Green is the new Red

Relics of the past?

There’s a remarkable essay in a recent issue of the Socialist Forum, a publication of the Democratic Socialists of America. “Socialism Against Sprawl” is required reading for anyone who wants to understand the new crop of radicals and the ideas they have for the country. Considering that Bernie Sanders a top Democrat presidential hopeful, and given that the Democratic Socialists elected some 40 national, state, and local candidates in 2018, including overnight political celebrities like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Talib, for better or worse they’re a political force. Their ideas warrant critical evaluation, and the Socialist Forum is a small but growing outlet that offers a window into their ideological agenda. It is a largely fact free environment.

A defining aspect of the Democratic Socialists’ message is their claim that, to paraphrase the late George H.W. Bush, they’re a kinder, gentler breed of socialists. The realities of proposals like the “Green New Deal” are shaded, cloaked in anodyne euphemisms and linked to climate change as if they are the only possible means of arresting a coming global cataclysm. They assure Americans that they envision a benevolent, Scandinavian style communitarianism (an audacious assertion considering that actual Scandinavians are all over the record disavowing socialism, including former Danish and Swedish Prime Ministers).

Never mind that one of the Democratic Socialists’ most influential outlets is Jacobin Magazine, approvingly named for the 19th century French political party that guillotined as many as 40,000 ideological opponents during the Reign of Terror. But not to worry: Bernie Sanders has said, “To me, when I talk about democratic socialism, what I talk about are human rights and economic rights.” In the New York Times Jamelle Bouie recently assured us that “there’s not much fear to monger.” Some, apparently, but not much. Over at Vox, Dylan Matthews intones that what we’re talking about is “social democracy” that will achieve its ends through small-d democratic processes as opposed to revolutionary means. And here’s a piece from entitled “No, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez isn’t Coming to Take Your Cars Away,” in which the writer eloquently concludes, “All the hysterics are, in case it’s not obvious, bulls***” (That last headline at least is accurate insofar as the Congresswoman isn’t going to show up personally in your driveway with a tow truck. She’s too busy zipping around in labor exploiting Ubers, ozone depleting airplanes, and gas guzzling SUVs).

On the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) website, the party states that “At the root of our socialism is a profound commitment to democracy, as means and end,” and that “we believe that social and economic decisions should be made by those whom they most affect.” Yet on the very same website “Socialism Against Sprawl” speaks approvingly of government seizure of private property: “The expropriation of all land in the suburbs…will facilitate a shift in population distribution from suburban and rural areas into urbanized places.”

It would be interesting to hear Bernie Sanders or AOC explain how forced expropriation of tens of millions of homes in suburbs across America is a democratic means of letting people make their own economic decisions.

It gets worse:

  • “If many more people are to fit into an urban environment, the city must densify–that is, reduce the acreage allocated to each person who lives there.”
  • “Urbanization will also force residents to transition away from the private lawns of suburbia and toward shared public green spaces.”
  • “Urban communities can encourage widespread use of mass transit while practically eliminating use of the private automobile.”

“Seizure.” “Expropriation.” “Force.” “Elimination.” None of it sounds very democratic, but it is awfully socialistic. Green New Deal pogroms – excuse us, programs – will “remind all residents of a city at every turn that they are part of a society, and that their individual lives cannot be divorced from those of their neighbors.” Big Brother will be watching and reminding us of our proper places and roles. Only instead of Little Red Books the vanguard will be brandishing copies of the Green New Deal. Green is the new Red.

The Little Green Book

Finally the essay reaches the endgame: ““[C]ities can develop an urban environment where residents of a neighborhood are able to live a full and enriching life without ever traveling more than a few blocks from home” (emphasis ours).

Re-read that sentence, then re-read it again. Burn it into your memory, because the truth is that “democratic socialism,” like every other manifestation of history’s most destructive and murderous ideology, ultimately is about control. Period. End of discussion. Even the Bolsheviks started life as superficially benign democratic socialists promising to free the benighted urban industrial proletariat (a tiny proportion of Russian workers at the time) from the shackles of capitalism. The only fluidity in socialism is the nomenclature; its goals have never changed

The essay quotes a 1973 missive in which New Left theorist Andre Gorz asserted that “an ideological (‘cultural’) revolution would be needed to break this circle [of dependence on automobiles].” Chillingly, he wrote those words as the actual Great Cultural Revolution was claiming lives, careers, and families by the million

But what about cars? “Socialism Against Sprawl” spells it out in black and white (or rather, bright red): “Reducing or totally eliminating private car ownership is a critical step towards combating climate change. If private cars stick around at all, they’ll only work as a mode of transportation if their use is strictly limited.” (emphasis ours)

So, yes, the socialists are coming for your car. And your house. And your front lawn. And your barbecue. “Socialism Against Sprawl” is one of the few honest missives outlining where the brave new Left wants to take this country. The problem is, besides mega developers and the activists and politicians who serve as their useful idiots few Americans want to swap their Subarus for Schwinns or their front lawns for communal green spaces maintained by corrupt local governments. Home ownership remains the heart of the American Dream. And a car is one of the first major purchases most people make when they have a few dollars. It’s human nature: The urge to wander and the desire to have a place of one’s own are elemental.

And of course, as with virtually every Leftist ideology the hardest hit will be the lower classes, working poor, and immigrants. Consider that for millions of immigrants a secondhand car or truck, while expensive, is their central economic lifeline. That’s true of lower income people generally. According to a 2010 paper in the journal Urban Geography, “studies of mostly welfare populations have suggested that while public transportation is not unimportant, the automobile is a critical factor in moving from welfare to work.” (emphasis ours).

As we have previously written in these pages, a 2018 UCLA study commissioned by the Southern California Association of Governments – one of the leading governmental boosters of density, transit, bike lanes, and the rest – notes that over the last 15 years in Southern California “vehicle ownership has grown particularly sharply among subgroups most likely to use transit, such as the low-income and the foreign born from Latin America.” Moreover, “With very few exceptions, acquiring an automobile in Southern California makes life easier along multiple dimensions, dramatically increasing access to jobs, educational institutions and other opportunities” (emphasis ours).

To you and me, an old Chevy. To a recent immigrant from Mexico, opportunity.

Indeed, even the Utopians tacitly acknowledge these realities, which is why states like California issue driver licenses to illegal immigrants and soften requirements such as registration fees for low income people. When it comes to economic mobility and opportunity the individual automobile remains unsurpassed.

“Socialism Against Sprawl” isn’t idle theorizing. Policymakers in cities and states around the country already are doing everything they can to force people out of their cars and ratchet up the burden of private property ownership. California is proposing a 70% tax on estates worth more than $3.5 million ($7 million for couples). Anyone who lives in L.A. or the Bay Area can attest that a $3.5 million estate, including the value of a home, hardly establishes you as rich. The real goal is to make inheritance of real property as burdensome and expensive as possible for the middle class. New York’s 2019-20 annual budget includes “congestion pricing” in Manhattan, tolls charged to drivers to enter certain parts of the borough. Progressives hail the idea as a mechanism for reducing driving and hastening the arrival their car-free Utopia. Again, it’s middle class commuters who’ll be hardest hit. These are just two of hundreds of examples.

The question, then, is what happens if policies like estate taxes, congestion pricing, Vision Zero, and all the rest fail to convince Americans to radically change their way of life? What if people just really, really like their cars, to the point that no amount of gridlock is going to pry them out? What if millions of Americans continue to dream of owning their own home one day, with a front lawn, a backyard, and a barbecue? What if we’re willing to shoulder all the cost, inconvenience, and uncertainty that government can throw at us just for the chance to enjoy a glass of wine on the back porch after work?

History does not suggest pretty answers. The fatal flaw in socialism is that it requires everyone to agree. Which is why Bernie is nothing but a Bolshevik reboot and Occasio-Cortez is just a wannabe Castro with better fashion sense. Like every other attempt in history, “democratic socialism” is just another way of saying social engineering.

New York City firefighters union calls out Vision Zero, bike lanes, and road diets: “You’re basically eliminating the ability for emergency service vehicles to get around”

Will firefighters unions in other cities follow suit?

(QUEENS, NYC) An FDNY truck trapped on the Skillman Avenue road diet in Queens. Photograph courtesy of Dorothy Morehead.

After four years of lane reductions, arterial bike lanes, road diets, and other so-called “traffic calming” measures on the streets of New York, the country’s largest firefighters union is saying enough. The New York Post reported yesterday that the Fire Department of New York’s response times have risen dramatically over the last year, and that the city’s firefighters union – the largest in the country – says that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative is a major cause.

Bobby Eustace, the United Firefighters Association’s recording secretary, told The Post, “Vision Zero is fully intended to save lives from traffic accidents, but by [the city] adding in concrete barriers and flower pots and everything else like that, you’re basically eliminating the ability for emergency service vehicles to get around. Intersections are now gridlocked, and our guys just can’t get around.”

The union’s public statement is a significant development in the national discussion over the future of urban planning and transportation. There are Vision Zero programs in scores of U.S. cities, and virtually everywhere they are having severe impacts on emergency response times. Firefighters, paramedics, and police officers in Los Angeles, Santa Monica, Seattle, Oakland, New York, Boston, and elsewhere have confirmed to The All Aspect Report that lane reductions, particularly so-called “road diets,” have increased their response times dramatically. In L.A., for example, operational response times at Fire Station 62, located on the infamous Venice Boulevard road diet, increased by 26 seconds between 2016 (the last full year before the diet) and 2019. In 2016 the station’s average response time was 6 minutes 38 seconds. So far in 2019 it is 7 minutes 4 seconds. As any first responder will attest, those 26 seconds cost lives. And Station 62’s experience is far from unique in the city.

The UFA’s statement comes in response to the release of the annual Mayor’s Management Report, a sort of longform state of the city document. The administration boasted, “The City’s investment in Vision Zero, now funded with over $1.6 billion through Fiscal 2022, has ensured resources will be available to continue an accelerated pace of redesign and reconstruction of New York City streets as well as for enforcement and education initiatives to deter unsafe driving and promote safe walking and biking.”

This “accelerated pace” of change is having devastating impacts on emergency response times. According to the report:

  • Combined average response time to life-threatening medical emergencies increased 15 seconds compared to 2018.
  • Average response time to life-threatening medical emergencies by ambulances increased 24 seconds compared to 2018.
  • Dispatch and travel time only to life-threatening medical emergencies for ambulances and fire companies combined increased 19 seconds compared to 2018.
  • Dispatch and travel time by ambulances to life-threatening medical emergencies increased 28 seconds compared to 2018.

“We had a company in the Bronx [traveling at night last month] hit one of these barriers going 30 miles an hour, and it almost flipped the rig because they had no idea it was there,” Eustace said. “That was the first they saw it. They were simply trying to go around a person [while] responding to a structural fire, and they smashed into one of these [concrete barriers].-

New York’s experience is typical of Vision Zero cities

The FDNY union is the first to go on the record, but fire departments around the country have been experiencing identical problems for several years. As we reported in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year, Oakland, California Fire Captain Henry Holt said that he learned of a road diet half a block from his station one morning when he arrived for a shift. “I wasn’t even sure if I was allowed to drive in those new green lanes,” he said. The city never consulted the Oakland Fire Department, much less his station, before installing a project that dramatically impacts his crews’ dispatch procedures. The road diet has been so bad that at times he’s instructed his drivers to go into what first responders call “suicide mode,” driving down oncoming lanes to get around gridlock. Departments in other cities have reported the same experiences.

(LOS ANGELES, CA) October 12, 2018 – In a scene that’s become frighteningly common in L.A.’s Mar Vista neighborhood, an ambulance and fire engine struggle to navigate the Venice Boulevard road diet. It took them nearly four minutes to travel four blocks to a scene where a motorcyclist lay pinned under a semi truck.

The greatest irony of Vision Zero is that in many locations road diets and other reconfigurations have not improved safety for cyclists and pedestrians, as activists and politicians like Mayor de Blasio in New York and Mayor Eric Garcetti in Los Angeles claim. Pedestrian fatalities spiked in L.A. from an average of 84 per year for the 13 years between 2003 and 2015, to 135 in 2017 and 128 last year. The spike coincides with the launch of Vision Zero in 2016.

Charting failure: This official release from Los Angeles Vision Zero reveals the spike in pedestrian deaths since the program’s launch in 2015.

In Baltimore, a fire crew sent a video to the city council last summer in which a hook and ladder crew demonstrated how a road diet impeded their ability to stage the apparatus on a residential street. Rather than address the issue the city council voted to change the city’s fire code.

Outside New York itself, perhaps nowhere has the impact of Vision Zero been more dramatic than in the small seaside city of Santa Monica. Road diets, bus lanes, and other changes have rendered parts of the city virtually inaccessible to emergency apparatus at times. A senior official in the Santa Monica Fire Department recently told the All Aspect Report that there are times crews literally cannot reach the Santa Monica Pier. And an officer with the Santa Monica Police Department said that the city increasingly is fielding officers on bicycles rather than cruisers. When asked how he felt about swapping his Crown Vic for a Schwinn, he just shook his head and laughed.

Obviously, cities are in a constant state of change, flux, and progress. Vision Zero is not the but-for cause of every emergency delay. Increased density, private construction, the profusion of scooters and ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft, and the overall increase in populations are all contributing factors. Nevertheless, the UFA’s statement, coupled with scores of interviews around the country as well as dozens of pictures and videos, leave no doubt that Vision Zero, “complete streets,” “road diets,” and other anti-vehicle policies are delaying response times and costing countless lives.

It remains to be seen whether firefighter and police unions in other cities will follow the UFA’s lead. Countless thousands of lives depend on it.

When it comes to economic opportunities and personal freedom, the automobile remains supreme

My 2018 Chevy Volt: A thing of beauty.

California officials have declared war on the individual automobile and the single family home. The former is the bugaboo of environmental correctness; the latter, we’re told, the source of economic and racial inequality. In reality, like politicians and activists around the country California’s political class has declared war on prosperity. They’ve also signaled their opposition to economic opportunities for low income and immigrant Californians.

As with the Soviet central planners who are their political mater and paterfamilias, at the core of the new Utopians’ schemes are densely populated cities connected and interconnected by transit systems and encircled by open space. The Central Committee had its imperious Moscow Metro and V.I. Lenin Leningrad Metro systems; the politburo in Sacramento will have their light rail and (some day) bullet train. For that matter, at least the Communists did their transit in style, compared to the post-apocalyptic hellholes of systems in Los Angeles and San Francisco.

ST. PETERSBURG, c.1990 – A metro station in a repressive 20th century dictatorship where people had no hope.
SAN FRANCISCO, 2019 – A metro station in the 21st century in the richest nation in human history, where opportunity is everywhere.

The fact is that in the vast majority of American cities and towns reliance on mass transit, much less cycling and walking, as one’s primary means of getting around limits economic opportunity. Consider a recent immigrant from Mexico trying to gain a foothold in his new land. His first job likely will require him to travel considerable distances. He may find work as a gardener, a field worker, a day laborer. At first he’ll be dependent on others to get around, so he’ll hook up with workers who already have vehicles. Then, at the earliest possible time he’ll purchase a second- or third-hand car or truck of his own, and like that the gates of opportunity will open wider: In that vehicle he can visit multiple work sites every day, haul around his equipment, and transport others to work sites. He can supplement his income with odd jobs (go to any Home Depot and out front you’ll see the guys with their pickups offering hauling and removal services).

For millions of immigrants and lower income people (often one and the same) that secondhand car or truck, while expensive, is their central economic lifeline. A 2018 UCLA study commissioned by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG) notes that over the last 15 years in the region “vehicle ownership has grown particularly sharply among subgroups most likely to use transit, such as the low-income and the foreign born from Latin America.” Moreover, “compared to Americans at large, the poor use transit more but like it less. The typical low-income rider wants to graduate to automobiles, while the typical driver might view transit positively but have little interest in using it.” And, “With very few exceptions, acquiring an automobile in Southern California makes life easier along multiple dimensions, dramatically increasing access to jobs, educational institutions and other opportunities.

A 2010 paper in the journal Urban Geography, reached the same conclusion: “Studies of mostly welfare populations have suggested that while public transportation is not unimportant, the automobile is a critical factor in moving from welfare to work.” (emphasis added) Indeed, even the Utopians implicitly acknowledge this fact, which is why states like California issue driver licenses to illegal immigrants and soften requirements such as registration fees for low income people.

To you and me, an old Chevy. To a recent immigrant, hope.

The individual automobile has been the single biggest driver (pardon the pun) of economic prosperity in the last 100 years, unlocking opportunities simply unknown to past eras. After World War II the auto industry helped lift tens of millions into the middle class. They bought cars, built cars, sold cars, and repaired cars. Families were able to move away from crowded urban cores to the space and affordability of the suburbs. By the 1950s the automobile was as central to Americans’ identity as baseball and rock and roll.

The car also was central to desegregation and the Civil Rights Movement. In his landmark 1944 study, An American Dilemma, Swedish sociologist Gunnar Myrdal observed, “the coming of the cheap automobile has meant for Southern Negroes, who can afford one, a partial emancipation from Jim Crowism.” Travel by car overcame the segregation blacks endured on public buses, trolleys, and trains. Sociologist Arthur Raper, studying race in rural Georgia in 1936, noted that “opportunities provided by the automobile provide a basis for a new mobility for whites as well as Negroes, based upon personal standards rather than upon community mores – upon which the individual wants to do rather than what the community does not want him to do” (it’s quite ironic that bike activists want to precisely reverse this arrangement). Behind the wheel, southern blacks discovered a freedom unknown on public conveyances. The “green book” travel guide indexed service stations, restaurants, and inns that would serve them, further weakening Jim Crow. During the Civil Rights Movement both black and white activists devised an ingenious – and completely autonomous – transportation system based on individual vehicles.

To this day there simply is no comparison between cars and transit in terms of economic mobility and personal freedom. Consider again our recent immigrant. He’s not going to be carrying his landscaping equipment on a Metro bus or a bicycle. It’s a personal vehicle or nothing. Indeed, the cohorts that most support transit are overwhelmingly white, college-educated Millennials. These are folks for whom riding a fixie to their start-up in San Francisco every morning is a virtue-signaling lifestyle choice.

Yet the Utopians want to eliminate cars for the rest of us. They want everyone on trains, buses, bikes, and their own two feet. Of course they never explain how manual laborers will get to work, how a worker living in Pacoima will get to her housekeeping gig in Brentwood. They cannot account for the lost hours spent walking to, waiting for, riding on, and walking from the bus or train. No matter the mode, transit generally takes twice as long as driving.

What’s more, assume for a moment cars and transit are equal. It still will take decades to build out systems, along with the dense housing they’re supposed to serve. Yet already policymakers are acting as though the whole thing is a fait accompli, so they’re removing car lanes everywhere you look. In this way they are putting the cart precisely before the horse, expanding transit before the built environment exists to support it. The vast majority of Angelenos, for example, still have to drive everywhere. The result is traffic and gridlock at an historic scale and with it billions in lost economic activity and, ironically, increased emissions and pollution. So much for the Green New Deal.

Never mind, though, for the Utopians have seen the enemy, and it is us. At least those of us who wish to travel and live where we want, when we want, and how we want. If you’re an outdoor enthusiast, best of luck taking transit to your favorite trailhead.

What remains to be seen is whether society will accept their increasingly draconian diktats, or if California will experience its own version of perestroika and restore some sanity.

Bike lanes can’t help cyclists who won’t protect themselves

Ignoring a dedicated bike lane, a cyclist dangerously splits lanes down San Vicente Boulevard in West Los Angeles in mid-day traffic.

The video out of Brooklyn, New York on July 1 is as gut wrenching as it is heartbreaking. A cyclist speeds down the sidewalk and into a blind intersection without slowing down. Tragically, she tries to cross the street just as a cement truck enters the intersection. She swerves at the last second, but it’s too late – she hits the front of the truck, falls off her bike, and is crushed under the truck’s back wheels. A surveillance camera caught the accident (warning, the video is extremely graphic and will be disturbing to some readers). The victim was a 28-year-old woman named Devra Freelander, an artist who lived in Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. She died at the scene.

In Manhattan on June 24th, a 20-year-old bicycle messenger collided with a delivery truck in morning traffic. Robyn Hightman was riding in traffic when they* hit the truck from behind. The driver, who continued to drive several more blocks before being flagged by a taxi driver, claimed he never saw them.

The accident occurred near the intersection of Sixth Avenue (aka Avenue of the Americas) and 24th Street in Manhattan’s Chelsea district. Ironically, in response to pressure from bike activists, in 2016 the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) installed a protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue between 8th and 33rd Streets. In December of that year Streetsblog NYC gushed that “the new protected bike lane on Sixth Avenue … has turned one of the city’s most stress-inducing bike routes into one of its best.”

The protected bike lane, left, on Sixth Avenue at 24th Street, near where a cyclist was killed in an accident on June 24. The cyclist wasn’t using the lane at the time of the collision.

According to CBS affiliate WKTR, “police determined [Hightman] was not in the bike lane and was traveling between vehicles when they were struck.” Likewise, the New York Post reported Hightman “was pedaling between cars” when the crash occurred. Eyewitnesses, including the cab driver who stopped the truck driver, confirmed that Hightman struck the Freightliner truck from behind. Images of the scene show a mangled bicycle in the middle of the street, several dozen feet from the bike lane.

The response to the accident was predictable to anyone familiar with bike activists and their radical agenda. Rather than using the tragedies of Freelander’s and Highman’s deaths as a teachable moment New York’s bike activists (all 37 of them) went into full outrage mode. Instead of taking a hard look at the circumstances, they raged about “reckless truck drivers,” “dangerous drivers,” and of course, “traffic violence.” These are the same cohorts who gleefully boast about bike rage, and howl about evil school bus drivers (seriously). They even claim to be an “oppressed class” (again, seriously).

In short, they do everything but take responsibility for their own lives.

Yet the simple fact is that cyclists often are their own worst enemies. They routinely blow through red lights and stop signs. They lane split in rush hour traffic while listening to music and checking texts. They ride the wrong way down one-way streets. They ride at night with no lights or reflective gear. They bait and taunt motorists. These are all incredibly risky actions yet they are the norm for far too many cyclists. If cyclists don’t take responsibility for their own safety, there’s little the rest of us can do. Indeed, in the name of speed and convenience many riders routinely ignore roadway features specifically intended to protect them.

A memorial gathering for Hightman the night of the accident was a prime example of the activists’ warped ideology. What started as a (relatively) peaceful vigil quickly turned into a protest that ultimately erupted into an Antifa-style riot. Several activists dragged two men from their car and beat them in the street. They also damaged the men’s car along with multiple others. Nothing calls sympathy to a cause like intentionally, violently assaulting innocent individuals (not unlike the Antifa riot in Portland last weekend that left journalist Andy Ngo with a brain hemorrhage).

This man, with visible injuries, claims he was attacked by rioting bike activists.

Despite the activists’ self-righteous outrage and violence, Freelander’s and Hightman’s deaths are tragic illustrations of how bike lanes cannot prevent every single accident and death, particularly when cyclists themselves don’t obey traffic rules. A reporter from the New York Villager visited the scene of Hightman’s death a few days after the accident. He observed, “several cyclists…veering out into car lanes near the intersection to avoid heavy pedestrian traffic and slower bicycles, and then turning back into the bike lane midway up the block.” Cyclists swerve out into traffic in order to maintain their preferred speed rather than slowing for pedestrians (as required by law). That, in a word, is unsafe. If they won’t prioritize their own safety, Vision Zero and all the bike lanes in the world can’t help them.

Activists often point to confounding factors like cars, trucks, and buses parked illegally in bike lanes. They point out that some drivers are simply oblivious to bicycles and sometimes overtly hostile, with dangerous consequences. Those are valid points. Again, however, the law requires bicycle riders to observe the rules of the road. If a driver encounters a double-parked car, the solution isn’t to swerve into the oncoming lane without slowing down. Given their inherent vulnerability cyclists should be even more cautious. If they encounter a slower rider ahead of them they have to slow down themselves until it is safe to pass. These are the rules of the road.

Alas, a drive through most any downtown core these days involves navigating among a constant scrum of law breaking velocipedians. As bike lanes and other “bike infrastructure” proliferate nationwide, attitudes among cyclists have shifted from self preservation to privilege. Even though they comprise a vanishingly small proportion of road users (with the exception of few college towns no U.S. city has a bicycling rate higher than 4%), they wield outsize influence in city planning offices and even city halls. Groups like New York’s Transportation Alternatives are extremely well-funded and dominate the narrative over traffic safety. In their narrative, cyclists are never responsible for their own actions, much less their own safety.

If someone decides to drive drunk and ends up crashing into a tree and dying, we don’t blame the tree. Yet in every single cyclist death the activists blame everyone and everything but the cyclist, even when that cyclist flouted traffic laws intended to protect them.

A cyclist ignores the protected bike lane and weaves through traffic on Spring Street in downtown L.A.

The fact that riders like Freelander are responsible for their own accidents doesn’t make it their fault. Even when they’re 100% responsible, they’re still victims. Victims of an increasingly entitled and aggressive lobby of bike activists who blame everything on cars and drivers even when the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. It’s the only message young people like Hightman have ever heard. They have grown up in an era in which American cities collectively added tens of thousands of miles of bike lanes, routes, and paths, giving riders a sense of primacy. Cyclists are taught to ride aggressively rather than cautiously and defensively. The ultimate tragedy is that it’s the bike activists themselves who lure innocent people to their doom by imbuing them with a false sense of priority and safety.

The fact of the matter is, choosing to ride a bicycle is choosing to take certain risks. Cycling on city streets, particularly major thoroughfares, is an inherently dangerous act, one made inestimably more dangerous by many cyclists’ own conduct and decisions. When it comes down to it there’s nothing between a rider’s body and the pavement.

Unless and until the bike activists are willing to acknowledge so much as a scintilla of these realities people will continue dying on the streets.

  • *Robyn Hightman went by the pronouns they/them.

Bike lane reversals are slivers of sanity reflecting a growing national trend

Bike lanes can’t cure stupid, but they can disrupt communities.

In response to community outcries, officials in cities nationwide are recognizing reality and starting to remove some of their more ill-advised bike lane and road diet projects while shelving plans for others. The elimination of traffic lanes on major thoroughfares has proved disastrous not only for commuters, but also local businesses and emergency responders. Cities reconsidering such projects include include Baltimore, San Antonio, West Palm Beach, Des Moines, Annapolis, Akron, Columbia, San Rafael, Memphis, Boise, and elsewhere. In countless other communities, from Tahlequah, Oklahoma to Los Angeles, California, opposition to certain bike lanes and other bike facilities have reversed road diets and stopped others in their tracks. And in still more cities and towns, from Waverly, Iowa to New York City, individuals and community groups are coming together to confront the seemingly overnight transformation of their neighborhoods. A group of business owners in The Bronx recently obtained a temporary restraining order against a proposed road diet on Morris Park Avenue (full disclosure: I have provided legal research and other assistance to the plaintiffs). Lawsuits also are pending in Los Angeles.

Perhaps the most surprising reversal has come in Seattle. To hear the bike activists (or “non-auto mobility advocates”) tell it, Seattle ought to be a premier bicycling city. It’s one of the country’s most progressive locales, with substantial populations of Millennial and Gen Z folks who are the most likely cohorts to use bikes and other alternative transportation. The metro area is fairly compact, with a downtown core and other dense pockets like Ballard, and it’s well-served by transit. It’s increasingly expensive to own a car, and traffic is getting worse all the time (of course much of that congestion has to do with all the bike and transit infrastructure). The city even has a former mayor nicknamed “McSchwinn” (not intended as a compliment, mind you).

But to the extent there ever was one, the city’s love affair with the velocipede is proving short-lived and tempestuous. A recent Seattle Times/Elway poll revealed that barely 40% of city residents support the continued expansion of bike infrastructure, while 56% oppose it. Most revealingly, slightly more urban Seattlites “strongly” opposed more bike lanes. To be sure, like any poll there are flaws with this one, in particular its over-reliance on homeowners who are more likely than renters to own cars. Still, it reflects a national trend of cooling enthusiasm and even outright opposition to the mindless expansion of bike facilities at the expense of drivers and bus riders, not to mention first responders. And alternatives to cycling such as ride sharing, car sharing, e-bikes, and scooters continue to proliferate, giving people more attractive options than old-fashioned pedal bikes.

The bike wars came to a head in the Emerald City over a proposed “road diet” on 35th Avenue. Part of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan, the project would have reduced the street from four lanes to two, with protected bike lanes in both directions. Two competing groups, Save 35th (opposed) and Safe 35th (in favor) spent the last 18 months engaged in a sometimes ugly clash over the proposal. The city even hired a mediator to try to find a compromise, to no avail. Eventually the city announced that it would move forward with the project, but sans protected bike lanes.

Despite a decades long push by a small but well-funded, well-connected, and above all noisy cohort of activists the proportion of Americans commuting by bicycle is decreasing. According to the Census Bureau, between 2016 and 2017 bicycle commuting dropped by 25.8% in Oakland, 19.9% in San Francisco, 24.1% in Austin, more than 13% in Atlanta, and more than 12% in Boston. According to the League of American Cyclists, during that same period the overall number of people who regularly commute via bicycle declined in 30 of the 50 states. Reason Magazine reported similar statistics last year. Only four cities – Davis, Santa Cruz, and Palo Alto, California as well as Boulder, Colorado – cracked double digits, barely, and those are all locales with considerable populations of students and other young people.

Of course, these trends could just be blips. After all, overall cycling increased by nearly 43% nationally between 2000 and 2016. Bolstered by federal highway funds hundreds if not thousands of cities and towns across the country, from New York, New York to Waverly, Iowa, continue to invest untold billions in infrastructure, lanes, and other improvements for bicycling. And, of course, one year hardly makes a trend. Then again, while the increase sounds significant in percentage terms the number of Americans for whom cycling is their primary mode of getting around remains vanishingly small.

Regardless, considering those billions of dollars that federal, state, and local agencies collectively have spent on bike infrastructure (at one point the City of Seattle was willing to spend as much as $12 million per mile on dedicated bike lanes) these reversals amount to a stunning rebuke. Commence the activists’ gnashing of teeth and rending of garments.

It’s the activists’ standard operating procedure to smear anyone who so much as questions the wisdom of bike lanes as anti-bike, anti-safety, even anti-children (at a presentation regarding the safety implications of the Venice Boulevard road diet in Los Angeles, we were accused of caring so much about cars that we don’t care if kids are killed; you can’t make this stuff up).

The fact that you don’t support a particular bike lane in a particular place doesn’t make you anti-bike. Wanting to balance the interests of cyclists and pedestrians with those of motorists, local businesses, and emergency responders doesn’t make you a frothing climate change denier. Pointing out that some bike lanes and road diets make things worse rather than better doesn’t make you a muscle car driving Neanderthal.

If common sense prevails scenes like this will soon be bad memories….

Yet that’s the attitude of advocates (and, unfortunately, a lot of local politicians). Bike lanes, Vision Zero, Complete Streets, transit, and density comprise a religious fundamentalism that brooks no dissent and enforces a strict orthodoxy. Show an activist videos of ambulances, fire engines, and police cars trapped on gridlocked road diets in Queens, Mar Vista, or Oakland and they will respond with straight faces that it’s proof we need more road diets. Suggest that perhaps bike lanes are best on secondary roads and you’ll get an earful about how cyclists deserve direct routes as much as anyone else. There is simply no compromise.

Suffice it to say, aligning themselves against emergency responders, mom and pop business owners and average citizens is not a winning strategy. If even Seattle is reconsidering its bike policies the activists – not to mention elected officials – may want to recalibrate and actually listen to alternative viewpoints.

Don’t hold your breath. Zealotry is intoxicating. Activists have convinced themselves they’re doing nothing less than saving the world. They are addicted to the high of their own self satisfaction.

Facts? Where they’re going, they don’t need any facts.

Latest Vision Zero lunacy: Bike “corrals” replacing emergency access zones

Even fire stations aren’t immune to this latest manifestation of Vision Zero insanity.

The fundamental justification advocates and policymakers give for Vision Zero, road diets, and other street modifications is that they increase safety. By shifting the focus of roadways from cars to transit, bikes, scooters, and walking, goes the logic, we’ll reduce the number of vehicle miles traveled and, ipso facto, improve safety. Hey, it worked in Stockholm and Amsterdam. Sort of.

You can point them to all sorts of evidence and statistics showing that in this country the results all too often are precisely the opposite. You can show them the many videos and images on YouTube and social media of emergency vehicles bogged down on reconfigured streets. You can point out statistics like the fact that pedestrian deaths have nearly doubled in Los Angeles after three and a half years of Vision Zero, or to California Highway Patrol SWITRS data revealing a nearly 10% increase in overall accidents the program’s first 18 months versus the previous 18 months. You can point out that even where Vision Zero produced promising early results, such as in San Francisco, progress has reversed over the last two years (even StreetsBlog SF has been forced to acknowledge that the initial drop in pedestrian deaths may have been an anomaly). You can tell them about the first responders who are nearly universal in their concerns over road diets on major arteries. You can even point out that many road diets, especially on those arteries, violate local and state fire codes as well as federal guidelines. You can point to grassroots groups resisting road diets from Queens, New York to Tahlequah, Oklahoma.

Their reaction is always the same: They slap their hands over their ears, shut their eyes, and call you a liar. They’ll accuse you of being “anti-bike,” which is a particularly insane bit of invective. Being anti-bike is like being anti-springtime, or anti-puppy. They’ll accuse you of callous indifferent to the lives of cyclists and pedestrians. At a road diet presentation a few months ago, we were even accused of complicity in children’s deaths. The irony is that the point of our presentation was to point out safety hazards created by certain road diets in Los Angeles.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that Vision Zero has come full circle: Across L.A. bike and scooter “corrals” are replacing emergency apparatus access zones. You can’t make this stuff up. In the name of safety, L.A. is making it harder for first responders to do their jobs. In the name of saving lives bureaucrats are reducing emergency apparatus accessibility.

Can we all possibly agree that this, at last, is a bridge too far? Alas, probably not. At that presentation, which was attended by some 30 activists from several groups, we showed a video of an ambulance and fire engine trapped in gridlock on a road dieted section of Venice Boulevard in L.A.’s Mar Vista neighborhood to the public outreach coordinator for one of the advocacy groups. We showed her a picture of gridlocked evacuations on a road dieted thoroughfare in Sunland-Tujunga during the 2017 La Tuna Fire. Her response? “Obviously we need more bike lanes, not fewer.” Ipso facto.

Several firefighters, speaking as usual off the record because they’re criticizing the official line, were aghast at the corrals. “What planners never seem to grasp with these projects,” said one, “is that seconds and inches are life and death factors in an emergency.”

“Corrals” and other permanent or semi-permanent physical changes to roads are particularly insidious because they impact responders’ ability to stage emergency apparatus. This was demonstrated most clearly by a video made by a hook and ladder crew in Baltimore last year. Hook and ladders are all about angles: Where the apparatus is staged directly impacts where it can reach. In the video buffered bike lane – where parallel parking spaces are pushed out from the curb to protect a bike lane – prevented the ladder from reaching the top two floors of a six story building. Firefighters in New York have related similar experiences.

Baltimore’s response? The crew received an official rebuke, and the city council subsequently repealed part of its fire code to allow the configuration (Baltimore’s fire code, like the vast majority of cities and counties, is based on the authoritative International Fire Code, meaning the city council effectively decided they knew better than the experts). Again, you can’t make this stuff up. Cities are saying that bike lanes used by fewer than 1% of commuters are more important than fire crews’ ability to reach people. So if you’re on the fifth or sixth floor during a fire on those streets in Gotham or Charm City, best of luck. Again, these conclusions are based on scores of interviews with firefighters, officials, and other first responders nationwide.

By altering the physical configuration of streets, “corrals” can have a similar impact. At the very least, crews will spend precious seconds tossing bikes and scooters out of the way.

If you park a car in a red zone, not only will you get a whopper of a citation you’ll likely be towed, and rightly so. Yet somehow it’s o.k. to install permanent physical bike facilities in those same zones. Cities are even painting over the red.

Moreover, particularly in large cities fire apparatus are customized to particular neighborhoods, even specific streets. A tower apparatus on Staten Island, for example, is different from one in Manhattan. It’s a lot easier – not to mention cheaper – to install corrals, buffered bike lanes, and physical obstructions than to replace a fleet of fire engines.

Which leads to a final bit of insanity: Cities like San Francisco are purchasing “Vision Zero fire apparatus.” The SFFD has begun replacing its fleet with apparatus that are – wait for it – smaller. We hasten to add that smaller doesn’t necessarily mean less effective. Rather, Frisco’s decision reflects a broader national trend among planners in which fire and police departments are viewed as somehow adversarial to public safety. To its credit the SFFD has been one of the most vocal in the country in criticizing the one size fits all approach to Vision Zero.

It’s worth repeating: Cities and their planning and transportation departments need to be far more transparent when it comes to these changes. Randomly replacing emergency access zones with bicycle amenities is not the way to move forward. Ironically, by not involving first responders, community members, and business owners in these decisions cities are generating completely avoidable hostility to Vision Zero. Everyone loses under the current approach, including the very people the program is supposed to protect.