Yesterday morning as I was cruising the news feed, I watched a 1950s animation of futuristic highways, then read an article about a Broward County bikeway lacking safe and efficient crossing where it intersects major streets.
This is the Disney vision of future transportation in 1958:
It’s a utopia of luxury and ease created by technology. It’s also a fascinating exaltation of speed, individualism and exurban isolation. Disney’s future people have been spared having to walk more than 5 steps, and yet they are all so skinny. And everyone drives, but there are no traffic jams. Yet as wild a fantasy as it is, you may notice a few things that have come true. Some which are not so fantastic.
Now take a look at the AASHTO vision of 21st century transportation in 2007. There is narrative about a new vision, transit and livable communities, but still an emphasis on relieving congestion and increasing capacity of roads. Good points are made about the need for public investment in transportation infrastructure. The actual trajectory of that 1950s motoring vision—the basis of which was individual convenience—has been influenced by a hyper-individualistic populace that has not wanted to invest in the common infrastructure required for it. Hmm.
Sadly, the fantasy of individual convenience through motoring has, in may respects, played out as a decrease in quality of life—degrading communities and robbing us of personal time, financial resources and health—yet we’re still pursuing it.
Bicycle fantasies need a reality check too.
We hear a lot about the biketopian vision — a separate system of bicycle highways on greenways with tunnels and bridges. These dreams are modeled on the Netherlands where rural bike paths were developed before automobiles as a way to create smoother pavement for bicycles. There are some in the US that work — the Boulder Creek Path, parts of the Pinellas Trail and Cady Way are examples. I’ve seen a few fantasy versions over the years, as well.
But too many of our bikeways are like the trail in this sun-sentinel article. Mired in reality, this is the junction of an American bike path and the 21st century version of the 1950s highway vision.
Here are the highlights:
- The New River Greenway was relocated to the north side of the canal that runs along I-595 to accommodate the westbound lanes of I-595 and S.R. 84, which are moving next to the canal bank as the expressway is widened to increase capacity.
- There are no crosswalks where the trail intersects six- to eight-lane, divided north-south streets so trail users have to travel on sidewalks over the North New River Canal to the crosswalks and traffic signals at State Road 84.
- DOT doesn’t want pedestrian signals allowing cyclists to cross directly because it’s too close to the existing traffic signals at S.R. 84 — it would disrupt car traffic.
- Officials considered overpasses to carry the trail over cross streets, but decided against them because of the cost and challenges in making them accessible for people with disabilities.
People sometimes misinterpret my emphasis on road-riding and taking back our place in the traffic mix to mean I oppose bike paths. I don’t. I’m a realist. The safest and easiest travel is usually found on roads (in a regular travel lane). It’s easier to cross a busy road on another busy road than on a bike path which receives no priority.
I am a fan of paths on their own right-of-way if they are designed properly. I use them when they suit my direction of travel. While I don’t think they will ever comprise a separate bicycle transportation network in the US, they can be a nice enhancement to access and quality cycling (for recreation and transportation). But they can’t even be that when they’re hamstrung by priority given to traffic flow on the roads they have to cross. It is a waste of money and impervious surface to pave a canal bank with the mentality that you can’t inconvenience motor traffic at crossings and can’t afford to make it efficient to use.
As long as we’re collectively locked into the highway-centric mindset, all other modes will be an afterthought—subordinated to the fantasy of motoring convenience.