Thursday, June 13, 2019

Weird Defeatism and Autoist Bias on Bikes and Emissions

Earlier this week there was a funny piece in Salem Reporter about the City's failure to improve walking and biking rates. It's hard to land on a reading of it, and perhaps the ambiguity is intentional, that "view from nowhere." But in this ambiguity it does not illuminate very much, and it shies away from useful analysis.
Study projects Salem's greenhouse gas emissions could grow by 2035

The analysis suggests the city likely won’t convince people to trade cars for bikes or sidewalks any time soon. And it arrives at a time when councilors are debating measures to study and reduce the city’s carbon footprint.
The headline changed over a couple of days, and perhaps this is merely SEO and click-traffic maneuvering. (Get those hate-clicks about bikes?) But its evolution points to a problematic framing away from reporting on emissions and towards opinion about mobility. The whole thing is just a little odd.

Headline on the 11th

New headline on the 12th, more defeatist
The difficulty with improving walking and biking rates is real and true. But fundamentally the story's frame seems to be "the City's tryin' real hard, and the obdurate citizens just aren't responding...People loooove to drive, and won't be changing any time soon."
Julie Warncke, the city’s transportation manager, concurred biking and walking aren’t currently popular ways to get around the city.

“We’re trying to provide opportunities, but we do have a hard time measuring,” she said.

The city has invested in bike and pedestrian infrastructure in recent years, she noted. In the last five years, 20 city projects added bike lanes, fixed crosswalks, improved sidewalks and more, she said.
The piece does not pursue more detail on why the City's "investment" has not paid off, however, and veers away instead, petering out in vague generalities.
“There’s a few areas where it seems we’re heading in the right direction, and there are many areas where it’s not clear if we’re heading in the right direction,” she said in an email. “And that’s where (the next phase) comes in.”

Other areas in the analysis include the economy and housing market. The city is poised to offer good job opportunities, wages and overall affordability for residents, the analysis found. It will also add housing using infill development, a city goal.
So what is the purpose of the piece?

The revised posting on social media about the persistence and inevitability of cars "driving planning for streets" suggests a strong autoist bias, even pro-car apologetics.

If somehow the purpose is instead to dig into why Salemites aren't bicycling, and what we need to do to reduce driving emissions, it's too shallow a dive, it uncritically accepts the City's explanation, and it promotes more driving as an inevitability.

It doesn't add up as reporting. Even if it is not intended as such, it looks rather more like autoist propaganda!

Not so good (full scorecard)
But if a deeper dive and follow-up is in order, it could instead dig into the Places for Bike analysis and ask why Bicycling magazine's rankings for Salem have dropped every two years on a consistent trajectory of decline.

Despite the City's posture that "We’re trying to provide opportunities," the City is not in fact trying very hard.

We're not here yet;
drive-alone trips remain at top
What the City has tried hard to do is build a giant bridge and highway for cars. Fortunately, they failed! (But imagine if all the SRC resources had instead been spent on the transportation side of a Climate Plan.)

For every small segment of new bike lane the City builds, it adds more car capacity in new lanes, signal timing, and other "congestion relief." The City consistently still advantages cars, not walking, biking, or busing. The City fits non-auto transportation into the margins and hopes drivers won't complain too much. The priority remains for cars. This is a policy choice.

Reporting could look at the interlocking subsidies and incentives for our autoism, including the oversupply of and expectation for free parking, parking minimums in code, employee commuter benefits, and road funding that is no longer self-financed by user fees like the gas tax and licensing/registration and requires subsidy from other non-auto revenue streams.

It could look at our expanses of single-family zoning that space things out at car-dependent distances - an indirect subsidy and mandate for cars! - and make transit inefficient. The zoning forces useful destinations onto zoomy stroads with large parking lots that are hostile to walking and biking and optimized instead for cars.

It could look at speed, road design, and traffic deaths, and ask why people too often don't feel safe walking and biking.

It could look at the history of our underfinanced transit district and the reasons for that. (And look at Portland's just announced move for bus-only lanes!)

There's lots of reporting that might be done. Over decades we have made policy choices that incentivize drive-alone trips and their carbon pollution. The current difficulty in improving walk/bike/bus rates is not a "natural" outcome we are helpless to change, but is the product of a suite of policy choices, choices that can be redirected and changed.

"Breaking the Cycle of Automobile Dependency"


Jeff Schumacher said...

You should reach out to Troy Brynelson and talk with him. Maybe next time you can be quoted in this story and provide additional context about this issue. I assume he would welcome an additional source, especially one with a comprehensive view of the City's transportation issues.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the kind words!

It is a small sadness that I am lousy with headlines, epigrams, and sound bites. Pithiness is not a strength, and others who generate more colorful quotes can do "source" better!

Susann Kaltwasser said...

I'm not likely to ride a bike anymore at my advanced age, but years ago when I was open to the idea, I found Salem streets super hostile. Sad because as a kid I would zip all over town in my bike going downtown or across town. So, I thought about why I no longer felt safe doing it when I was in my 30s and 40s.

You know the answer. Salem does not have protected bike lanes. You have to compete with the traffic on almost every major street. And since the 60s Salem has allowed developers to build so many non-through streets that you basically can't get from here to there on a side street!

I liked the idea that Portland was putting forth about special lanes for buses and bikes, but I thought why are they putting them on the main streets? I guess it would work, but you need something between the lanes for bikers to feel safe. I think European cities have gotten that right for a while now.

i do not know what it would take to get more attention to the issue, but I know that some of the environmentalists who wanted certain things to be in the City's plans organized groups of people around an issue, prompted them on what to say and then sent them to the Open Houses to put up sticky notes or make the same comments over and over. It worked because they got some of their agenda on the list. The Climate Action Plan was one of their talking points.

Although I don't ride a bike anymore, I sure wish my grandchildren could have the wonderful experience that I had in my youth, but we need to have safer avenues for them.

BTW, do contact Troy...he is very open to story suggestions. You don't have to be quoted to be heard!