Tag Archives: air quality

Equitable Bike Advocacy Includes Bike Infrastructure

Even as mounting evidence such as a research report from Governing reminds everyone that bikes aren’t just for white urbanites, biking has continued to gather a reputation as a domain of hipsters. As a result, despite the diverse ridership, the folks actually advocating for bike improvements have continued to not exactly mirror the people majority of people who are doing the pedaling. Unsurprisingly, this has lead to some friction and calls for more diversity in bike advocacy. The advocacy organizations haven’t missed the memo and have begun efforts like LAB’s Equity and Women Bike initiatives. Additionally, more community-based groups like Slow Roll Detroit have taken a more active role in advocating for bikes as not just transportation alternatives, but vehicles for social change in the community.

Nevertheless, many bike advocacy organizations and staff might consistently not look very much like the largest class or group of people biking. But that might not be inherently a bad thing. The changes that they (usually) advocate for do stand to help disadvantaged communities (of color) just as much as they help MAMILs. There’s no denying the safety benefits of dedicated bikeways and few would argue that a comprehensive network of bikeways that connects a community together and to destinations where its residents can find work, school, recreational activities, and more is somehow detrimental to the communities in which it is located. With many disadvantaged communities already ticking off a higher number of people taking trips by bike, making those trips better and easier to undertake will almost certainly provide an improvement in numerous facets of their lives.

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A man and woman ride salmon on Route 66 in San Bernardino, CA. Bike infrastructure would immensely improve the bikeability of this location.

But what if the community isn’t asking for bike infrastructure? Certainly, there is a concern that advocating for infrastructure in underserved communities that aren’t asking for them is forcing something on the community that they don’t want. Thanks to both the lingering after effects of the highway building era then decades of disinvestment and neglect and because of a concern that bikeways bring gentrification, some advocates are even going so far as to say that disadvantaged communities should not get bike infrastructure and that focusing on “northern European” designs and solutions is out-of-place in communities that frequently have mostly non-white populations. But there are two major issues with the strategy of advocating for bikes by not advocating for bikes that will ultimately do more harm than good.

First and foremost, there’s the safety aspect. Where good, quality bike infrastructure exists, biking tends to be safer. As such, it really sounds extremely backwards to suggest that in the areas that often already have some of the most dangerous streets of a region, safety improvements shouldn’t be undertaken because the community hasn’t asked for them. At the end of the day, people still will continue to have to ride in those areas, often in conditions that are embarrassingly deplorable on many different measures. Not only do they deserve to have a safe place to ride, but it is they who need it most as they frequently have few travel alternatives and many have already been victims of traffic violence too. This is a heightened issue in regards to projects that involve once-in-a-generation opportunities to change the layout of a thoroughfare. Those should not be passed.

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A bikeway in Utrecht provides connections for all to the city center and train station.

Additionally, the backlash against bike solutions that are primarily Danish and Dutch as being inappropriate in communities of color is misguided. There are some things that are just done better in some places than in others and as it so happens, those two countries do bikes well. Not only do they tick off the highest rates of biking in the world, but the stellar provisioning for bikes provides those at the lowest rungs of the socioeconomic ladder a viable affordable option for transportation so the poor aren’t forced to own a car. That’s crucial because while certainly there are plenty of disadvantaged households in America that don’t own a car, many more are practically forced to because it’s the only realistic option in their community, something that’s really becoming a problem in suburbs.

Secondly, bikeways are a commodity and like all commodities, follow the general principles of economics. Students of the discipline know that the availability of something is directly related to its price. In this case, the fact that good, quality bikeways are still relatively scarce in this country means that the few places that they do exist attract a premium in price as people and businesses seek out locations near them. The best way to counter that is not by keeping bikeways out of some neighborhoods, but to instead make sure that they’re everywhere. Ideally, that means that the plan should not be just single lanes here and there, but entire networks that form a comprehensive grid of LTS2 bikeways that are installed as completely and quickly as possible.

However, bike infrastructure is obviously also becoming a victim of its own success. As early advocates undoubtedly had to find a way to justify to their communities why money should be spent on infrastructure that “no one uses“, study after study was undertaken in relation to the economic impact of bikeways. Most of these studies have shown that bike infrastructure can bring positive economic change to a corridor or area. But those improvements do not happen in a vacuum. Increased receipts and especially values lead to higher rents. Once again, the solution isn’t found in not building, but in building everywhere. But, that does mean that going forward, it is perhaps time to lessen the focus on the potential financial benefits of any single project in favor of safety benefits that it would provide (though people also seek to live in places that are “safe”, so that makes it a similar driver of demand).

So with that in mind, organizations interested in engaging in equitable advocacy should do one of two things. When faced with substantial projects, such as placing or moving curbs, the bike aspect absolutely should not be compromised. In many communities, projects like that only happen once a generation or less. It is imperative that whenever they occur, that the very best designs for both safety and efficiency are used because redoing it later would be costly in not just monetary terms, but also lives and political capital. However, for projects that are less involved, it might be better to take some time to further engage the community to develop a concept that truly works for them instead of just ferrying outsiders through.

As more bikeways get built, more communities are asking for them. We need to make sure that they’re able to access those changes and benefit from them. While bikeways do bring change to a community, that change doesn’t have to be bad if the community gets involved to make sure that it works for them, including by broaching other topics that go beyond the bike aspect. Communities need to get in front of change and embrace it instead of waiting for it to arrive and trying to delay it. Doing so will bring many benefits for all.

Interstates of Steel

Is this the light at the end of the tunnel to ensure efficient passenger service?
Could government ownership and maintenance be the light at the end of the tunnel to ensure more and more efficient passenger service? Photo credit: adamr.

For years, Amtrak has been getting delayed by freight traffic on the tracks where it runs, which in itself is ironic because those very same railroads prided themselves in timeliness when they operated passenger services. However, this isn’t just about Amtrak. Transportation agencies looking to add commuter service to relieve congestion on their crowded freeways, but often run into a railroad unwilling to allow those trains to operate over their tracks.

As such, perhaps it time for the government to own, maintain, and dispatch all  the major rail corridors in the country, just like is done for major roads and airports that are also critical components of our transportation system. Could that be the answer to the problem of providing more efficient passenger service as well as just getting more  passenger service period?

Benefits

Several benefits  could emerge from such a proposal. The first is clear: the ability to provide more passenger service, especially for commuter agencies. The second, though perhaps not quite at all as obvious, is that it would open up the rail industry to the winds of the great free market in a way not possible in the past. The third is that regions could provide the best rail infrastructure appropriate for their area. All of those are benefits that both SoCal at large and the IE would greatly appreciate.

Better passenger rail options

With the Inland region continuing to grow, our transportation agencies are running out of ways to keep people moving. Yet, while the area is crisscrossed with hundreds of miles of track and is investing hundreds of millions of dollars of its own money into projects that at least in part, benefit the railroads (aka grade separations, especially the Colton Crossing), a lack of capacity from the freight railroads means that the ability to further pursue rail options. For example,  RCTC is looking to provide passenger rail service to the Coachella Valley region and is interested in making good use of the imminent Perris Valley Line by offering more connections. However, that would require operating on either BNSF’s or Union Pacific’s tracks, something which UP is not known for being extremely open to and BNSF is not particularly  famous for either. Other projects around the IE would also greatly benefit from the ability to better operate over the regions rails. Proposals to provide train service to destinations such as Ontario International Airport, the High Desert, the Temecula Valley, and other points in the area all continue to run into the same problem.

More competition among, less regulation of carriers

New ownership can also lead to increased competition among carriers. As it is, many railroads have varying agreements for ‘trackage’ and ‘haulage’ rights on each others’ lines. With a single owner entity in charge of the rails themselves, every railroad would in effect have trackage rights everywhere and the race would be on. There would be direct competition among the carriers because they would all have the option to serve all customers. Such a move could also even spur entrepreneurship in the sector as a startup railroad would no longer have to try to find a right-of-way to buy and refurbish or go through the arduous process of establishing an entirely new one, one that is perhaps right next to an existing line. Additionally, it could greatly reduce or completely eliminate the need for the Surface Transportation Board to set rates for some services as they do now.

Regionally-appropriate infrastructure

The ability for regions to provide the right rail infrastructure for their area is another huge area of opportunity and one that would be exceptionally beneficial to SoCal and the IE. In addition to the aforementioned congestion benefits that could come from increased passenger operations, this area is the home to the worst air quality in the nation and the residents of the IE and the LA Basin have suffered the ill effects of bad air for decades. While some of it may certainly be due to China, most of it is homegrown, with transportation accounting for a significant source of that pollution. Improvements are occurring, but a lot more needs to be done to meet emissions targets that are quickly approaching. While certainly not the only strategy necessary, one large area of opportunity rests in a reduction in use of diesel locomotives, especially in the LA Basin area, by way of electrification. Currently, the major freight railroads in the region (BNSF and UPRR) are not extremely interested in paying to electrify a small portion of their extensive national networks. However, it could be accomplished on the local scale by transportation commissions or MPOs such as SCAG.

Sooner = better

There’s no time to waste, tomorrow beckons. As it is, billions of dollars are to be poured into the rail network of this country over the next couple decades, with a significant amount coming from government already. While some of the proposal will certainly be quite controversial and require lots of lawyers in long meetings, the end result would be a system that is optimal for industry, customers, and purposes of the public good. As such, the process should begin as soon as possible so that those can be realized in a reasonable amount of time. We owe it to ourselves to do so.

Today’s News

The end of another week couldn’t come soon enough, IE fatalities on the streets are completely out of control. It would’ve been great to end the week early after yesterday, but the outrageousness continues. Without further ado:

  • Carnage: Man dies after a steel pipe on a truck comes loose and hits him (SB Sun)
  • Coachella Valley cities jockey to have their road expansions on top of CVAG’s priority list (Desert Sun)
  • Keep those fireplaces off again today (PE)
  • Inattentive motorists in Moreno Valley cited for not yielding to pedestrians (Valley News)
  • Is the real problem on our stroads the standards? (Strong Towns)
  • SANBAG is still taking comments about their Short-Range Transit Plan (VVDP)
  • Moreno Valley bridge to close for at least six months after suffering damage over the weekend (PE)
  • The vast majority of American highways are crumbling while most of the money continues to go to projects to build new stuff (SBUSA)
  • CVAG, RCTC seek input and will hold meetings concerning rail service to the Beaumont Pass and Coachella Valley areas (RCTC [PDF])

Have a great weekend! Hopefully, this one is better than last.