By on March 19, 2010

The DOT policy is to incorporate safe and convenient walking and bicycling facilities into transportation projects. Every transportation agency, including DOT, has the responsibility to improve conditions and opportunities for walking and bicycling and to integrate walking and bicycling into their transportation systems. Because of the numerous individual and community benefits that walking and bicycling provide — including health, safety, environmental, transportation, and quality of life — transportation agencies are encouraged to go beyond minimum standards to provide safe and convenient facilities for these modes.

Having spent most of his tenure chiding distracted drivers and hunting down demon-possessed Toyotas, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood appears to be over the whole car thing. The policy statement above was just one element of his push to put bicycling and other car alternatives on an equal footing to cars in transportation planning, which he recently announced at the National Bike Summit.

The main points of LaHood’s pro-bike policy shift are explained in his “Recommended Actions”:

The DOT encourages States, local governments, professional associations, community organizations, public transportation agencies, and other government agencies, to adopt similar policy statements on bicycle and pedestrian accommodation as an indication of their commitment to accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians as an integral element of the transportation system. In support of this commitment, transportation agencies and local communities should go beyond minimum design standards and requirements to create safe, attractive, sustainable, accessible, and convenient bicycling and walking networks. Such actions should include:

  • Considering walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes: The primary goal of a transportation system is to safely and efficiently move people and goods. Walking and bicycling are efficient transportation modes for most short trips and, where convenient intermodal systems exist, these nonmotorized trips can easily be linked with transit to significantly increase trip distance. Because of the benefits they provide, transportation agencies should give the same priority to walking and bicycling as is given to other transportation modes. Walking and bicycling should not be an afterthought in roadway design.
  • Ensuring that there are transportation choices for people of all ages and abilities, especially children: Pedestrian and bicycle facilities should meet accessibility requirements and provide safe, convenient, and interconnected transportation networks. For example, children should have safe and convenient options for walking or bicycling to school and parks. People who cannot or prefer not to drive should have safe and efficient transportation choices.
  • Going beyond minimum design standards: Transportation agencies are encouraged, when possible, to avoid designing walking and bicycling facilities to the minimum standards. For example, shared-use paths that have been designed to minimum width requirements will need retrofits as more people use them. It is more effective to plan for increased usage than to retrofit an older facility. Planning projects for the long-term should anticipate likely future demand for bicycling and walking facilities and not preclude the provision of future improvements.
  • Integrating bicycle and pedestrian accommodation on new, rehabilitated, and limited-access bridges: DOT encourages bicycle and pedestrian accommodation on bridge projects including facilities on limited-access bridges with connections to streets or paths.
  • Collecting data on walking and biking trips: The best way to improve transportation networks for any mode is to collect and analyze trip data to optimize investments. Walking and bicycling trip data for many communities are lacking. This data gap can be overcome by establishing routine collection of nonmotorized trip information. Communities that routinely collect walking and bicycling data are able to track trends and prioritize investments to ensure the success of new facilities. These data are also valuable in linking walking and bicycling with transit.
  • Setting mode share targets for walking and bicycling and tracking them over time: A byproduct of improved data collection is that communities can establish targets for increasing the percentage of trips made by walking and bicycling.
  • Removing snow from sidewalks and shared-use paths: Current maintenance provisions require pedestrian facilities built with Federal funds to be maintained in the same manner as other roadway assets. State Agencies have generally established levels of service on various routes especially as related to snow and ice events.
  • Improving nonmotorized facilities during maintenance projects: Many transportation agencies spend most of their transportation funding on maintenance rather than on constructing new facilities. Transportation agencies should find ways to make facility improvements for pedestrians and bicyclists during resurfacing and other maintenance projects.
  • As the authors of Carjacked, and others (especially here in bike-obsessed Portland) are quick to point out, America’s transportation policy has existed solely to serve cars since time immemorial. Including provisions for non-car transportation shouldn’t necessarily come at the expense of cars and road infrastructure. Especially considering how relatively few opportunities there are to replace regular car use with bicycles or the bus. Besides, LaHood can only veto major, federally-funded infrastructure programs if they fail to include provisions for cyclists and non-car transportation.

    Like so much that LaHood has done since taking office, this statement was highly symbolic and of little real consequence. But while LaHood grandstands, a larger problem looms: the president just signed legislation that will spend $19.5b to keep the federal highway trust fund solvent until 2011, at which point more tough choices will have to be made. Given LaHood’s publicly-stated preference for a vehicle-tracking, pay-per-mile taxation regime to rebuild the highway trust fund, some might see his wooing of anti-car (or, at least pro-bike) forces in a more sinister light. LaHood has made no secret of his desire to “wean America off the automobile,” and and between pay-per-mile and the British government’s bag of anti-car tricks and taxes, he’s got a lot of options. But with the 2012 election picture looking far from perfect, LaHood will probably have to forgo any big political risks for more symbolic pronouncements like this one. Car fans can breath easy for a little while longer.

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    28 Comments on “Begun, The Bike-Car Wars Have...”

    • avatar

      Last I checked, the DOT was the Department of Transportation, and not the department of cars. Adding bike lanes or extra sidewalks to a construction project isn’t going to force anyone to give up their car, but will make it easier for those who do.

      As auto enthusiasts, we should be cheering, not opposing efforts to get cars off the road. That makes more room on the roads for us.

    • avatar

      These are all excellent, albeit symbolic, points. I want to drive for fun, not spend countless hours in stop and go traffic. If there are ways to cut down on the terrible traffic that most of us suffer through I’m all for it. I’m always amazed at how most places in the US do not even provide sidewalks or any place to walk at all.

      Also “The Bike Car Wars Have Begun” – Oh c’mon… I rode a bike and drove in NYC for many years. There was never a war. I never had problems with bikers in my car and only had problems with yellow cabs on my bike (and in my car).

    • avatar
      Martin Schwoerer

      Anyway, it’s not either/or. The more people travel by bike, the more space is left for cars.

      In cities, much traffic is created by people travelling short distances, looking for parking spaces. You make it more convenient to walk or take a bike, and the streets will be less congested for those of us who really need to travel by car.

      Like dolo54 says: there is no war, never has been.

    • avatar

      Bike car wars? Only in the narrow minds of either drivers or cyclists who absolutely cannot tolerate any mode of transportation than what they prefer. I’ve been commuting by bicycle since 1969, by motorcycle since 1976, and have only had to put up with the occasional intolerant asshole. I’ve never seen anything close to war, and certainly not these days. If anything, it’s easier to fit a bicycle in the current infrastructure today than it was forty years ago.

    • avatar

      There’s no real war going on – although I’ve noted that there are a hyper aggressive driver and bicyclist demographics. Both are fascinating in their differences and their lack of coherence.

    • avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      As someone who spends two hours a day walking or biking, I say bring it on!  There are numerous streets in the fairly close-in parts of town that have never had their sidewalks completed after fifty years. Any coherent vision for the future demands that walking and biking be accommodated adequately.

    • avatar
      crash sled

      Well, I’d agree there is no war between bikes and cars, but there is most definitely a war between all of us, bikers and motorists, and political hacks like LaHood, who think urban and local planning falls under the purview of the USDOT.

      He wants fresh cash to enact his grandiose schemes, but he needs to forget about sucking up that fresh cash, because there’s none to spare, and focus on his prime mission, which doesn’t include local affairs. Never has.

      We’ll continue to build our own bike paths just as we have been for some decades now, and have no need for a careerist hack’s input, or his greedy fingers.

    • avatar

      As long as we get to vote on it I don’t mind at all. I can think of better uses for my tax money though.

    • avatar

      I’d rather have police get the murderous scum off the road. I can’t tell you how many psychopaths try to kill me on my bike every year. I ride solo, to the right, signal, stop, obey lights, etc.

      They still want me dead.

    • avatar

      “LaHood’s publicly-stated preference for a vehicle-tracking, pay-per-mile taxation regime to rebuild the highway trust fund”

      Because a gas tax is just too simple…

    • avatar

      Just for the fun of it, I made a Wordle word cloud of the text right under the Lahood YouTube still (above). Check it out: On a totally sort-of-unrelated note, it might just be me, but Lahood’s profile looks a lot like Richard Nixon’s. I mean his physical profile, not his personal one.

    • avatar

      I think it varies by city. Here in Honolulu it is already a war for space. Most of our roads don’t have bike lanes, and with drivers so reckless and aggressive toward cyclists most bike riders crowd the sidewalks, where they don’t belong. Just as a cyclist doesn’t want to get hit by a car a pedestrian doesn’t want to get hit by a bicycle.

    • avatar

      This probably isn’t a representative sampling, but it’s good to see that TTAC responders generally understand, appreciate and support these suggestions.

      I think this reflects the perspective of young people, who easily embrace both bicycles and cars. As opposed to the previous generations of car junkies.

      I would add a further important measure. People must feel reasonably safe to go cycling. They do in Europe. One of the primary instruments to achieve this is that in motorist-cyclist accidents, the motorist is almost always found to be at fault. The reasoning is that given the relative vulnerability of cyclists, motorists have to anticipate cyclists doing things motorists might not normally expect. The idea is to force motorists to give cyclists a “wide berth”, something they so far do not do.

      This will require a sea change in attitude by the police and justice organizations, who have so far typically sided with motorists no matter what the circumstances.

      • 0 avatar

        Contrast this to the U.S., where at-fault crashes from right-hooking, ramming from behind or dooring a cyclist are considered an “accident” and such incidents rarely lead to criminal charges. Oftentimes, even if the cyclist is killed, the driver doesn’t even get a ticket unless there’s a DUI involved.

        “I didn’t see him” is a confession, not an excuse.

      • 0 avatar
        crash sled

        “I would add a further important measure. People must feel reasonably safe to go cycling. They do in Europe.”


        Wait a minute, why wouldn’t a cyclist feel safe here in the US? It’s not like 2/3 of people aged 19-29 have texted while they drive or anything, is it? No, wait…

        And, it’s not like we give a driver’s license to every fool with a pulse, is it? No, wait…

        And it’s not like we crash our cars and then blame demonic possession, is it? No, wait…



        I do envy the Euros. Their drivers and passengers are safer, because they drive safer. And their cyclists are safer as a result. Their property is safer as well. It’s just a nice mix.

        I see in Texas they sued some guy for $22M and won. He got into an accident, and the cell phone company documented him making a dozen or so of each of texts and phone calls shortly before the accident. I’d tell any biker in this country to watch your back, because our drivers certainly aren’t.

      • 0 avatar

        As opposed to the previous generations of car junkies..

        Let’s leave the identity politics approach – its the older generations dammit – in the political gutter where it belongs. Before arthritis made it too painful, I put about 80000 miles on my bikes over a 3+ decade period. Cyclist and driver, I saw plenty of careless and bad behavior by bicyclists as well as drivers. Euro cyclists may feel safer and be safer, but that’s in part because they obey traffic laws too.
        As for pedestrians, they could learn too. My work commute takes me through a quaint twee village whose 400 yard main drag is treated as one giant crosswalk, with people popping out from behind SUVs and drivers having to play (don’t) whack a mole. There are 4 legitimate cross walks plus 4 more on the cross streets at each end of this short street.
        I follow the hop, skip, and jump rule – how far could they hop, skip and jump? Give them that much berth. That only works if you can see them.

    • avatar

      Well it certainly sounds nice. Yeah, NA infrastructure is car centric.

      Guess what? It ain’t gonna change until we run outta gas and that ain’t anytime soon. Even when things start hetting tight in a 100 years some boffin will find a substitute. And it won’t be a bike.

    • avatar
      Dr Lemming

      I appreciate that the posting was a LOT less shrill than Farago. However, I’m not seeing any communists under my bed.

      • 0 avatar
        The Walking Eye

        They’re behind the dust bunnies, lurking there slowly turning you into a socialist in your sleep by whispering in your ear every night. It’s a rather ingenious plan as they got me not too long ago and it was too late to save me.

    • avatar


      I would love to move to where you guys live.

      Where I live there are lots of people on bicycles who don’t obey traffic control devices, weave in and out of traffic, never use signals, and handle their bikes in a reckless way. I get tired of people posting about how bad car drivers are and how saintly bike riders are.

      Further, I don’t live in some big city where a bike can get you to work, or walking can get you to the store easily. In other words, the car should be the preferred method of transportation, and bikes and such should not get equal footing them in any way.

      How anyone in their right mind can talk about how gas supplies are a problem is nuts too. The Feds are closing off more and more places where oil and gas could be found, all in the back and call of the radical environmentalist left’s dreams. IMO, they want to end the ICE and make all the clones carry them around in rickshaws.

      Angry about this? You bet. This is just another example of how the current administration is turning us into a 3rd world banana republic. I just hope Sec. Lahood finally comes clean and becomes a Democrat soon.

    • avatar

      Two things..hills and distance. I live in a nice Town where most of the kids have bikes, but rarely use them. There are too many hills, such that going up is a major struggle, and going down can be fatal or at least painful.

      All the countries in Europe with huge bicycle use are flat. The Netherlands, and parts of Germany.

      Biking is a great thing, but you can’t get to work in most cases by bike (land use in the US), you can’t really shop (warehouse store run) and when the weather goes bad, you don’t want to get your suit/work dress messed up.

      The only negative experiences I”ve had were almost being struck by a bicycle messenger in NYC (not unusual), and the spandex covered morons on $5k racing bikes on Rt 9W in Alpine, NJ who ride three abreast on sunny weekends.

      Q: What do you call an adult riding a bike in most US towns or cities ? A: someone who took a second DWI.

      • 0 avatar

        I’d love to bike to work (only 3 miles away), but I also know that I sweat terribly at even a moderate exertion more than a walk. I’m not willing to show up at work soaking wet and stink the whole day. That’s just not being a good co-worker.

    • avatar

      My community has embarked on an ambitious project of building bike trails; these are well away from street traffic and often use the public right-of-ways (creeks, utility corridors, abandoned railways). One of these was just completed and runs directly in front of my house and provides access (or soon will) to schools, shops and major employers. I ride for exercise and an occasional errand, and I’ve quickly noticed a few things about these trails:

      The serious cyclists still ride on the streets, possibly because some can keep up with surface street traffic and they don’t want to dodge the slower cyclists on the trails. Also, as speedlaw pointed out, the trails are too narrow to allow them to ride in packs.

      If you think U.S. motorists don’t know how to function around cyclists, U.S. pedestrians who walk on dedicated biking trails are equally clueless. They walk four abreast and give you dirty looks and/or not give space to pass when you ring your bike’s bell to let them know you’re approaching (which is why I have a small, “polite” bell on my bike).

      As speedlaw mentioned, even when you’re close to work it’s difficult to commute by bike unless your employer provides showers. Much of the U.S. is warmer and more humid than places where bicycles are commonly used for daily travel. A Swedish friend once told me he though Americans were obsessive about bathing…until he lived here and realized how much the weather causes one to perspire.

      The trails in my community work well because they’re new(er), the population density is relatively sparse and crime is low. I’d hate to think about the thugs that what a cyclist would run into in some of the urban areas I once inhabited. Law enforcement efforts are largely focused on reigning in drivers; good luck finding “a cop when you need one” on a bike trail.

      All in all, I’m glad that some effort is being made to accommodate bicycles, but we’re still a long way from where a significant number of Americans could use a bicycle as a viable alternative to their automobile.

    • avatar

      More transportation choices are good for everyone, but bike paths and trails seem like more of a local and state issue than a federal one to me. Elements of New Urbanism like bike paths, more sidewalks in more places, street grids instead of street hierarchies and mixed-use zoning are NOT anti-car, it is pro-choice in transportation. It also gives those who can’t drive (children, early teenagers, the disabled, elderly, the very poor) more independence and freedom, in addition to those who don’t like to drive (and these people do exist).

      Better local planning means less sprawl and more of the open road closer to the city center.

      People should really get more training on bike safety, though. If I had a dollar for every time I saw somebody riding a bike in the dead of night, while wearing BLACK of all colors (and no reflector jacket of course) I’d be a rich man.

    • avatar

      I am torn on the idea of separated pedestrian and bicycle facilities. I know that people who use them think they’re great, and that we should put more in, everywhere we can, but from a professional opinion as a highway and drainage designer, they cause problems.

      This might be a bit of narrow focus from me, and I’ll admit that I walk on residential sidewalks but don’t bicycle anymore. But more pavement causes more problems environmentally. And it is really a problem for me to see a lot of pavement being installed and not used. At this point, the bike and pedestrian folks are clamoring for the equivalent of almost two lanes of pavement (we are designing roads with a 5′ sidewalk on one side, a 10′ bike trail on the other, and both outside lanes as bicycle compatible (3′ wider), an increase of 21′ of impervious area. That’s two lanes more on a 6-lane arterial. And that’s where the environmental issue comes in.

      Impervious cover is the biggest source of stream degradation in developed areas. The more there is, the more the stream banks erode, the more the ecology of the streams is damaged. The use of the impervious area doesn’t matter nearly as much, so sidewalks and roadway lanes count the same. It’s that the pavement exists that is the problem.

      The state of Maryland has recently enacted new Stormwater Management regulations based on Environmental Site Design, and one of the basic things changing via these regs is that more justification must be made for all development. And I think that has to extend to justifying bicycle and pedestrian facilities as well. Should we cut an entire lane off of the roadway, where we know it’s being used, to succor a very very few people who walk or bike along a corridor? In my mind, no. We need to find a different solution, not just more pavement.

      I’d love to see ways to integrate pedestrians and bikes into the roadways more, bikes especially. Right now, there’s a huge disconnect between riders and drivers. Each have contempt for the other. Bikers demand equal space on the road, but then do things like cut past multiple vehicles to get to the head of a line at a stoplight, so all the people who passed them once are forced to pass them again. I think if bikes want to be treated as equal rights users of the road, they should follow the same etiquette that the drivers do.

    • avatar

      Unlike just about everybody else, I use a bicycle for transportation.

      They are no panacea for transportation or the environment. Unless you have shower facilities at work and a place where you can safely secure your bike, you can’t do it, even if the road/trail infrastructure is there. If you ride more than a couple of miles, you need a shower when you get there. I guess you could go real slowly and not work up much of a sweat, but then the idea is to get there as soon as you can. And yes, you can commute on a bike almost as fast as a car. It used to take me ~25 minutes for the ride there. My best time was a hair under 20 but I was doing intervals all the way there. Under ideal traffic conditions, my best driving time was 12 minutes and that was late on a Sat nite. At the beginning of rush hour on the way home, it could take me 25-30 min for the drive.

      Environmentally, the carbon footprint of a person riding a bicycle is non trivial. Actually, almost any car carrying two people will be putting out less CO2 per mile than the same two people riding bicycles. There are actually four cars sold in North America that put out less CO2 per mile than a person on a bike.

      A Lotus Elise with two people has a smaller carbon footprint than a bicycle built for two.

    • avatar

      “Especially considering how relatively few opportunities there are to replace regular car use with bicycles or the bus.”

      This is a familiar (and tired) argument of the anti-bike set. In fact, 41% of trips taken by Americans are two miles or less, making them good candidates for using a bike instead of a car.

    • avatar

      And especially when (many) people make job and residence location choices based on the assumption they will use cars for commuting. After making such choices, they claim they have no choice.

      The same people fail to elect politicians who will structure development to reduce car dependency and who hire staff who make the same failure.

      Europeans don’t need showers when they cycle to work, and they do so in their work clothes. You don’t need to pretend bike commuting is the Tour de France.

      Pedestrians are an unbelievable problem on bike paths.

      And the old saw about cyclists being habitual lawbreakers. This is typically thrown out by tunnel-vision motorists who are blinded by prejudice to the frequency by which motorists speed, don’t stop for stop signs, signal improperly, tailgate, merge improperly, park illegally and on and on and on. Yet the motorists have the far more lethal vehicles and should bear a far greater onus to behave themselves.

      Far too high a proportion of North American motor vehicle use is unnecessary, and it translates into massive waste that drains private and public funds, and also has aspects that degrade quality of life.

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