Many of you may have seen this video before, and in fact, I wouldn't be surprised if I've posted it. I've definitely tweeted it and shared it with friends by email.
A number of cycling advocates in Providence continue to make the false argument that education has to proceed infrastructure, and that infrastructure takes a long time or may not even be desirable until such education has happened. The most vocal proponent of this is Bill DiSantis of VHB, but it's not limited to him by any stretch.
DiSantis said tonight at the bike & ped meeting that we can't expect the same results as in the Netherlands because in the early '70s when the Dutch were first adding cycletracks, they already had a 15% mode share and had educational programs for children in their schools for cycling.
It's true that in the '70s there were more people biking than there currently are in the most bike-friendly U.S. cities. It's also true that the 15% that DiSantis cites was the nadir of biking in the Netherlands, where more than half of trips had once been made by bike before the war. Why did this nadir happen? The Dutch had gotten wealthy, and tore out a lot of the biking infrastructure that they once had. They even did what we do in the U.S., which is to demolish our nicest buildings for parking lots. They were losing 6% of cyclists per year, and educational programs or not, they had a higher fatality rate than the U.S. by far.
Today, with infrastructure like that of Groningen, Dutch cities are now above 50% mode share again, and they have a much lower fatality and injury rate than in the U.S., so much so that Dutch people make fun of Americans for wearing helmets.
There's no doubt that education is a good thing, but advocates in the U.S. do not call for the kind of education that Dutch schools have. We fail to provide even basic courses in our schools, so it'll be a long time before we have K-12 cycling. I worked really hard in one program I worked in to create a biking class for middle schoolers, and encountered a lot of friction from administrators about the idea of risk to the students. We can talk on and on about objective safety and the fact that there are very few cycling deaths--and that's true--but that will never get a parent or teacher to allow a student to ride in the street when they're not comfortable with the risk (I even had some staff members I worked with who were bike commuters questioning my sanity on this). So throw that educational plan down the toilet without infrastructure.
The most disingenuous thing about the whole education-first argument is that it turns on the common sense assumption that that which is better must cost more. Yet biking infrastructure isn't expensive by the standards of any other transportation project, and reduces costs long-term. We have projects going on at RIDOT where we build huge, wasteful highway interchanges, or put expensive (and annoying) push-buttons for pedestrian crossings in order to save some driver 45 seconds in their commute, but we can't build protected bike lanes that reduce road wear, pollution, health care costs, and a number of other metrics of economic health? The only reason we see these projects as "extra" is because we've set a standard of (car only) level-of-service (i.e., "How many cars can I shove through this intersection?") before we go to other measures of success for a street.
And educating drivers makes no sense because drivers don't drive badly because of being poorly educated. They drive badly because roads encourage it. The author Tom Vanderbilt uses the example of drivers being asked the length of the white lines on the highway. Most say around two feet. The lines are actually ten to twelve feet long, but at highway speeds they appear drastically shorter. The built environment of a street like South Main Street is built only slightly less to encourage speeding than I-95, and so people--good people, church & synagogue going people, old ladies and moms, dads with cute baby-carriers and so forth--speed on these roads. There's no way to educate people out of the built psychology of the structures around them.
Time to stop fooling around.