Friday, April 10, 2009

Integrating bikes into American transport

The last few Friday's I've discussed some political/activist subjects, specifically licensing and helmet use. I'm going to keep that trend going with a couple of related bits on integrating bikes into the transport system in America.

First, is this bit from BRAIN from a few weeks back:
NEW YORK, NY (BRAIN)—It seems that New York City may only be bike friendly to a point.
 On his weekly radio program on Friday morning, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said he opposed allowing commuters to bring bicycles onto subway cars, even if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority permits it.
 “I know bicyclists will now ring the phones off the hook, but they are just too big, particularly at rush hour,” he said of the bikes. “I just don’t think they should allow it,” he added.
The full story is from the NYT, available here. Reading the full article, it turns out that the mayor was responding to a caller's question so to some extent he was extemporizing, but the result is the same as if it were a prepared statement. 

These feelings aren't restricted to either Mayor Bloomberg (a staunch advocate of mass transit) or New York. Most places where you find light rail or subways and cyclists you find conflict. Yes, bikes are large and take up space, but does that really mean they should be blocked from use? I'm a regular BART rider, with and without my bike (a largish Surly Long Haul Trucker). BART has specific times, peak commute, where bikes aren't supposed to be on cars and they ask cyclists to use judgement before boarding. I would really like to see BART take a more cycling-friendly stance and provide more space specifically for bikes, but for now the benign indifference is alright. As long as our work/live situation remains the way it is (live in suburbs, work in cities) many people will need to travel farther than is easy by bike, and that mean multi-mode. As long as people are traveling multi-mode, they need to be able to bring their bikes with them.


The other piece I saw was on the East Bay Bike Coalition blog a couple of weeks back. This one was discussing Federal "complete streets" legislation. Specifically:
H.R. 1443: Complete Streets Act of 2009 Introduced Mar 11, 2009
S. 584: A bill to ensure that all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, children, older individuals, and individuals with disabilities, are able to travel safely and conveniently on and across federally funded streets and highways. Introduced Mar 12, 2009.
Much like the Routine Accommodation policy adopted by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission in 2006, and the Complete Streets bill signed into California State Law in 2008, the national version will work to make certain that federal transportation dollars are not spent to build new barriers or daunting hazards for bicyclists.
This is one of those issues where I like the idea but not necessarily the execution. Transportation spending is a state issue, and this kind of action by the Federal government is referred to as "power of the purse" - using Federal funding to force the states to do something (aka "Do it my way or watch your butt.") As a small government person, this sort of side-stepping around separation of powers bothers me. On the other hand, there are likely some states that won't do the right thing by cyclists and other non-vehicular traffic without the Federal carrot/stick. 

So what is the right answer? I can't say. I for one won't be involved in pushing the issue forward, but unlike the other political issues I've talked about recently I'm not entirely opposed.

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