Monday, March 23, 2020

Overestimating our Collective Virtue: Carrots Only don't Work; Sticks also Necessary

Even if you are not inclined towards any hint of Calvinism, the mass refusals this weekend to isolate and distance suggest a kind of inherent depravity in our human nature. Just WTF.

On the East Coast - AP story in SJ today

And here in Oregon - Oregonian today
I don't have anything to add now to any talk about our public health emergency, but I do think it might bear on the way we talk about greenhouse gas emissions and transportation.*

Most of bike advocacy and transportation reform has used the dominant frame of "expanding choice." If we design and construct better facilities, if we offer more amenities, then we will uncover and begin to satisfy a latent demand that was waiting there all along. If we make it easier to choose bikes, people will bike rather than drive for short trips.

The dominant frame of "expanding choice"
Bike Walk Salem October 2011

ODOT's "options" frame
Transportation Options Plan Flyer (Dec 2014)
Here, this frame has seemed less and less persuasive. The main problem has not seemed to be making biking more attractive. The main problem instead has seemed to be the massiveness of our interlocking system of direct and indirect subsidy for our autoism. Whether it's petroleum subsidies, free parking and parking mandates, 10mph overage grace on speeding violations, LOS analysis and prioritizing flow, lawn and driveway zoning, in so many ways we underwrite cars and driving, making it the choice of first resort.

If we were just looking to boost bike commute rates by a percentage point or two, the "expanding choice" frame might be reasonable. Being nice and appealing to virtue and convenience has real effects, though they are small.

We have to grapple with this 53% from cars
When we consider the real magnitude and scope of carbon pollution from tailpipe emissions, small changes on the margins aren't going to be enough.

Real change means ending subsidies for autoism, and that means new measures that will appear as direct disincentives for driving.

There wasn't any ambiguity here;
just the lack of a stick (March 21st)
And if during this past week appealing to the awfulness of COVID-19 infection, and appealing to the needs of valiant doctors and nurses and other heathcare personnel facing an onslaught of infection, some of whom will themselves get sick and die, and governmental recommendations to "stay home and stay healthy," weren't enough to get everybody to isolate and distance, how the hell do we expect meek appeals to "expanding choice," "options," or "nudges," to wean enough people off their autoism?

T4America says we need pricing to manage demand
Durable change with meaningful aggregate numbers will require sticks in addition to carrots, big structural system change with realigned costs in addition to appeals to personal virtue and choice. The policies have to work for everybody, including the recalcitrant beach-traveling cohort.

* It is true that all the air travel and car travel to hit the beaches is a product of our carbon-fueled transportation system. If carbon were priced right, we'd have better supports for staying home also. Cheap travel harms us here.

Addendum, April 11th

People are still not staying home, even with stronger closure orders.

April 11th
It was especially dismaying to read about mountain biking at Silver Falls. The Salem Area Trail Alliance does not seem to have taken any stand, however. The two most recent FB posts, March 29th, and April 2nd, are about Willamette National Forest being open still and encouraging buying beer to support a business partner of SATA.

Just more evidence that relying on good intentions and public virtue is not enough.

Addendum, April 16th

Still more...

More on not following the spirit of "stay home"


Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Added a note about some of the public still not complying with closure and "stay home" orders.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Added another note from today's paper.