Sunday, July 20, 2014

The War on the Care (of Cycling Infrastructure)

"The War on the Car" was one of the most memorable slogans of the Rob Ford mayoral campaign of 2010.  At the time, it raised incredulity among cycling enthusiasts who didn't feel that they were in a war (and if they were, they felt that they were on the side that was bearing the causalities from each skirmish). But despite the protests of the bike-riding pinkos that there was no war being waged, the campaign slogan appeared to be resonant with the car-commuting electorate. If we consider that the act of removing the bike lanes from Jarvis cost much more than their installation, it suggests that Ford considered "The war on the bicycle" a more potent political credo than his "Respect for taxpayers" and 'Stop the Gravy Train' campaign slogans.

I mention this as a way to explain why I'm guessing that at this moment, it feels politically risky for some politicians to be explicitly endorse a cycling infrastructure.

At the last City Council meeting for the City of Windsor, the motion to develop separate a bike lane on Cabana Road was deferred on account that the improvement had not received suitable public consultation.

The problem, however, is that the improved bicycling option for the 5.2-km stretch of Cabana between Walker Road and the new Herb Gray Parkway would gobble up a sizable portion of the $6.8 million city council has allotted for completion of the “Windsor Loop” bike path circling the city and connecting existing bike lanes.

Council originally approved $1.8 million for the Cabana bike paths in 2013, with an additional $5 million added in the 2014 budget to complete the remaining 12.4 kilometres of the 42.5-kilometre Windsor Loop and 17.8 kilometres of connecting bike trails.

The estimated cost for segregated bike paths along Cabana — including one-metre additional pavement width and half-metre buffers on each side of the road — is estimated at $4.29 million plus HST. (Schmidt, Doug, "Segregated bike paths envisioned for Cabana", Windsor Star, July 7th, 2014)

(To put these numbers in perspective: we've just invested almost 2 billion dollars on the new Detroit River Crossing. There is no war on the car in Windsor, Ontario.)

It's difficult to argue against proper public consultation but the delay is unfortunate because now the initiative must delayed until a new City Council is elected in October. It might just be poor timing, but one wonders if the city didn't want to risk the initiative in front of councilors that might be wary of spending money on cycling infrastructure before an election.  

It's important to be aware of the political climate when being an activist or an advocate. There are certain environments that allows political change to take place. For example, we sometimes like to think that the Dutch have their amazing cycling infrastructure because they are an inherently progressive population. But as this short post and video suggests, the transformation of Amsterdam from a city filled with gridlock and parking lots to a city of public squares and cycling infrastructure, was more of an accident of political activism and good timing.  The tragedy of 400 child deaths from cars in 1971 led to mass protests which was then followed by an global oil crisis which forced the entire population to understand what car dependency meant on a personal level.

The car has shaped our cities and our sense of own personal mobility and agency that it's hard to comprehend a life without riding in a car. Indeed, to choose a life without the use of a motorized vehicle is an extraordinary one.

And yet, the climate is changing.

The baby boomers are getting older and they are starting to lose their licenses. And young people - well, young people aren't buying cars anymore

We need to let our city councilors know that now the time to invest in cycling infrastructure and that they can vote on this measure with clear support. And we can do so this Thursday, June 24th, 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m., at the Roseland Golf and Curling Club, 455 Kennedy Drive West, Windsor.

A second public Information Centre (PIC) is scheduled for Thursday, July 24, 2014 to present the recommended option to the public.All interested stakeholders are invited to attend this drop-in style open house to meet the Project Team, become informed about the recommended alternative and provide comments.

(An aside: Why are the details of this meeting hidden in a pdf file embedded on the City of Windsor's Windsor Loop page?  Is it just a simple oversight or is this what Dave Meslin would describe as a deliberate design choice?)

There is a certain irony that I'm planning to drive there to let them know that I personally endorse separated bicycle lanes because I'm so terrified of the dreaded Cabana underpass that is the very reason for this initiative.

Let me know if you need a ride!

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