Thursday, June 25, 2015

Bike Lane Traffic Jam

I was driving a child to a hockey game last winter in the oh so urban twin of the Twin Cities and I ran into a Bike Lane Traffic Jam.

I was traveling along N. Dowling Avenue in Minneapolis about 5:30 pm on a weeknight when I ran into a line of cars. It was winter. The hockey game was for my five year old, who with his bag, was in the back. Cars were stacked in a line in one lane at each light on Dowling waiting four changes of each traffic light before they could proceed through the intersection. The street used to be two lanes going both ways, now it is one lane and a bike path. Funny I didn't see any bikes. We are told that bikes are part of the multi-modal transportation as the Government Class pats us on the head whilst taking money out of our pocket. Transportation bikes may have been in Mao's China but on a cold winter night with a five year old, a hockey bag and twenty miles of driving, bike lanes are the invisible reason a twenty minute trip takes forty and people going to and from work and their families and one hockey game are stuck in traffic. 

Thomas More said, "Never was there a heretic that spoke all false." While it is not all false bikes are transportation, so are rollerblading, river punting and cross country skiing. However you wouldn't want to build a transportation plan around them. It is not all false that at some times and some places bikes have been transportation, like the aforementioned Maoist China or post-war Belgium (I'm seeing a fully habited-out nun on a bike with a basket with a loaf of French, well I guess Belgian, bread). Bikes were transportation in those places and times because of failed Communist enconomics or destroyed war economies respectively. But even they got over it. Now, in newly capitalized China and modern oh so cool Europe, the citizens have leaned their bike up against a stone fence and jumped in to cars with willful abandon. It is also not all false that before 1908, bikes were transportation in the civilized world. Then the first Model T rolled off the line. Cool. Goodbye bikes hello freedom and pink Cadallacs on Wisconsin nights.

Proponets of the Cleveland bike lane say we (that's a little generous) need a North-South bike route across the City. Well so do we (I mean everyone) need a North-South car route. As my wife pointed out, with the building of a brand new neighborhood at the Ford Plant site, that need will be greater than ever. There are only two reasonable routes from the site to the North part of the City, to University Aveneue and I-94: Cretin and Cleveland. Why would the City want to clog up those arteries with less car lanes and more bikes lane (and occasional bikes)? There's irony somewhere that the City develops a neighboorhood on the very spot where cars and trucks were manufactured for a century and then hinders the new neighbors from traveling in cars and trucks because of bikes lanes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

. . . and when they came for the four-star restaurant.

A few years back my wife and two other moms came together to oppose the closing of Jefferson Ave at Cleveland as part of the Jefferson Bikeway. Their attempts to stop the street closure led to the exposure of a million wasted dollars by the City, the fact the City was employing a “Bike Coordinator,” the realization that the City had ceded its authority to determine the best configuration of its street to a private bike advocacy group, and on and on. What did they accomplish? Well, Jefferson is still open at Cleveland. The City did blow the money on crooked lines, painted over bike stencils, concrete loopty-loops and a Close Encounters of the Pedestrian Kind light show at the Jefferson/Cleveland and Jefferson/Cretin crosswalks. Back when we were fighting this, allies were few and far between. Some came to meetings, but most said things like, “well, I like to bike,” or “I never drive on Jefferson anyway.”

But now? Well, well, well. Everyone is up in arms because they have come for the parking at the four-star restaurant I have not eaten at since it was a 3.2 joint with Taco-Thursdays. Now I am the one who’s not excited. Not because I don’t care, but because the game is over. The good folks who own businesses along Cleveland and their patrons are arguing the wrong issue. It’s not about parking on Cleveland, or bicyclists who disobey laws, or increased traffic on Cleveland or outside bike advocates agitating in our neighborhood or taxpayer money wasted on bikes and not spent on roads. It’s not about any of those things. It’s bigger than even the fact the City has a Comprehensive Bicycle Plan.

This is about how the City sees its role vis-a-vis its citizens. The City keeps telling us that bikes are part of its multi-modal transportation plan. Well, how does that work? If we split transportation into motor vehicles, public transport (bus, light rail, cab, Uber) and bike, how would the numbers look? Just for an argument let’s say:

90% motor vehicle,
9.99% public transport and
less than .01% bike.

My numbers look to be pretty close. These numbers are at least as legitimate as any numbers being thrown around by bike-lane advocates. Now I know you’re saying, “but I know people who bike to work and the store.” Okay. So do I. I knew a Federal Judge who biked in from the Western suburbs to downtown Minneapolis during the summer months. That’s one. But if you look at folks who do this, they do it some days of the week, they do it some months of the year. And of course they own a car, which explains bike racks. Now you may be able to find one guy who bikes everywhere, every day, all year. Well, you found your less than .01%. I'm guessing you could find one person who jogs to work and one who rollerskates, but that makes neither a statistically significant mode of transportation.

How does the City see its role? Well, I’m guessing based on spending about:

50% motor vehicle,
25% public transport and
25% bike.

I’m guessing some at the City would like to see:

10% motor vehicle,
60% public transport and
30% bike.

And bike-lane advocates? Well . . .:

100% bike, bike, bike, bike . . . whooh, sorry I got on a roll there.

So why is this a question of the role of the City vs. the Citizen? Chesterton says, “Those who hold the modern superstition that the State can do no wrong will be bound to accept such a thing as right.” G.K. Chesterton, The Well and the Shallows. The City’s elected officials and employees hold this superstition in spades.

Now for the important part . . . ahem . . . listen up!

The Citizen makes a private decision on how to travel; by car, by bus, by Uber or by bike. The sphere of this choice is a private choice made by a private citizen who buys, maintains and insures the car, who pays for a monthly bus pass or who equips himself out for winter biking. A private decision.

The important question is why does the City think its role is to interfere in people’s transportation decision? Why do they see it as their choice and not yours? Their sphere and not yours? The Citizens have decided and bikes come in at less than .01%. It’s time for them to recognize that and scrap the Comprehensive Bike Plan, move all bike issues over to Parks & Recreation, remove all bike lanes from arterial streets, pave and plow the streets, draft a Comprehensive Motor Vehicle Plan and return parking to the freeborn Citizens. Then, finally, the City would be following its Citizens and not trying to control them. That is what is important. Superstitions are hard to overcome and the superstition that the City can do no wrong is so ingrained I see no hope.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Las Vegas on the Jefferson

Have you been down Jefferson Avenue lately? 

Ever since the much-celebrated "Jefferson Bikeway" project, which was going to bring joy, happiness, peace in our time and higher rankings on those all important hipster e-mag livability rankings no one reads, I have been on the lookout for where exactly our $1,000,000.00 was being spent. Surely they did not blow it all on new signs with bike logos? Or on the "sharrow" op-art pieces painted, covered, re-painted and scraped away in one good street cleaning and performance art piece? Surely it was not spent on the bike "lines" from Lexington to Fort Road which look like Mr. Magoo, the City line painter, fell asleep or stopped off for a quick ten at the Spot; Dorthy had a straighter road to Oz.

Well what have they spent the money on? Want a Vegas vacation, then you too can travel West from Snelling Avenue and experience the "Let it Ride High Roller" at the "Trafficcircleosphere" as you wind in and out of useless traffic circles in a game of "will she or won't she yield" and "break for the confused pedestrian who does not know where to cross." Then make your way down to the Cleveland/Cretin Strip where pedestrian lights, or should I say LIGHTS!!!, have been installed to alert vehicles that there are pedestrians wanting to cross. These lights are flashing yellow, startlingly blinding LEDs and go off at unexpected moments, like when you're driving your car. 

Seriously . . . why did the City install these lights? They are a "Don't be a Menace to Mac Grove" and will cause some serious accidents. One wonders (well, actually I wonder) if these carnival lights are payback to some of the neighbors on the corners of Jefferson/Cleveland and Jefferson/Cretin who objected to the Bikeway. 

So the City wanted to control these intersections for pedestrians/bike crossings? I have an idea, how about a traffic light? Radical I know as they have only been around 147 years. Of course a simple traffic light hardly gives one cred at urban planner conferences when all the other Cities' pony-tailed planners are going on about sharrows, traffic circles and bike bridges. How gauche it would be to have to admit you used a, dare I say, pedestrian traffic light when you could have closed off the street or installed the Laser Pink Floyd monstrosities they in fact put into place.

We now all wait with poorer pockets and baited breath to see how the Public Class in Saint Paul will be spending the rest of the Productive class' $1,000,000.00. 

Is anyone out there?

The calm before the Fireworks

The Light Show in repose