What’s the Right Frame to Advance our Cycling Goals?

Last week I had the chance to vicariously experience the Community Streetcar Coalition meeting as new PBOT Director Tom Miller was tweeting the highlights.

The local reaction included a lot of frustration from bike advocates, including tweets like these:

If Obama truly “got it” he’d put way more $$ into mode w/ strongest ROI in cities… bicycling. But bike politics are toxic so they lose.

Why are streetcar politics strong? B/c rich ppl & developers <3 them. Political power for bikes lies in branding as glamorous. If that's true, it's a difficult situation. I want bicycling (and transit) to be accessible more than glamorous. Exactly. The same politics that are good for highways are good for streetcar. That's why I'm wary.

Ouch.

As somebody who spends time promoting both streetcars and cycling (and is on record saying I’d put the next $1 towards cycling if there were no other constraints), let me say first that I don’t think glamour is going to be our trump card for cycling :-)

It’s pretty clear to me that we won’t achieve the goals of the Portland Bicycle Master Plan unless several things happen:

  1. A significant Federal funding category is created for cycling – a lot of our local spending decisions are driven by maximizing return on Federal match.
  2. Public opinion becomes a lot more favorable towards cycling and cyclists.
  3. Local movers and shakers really get the benefits of cycling.

So what are some of the tools we can use to frame the discussion to move us in this direction? I don’t claim to have the definitive answer, but it’s pretty clear to me that we have to move beyond a general sense of modal superiority (or entitlement as an underserved minority), and we have to work on our negatives (but that’s a topic for another post). Here are some thoughts on some specific directions to think about:

  • Placemaking – places designed around streetcars and bikes are great places. Places designed primarily for auto access are crappy places. Compare Alberta Street (originally built along a streetcar line and now a very popular bike district) with Beaverton Hillsdale Highway – nobody’s complaining that the street fair on BV Highway is out of control…
  • Cycling is healthy. The cost of health care will continue to be a BIG DEAL for a long time. This should be a primary theme in promoting cycling for folks of all ages.
  • Cycling is cost effective. This comparison is really interesting. In an era where we have to tighten our belts on all kinds of government spending, the ROI on our transportation investments needs to get some intense scrutiny and that can only be a good thing for bikes.

And I wouldn’t rule out leveraging electric bikes. I think as prices come down, e-bikes are going to be much more accessible, and as fuel prices drive people toward electric vehicles, e-bikes have the potential to become the affordable electric vehicle for a lot of trips…

Finally, let’s remember to keep our eye on the numbers. In New York, the incredible Janette Sadik-Khan has in part been successful in driving rapid change by focusing on the data.

Discuss!

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