Bike Path to Nowhere
Even casual observers of transportation policy have noticed DOT’s emphasis on livability and, by extension, their fascination with “active transportation’ (aka biking and walking). Livability is a worthy goal for all communities and, though it is still a somewhat ill-defined policy concept, biking and bike paths are certainly key components.
In an effort to make Washington, DC more livable, the Mayor and Federal policymakers decided to put a bike path down the center of Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House to the Capitol with no connections at either end. For those who do not frequent that area, this is not a typical bike path. Instead of narrow lanes down the curb side of the roadway, this bike “path” is a full three auto lanes wide going right down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. Yes, approximately one-third of the capacity of an already busy street in our nation’s capital was taken to serve a handful of cyclists. The result has been increased congestion, increased emissions, long rush hour delays, and the ire of many DC visitors, cabbies, workers, and residents. This is not a very livable result for any but the cyclists and, in apparent reaction to public pressure, DC has just announced that autos will now be able to use the left lanes again. Good for them, and an important lesson for other transportation policy makers.
Now, lest you believe I am anti-bike, I want to assure you this is not the case. Two of my three grown children bicycle regularly in Old Town Alexandria, a nearby Washington suburb. One does not own a car and cycles to work every day. If for no other reason than their safety, I support adequate accommodations for cyclists. That having been said, if cyclists are to be taken as serious members of the transportation community, perhaps it is time that reasonable requirements be placed upon them to insure they can safely interact with other road users and provide the necessary funding to support their projects.
Items that DOT and other transportation policy makers might consider are:
• Training, testing, licensing, and minimum age requirements for cyclists.
• Required insurance coverage to protect cyclists, pedestrians, and other road users.
• Minimum equipment standards and safety inspections.
• Mandatory helmet laws.
• Bike path user fees.
• Bicycle and tire excise taxes to fund bike path construction and maintenance
• Enforcement of all traffic laws for cyclists.
For policy makers who support increased use of cycling, failure to consider and provide proper regulatory oversight of new policies – and appropriate funding mechanisms to pay for it all -- is irresponsible and unfair to other road users.
The real issue is not bike paths. It is how do policymakers determine the best use of limited transportation dollars to improve our transportation system while increasing mobility for all Americans? There are many worthy projects, in all modes, that are well worth considering. A bike path to nowhere is not one of them.