0
J1mb0
10 months ago
Reply to  Iconyms

20 MPH is closer to the speed of non-electric bikes that aren’t being ridden by serious athletes. It meshes well.

Just because most roads have speed limits greater than 25 MPH doesn’t mean they should be that way. The system we use to determine speed limits is broken. Vision Zero is basically cars should go 20 MPH on non-separated roadways in urban areas. It does feel safer to go the same speed as traffic on a bicycle, but if we solve this issue by increasing the speed of bicycles to match car speeds we did not improve things. Two wrongs don’t make a right. A broken window doesn’t mean you can break more. Whatever other analogy is out there.

You can still bomb down hills as fast as you can on a class 1 ebike. You just don’t get assist over 20 MPH. I personally think 20 MPH is a reasonably safe speed to go in a complex urban environment where kids might be playing in the streets or whatever. Plenty of reaction time.

Another reason I don’t like speed assists over 20 MPH is wind resistance. It increases exponentially the faster you go, decreasing energy efficiency. In this new energy conscious paradigm that I believe we find ourselves in, I think this is important. And for most people, if given the option between class 1 and class 3, most will choose class 3. I don’t think it should be an option.

Barrett
Barrett
10 months ago
Reply to  jakeco969

I disagree. I’ve been biking with my son who is 6 for a couple years. I wish I could buy him an ebike but I haven’t seen any that are his size. Even when he was 5 he would bomb down bike paths at 30 mph on his peddle bike which thankfully has great hydraulic disk brakes.

But when it comes to some of the steep uphills he can’t make it, especially at much of a pace. This limits our riding, his fun and just seems unnecessary, why is it considered ok to go downhill at 30 mph but not uphill? makes zero sense to me.

I ended up getting a tow strap and I try and tow him up the steepest hills.

jakeco969
jakeco969
10 months ago
Reply to  Barrett

It sounds like you and your child have a fun time together. On the few family rides I did I was too little for awhile to make it all the way to the top of the two hill and my folks would wait at the top for me. Until I was strong enough to pedal all the way I got off and pushed. Of course that was with little to no traffic and anyone driving there would have known us so there was no danger in my folks teaching me to take care of myself. Times and situations change of course.

blumdrew
blumdrew
10 months ago

Concerning the public having a better idea on things like induced demand, it’s really no surprise. Traffic engineering is a fairly anti-intellectual affair in the US. When basically every project is “increasing capacity to decrease congestion” – from “improved” single point/diverging diamond exchanges to adding a “missing” lane – and traffic continues to get worse, of course the public is aware it doesn’t really work. Traffic creation (or induced demand, or induced traffic) is incredibly well documented and has been since at least 1936 with the building of the Henry Hudson bridge in NYC. Yet we’ve had almost 100 years of the same “one more lane will fix it” approach to traffic.

Since the public never has to go through any sort of anti-scientific traffic engineering coursework, they end up better off than the “trained professionals”. It’s all very silly.

cct
cct
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

Oh, traffic engineering is VERY scientific – but based on the 1950s to 70s. Look at the formulas for trip-generation per new housing unit BDS uses; it isn’t much different from “Dad goes to work/Mom takes kids to school, comes home/Mom goes to beauty parlor/store, comes home/Mom picks up kids/Dad comes home/Mom and dad go out to eat”
Bikes and peds are afterthoughts at best, and clearly too expensive to accomodate for their measly trip numbers.

If you as a citizen do any basic research like a traffic count, you are patted on the head and told that since you are not An Expert, your data is moot. Only paid, serious people, please!

Makes one wonder what would happen if they proposed the Mt. Hood Freeway these days.

Mandatory, with apologies to Upton Sinclair: A traffic engineer can not be made to understand something if his paycheck depends on his not understanding it.

qqq
qqq
10 months ago
Reply to  cct

“If you as a citizen do any basic research like a traffic count, you are patted on the head and told that since you are not An Expert, your data is moot. Only paid, serious people, please!”

Exactly. No other “experts” are seen as off-limits for questioning at public meetings or hearings compared to engineers, especially traffic engineers. Criticizing an architect’s or lawyer’s presentation is fine, but questioning a traffic engineer often results in the meeting chair interrupting, with “Are you a registered traffic engineer?” If not, you’re ignored.

Once at a Design Commission hearing the traffic engineer claimed there were 25 on-street parallel parking spaces available. I testified that the curb length was 87′, meaning there was room for only 4 parallel spaces if they were just over 20′ long. The Chairman did the “Excuse me, Mr. qqq, are you a registered traffic engineer?”
“No, but I’m a grade school graduate, so I know that 87′ divided by 25 spaces would mean each space is less than 4′ long.”
“So the answer is no, you’re not a registered traffic engineer.”

qqq
qqq
10 months ago
Reply to  cct

“Oh, traffic engineering is VERY scientific – but based on the 1950s to 70s.”

That’s also a perfect description. Pretty much everything wrong with today’s transportation systems was done according to the accepted traffic engineering science at the time things were built.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

“anti-scientific traffic engineering coursework”

I have taken a lot of this type of coursework, and none of it was at all “anti-scientific”.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

anti-scientific traffic engineering

Traffic engineering is a technical occupation that has very little to do with “science”.

A summary of how science works:

A question (hypothesis) based on knowledge of peer-reviewed literature and/or new evidence that can be tested via empirical observationExperimental design with an emphasis on sufficiency of analytical and statistical approachesExperiment and/or observation as benchmarks for testing hypothesesInduction: reasoning to establish general rules or conclusions drawn from experimental dataRepetitionStatistical validation/modeling of methodology and dataVerification and testing: critical exposure to scrutiny, peer review and assessmentRepetition of results by independent investigators

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago
Reply to  pierre delecto

The use of “science” and “data” in popular culture is often rooted in complete ignorance of how science actually works:

* A question (hypothesis) based on knowledge of peer-reviewed literature and/or new evidence that can be tested via empirical observation
.
* Experimental design with an emphasis on sufficiency of analytical and statistical approaches
.
* Experiment and/or observation as benchmarks for testing hypotheses
.
* Induction: reasoning to establish general rules or conclusions drawn from experimental data
.
* Repetition informed by statistical power analyses
.
* Statistical validation/modeling of methodology and data
.
* Verification and testing: critical exposure to scrutiny, peer review and assessment
.
* Repetition of results by independent investigators (until this happens any finding should be interpreted with extreme caution)

#many so-called rational thinkers/skeptics are just as full of sh*t as any crystal-loving new ager

Cyclekrieg
10 months ago
Reply to  blumdrew

I do road engineering for a living. It’s not that is unscientific, it’s just that no one bucks the groupthink of the state and federal design guidelines. Or more accurately, they are afraid to push the envelope. As I constantly tell pedestrian and bicycling advocates, stop asking for bike lanes and “walkable streets”. First, that isn’t what the design defaults are setup for, they are setup for driving. Second, because the guidelines default to car-centric infrastructure, other forms of infrastructure are afterthoughts, glued on essentially, and subpar, at best. What advocates should be attempting to change is the city’s typical road section to include all the things they want, and which meet the way roads are actually built in in the USA, not in Denmark. What I mean by that is that most states don’t have specs/standard plates for things like raised cycleways, so you have to think of way to get that with what they do have. I work with a community that switched out sidewalks one side of the street with a 10ft wide paved “multi-use” path in there residential (and now commercial) road typical section. The result? Even though that town is suburbia, as the years have gone on, its actually getting easier to walk/bike in that city versus those that try squeezing in bike lanes on a few streets.

jakeco969
jakeco969
10 months ago
Reply to  Cyclekrieg

Great post and definitely Comment of the Week!

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
10 months ago
Reply to  jakeco969

Comment of the month! As an advocate in suburban NC, I find this advice very useful. Thanks Cyclekrieg!

Alex Bauman
Alex Bauman
10 months ago
Reply to  Cyclekrieg

Are you suggesting that people advocate for multi-use paths in urban areas just because they don’t live in a DOT jurisdiction that has a chapter in their manual for protected bikeways? There are hundreds of protected bikeways of all kinds of configurations that actually exist in the USA (I.e. not Denmark). When you say that an engineer refuses to build something that exists in the town across the river just because it isn’t in their manual, how do you think non-engineers should interpret that? I’ve spent my entire career needing to complete technical tasks that I’ve never done before. Do you know how I do it? I ask someone who has done it before. Why can’t engineers do the same?

For the record, I think that shared-use paths are more appropriate and bikeable than bike lanes in a lot of suburban contexts, and that’s one of the reasons I don’t find Oregon as a whole particularly bikeable.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Alex Bauman

“Why can’t engineers do the same?”

Engineers are trained to follow the manual. This makes sense in a field where something as minor as the configuration of a fastener can kill dozens.

[https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyatt_Regency_walkway_collapse]

True, street design rarely offers such dramatic episodes, but the training is basically the same. There will always be some who are willing or able to take more risks, but many won’t. Like they used to say in the olden days, “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.”

Alex Bauman
Alex Bauman
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

Great, we agree that the engineering profession trains its practitioners to ignore the evidence in front of them in favor of a set of principles that they are entirely ignorant of the basis for (and which, if you put down the wads if cash required for learning the methodology behind, as Donald Shoup did for The High Cost of Free Parking, you’ll learn is often based on junk science).

My response to that which we agree on would be to tightly circumscribe the role of the engineer in road design to tasks firmly seated in physical principles. Sure, the engineer can determine the subgrade structure based on the soil composition. But should the engineer have anything to do with which parts s of the roadway are used for which transportation functions? Absolutely not! Even less which parts are used for placemaking or beautification.

So to get back to Cyclekrieg’s point, I’m skeptical of playing by the engineer’s playbook, even if in some circumstances you can bend their overly-prescriptive, pseudoscientific rules to your benefit.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Alex Bauman

“the engineering profession trains its practitioners to ignore the evidence in front of them”

What evidence are you referring to? Engineering is highly evidence based; is why we can build exceedingly complex things with a miraculously low failure rate.

I hope you are not confusing “evidence” with achieving a particular goal that may not be the one the engineer has been asked to achieve.

Alex Bauman
Alex Bauman
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

You are so busy disagreeing with people here that you don’t seem to be able to keep track of what you’re disagreeing with. The whole point of my post that you originally trolled on was that there are hundreds of protected bike lanes all across the United States (not including Denmark) that have been proven to increase safety for roadway users. If an engineer refuses to include a protected bikeway in a street design because it isn’t in their manual, they are ignoring evidence.

I hope you aren’t confusing engineering with architecture, which is what every engineer does when they’re designing a street layout.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Alex Bauman

If an engineer refuses to include a protected bikeway in a street design because it isn’t in their manual, they are ignoring evidence.

You’ve totally lost me. It might help to ground things a little…

If the question is “should we include a bike lane on SE 82nd if it costs $1M more” I would contend that’s a fundamentally political question that is not inherently evidence based.

If the question is “all things being equal, would a protected bike lane on 82nd be safer than an unprotected one”, then evidence could be used to answer it.

I don’t know what question your hypothetical engineer was asked to answer.

Alex Bauman
Alex Bauman
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

“ You’ve totally lost me.”
That’s because you don’t read what people write before responding to it.

“ If the question is “all things being equal, would a protected bike lane on 82nd be safer than an unprotected one”, then evidence could be used to answer it.”
This is exactly what I’ve written in two separate comments on this thread. You disagreed with this upthread, saying “Engineers are trained to follow the manual.” The whole context of this thread is the scenario posed by Cyclekrieg above in which the manual used by a jurisdiction doesn’t cover appropriate infrastructure, such as protected bike lanes.

You obviously are not reading others’ comments before responding to them, so I am not going to read anything else you write.

qqq
qqq
10 months ago
Reply to  Alex Bauman

Street layout design is definitely not architecture, it’s a specialized branch of engineering and urban design.

And when the best design for a street involves slowing traffic or removing lanes or on-street parking, that would be giving some people bitter pills to swallow, which would technically make the designer a pharmacist.

Alex Bauman
Alex Bauman
10 months ago
Reply to  qqq

Urban design is usually considered a branch of architecture. I just googled “urban design school of architecture” and at least 5 universities with urban design degrees in their school of architecture were on the first page, including UT Austin, UCLA, NYU, & Columbia.

Which elements of street layout do you think are best handled by engineers? While I certainly think engineers have a role to play in certain structural elements of overall road design (as I already said upthread), street layout is primarily an expression of community values and as such best handled by an architect (which you can call an urban designer if you want). Things like design speed and lane configuration can be influenced by formulaic considerations such as contextual built environment or average width of expected vehicles like buses or trucks, but these formulas aren’t any more complex or integral to the design than formulas already routinely handled by architects such as number of toilets per square foot for a restaurant.

qqq
qqq
10 months ago
Reply to  Alex Bauman

There are already people who are well qualified to design streets. They work for firms that specialize in that. They’re probably best described as “street designers” but since that’s not a standard term, they’re typically engineers or urban designers, or have backgrounds in those areas.

Some may have backgrounds in architecture, or may even be licensed architects, but the typical architect (like the typical engineer or urban planner) isn’t qualified to design streets.

Urban design is typically taught in architecture schools, but, often, so are urban planning and interior design. But that doesn’t make people going into any of those other fields architects.

I agree with what I think is your main point–that having a typical background in engineering doesn’t make a typical engineer–who may be expert in designing bridge structures, drainage, pavement, traffic signals, etc.– qualified to make the design decisions that make a street functional and pleasant for all its users. And a reason many streets are so unpleasant and function so poorly is that those ARE the people making decisions they’re not qualified to make (although they may think they are.)

The people that should be designing streets are street designers.

Alex Bauman
Alex Bauman
10 months ago
Reply to  qqq

Cool man, you can call them street designers if you want. I prefer architect personally, but the world needs lumpers and splitters.

I’m glad we agree that engineers should mostly stay out of the design phase. I personally have engaged as an advocate with street design in at least 6 jurisdictions, and in all of them, engineers have mostly driven the process and had a veto over the outcome. Certain places and projects use consultants for street design, as you note, but in my experience and according to people I’ve known at consultancies, they are just as engineer heavy as public agencies. Obviously architectural and planning professions have massive faults but at least they don’t start the process with as many options closed as engineers tend to do.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Alex Bauman

“street layout is primarily an expression of community values”

Finally, something we totally agree on!

I like your formulation, and it is exactly why I so value stakeholder and community involvement in making decisions about street configuration. A planner (be they engineer or architect) who doesn’t know a community well is not positioned to know what the community wants or how it works.

Bjorn
Bjorn
10 months ago

Splendid really does have the best customer service of any bike shop I have ever been to, well deserved.

pierre delecto
pierre delecto
10 months ago

The streetsblog piece on the smart growth for america poll has an incorrect link. What’s also missing is any link to the poll itself. This is critical to assess whether there was bias in framing of questions or whether the underlying methodology is sound.

To be blunt, many of the polls and data being bandied about by urbanists and transportation alternatives proponents are straw polls at best and political push polls at worst . This can be seen in this case by the fact that the poll was actually designed to test “messaging” rather than a pure opinion survey (with statistical models that adjust for demographics and internal bias).

comment image

Chris I
Chris I
10 months ago

That E-biking with kids article is ridiculous. The author is pro e-biking with kids, but only in a very specific circumstance that will be completely unattainable for most families. For every Islabikes out there, I see 100 Rad e-bikes. We are not going to see mass adoption of Islabikes/Woom e-bikes…

Not every e-bike is suitable for a child. In fact, most of them are not. You need a quality bike that is sized appropriately for a child. If you want to know what that means, just look to well-known brands such as Islabikes or Woom.

Iconyms
Iconyms
10 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

If they ride it why is it a problem? I grew up riding bikes and motorcycles I couldn’t touch the ground on, I’d have to find a tree stump or something to get off. As long as you can reach the brakes that’s the important part 😉

Matt
Matt
10 months ago

No shade to Splendid–I’m friends with an excellent mechanic who works there–but with a little digging I see that the NBDA Dealer Excellence awards have to be applied for by the dealer in question, which has to severely limit the number of shops in consideration. Which I think is an important bit of context.

Randi J
Randi J
10 months ago

“Cars are a death cult: I’m not sure when or if America will ever wake up to the fact that our government simply does not care how many people die on our roads. (The American Prospect) “

Well I don’t know about the rest of the USA, but this is definitely true of Portland and our recent PBOT leaders (Chloe Eudaly and Joann Hardesty). Hopefully Mingus Mapps can change course.

Latest pedestrian death in Portland:
https://katu.com/news/local/police-identify-pedestrian-killed-by-hit-and-run-driver-in-ne-portland

Daniel Fuller
Daniel Fuller
10 months ago

Kaplan, Louisiana mayor Mike Kloesel said, “It’s not usually a good thing” when you have people walking around at night. Welcome to the Land of the Free! Meanwhile in Taiwan:

Lioho_Night_Market_in_Taiwan.jpg
Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Fuller

Wow! You mean the dynamics of Kaplan, LA are different than a large city in Taiwan?

Chris I
Chris I
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

It would appear so, since one clearly values personal freedom of movement, and the other appears to be some kind of oppressive regime that restricts personal freedom.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Chris I

One has a vibrant night life, the other has a liquor store.

BTW, Taiwan is a great place to visit. Kaplan, LA probably less so.

jakeco969
jakeco969
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

I think the population of Kaplan are outnumbered just in that one street in Taiwan.

Dave
Dave
10 months ago

Thanks for sharing that “Advice for Advocates” Streetsblog piece. Effective advocacy requires strategic thinking and the ability to clearly articulate/communicate an issue without alienating oneself from potential allies. Great food for thought!

Laura
Laura
10 months ago

Regarding E-bikes for kids: If the dad stated that the bike was used only when riding with parents, maybe I could buy in. But…nope. A second read, including the dad’s bike list got me thinking about the “barrier to entry” vs “bike plus e-kit” issue. Clearly, the target audience for the article is the younger MAFIL crowd who could not bear to be seen riding slowly with their kid, on something like a Kona Dew, while wearing cargo shorts and a t-shirt, so they need to amp up their kids bike. (Middle Aged Folks In Lycra).

Iconyms
Iconyms
10 months ago

“Cars are a death cult: I’m not sure when or if America will ever wake up to the fact that our government simply does not care how many people die on our roads.”

Ok then why are there so many safety & crash standards that cars have to meet? If cars are a death cult what are bicycles and motorcycles which are more deadly per mile?

Iconyms
Iconyms
10 months ago

“Babes on e-bikes: The creep of battery-powered bikes is going into the kids market and Portlander Josh Ross delves into whether or not your kid should go electric.”

Meanwhile 5 year old kids are racing motocross and riding trails on gas & electric bikes that go 40 mph. But if it has peddles then they have to wait until they ae 16?! Makes zero sense.

ps. gravity can power non-ebikes to 30 mph pretty easily.

Watts
Watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Iconyms

Can 5 year old kids ride motocross cycles on public streets? That’s the difference.

Iconyms
Iconyms
10 months ago
Reply to  Watts

No but the law doesn’t even allow kids to ride ebikes on bike trails.

9watts
9watts
10 months ago
Reply to  Iconyms

How did we get – in a few short years – from invoking the old, the infirm, the disabled every time anyone voiced a cautionary or (heaven forbid) a critical perspective on e-bikes to now rolling them out for kids, who surely are as far from any of those demographic groups as we could imagine? Yikes.