Posts Tagged ‘walking’

Bike lanes, not sidewalk banishment, will solve traffic woes

December 2, 2010

A letter to the editor this week in The Washington Post was both spot-on and completely off the mark in how it framed both the problems with an increase in bicycling in D.C. and the solutions for those problems. When it comes to enforcement, resident Charles Yulish is right that bicyclists need to follow traffic laws and should be cited by police if seen violating them. But when it comes to where they ride, Yulish’s solution that they “should be banned from all pedestrian sidewalks” is far too simplistic and misses the point of why so many people ride on the sidewalks — because they feel safer there.

This really highlights a lack of biking infrastructure in the city, which is often bustling with traffic and people who drive erraticly — bicyclists are caught in quite a bind because the city is just as driver-heavy as it is pedestrian-heavy. Drivers get frustrated with bicyclists who can’t match the speed of traffic, and pedestrians get frustrated with bicyclists who speed by and weave through them (I’ve even seen people riding their motor scooters on the sidewalks).

What bicyclists need is their own domain on the roads — bike lanes. Until there is space made for bicyclists on the road, they will forever have to choose between possibly getting run over or navigating pedestrian-filled sidewalks. Many people want to bike, but riding with traffic is daunting in a city where stories about pedestrians and bicyclists being hit by cars are common. (This isn’t saying that drivers are responsible for all these accidents — but an SUV packs a much bigger punch than a bicycle or a pedestrian.)

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 43 percent of people don’t have access to bike lanes or bike paths (which often run parallel to but are set off from the road) — add the 24.1 percent of people who only have access to bike paths — not bike lanes — and that means about two-thirds of people don’t have access to bike lanes. Bike paths are great, but they often are set back from the road and are so limited in where they reach that many people don’t find them to be efficient — bike lanes are much more convenient in this sense.

And for cities that do sport bike lanes, their placement is often sporadic and not especially cohesive. In D.C. they are routinely adding bike lanes to streets (I understand this is a time-consuming project if it means expanding the width of the street), but their placement is scattered. And for bicyclists who don’t feel comfortable in the road, it likely leads to them weaving on-and-off the sidewalks, which makes them less predictable and more likely to get into an accident.

Personally, my hometown’s bike lanes are pitiful. A few streets have them, and I think the ones that do run parallel to each other, and the bike lane itself doesn’t go very far distance-wise. So while some cities can claim to have bike lanes and on paper look good, the quality of those bike lanes also might have a lot of room for improvement. As bicycling increases, the infrastructure must increase with it — slapping a bike lane down a main street isn’t going to cut it anymore.

It sounds like Yulish is a pedestrian, so simply banishing the bicyclists from the sidewalk works for him as a pedestrian, but it doesn’t address the problem as it relates to all travelers. Quality bike lane infrastructure positively benefits all these travelers — it would draw more attention to bicyclists’ right to be on the road, leave sidewalks as a space for pedestrians, and overall leave drivers, pedestrians, and bicyclists with a better attitude about their own safety when traveling.

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BP isn’t the only culprit in oil spill

July 13, 2010

This article from The Washington Post is a must-read, as it details why the gulf oil spill isn’t generating a lot of environmental activism and outrage from the public — mainly because the anger isn’t at the oil industry as a whole, the unsustainable demand for oil, or the obvious negative consequences of offshore drilling — rather, the anger is at BP for not taking the proper safety precautions and stopping the spill fast enough:

It’s that much of the reaction has focused on preventing accidents — on tighter scrutiny of rigs and mines — rather than broader changes in the use of oil and coal.

The article details how most environmental disasters come with some positive environmental response, whether in the form of legislation or increased environmental activism. Instead, the public’s demand for oil — which leads oil companies to drill deep offshore to find usable oil — is not seen as the problem; BP’s lack of preparedness and the government’s lax oversight of BP’s response are given the blame.

But, our response is part of the problem. It’s never easy to point the finger at yourself (especially when it’s much easier to point it at BP), but more than simply not pumping at BP, people need to drive less and the government needs to focus on fuel efficiency. Kate Sheppard discussed this in a great article about offshore drilling and how better efficiency will save tons of oil (perhaps not needing to drill offshore for 85 years):

The other [efficiency] ideas aren’t all that radical: educating people about keeping their tires inflated, improving urban planning, encouraging telecommuting. They’re sure a lot less complicated than plugging an oil gusher a mile below the gulf has turned out to be.

One reason that people aren’t jumping to be more efficient is briefly mentioned in the first-mentioned Post article, which is climate change skepticism. A huge pet peeve of mine is when climate change is billed as the only concern of environmentalists, and anti-environmentalists simply use the climate change e-mails (the climate change scientists involved were recently exonerated) or other skeptical information to try to discredit environmentalism in its entirety.

To this, I would say there are countless detrimental effects of oil production/consumption/spills in that have nothing to do with carbon, which include hurting ecosystems and wildlife (e.g. in the gulf oil spill, the oil killing the plankton has rippling effects throughout the entire food chain); water and soil pollution (more detailed information here about toxic chemicals, runoff, ruined vegetation is here; obviously the gulf oil spill is contaminating the ocean, wildlife, and the shore), deforestation, and car exhaust leading to air pollution and reduced air quality, which can lead to cancer, heart disease, respiratory problems, neurological problems, blood problems, and even skin problems. There’s also smog, noise pollution, and traffic — they all contribute to a lower quality of life.

But anyway, we need to take this tragic event — the oil is still spilling into the ocean — and learn from our mistakes. The biggest mistake wasn’t that BP couldn’t fix the leak or that the safety regulations were too lax; it is that our oil dependency is so strong that it leads to safety oversights, lax regulations, and eventual catastrophes.

Regarding the original sentiment that the spill isn’t producing any new activism, you can show your activism by driving less, biking more, walking more, carpooling more, mowing the lawn less, using less fertilizer, buying locally, and sending an e-mail or a letter to your senator or representative about better infrastructure planning and energy efficiency. Our goal should be to reduce oil consumption, not just shift it to a new oil company.