Though I bicycle, walk and take transit for half my trips, the other half, which usually involve shuttling children in carpools, for now necessitate driving a car. So there are days when I am on the streets of San Francisco behind a windshield, sometimes for hours, negotiating city streets. I know exactly how complex urban driving is and how aggravating congested traffic can be. And I grew up soundly in the midst of our car culture.
As a teen, I adored “Thunder Road.” From Bruce Springsteen to Madison Avenue, our society glorified the status, freedom, power, identity, safety, protection and even redemption that cars offered. Cars were our Iron Man suit extending our physical abilities to unprecedented levels. We could eat, sleep, and live in them. Anyone over the age of 16—especially anyone male—without a car was a loser of the first degree, to be scoffed at and ridiculed. Given this heritage of the last sixty years, it’s not surprising that we Americans are now resistant to trading in our all-powerful motorized conveyances for a bicycle or a seat on the train.
Though times are clearly changing and an energy-scarce future means the internal combustion engine, with its extravagant inefficiency, will fade away, some people will continue driving no matter what. Especially people who are 55 or older, who have a substantial income, and who have a decent nest egg saved for retirement—some of them may indeed never ride a bicycle or take public transit.
So how to convince well-to-do, aging urbanites who will drive until their car keys are pulled from their infirm hands that it is in their best interest to support the creation of good, safe bicycle infrastructure that allows people ages 8 – 80 to bike confidently and without fear, especially when at times this infrastructure will come at the expense of car parking or a lane of car travel? Such reallocations of space strike a chill in many a car driver’s heart. There will be traffic nightmares! The economy will collapse! If more space is given to bicycles, before you can say “Harvey Milk,” crazy liberal cities like San Francisco will outlaw cars altogether.
Or so the protestations go. But the truth is that even car drivers should welcome and support bicycle infrastructure. Here are six reasons why, drawing heavily from the theory of Other People.
1) Congestion is mostly caused by Other People in cars and will only grow the more Other People keep driving. When you drive in a city, what holds you up, slows you down, wastes your time, keeps you from where you want to go, are Other People. These Other People are sometimes on foot or bicycle, but mostly these Other People are in cars, though as car drivers we may not want to admit it.
What we have to understand is that Other People in cars take up an enormous amount of space. Other People in cars are, in fact, the biggest hogs on the road by a factor of at least ten. In addition, as the cost of gasoline and other energy increases, people are growing more interested in urban living, so population density and congestion will continually increase in most cities until complete gridlock is reached and no car driver can get anywhere except perhaps in the dead of night. It has been proven worldwide that car infrastructure induces driving and bicycle infrastructure induces bicycling. If you want to have room to drive, inducing Other People to travel by foot, public transit, or bikes means a lot more room for your car. On space issues alone, as a driver you want as many Other People as possible not in cars. In addition, as the ranks of bicyclists are swelled by ordinary Other People who are more risk averse than the early-adopter cyclists (who had to be aggressive and even daredevils to cycle on car-dominated streets) bicycle traffic will grow more orderly, predictable, law-abiding, and calm.