Law professor Frank H. Buckley seems to want to be the next Dororthy Rabinowitz. That is, he wants to gain notoriety by clinging to old and unsafe street designs while, simultaneously, shoring up the Wall Street Journal’s reputation as a bastion of change-averse curmudgeons. Done and done.
Buckley wrote an op-ed in Friday’s Journal about the controversy on Alexandria, Virginia’s King Street — the bustling main street through charming Old Town Alexandria, densely packed with upscale bistros and boutiques — which he prefers to think of as a “main artery, State Highway 7,” neglecting all that makes King Street vibrant and unique. West of Old Town, the city wants to put in a short stretch of bike lane. The plan already makes huge compromises in the name of car supremacy, refusing to post No Standing signs and replacing the lanes with sharrows for short segments.
But this timid step toward designing a safer street isn’t nearly timid enough for Buckley, who argues against the lanes — which will eliminate 37 parking spaces — with this ironclad logic:
As for the residents, we’re really attached to our parking spots. We like to tell our friends to drop by anytime. We don’t want to send our plumbers to park a few blocks over, on streets that are already congested. Not a problem, the city tells us. Just get a special parking permit from city hall for visitors. And what about the occasional party? What do we tell our guests? Ah, the city’s street coordinator said, channeling her inner Marie Antoinette, let them get valet parking.
“Let them die on streets designed exclusively for most dangerous and least efficient mode of transportation,” is Buckley’s far more compassionate credo, then.
So sorry your expensive, urban neighborhood — a classic of colonial design — was built with skinny streets and dense development, Mr. Buckley. Why didn’t the founders have the forethought to set aside enough space for everyone on your street to comfortably accommodate the cars of a dinner party’s worth of people, all at the same time, within blocks of one of the country’s best metro systems?
I don’t have to pick apart every ignorant statement Buckley makes in his story, because The Wash Cycle already did that, with great aplomb. (David Cranor, The Wash Cycle’s low-profile author, also mentions the cringe-worthy tactlessness of calling the loss of 37 parking spaces a battle in “the bike wars,” especially on Veterans Day weekend.)
Buckley isn’t the only writer complaining about the “war on cars” these days. Writing in the right-wing rag The Weekly Standard, Christopher Caldwell argues this week that cyclists are an unruly and antagonistic bunch of self-righteous road hogs. Caldwell even refers to cyclists as an “ever more powerful lobby,” a reckless and self-righteous group that has “tested the public’s willingness for compromise.” Buckley says the same: “When you see the bike activists in your neighborhood, be warned that they tend not to play nice.” They don’t cling to the potholed and uneven edge of the road! They sometimes ride next to each other! And they’ll yell at you if you almost kill them! (As Daniel Duane noted in the New York Times Saturday, that’s about all that will happen to you if you almost kill — or even if you do kill — a bicyclist.)
In his article, “Drivers Get Rolled,” Caldwell bemoans the fact that our transportation network has been “misbuilt” to encourage car dependency. “It should better accommodate bikers and walkers,” Caldwell laments. “But for now it can’t.”
“Unless you want to cover much more of the country in asphalt,” there’s just no room for bikes, Caldwell says in a fit of blind ignorance.
Here’s the thing: It’s because street space is limited that efficient modes like biking make so much sense.
That’s the problem with Caldwell and Buckley’s view of bike advocacy — they see it as a petty special interest of people who ride bikes. That’s not the point though. Those bike lanes on King Street aren’t so much for today’s bicyclists — they’re for the bicyclists of the future, the people who would bike if they felt comfortable doing it. And Buckley better hope there are more bicyclists in the future.
When there are too many cars for the roads in your town, the problem is that there are too many cars — not that there are too few roads. Eliminating the one sliver of roadway where people are riding bikes is not going to solve motorists’ problems. The people riding bikes are the ones who have found a way to get from point A to point B without creating traffic jams.
Cities aren’t going to indulge naysayers like Caldwell and Buckley forever. More and more cities realize that they need to move beyond the cars-only, 1950s-era approach to street design for their own survival. Alexandria is right to install bike lanes. It’s just too bad that they’re going too slow. If Buckley wants to foment NIMBY opposition to the city’s efforts to plan for its future, he’ll certainly have plenty of company. But if he’s lucky, Alexandria will ignore him and continue taking steps toward bike-friendly streets.