Mobility power to the people

The last time I was in San Francisco I rented an E-bike and spent six hours zipping up and down its roller coaster-like landscape.

It was sinfully fun and shamefully easy.

Two days later, either from guilt or ego, I did the same thing on an old fashion two wheeler just to prove to myself that I can still climb hills under my own pedal power.

But if I’m personally agnostic about E-bikes, they are a thing.

Some 35 million electric bikes and scooters were sold worldwide last year. Walk into most American bike shops today and you can probably buy a battery assisted version.

But this isn’t about E-bikes.

This is about America’s urban mobility revolution.

This is about docks, dockless, “bike clutter,” the scooter “apocalypse,” and other more of less dreadful urban myths about how we get- or will be getting – around town.

Docks: Right now, most bike share programs in America are dock based – you have to pick a bike up at one dock and drop it off at another. This limits their practical utility, especially when it comes to the “last mile” dilemma of giving commuters a convenient way to get from their bus or subway stops to their homes or offices.

Not to mention that docked-bike share is an alien concept in most low income neighborhoods.

Enter dockless: Start up companies with names like LimeBike and Bird are beginning to pop up in cities around America. Dockless bikes can go pretty much anywhere you need to go at the swipe of a credit card, and you can drop them off where you want.

Which is starting to drive people crazy. From Frisco to Denver to Austin city officials are issuing “cease and desist” orders to force dockless bikes and scooters off the public streets and sidewalks.

Why? Because of…

“…bike litter. Undocked bikes are cluttering up the urban landscape. It’s chaos, bicycle anarchy. Not to mention…..

“….the scooter apocalypse. E-Scooter “bros” are scaring pedestrians on the sidewalks and ticking off cyclists in the bike lanes. E-scooters are a “disruptive technology” in the true sense of the term.

But then there’s this about all of that.

If you want to really talk about what’s “littering” the urban landscape you can’t ignore cars. They are everywhere you look in autoAmerica.

And it’s not just visual pollution. Urban auto traffic poisons our air, makes us sick and kills more than 5,000 pedestrians a year. Scooter bros are pesky gnats by comparison.

Right now urban America is caught up in a competition over who gets to use the public right-of-way and with what form of mobility. And it’s not just a competition between pedestrians and cyclists and scooter bros. There’s also a “bikelash,” going on, with angry motorists pressuring their elected officials to remove newly installed bike lanes so they can get back to driving as fast as they like.

Can’t we all just get along?

Eventually I believe we will.

Bike and scooter litter can be solved if cities provide “corrals” (you can fit about 10 bikes and scooters into one standard car parking space). Urban rules of the road for both street and sidewalk use can and will be established and enforced by social mores and law.

But the bottom line is this: Individual automobile use is the most wasteful, dirty and dangerous form of personal urban mobility. Anything cities can do to induce people out of their cars to bus, bike, walk and, yes, even scooter, will ultimately improve the quality of urban life and save human lives.

Revolutions are messy.

Mobility power to the people.

Ron Cunningham is former editorial writer for The Sun. This column was published in The Sun on June 17 2016.

 

 

 

 

Shaming and speeding

If you take a leisurely stroll down Lawtey’s main street you will pass a ball field, an elementary school, City Hall, a post office a grocery store and a church. 

Not that anybody strolls on Lawtey’s main street – aka U.S. 301. That would be like ambling through traffic hell.

Still, in a nominal concession to Lawtey’s pretense of actually being a “community,” the thousands of heavy trucks, pickups, SUVs and sedans which every day funnel through that small Columbia County town north of Gainesville are legally obliged to slow down from 60-plus to 45 MPH.

Not that many do. In autoAmerica, posted speed limits are deemed guidelines more than mandates. 

Studies have shown, as Bryan Jones, a planner and engineer with Alta Planning + Design wrote recently for strongtowns.org, that most “motorists believe the posted speed limit is just the suggested maximum and more frequently treat it as the minimum, knowing that many law enforcement professionals and courts will not ‘strictly’ enforce the maximum posted speed limit but rather something 9-15 MPH over the posted speed limit.”

Which is why, if you know anything at all about Lawtey, you probably know that it has been branded a “speed trap” by the American Automobile Association. It’s an old rep – these days the town reportedly only writes about 15 tickets daily. 

“We think it is a relic of the past,” Police Chief Shane Bennett told First Coast News last month. 

Still, it remains Lawtey’s foremost, um, claim to shame.

The definition of “speed trap” being a town that insists on ticketing motorists for breaking the law.

The definition of “speed limit” being a law that may only be enforced up to a point – that point being where the collection of traffic fines becomes a “revenue stream.”

Which is ironic when you consider that one-third (and that’s a conservative estimate) of all traffic fatalities in America are due to speeding. To break that down, about 113,000 people in America died of an overdose of “speed” between 2005 and 2014.

Lawtey is exactly the sort of town that Florida urban planner Andrés Duany had in mind when he wrote “The Department of Transportation, in its single-minded pursuit of traffic flow, has destroyed more American towns than General Sherman.” Other casualties of the traffic wars along US 301 alone might include Waldo and Hawthorne, small towns similarly robbed of any sense of community by some long ago traffic planner’s “single minded pursuit.”

But the truth is that even cities, like Gainesville, that have supposedly embraced “Vision Zero” plans to eliminate traffic fatalities are either powerless or unwilling to slow down traffic and thereby save lives. 

We have no lack of “traffic calming” solutions, from narrowing or reducing traffic lanes, to using on-street parking, landscaping and other designs that make fast driving feel uncomfortable, to installing speed detection cameras and employing GPS technology. 

No, what’s lacking is the political will, and the public support, to adopt life-saving constrains on the autoAmerican “right” to drive fast. 

The other day I saw a corporate-owned fleet vehicle with a bumper sticker stating that the vehicle was being electronically monitored to ensure that its driver obeys the speed limit. Obviously the bumper sticker was meant to alert impatient motorists behind the fleet car that its driver wasn’t going to play ball.

Can you imagine the public outcry that would ensure if government adopted similar GPS technology to stop speeding? 

No, consider Lawtey a Scarlet Letter example of a town that tried to keep motorists from killing each other and ended up being nationally shamed for it. 

Because the truth is that we Americans have the need. The need for speed. No matter how many must die. 

Ron Cunningham is former editorial page editor of The Sun. This column was published in The Sun on June 3, 2018.