As many of you know, following Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's appearance at the National Bike Summit, he announced on his blog that "People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized." This announcement came alongside a policy revision that puts the interests of bicyclists and pedestrians on equal footing with the concerns of motorists.
Still, there is much work to be done to change both public perception and transportation guidelines. A great example of the misconceptions held by the public is found in this New York Times blog entry which quotes Ohio Congressman Steven LaTourette, who argued, "I don’t even understand how you get a bang for the buck out of a bicycle project. I mean, what job is going to be created by having a bike lane?"
Of course, in addition to the many health and environmental benefits of increasing cycling, there are quite a few jobs created by "having a bike lane." In fact, the economic benefits of bicycling are enormous. As Specialized's Ian Dewar sums it up:
Over 7 million Californians ride bicycles each year making it the most popular form of outdoor recreation used by Californians. In 2006 the Outdoor Industry Foundation estimated cycling accounted for over $6.4 billion in expenditures between travel, food and equipment in California alone. Over 100,000 people work directly in the cycling industry in California. So yes, building another bike path helps produce jobs.
Nationwide, cycling is a key part in the over $730 billion annual outdoor recreation economy. Cycling benefits health with a clear link between higher cycling and walking participation and lower obesity and diabetes rates. Cycling benefits the environment by lowering traffic congestion and car pollution. Cycling helps the economy by lowering costs of development for new projects. In Portland alone the city estimates if the 18,000 daily cycling commuters were to drive to work instead of cycling they would need to build another bridge over the Willamette River at a cost of $350 million.
Perhaps Congressman LaTourette's constituents might want to have him give bicycles a second thought...
But public opinion isn't the only obstacle to translating LaHood's words into actions. The process of changing highway design guidelines is often slow and frustrating. Here in California, congestion management agencies (CMAs) have to contend with Caltrans' Highway Design Manual (HDM), which affects numerous city streets.
In San Jose, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), the local CMA, had to fight tooth and nail to convince Caltrans to allow them to narrow vehicular lanes and widen bike lanes and sidewalks on an overpass at Tully Road and Interstate 101. Everywhere else along the length of Tully Road, lanes are 11 feet wide, but at the overpass, Caltrans told VTA it was unsafe to have lanes narrower than 12 feet...
"We have local leaders being innovative and they are being thwarted by Caltrans, whose design manual is out of date," said Corinne Winter, Executive Director of the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition and a supporter of the changes at the Tully Road overpass. Winter said that San Jose was fortunate because the city and the VTA never relented on their plans for narrower lanes, but smaller cities don't often have the planning staff or budget and default to Caltrans standards.
What does it all mean? It means we have to continue working. It means we are making progress. It means there are people in power who share our vision of active, sustainable transportation and are willing to work with us to make it happen. There may be challenges, but there are also solutions.
What do you think of Secretary LaHood's policy revision? When will Caltrans enact their proposed complete streets plan? How does bicycling get you to inject cash into the California economy? Let the comments flow!