[Image via thetrailblazers.org]
A recent post on MetroSpokane read:
"It is not the role of government to be "encouraging" certain modes of transportation over others. Its role is to accommodate the demonstrated preferences of the citizens who are paying the taxes.”
The government does currently encourage certain modes of transportation over others in the way it designs, builds, and funds infrastructure. It encourages cars. Getting away from pedaling my bike for a minute, look at the many subdivisions that were built without sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to walk in the street.
Saying people are demonstrating a preference, when their behavior is actually shaped by the design and construction decisions of others, doesn’t quite describe what’s happening.
See Wired for one discussion of road design that changes behaviors through removal of the usual signage and controls--a nice libertarian approach. Think that would work here? What intersections or stretches of roads would you propose for the experiment in social engineering?
When policy analysts compare options, they include option #1: “continue the current policy”. That is, the current policy setting is not a default, nor was it something handed to Moses in stone or revealed to Buddha under the Bodhi tree. Any current government policy is an option that we can continue to choose, and it is one that we can move away from, once we have weighed costs and benefits.
For our trip in the Wayback Machine today, let’s go back to the Good Roads Movement, 1880-1916—led by bicyclists who wanted to ride on better roads, which meant paving the mud and gravel paths that were common. The leaders of the movement also wanted people in rural areas to have access to urban areas, where they could take advantage of railroads and trolleys—aka mass transit.
Horatio Earle is known as the "Father of Good Roads." Quoting from Earle's 1929 autobiography: "I often hear now-a-days, the automobile instigated good roads; that the automobile is the parent of good roads. Well, the truth is, the bicycle is the father of the good roads movement in this country… The League (of American Wheelmen, precursor to today’s League of American Bicyclists) fought for equal privileges with horse-drawn vehicles. All these battles were won and the bicyclist was accorded equal rights with other users of highways and streets." This, from the man who proposed the creation of an interstate highway system in 1902.
Sounds as if the demonstrated preference at the time was for horse-drawn carts, yet we got paved roads. So policy makers didn’t just respond to what was happening right then, nor did they stay the course. They listened to organized citizens, looked ahead to future possibilities, moved away from the policy option they had previously chosen, and through investment of public dollars, they changed behaviors.
As for the preferences of the citizens who are paying the taxes, see the recent nationwide survey conducted by several transportation reform groups. Here’s how we currently spend our federal transportation dollars, and how survey respondents say they want them spent:
- Roads: Respondents want them to receive 37% of the funds--they get 78%.
- Transit: Respondents want them to receive 41%--they get 20%.
- Walking and bicycling: Respondents want them to get 22%--they get 1.5%.
Bikes and cars don’t have to be at odds—we all benefit from good roads.