Sweeping generalizations are always false, Mr. Professional Traffic Engineer

Since I’m not an “invited participant” I can’t respond to comments on a National Journal piece about transportation funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure. I’ll have to say it here, where you are all invited participants who may comment freely whether or not you have a snazzy title and professional head shot.

D.J. Hughes, a professional engineer from Delaware, had this to say in his comment (there’s more, so read the whole thing to be fair. And while you’re there, read the comment from Keith Laughlin, president of the Rails to Trails Conservancy—much more optimistic):

Commuter bike trips are not realistic for people with kids in day care, who have a 10-15+ min drive at 40-50 mph avg speed, or who have to take things such as a laptop and files to/from work.  Bad weather also prevents commuter bike trips even for the most avid bicyclists.  People also cannot accomplish essential tasks such as grocery shopping via bikes.

Really? Bad weather “prevents” trips? “Cannot accomplish” grocery shopping?

While he goes on to say that he goes for recreational rides with his kids in their neighborhood, it seems safe to say he doesn’t have the bike commuting/transportation experience of many people I know.

To take just one example, I live 1.6 miles from Rosauers on 29th Avenue. Much of it is straight uphill so it’s not going to be everyone’s favorite ride. Since Spokane Transit's #45 and #46 run up the hill you could choose that option (did you know that we were the first city in Washington to have bike racks on every bus in the transit system?).

But there’s a bike lane for the majority of the ride and that uphill climb turns into a downhill “wheeeeee!” with my panniers full of bananas, English muffins, apples, and nonfat milk. Oh, and a Lindt orange/dark chocolate bar…. I earned it.

Other easy options: I can stop by the URM Cash and Carry on Hamilton—less than half a mile from the Riverpoint Campus where I work and accessible via the Centennial Trail (some of that infrastructure that could get funding if transportation priorities explicitly included active transportation).

Or there’s the Main Market Co-op on Main—less than half a mile the other direction from work and with a bike rack out front.

Believe me, I can be in and out much more quickly than someone who circles the parking lot for 10 minutes trying to find the spot closest to the door to minimize that exhausting walk.

Another biking bonus: When you bike, as I’ve pointed out before, there’s no time wasted wondering where you parked the car—it’s always in the rack or hitched to a sign post in front of the building.

A 10-minute drive at 40mph, which he considers “unrealistic,” means traveling approximately 6-7 miles-- a ride of around 25-30 minutes at an easy-squeezy pace of 15mph that won’t even have you break a sweat on your way to work. If you chose to ride you’d be getting your recommended 30-60 minutes of activity every day with no gym fees.

I no longer have kids in day care or elementary school but I know people who do (I’m talkin’ to you, John Speare) and I used to haul my little ones in a cart on the back of my bike. We went to the beach, to the store—all kinds of places. I’m not saying it’s easy or feasible for everyone. I’m just saying it’s not impossible the way he makes it sound.

The idea that you can't carry a laptop and some files in a pannier is so laughable I won't even bother to address that point. 

His assumption that we have to be cocooned safely away from a little bit of cold air doesn't make sense when you think about all the people who pay good money to go out into recreational settings like ski resorts and outdoor ice rinks. Why we should be willing to bundle up to have fun but not to get ourselves to work I don't know. (Since I'm not the Wicked Witch of the West I don't melt when I get wet, either.)

Sweeping generalizations? Always false. Think about it. 

And while you're at it, think about the mindset in public policy that created a world in which it seems impossible to someone that you could ride your bike to the grocery store. Change is long overdue, so thanks, Secretary LaHood.

A couple of related posts you may want to check out from cyclelicio.us:
  • Bikes="Economic Castrophe"?
  • Stewart Udall's letter to his grandchildren: "Operating on the assumption that energy would be both cheap and superabundant led my generation to make misjudgments that have come back and now haunt and perplex your generation. We designed cities, buildings, and a national system of transportation that were inefficient and extravagant. Now, the paramount task of your generation will be to correct those mistakes with an efficient infrastructure that respects the limitations of our environment to keep up with damages we are causing."
The official policy from US Dept. of Transportation announced March 15, 2010


    1. You tell 'em Barb! I don't have any kids so can't comment from personal experience on that, but even back in the day before (most) people rode for transportation, my parents hauled us around in seats on the backs, or fronts, of their bikes. Considering there were three of us children and only two parents, it was an impressive feat.- Staci

    2. you know what I say--if I can do it, ANYONE can!

    3. As a professional writer who bike commutes with office clothes, a laptop, and paper files every day, all through the wet and windy Seattle winter, I have to say D.J. Hughes is all wet.

      Now, I'm not directly replacing my 50-minute drive with a 100% bike commute. I take my bike on the train for 30 minutes, and bike for 25 minutes, so the commute does take a few minutes longer by bike than by car. And it might not be for everyone.

      But to make a blanket statement that commutes even a third the length of mine are impractical by bike shows a depth of ignorance that's hard to accept in a supposed traffic professional.


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