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Soucheray: bikes are for exercise

From Joe Soucheray’s most recent column titled “For comrades on bikes, the median is the message” (speaking about a recent neighborhood group decision to not support a proposed median as part of the Jefferson Avenue bicycle boulevard in St. Paul):

Let me try to explain something, but probably to no avail. I have been an avid bicyclist and might be again, particularly as I shy away from motorcycling. I believe that bicycling is a great exercise.

But that’s it. Winter? Forget about it. Bicycling is not our preferred mode of transportation. Yes, there are people who can commute to work on a bicycle, but their numbers are few. And there is no way Mom is going to get her five kids onto a bicycle and haul home school supplies from Target.

Now, [Transit for Livable Communities], which is in the so-called nonprofit business of compelling bicycle riding, might wish otherwise, but they are delusional. Why taxpayers should fund that delusion is where we find ourselves as these people can essentially dangle that million dollars in front of the city’s public works department. […] Every one of us can look around the city and find dozens of better uses for that million dollars.

Soucheray is well-known for his disapproval of bike infrastructure, so this isn’t surprising.

1. He’s projecting his own personal preference to use bikes only for exercise on others. His preferences are not everyone’s preferences.

2. He’s right that bicycling is not our “preferred” mode of transportation in terms of number of trips. Still, the number of cycling trips is statistically significant and growing. Identifying a “preferred” mode of transportation implies that it’s a good idea for us to put all our eggs in one modal basket. It’s not.

3. Arguably, most people can commute to work on a bicycle, but most choose not to – usually to pursue other reasonable goals (like living wherever they want to regardless of distance from work, or a preference to not expend physical effort).

4. The “mom-and-five-kids” argument is a straw man. Just because cycling isn’t a reasonable option for some families doesn’t mean it’s not an option for others. Just as absurd is reasonably healthy people driving single-occupant-vehicles short distances for routine trips.

5. He raises at least one valid point – that federal dollars are being used for projects that have no clearly identifiable federal purpose, and that the option made available to local decision makers is to spend a million dollars on that one purpose or not spend it at all. This is a problem, but not one easily fixed.

5 comments to Soucheray: bikes are for exercise

  • 3. Arguably, most people can commute to work on a bicycle, but most choose not to – usually to pursue other reasonable goals (like living wherever they want to regardless of distance from work, or a preference to not expend physical effort).

    Or the most likely reason for the majority: people live where they can afford to live.

  • @Bill – there are definitely areas that people can’t afford, but I don’t think it’s generally true that people are priced out of biking distance from their workplace. I think people choose to live further away because they value something else (bigger house, owning instead of renting, 4 bedrooms instead of 2) more than they value the ability to bike.

  • I had just this argument last night, about cost in suburbia v. the city. Basically, your trading ‘private space’ (more and larger rooms, larger yard) for ‘public space’ (things close to your house, sidewalks, bikeability and walkability.

  • Bill, I have a tiny house and no yard in the suburbs. It just happened to cost $70,000 less than a similarly sized home in the city.

  • The best way to address this argument is to focus on the fact that 51% of trips are 3 miles or less and that is a distance fully capturable by bike in terms of time and efficiency. (Nat. Household Travel Survey data). 13% of trips are 3-5 miles, and I argue, in center cities with a grid network, that these trips are equally capturable.

    Arguing that way takes the argument away from the preference issue.

    The Vancouver Translink Regional Cycling Strategy is the closest so far in terms of a planning document laying out a similar kind of argument, although their mode split goal is 15% and while they separate out more urban from suburban areas in their analysis, it’s still an averaged goal.

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