City of Austin Transportation Department Community Conversation: Data Doesn’t Lie

Bikes Came Before Cars & Will Be Here After Them, Too

Today’s post is about a meeting I attended put on by the City of Austin Active Transportation Department.  They were reporting back on improvements to two streets in East Austin.  The headline for me was that adding bike lanes and reducing car lanes from four to three did not increase travel time. In fact, travel time was decreased, because traffic signals were synchronized and optimized. This was measured with Bluetooth technology so it is not subjective.

Still, naysayers and disbelievers will convince themselves or anything to reinforce their narrow paradigm that only cars deserve to be on the roads.  To me that’s just illegal, wrong and backwards.  Such is politics.  It didn’t matter to me when I just tooled around for short periods.  Now that I’ve been out there biking over 13,000 in three years, saving my life and the lives of other people on bikes is more important.

“When the spirits are low, when the day appears dark, when work becomes monotonous, when hope hardly seems worth having, just mount a bicycle and go out for a spin down the road, without thought on anything but the ride you are taking.” 

— Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Just Because You “Heard It” Doesn’t Make it True

In trying to understand the anti-bike sentiment a minority of people in the room seemed to share, I have only to think back to my time driving a car to get into that mindset.  And up until I was laid off, I drove for work three times a week and still drive at other times, albeit only occasionally.  More often than driving, which is still pretty rare so far, I’m a passenger.  Today I rode to the presentation and later to a potluck.  I hate traffic as much as the next person.  But is this the bicyclist’s fault?  It’s human nature to want to scapegoat someone, usually the more vulnerable, which we people on bikes are.   So no, traffic is not any one person’s or group’s fault.  It’s a complex result of many causes.

After a long presentation peppered with some questions, more questions were taken.  Nowhere did I hear anyone dispute the data with more data.  Just hearsay and “personal experience.”  When people claim they’re stuck in traffic and things are worse than before the bike lanes, traffic signal synchronization, and other improvements like getting bikes out of the car lanes and vice versa, why do people still insist on this fake news?

Well, I think it’s clear it’s their PERCEIVED experience.  Sit in rush hour at a light for a minute, then not make it through the light and have to wait again, that second minute seems longer.  And because you’re farther back in line because it’s not wall-to-wall car lanes, you feel like you’re losing out.  Well you are, because you’re in a car, not getting exercise, or being in closer contact with nature, the road, the sky, your fellow travelers.

I have these pointed questions for my friends in cars who do not get it, still, in 2018:

  • What about the 125+ people who move here each and every day and drive cars.  Do they have anything to do with why there’s so much more traffic?
  • Do you have any personal responsibility at all in being part of the problem by driving everywhere you go (not counting disabled people unable to walk etc.)?
  • If you are not disabled, how does your refusal to carpool, bus, bike, walk, rideshare, etc. impact traffic?
  • How can you just ignore the affects of construction on Highway 183 (which even still did not significantly increase traffic times in many cases, and eventually will make things incredibly faster) and which you were just told about?
  • Does the fact that we met in a church and you may be a religious person make science and data matter less for you?
  • Why is the decreased amount of wrecks due to decreased speeding so quickly forgotten?
  • Who gave you the right to say that after public input, including an overwhelming vote for Proposition 1 to improve bike and pedestrian infrastructure — but still spending the majority of it ($500 million or thereabouts) on cars — that no one else’s voice except yours matters?
  • How is it that you know who is out there riding their bike when you’re mostly in your cozy office or in the bubble of your two-ton killing machine?
  • What every happened to the American ideal protecting the vulnerable minorities, which in this case is people on bikes and foot?
  • Who in the hell appointed car-drivers as gods on earth in charge of who lives and dies?
  • Do you even try to understand why I am so angry about your callous disregard for my life and the lives of the other thousands of bicyclists in this town, OUR town?
  • Does your kid ride a bike and is s/he going to be a kid forever?

Democracy is Not Pretty, and Sometimes Is Pretty Ugly

A grey Saturday morning meeting is not very exciting, but it was frustrating.  Such is the stuff of public policy, data and community meetings.   Talking heads (and mind you, the City ones were very knowledgeable and informative) and lots more listening heads.  A mix of people of different ages, income stratas, home ownership status, transportation options, gender, race, and more.  Democracy is not pretty.  I think Winston Churchill said it’s “the worst form of government, except for all the rest.”

Maybe so, but in a way, even the disagreements and tensions in the room, with all the personalities, history, changes to the City, and more, were part of the bigger picture.  Part of that picture is racism, and it’s barely whispered about cousin, classism.  There are real threats that are causing African-Americans and lower-class whites, Latinos and others to lose their homes.  This one blog post cannot adequately address all of that history.  And yet, racism does not trump science, reason, and data.  Perhaps that will not satisfy some.

But when we’re talking about car drivers hitting bike riders 300 times a year in Austin (fortunately only 3 die from that on average), it’s good to keep perspective that cars don’t care what color you are if you’re on a bike.  The main color some people behind the wheel see is red:  anger that you’re on a bike, and the color of your blood in the road if you’re unlucky enough to be at the receiving end of a car driver’s misplaced road rage.

Toll-road guy telling us how awesome his toll road will be… in 2020.
Amazing Alison from Active Transportation laying down the data.

 

 

A City Council member, policy officer, and a safe cyclist with his high visibility jacket and even higher viz chrome dome
Attentive seasoned cyclists and safety advocates Preston, Doug and Sam (who also drive cars and walk)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All in all, it was an interesting affair, but for me nothing has changed.  It is not safe out there in so-called “liberal” Austin.  We simply need more and better protections for cyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair and stroller users.  We need more people on bikes and less people in cars.  Yes, we should be more like Europe.  OK, less inconvenience for cars would be nice, but it’s never going to replace safety as a priority.

Anyone who says it should, or that people on bikes and foot should be second-class citizens, is someone who has not walked or bike a mile in my shoes.  While not my enemy, and I’m not theirs, we do hold opposing world views.  I hope to convert them to my side but it will take a lot more education, and may take generations.  And before that we’ll have self-driving cars and by some estimates, far less traffic (or far more, depending which futurist you ask).

But I take heart in remembering that before the infernal-combustion engine, there were bicycles.  And after cars die, at least the polluting and killing kind, there will still be bicycles.  Simple, beautiful, human-powered, non-polluting, community-building, elegant, fun, sexy, wonderful bicycles.

A Poem, A Photo and a Walk to Wind Down With

de “La bicicleta con alas”                         from “The bicycle with wings”

“Yo sé que tiene alas.                                      I know that she has wings.
Que por las noches sueña                              That through the nights she dreams
en alta voz la brisa                                          in a loud voice the breeze
de plata de sus ruedas.                                    of the silver of her wheels.

Yo sé que tiene alas.                                        I know that she has wings.
Que canta cuando vuela                                 That she sings when she flies
dormida, abriendo al sueño                           asleep, opening to the dream    
una celeste senda.                                            a celestial path.

Yo sé que tiene alas.                                        I know that she has wings.
Que volando me lleva                                     That flying she takes me
por prados que no acaban                             through meadows that don’t end
y mares que no empiezan.                              and oceans that don’t begin.

Yo sé que tiene alas.                                         I know that she has wings.
Que el día que ella quiera,                              That the day that she desires,
los cielos de la ida                                            the heavens of the way
ya nunca tendrá vuelta.”                                 already she will never return.
― Rafael Alberti

(English translation by A Dude Abikes)

012718 walk pic.png
To wind down from a busy day listening to lots of people talk a lot but say little, it’s nice to remember there’s nothing like a good walk to reconnect with the earth, which is way smarter than any of us ignorant humans.

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THANK YOU!  www.ADudeAbikes.com

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© 2015-18 A Dude Abikes.  All rights reserved.

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