Those Poor, Defenseless Drivers

Posted by Robby

So, while it is not generally my habit to mock Publicola posts here (frankly, it hasn’t really been my habit to mock any posts lately), they’ve got an opinion piece today from Michael Ennis complaining about how all the mean bicyclists in Seattle are totally screwing the rest of the region.  I’m sure that Ennis’s piece will get called out all over the local blogosphere and there’s a debate on Tuesday about this very issue, so I’m not going to go into too much detail, but I just couldn’t let his piece go without some comment.  I just want to comment on two specific aspects of his writing that I found particularly grating.

First, he drew out the tired old stat about Seattle being the most congested city in America:

In a recent study released by a national company that uses travel and speed data from its GPS customers to measure traffic, Seattle ranks number one as the most congested city in America.

This is remarkable when you consider that Seattle is only the twenty-third largest U.S. city in terms of population.

I have no idea what study he’s referring to.  There’s no link, so I googled it.  I searched for “Seattle congestion first” and I didn’t really find anything that said Seattle had the worst congestion in the country.  That said, there was a recent study by the Texas Transportation Institute that suggested that Seattle’s congestion ranked 10th in the nation, which I suppose isn’t very good.

Still at Publicola, Erica Barnett did a pretty good job explaining why the TTI study is not really very useful.  Basically, the problem that she points to is that the study is based largely on data about how quickly cars move on a given road.  Are the cars moving 60 MPH?  That’s good for the TTI study.  Are cars moving at 25 MPH?  The TTI study doesn’t care for that at all, even if it’s on a residential street.  Basically, the TTI study has a built in bias against urban living.

Living in the city close to where you work and shop may very well result in your car generally moving slower than it otherwise would, but that doesn’t mean that it will take you longer to get where you need to go.  Reflecting on my own life, there is only one place I go regularly that takes me more than half an hour to get to, and that’s on bike.  (I don’t even own a car, which is a whole other thing that’s nice about city living.  My entire transportation budget, including a pretty generous allowance for bicycle costs comes in under $100 a month.)

Of course, that may not be the study that Ennis is referring to here.  We may never know.

My other problem is with this sentence in his last graph:

Officials seem more worried about bicycles, street cars and not filling potholes than dealing with the actual needs of a super-regional city.

I want to state, as emphatically as possible, that bicyclists want those potholes fixed.  To suggest otherwise is ridiculous.  In fact, I would bet that your average bicyclist cares more about potholes than your average cager (that’s the word we all use for people in cars.  Don’t you feel included?).  If I’m going at a decent pace and I hit a pothole that I didn’t see, there’s a decent chance that I’m on the ground pretty quick, and not because I felt like taking a nap.

That is a sort of long winded way of saying the entire idea of a “war on cars” is bullshit.  Would I like it if fewer people drove?  Sure.  I would also like it if fewer people refused to give me a job.  That doesn’t mean I’ve declared war on people who have taken my resume without offering me a paying gig.

Ultimately, cars, bicycles, transit, and pedestrians have more to agree on than we have to disagree on.  We want the roads maintained.  We generally want to have roads that allow pedestrians a place to walk without interfering with traffic and, believe me when I saw this, we would like a way for cyclists to exist that don’t get in the way of cars.

If there is a difference between people who drive exclusively and the people who rely on the other modes, it is that the other modes are usually cool with everyone else existing.  Ennis’s primary point seems to be that cars should always take priority over other sorts of transportation.  Indeed, for Ennis, they should not just take priority, they should be the only source of transportation.  Anything that makes driving less convenient so as to allow the existence of people who don’t want to drive is interpreted as a “war on cars.”

I have a friend who lives in Duvall.  I would like to ride my bike there, but that isn’t really an option because the only good way to get there is by going down a very steep hill without any sort of bicycle facility.  I could take the bus, except that the bus doesn’t run to that part of the county on the weekends.  I’m not asking for transit to Duvall on the weekends (I get that it wouldn’t be used be very many people), but I would like to be able to ride my bike there.

I’ll make a deal with Ennis right now.  I will halt my war on automobiles if he agrees to advocate for bicycle facilities on NE 124th into Duvall whenever that road has major maintenance performed on it next.  Admittedly, my side of the deal is easier (I’m actually ok with cars), but I’m curious if Ennis will accept that I have a right to ride my bike to Duvall without risking my life.

2 Responses to “Those Poor, Defenseless Drivers”

  1. N in Seattle says:

    I’m commenting purely to see whether that function has returned to Effin.

  2. tensor says:

    Glad to have F’n back, and as a cyclist from New York, I’ve never understood what Atrios calls “you can only get around within two tons of metal.” Why can Those Poor, Defenseless Drivers never understand that every walker, cyclist, bus rider, or light-rail patron is one less car in front of their own automobile?