February 2019: The month Vision Zero jumped the shark

Specialized plow clearing a bike lane in Queens, New York while car lanes remain untended.

The Mobility Wars are pitting average Americans against a small but pharaonically funded cabal of activists, politicians, corporations, and foundations. On one side are hundreds of millions of people simply trying to get around and live their lives, which the overwhelming majority do via personal cars. On the other are ideologues who believe the only solution to climate change involves the elimination of cars altogether (and if a certain fresh-faced freshman member of Congress gets her way, airplanes too).

One of the ideologues’ primary weapons is Vision Zero, a program that promises to eliminate traffic deaths in ten years by replacing automobile lanes with bike lanes, transit lanes, and sidewalks. As we’ve covered extensively, Vision Zero is wreaking havoc on communities nationwide.

When the history of the wars is written years from now, February 2019 may well be the month Vision Zero jumped the shark.

As Old Man Winter wallops more than 100 million people across the northern U.S. with sleet, snow, and ice, snow plow crews are working overtime in hundreds of cities from Seattle to Boston. In New York City, one would think that Mayor Bill de Blasio would be on top of snow removal in the boroughs. After all, his mayorship began rather ignominiously when he flubbed the job during his first month in office. Hizzoner didn’t do much better as Public Advocate during a storm in 2010. So he’s got this one, right?

Not if you ask residents in Queens. They’ve taken to social media to post pictures and videos of specialized vehicles plowing new bike lanes while car lanes go unplowed and unsalted. According to Eric Bethel, who owns Cooldown Juice on Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside, bike lane plows made at least four passes in front of his shop before regular plows came through.

One poster said the streets became dangerously slippery as a combination of sleet and snow continued to fall on the city. Another posted a picture of an unplowed, unsalted street near a school and reported that cars were “slipping all over the place.”

The only thing you don’t see in any of the pristinely-plowed bike lanes is an actual bike. That might have something to do with the fact that with the wind chill today’s high was a balmy 23 degrees. If you were lucky riding a bike would only give you frostbite. Yet cities including SeattleDetroitBaltimore, and New York are spending much-needed public funds on specialized snow plows for the less than 1% of people who commute by bike. In Detroit the number is 0.6%. During winter the numbers are even lower. Nationally, even as cities spend untold millions on bicycle infrastructure the number of bicyclists continues its five year decline.

Meanwhile out in Santa Monica, crews were out all day painting new green bike lanes … in the rain. You simply cannot make this stuff up.

What’s more, transportation departments around the country apparently are cheaping out on the actual paint. Frustrated commuters have posted pictures to social media of faded, cracked bike lanes and other striping on Vision Zero projects that are mere months old.

The ultimate irony of these misguided priorities is that Vision Zero is supposed to be all about safety. Instead, it continues to endanger everyone who uses streets. Which is to say, everyone.

Across the country there is a growing frustration with these projects, which always seem to be rushed and poorly planned and executed, to the point that it’s fair to ask whether Vision Zero is really about saving lives. In three years of the program in Los Angeles pedestrian deaths have nearly doubled, according to the city’s own “2018 Vision Zero Progress Report.” The ideologues proffer various explanations including distracted driving and more people driving under the influence as states relax marijuana laws. 

These explanations don’t hold up to scrutiny. Distracted driving has been an issue since the first car phone appeared on Rodeo Drive in the 70s. Smart phones now are more than a decade old, as is the decriminalization/ legalization of pot. If those were factors the increase in pedestrian fatalities would show a consistent increase over time. Instead it’s a hockey stick that coincides perfectly with Vision Zero’s implementation. New York, Seattle, and other cities have seen similar increases.

No one is “anti-bike,” as the ideologues label anyone who opposes projects that create gridlock, impede emergency responders, and increase emissions. Being anti-bike is like being anti-sunshine. People simply want some common sense returned to the conversation. Yet officials across the country have made clear that they will do anything and everything to force people out of their cars, including prioritizing bike lanes for snow removal and paint lanes in the rain. And no amount of death will dissuade them. 

The Vision Zero shark has been jumped. The only remaining question is how communities and neighborhoods will respond.


One thought on “February 2019: The month Vision Zero jumped the shark

  1. This, like your astonishingly ignorant piece on the wall st journal, is farcical. Insignificant opponents to street safety like Keep LA Moving or those out east in Queens have jumped the shark by attempting to blame common occurrences or temporary inconveniences of any and all kinds on bike lanes. There is simply no war or havoc to be spoken of! There is no debatable data that speaks to anything but Vision Zero as a resounding public safety success! If you look at streets that have been redesigned to specifications you may disagree with you will predictably see drops in number and severity of collisions. It’s pretty simple: slow cars down and save lives. Los Angeles needs to implement Vision Zero improvements much faster than they currently are because the amount of people opting for other modes is skyrocketing.
    Large scale public health initiatives can be hard for those in your conspiracy-minded NIMBY position to understand, but there are plenty of resources out there for you to educate yourself as to why you are so sorely mistaken on the issue of road safety. You’re not going to beat decades of progress by just hating it.
    It’s a pity because you and John seem like reasonably smart people (a former lawyer and an engineer no less). But your inherent biases against positive changes for commercial corridors and life saving redesigns leave the rest of us happy that you won’t stop progress. Do all of us a favor and spend zero time on this issue. Think of better things to do than to protest safety measures. You’re making yourself look like a complete moron by creating a war you’ve already lost to smarter and more talented civically-minded people. It’s checkmate and there’s absolutely zero you can do about it.


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