Wednesday, 20 November, 2019

5 Zombie Arguments About Biking

Attributed to Via Tsuji

If you haven’t had the chance you should read this great article explaining why smart people say dumb things when talking about bikes. It is an interesting analysis, trying to pin down the reasons people people react so negatively to cyclists but it doesn’t address the range of recurring comments. Most of these comments have been thoroughly debunked and appear dead but seem to come back to life every now and then. These are zombie arguments.

This article is meant to be a resource for killing those zombies arguments.

1. Cyclists receive special treatment

city chooses to acccomodate one group (bicyclists)

This claim often rises from the dead when there’s a street design change to accommodate cyclists.

Building bicycle infrastructure isn’t special treatment. All modes have unique infrastructure, including cycling. The amount of infrastructure for cyclists pales in comparison to other modes. This estimate puts the number of  separated, green lanes for cyclists at about 288 miles nationwide. Compare this to the 3,952 lane miles in Seattle that were designed and built to prioritize the safety of motorists. The only treatment that cycling receives which is different is vastly less infrastructure.

But all of that is beside the point. There are many paths, side streets and greenways not built for cyclists but that can be used comfortably. More importantly, suggesting that modes are in competition misunderstands the nature of streets, to allow everyone to travel where they are going efficiently and safely. Street design should allow modes to complement each other and this is the case with bike infrastructure. Bike lanes reduce collisions which isn’t just good for bikers, it’s good for drivers, who may be found culpable in accidents, and pedestrians, who are less likely to be hit. In addition to safety, bike infrastructure encourages more cycling, reducing congestion by reducing the number of cars on the road. In fact, the best evidence shows that bike lanes don’t increase travel times but do improve safety.

2. Changes to accommodate bikes are being driven by powerful, shady interests.

This zombie argument screams paranoia and usually infects naysayers when new bike infrastructure is proposed.

Of course, like nearly every other political group in the city, cyclists have tried to exert political power through organizing. Nearly all of this success springs from the fact that most people support safer bicycle infrastructure. Polling indicates nearly 78% of Seattlite voters have favorable feelings towards cyclists and 45% ride their bikes at least a few times a month. If someone is looking for the special interest group supporting cyclists in the city, the best place to start might be their neighbor.

3. Cyclists don’t pay for their fair share

cyclists don t pay fair share-edited

This argument ambles back from the dead to eat lanes built for bikes.

Most people don’t realize where the money comes from that builds our roads and other transportation infrastructure, assuming gas taxes and car tabs pay for all of it. This is false. Car tabs and gas taxes only begin to cover a small percentage of costs related to car infrastructure. A lot of the money comes from general funds, unsustainable debt or is passed on to others as externalities. In Washington, only about 33% of total road spending is paid for with gas taxes and user fees. For example, in 2009 gas tax revenue only accounted for 4% of SDOT’s budget. There are a lot more resources illustrating this basic point.

This line of thinking again misunderstands how our transportation network actually functions. All forms of transportation are subsidized and most people use multiple modes. This of course means that a lot of cyclists drive cars and pay their car-tabs as well as gas taxes. Regardless, roads are public. Even if someone paid no taxes at all, they would still have a right to use the road and society would have a moral duty to ensure the road is safe.

4. Cyclists are scofflaws


This zombie argument stumbles after memories of perceived slights.

As can be seen in the comment above, many complaints about cyclists breaking the law are instances in which the cyclists is behaving legally, like riding on the sidewalk. But do cyclists break the law more than the general population?

Of course not. Unsurprisingly, the data indicates that 94% of cyclists wait at read lights. It should also seem obvious that drivers break the law all the time. This research indicates that 79% of people think it is safe to speed.

The truth is cyclists don’t have some character flaw that makes them more disrespectful of the law. Like motorists who speed or pedestrians who jay-walk, they also occasionally break the law. Most importantly, because some individuals break the law doesn’t mean that all cyclists are less deserving of safety while using the road.

5. Cyclists are dangerous


This zombie argument tries to force defensiveness. I usually takes the form of here’s an example of “someone killed by a cyclist.”

We shouldn’t minimize deaths caused by cyclists or suggest that cars are evil but we should focus on real dangers. A study over a four year period in the UK showed 98% of fatalities in urban areas were cause by vehicles. There were only 9 pedestrian fatalities from bicycles compared to 1,361 from cars.  If we are actually worried about safety, it makes sense to focus on what actually makes our roads unsafe. Cycling is responsible for a tiny amount of injuries in comparison to driving. Over a five year span in New York, there were 3 pedestrian deaths caused by cyclists, compared to 766 by motor vehicles. Driving a car requires a magnitude of responsibility greater than riding a bicycle. This is why there are age limits to get a driver’s license but most people learn to ride a bike as a child.  Time spent ticketing cyclists for not wearing helmets is time taken away from enforcing speed limits or other laws that are meant to prevent the 30,000+ deaths and 3+ million  injuries every year connected to motor vehicles. The fact that there are examples of deaths cause by cyclists is not a good argument against bike infrastructure or to increase enforcement of bike laws.



It’s Neutral Beige’s Night


Picture 3


I still wonder if it had gone differently had I been a little more present when they got on. These two men were the last two to rush aboard at Fourth and Pike, just in time now, right as the light turned green.

The first man was a squat and burly older figure with an ex-football frame, that familiar silhouette of muscular shapes gone plump. Shorts and a torn T-shirt, fifties, white. He asked if I go to Broadway. Yes, I answered distractedly, checking around to see if it was still possible to take the light. Just behind him the second man boarded, a tall, thin fellow in his sixties, dressed in a neutral beige jacket, khakis and walking shoes that curiously didn’t identify any class  or status affiliation. He may have been homeless or a millionaire, European or American. He nodded as I said, “glad you made it.” I closed the doors and said into the mic, “okay, we’re gonna take this light here, hang on,” smoothly accelerating away with six seconds left. Plenty of time.

We continued up Pike without incident. Ex-football man sat up front watching the proceedings, grunting with satisfaction as I dove into the bus lane to skirt traffic. I thought about engaging him but didn’t, enjoying a moment of quiet time. Maybe I should have. Beige fellow was seated next to him, but they didn’t speak with each other and were clearly strangers.

At Bellevue and Pine, we rolled to a gentle stop for the red light. Football stood and came up to me, saying, “hey, can I get out right here? I kinda wanta go to that store, what is it, Benson’s, back there on the corner.”
“You know, I’ve actually gotten in trouble for doin’ that, so I gotta say no, but there’s a stop around the corner.”
“But I wanna go to the store.”
“Yeah, there’s a stop just up the block here. Didn’t you say you wanted to go to Broadway?”
“I know. I wanna go right back there.”
The light is staying red, and staying red, and staying red. “I can let you out around the corner here, we got a stop just up the block.”
“You can’t let me off right here?”
“We’re almost there.”
“How about if I go out the emergency window?” He points at the first door side window that has a red emergency lever, which happens to be directly behind those first side-facing seats, where the neutral beige man is sitting.
“You can do that,” I say, not expecting him to.

He stalks his squat frame over to the window and pulls down the red lever, pushing out the window, preparing to stick his leg through, but– there’s one small problem. The beige guy is in the way, sitting right in front of him. He’s been sitting there, oblivious to the above conversation, and now he’s confused: there’s a burly guy with a handlebar mustache standing right in front of his face, doing–what? Sticking his leg over my shoulder–

“What? What the fuck are you DOING?!” he screams.
“Outta my way,” mutters Football.
“STAY THE FUCK OFFA ME!” Neutral Beige lifts his legs to his chest and shoves them with all his might into Football’s stomach. Football is propulsively thrown backwards, crash-landing into the wheelwell right behind me. A girl sitting in the midst of all this stands up, disentangling herself, and walks to the back. I imagine she’s thinking, since when did fights happen at the front of the bus?

The burly man lunges forward–“STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME,” from the the Beige guy, hollering at top volume–lunges forward and grabs the old man’s legs and yanks backward, almost appearing to be trying to pull his legs apart from his body. Now the old man’s waist and legs are on the floor with his top half following quickly behind. He is on the floor but not completely, his neck still pinned on the seat bottom, and Mr. Football is collapsing on top of him, going at it with his fist. A right into the man’s face or left shoulder, hard to tell, somebody’s knee hitting the floor. Neutral Beige flounders with his arms, blocking, rotating rather ably out from underneath, shouting in stammers. “Get the, fuck off…fucking asshole….” We’re moving into the language of grunts.

All this has been less than ten seconds. That red light is still red. I open the front door, saying loudly, “guys, guys, guys, okay,” and Football stands, extricating himself from this mysteriously capable older fellow and running into things on his way out the door, howling in tongues, throwing scraps of paper at me, trying to get back inside but I’m closing the doors, yes just in time, thank you, and the light is mercifully now turning green. I roll slowly away. He’s out there still, like a fairy-tale monster who just won’t go away, still chasing after us, smashing his fist into the front side window, shattering it into a thousand spiderwebs. So much energy. Where does it come from? Why do fights always happen over the most picayune matters?

Eventually, of course, he’s gone. Neutral Beige is gathering himself, talking to the others around him. I ask, “how ya feelin’? Can I call the police for ya, if you want to make a statement…?”
“Nah, it’s up to you.”
“You sure?”
“Oh yeah, I’m fine.”

I looked at him. He was sitting there, much like before the incident, but there was something new in this scene. His being was completely energized. He exhaled with a relief that couldn’t fully hide his excitement.
“You feel alright?”
“Oh, yeah, it’s nothing.”

Actually, he felt great.

You could smell it. Exhilaration was coursing through his veins, and he was no longer old or young or tall or whatever; he was the original version of himself, the invincible youth we all remember being, and his quality had just been proven to himself in no uncertain terms. Wouldn’t you feel great? The worst thing you could imagine, the worst-possible scenario had taken place on his bus ride home. He was attacked by a younger, bigger, stronger man without provocation, and he had held his own with no assistance. I’ve still got it, you think to yourself, and everything is in its right place. It’s not something you discuss with others. He just sat there, trying not to smile.

“I hope you have a great rest of the evening,” I told him when he got off.
“Oh, I will,” he said, allowing himself a small grin, the vitality beaming through. I think he was the happiest person on the bus.

Replacing the Tacoma Trestle

Tacoma Trestle
Sounder on the Tacoma Trestle. Chris City/Flickr

The Tacoma Trestle is a 0.65-mile long trestle in Tacoma that stretches east from Freighthouse Square (the Tacoma Dome Sounder station) to the BNSF mainline next to the Puyallup River. The trestle is wooden and over 100 years old. It dates back from when the Milwaukee Road stretched across the country from Chicago to Seattle. The trestle is currently being used daily by Sounder trains and is a key part of the Point Defiance Bypass.

The Point Defiance Bypass is an upgrade to an existing rail line that stretches from Tacoma Dome to DuPont running along the I-5 corridor. Currently, Amtrak Cascades trains have to use the Point Defiance Tunnel, which is single-tracked and runs through slow curves on BNSF’s mainline along the edge of the Puget Sound. The Point Defiance Bypass will give Amtrak trains a faster way to get between Tacoma and Lacey while also becoming much more reliable. When completed, trains will save up to 9 minutes per trip compared to today’s route.

Tacoma Trestle Bridging

The Tacoma Trestle is a choke-point on the Point Defiance Bypass. The trestle is single-tracked, unlike the rest of the bypass, which will be double-tracked. Being made of wood, the trestle is highly vulnerable to earthquakes and can’t support as much weight as modern bridges.

A replacement of the trestle was approved in 2008 as part of the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure (ST2), and a $10 million TIGER grant issued last year has helped move construction forward by 5 years. The concrete trestle will be supported by two round columns side by side. Art is being considered including lighting, concrete forms on the retaining walls, or steel cut panels to make the new structure more visually interesting than just standard concrete bridging.

Tacoma Trestle Platform

The new trestle will be double-tracked to support more Sounder and Amtrak service and will feature a crossover between the two tracks as well as an expanded platform at Freighthouse Square in order to accommodate Amtrak trains. Minor street repairs and upgraded railroad signals are also part of the project. The completion date for the project will be late 2017.

If you’re interested in providing comments on the Tacoma Trestle project, be sure to take Sound Transit’s survey.

Sustainable Rosengård Tonight


Rosengard - Renewable Energy

Tonight we’re hosting a special presentation on Sustainable Rosengård. Paul Byron Crane, a local landscape architect with the City of Everett, will lead a conversation on Rosengård. We’ll learn how this Malmö, Sweden neighborhood has gone from a largely ignored and disengage place to an active and forward-thinking district. You’ll can us at GGLO (a local architecture firm) located in Downtown Seattle from 6pm to 8.30pm. We’ll have food and drinks on hand. The presentation begins around 6.30pm with a mix of video and PowerPoint. Q&A will follow the presentation with time to chat with other guests.

Here’s a brief summary of the presentation:

Rosengård, Malmö, Sweden successfully moved from a period of riots, due to a disenfranchised immigrant population to actively empowering and engaging young women in participatory place making. Thirteen young political refugee teenager women from Iraq and Afghanistan organized and led design workshops, community events working with Rosengård residents and the City of Malmö Environmental and Parks Departments.

Learning how to accomplish physical change to support positive sustainable development, the spaces between existing buildings shaped their proposed projects; a playground, enhanced town center, and community gardens. These projects in this presentation have been recently built by the City of Malmö adding to Rosengård’s social capital.

Through dialogue and community organizing of 6,400 participants, 136 workshops, events comprised of over 60 % of political refugee women. Their informed holistic decision-making, through an empowered strong local process, together with deliverables of strategic physical improvements started the process of building a sustainable Rosengård. The “pink” large play area and the enhanced town centers “social square” was completed in September of 2013. With the leadership and collaborative genius of these young girls Rosengård has now become the new Eco district in Malmö, Sweden.

We hope to see you tonight!

Sustainable Rosengård
Tuesday, 18 November
6pm to 8.30pm
GGLO at the Harbor Steps
1301 1st Ave #301Seattle, WA 98101

Tweet of the Week: You Shall Not Pass


This comic has been making the rounds across the internet recently, and sparks a really interesting discussion about how we use our streets and spaces for people. There are two messages that this comic sends:

  1. We have handed over a lot of space to cars; and
  2. Streets might as well be impassible valleys for pedestrians.

But just how should our streets be organized? Is it reasonable to say that streets ought to be oriented around cars only at the explicit cost of others like pedestrians? Or should we be creating streets that give equitable consideration to all modes?

Sunday Video: How to build a better city


How to Build a Better City by MinuteEarth on YouTube.

Clever cartoon explaining how cities work, why we need them, and how we can make them better.

What We’re Reading: Even Tacoma Joins the Development Boom

Illustration of a 22 story, mixed-use tower in Tacoma.
Illustration of two 24-story, mixed-use towers in Tacoma.

Good news for bikes: Raised crosswalk, better signal timing, and a bike leaning rail will be coming to the Burke Gilman Trail near U Village. Pronto! surpasses 10k bike trips in one month! Cascade Bicycle Club will open a new office and bike center at Magnuson Park.

Tacoma joins the boom: A developer will open a four star hotel (300 rooms) and condominium (200 units) in Downtown Tacoma by 2018.

Sleek trains: Eurostar share their redesigned trainsets to mark their 20-year anniversary.

The new Smithsonian: BIG has a $2 billon masterplan to overhaul the heart of the Smithsonian Institute and National Mall with work commencing in 2016. Meanwhile, BIG also has swanky plans for the old Battersea Power Station in London.

Save the whales: The US and China reached a landmark climate change deal this week.

Microhousing battle: Some Capitol Hill neighbors are getting together to halt a microhousing project on Harvard Avenue if it doesn’t go through design review.

Capitol Hill infillCHS highlights two new projects in design review on blocks of Boylston and Republican; check out the Boylston project, which is very whimsical.

$15 Now: Sawant and the Seattle City Council are upstanding the Mayor on $15/hr; they are speeding up implementation for City of Seattle employees with no phase-in period, it will go into full force in 2015.

Bike lights: Roosegaarde continues his implementation of LED technology, this time for bikes on illuminated cycle paths!

Dynamic station: Fulton Street Transit Center has opened in NYC and it is absolutely marvelous.

Bike jobs: Europe’s cycling culture has created over 650,000 jobs to support the transportation mode.

Corruption shutdown: Apparently Paseo was running a very shady business, and they abruptly closed this week.

Urban education: Cornish College of the Arts turns 100 years old, and it’s changed significantly from a Capitol Hill music school to a diverse Denny Triangle multi-disciplinary arts college. I bet Nellie Cornish would be proud of her school’s dynamic programme and setting.

Wide sidewalks: Georgetown, D.C. tries out wide sidewalks for a weekend. And, what do you know? Turns out they were a big hit in a pedestrian-driven neighborhood.

Urban decline: Urban population decline in many US cities isn’t new–there’s a lot built into that besides white flight–but abandoned buildings are and that’s a big problem because it causes a viscous cycle.

Selfish journalism: Danny Westneat keeps trolling Seattle, but Seattlish shows just how ridiculous his latest complaint about the city is–putting himself and family at risk to reclaim a stolen iPhone and tying up public safety resources.

NYC skyscraping: Development is booming in NYC and the Hudson Yards projects might just be the most interesting to see in action; a whole neighborhood will be floating above it all.

Down periscope: A former offshore torpedo base will get a new life as a water sports facility in Poland’s Baltic Sea.

Event Reminder: Sustainable Rosengård on Tuesday



Don’t miss out on our event for Tuesday where we’ll have a presentation on Sustainable Rosengård. Paul Byron Crane, a local landscape architect with the City of Everett, will lead the conversation on Rosengård, a neighborhood of Malmö, Sweden. The story of Rosengård is unique because a small group of disenfranchised refugee women managed to ignite a neighborhood effort to create better public spaces like playgrounds, community gardens, and an enhanced town center. Through their work, the community became deeply engaged on how to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood, develop more holistic projects, and establish a sustainable Eco District. For full details, see our original event notice.

Sustainable Rosengård
Tuesday, 18 November
6pm to 8.30pm
GGLO at the Harbor Steps
1301 1st Ave #301Seattle, WA 98101

For other upcoming events around the city–like the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Meetings or SDOT’s Safe Roosevelt Open House–check out our calendar and let us know if we should add others.