We all expressed our condolences when Alexis Bounds, riding in a Denver bike lane, was tragically killed recently when a dump-truck driver making a right turn failed to see her. The accident prompted bicyclists to stage a week of mourning and protests with “ghost bikes” and signs reading “Stop killing us” at her fatal crash site. This is understandable symbolism, but not a realistic remedy.
According to surveys by the Downtown Denver Partnership the share of people who say they bike to work has doubled to about 8 percent in the last five years. (I suspect that’s misleading; work may be very close by, away from traffic and occasional. Every day? Even in winter?) But at least 92% don’t bike to work and few of them will ever. Predictably, with that increase the number of cyclist injuries and deaths has increased dramatically.
Bicycles have their place but unless cyclists have a death-wish they should realize commuting to work on a bicycle in heavy rush hour traffic isn’t wise. A collision between a 15-pound bike and a 5,000 pound pick-up or 40,000 pound dump-truck isn’t a fair fight. And finding that the driver was at fault is little consolation.
The proliferation of activist “communities” with special interests as political subdivisions is a byproduct of identity politics. And the bicycle community has an aggressive agenda. Piep van Heuven is policy director at Bicycle Colorado, an activist group. On its website, Kate Macarelli’s testimonial describes herself as “a bike advocacy zealot.” Van Heuven says Denver’s bicycle expansion plans will “dynamically change the landscape in the next two years.” Gary Suydam, paralyzed in a bike accident, calls for a “cultural change.” Arleigh Greenwald, owner of a cycle shop, says Denver needs to move quickly to become a “bike-friendly city idealized in advertisements.” Jonathon Fertig, an organizer of “Critical Mass” cyclist demonstrations that impede motorist traffic gushed, “I think there’s something powerful about a bunch of people taking over the streets. But it can also be kind of cathartic.” It may be cathartic for him, but it’s just a plain nuisance for motorists.
Denver plans to spend $120 million to reach its goal of building 450 miles of bike lanes in the streets by 2037. To assume this will significantly reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions is a false premise. Bike lanes contrived in weird patterns through downtown Denver don’t reduce congestion. By squeezing or eliminating traffic lanes they make it worse and more hazardous. As public policy, this is founded less in reason than in ideology, wishful thinking and impractical EC (that’s environmental correctness, a cousin of PC, political correctness).
Bicycle zealots now complain that painted lines or vertical plastic cylinders separating bikers from autos aren’t sufficient protection, and they’re calling for solid physical buffers. This would cramp auto lanes even more, much to the delight of the crowd that hates cars as enemies of the climate. In 2015, Denver City Council members Susman and Brooks revealed their auto animus, brazenly admitting their intent to discourage driving in Denver by making it more accommodating to bicyclists and more “inconvenient” for motorists.
I don’t hate cyclists. And I’m considerate to them on the road ─ even the obnoxious ones. Bicycling is fun and good exercise. Bike paths are great in uncongested areas like parks, the hills and suburbia but they don’t mix well with cars in traffic. When traveling long distances quickly and comfortably, staying warm in the winter, cool in the summer, shopping and chauffeuring the kids around town with all their gear, there’s no substitute for a motor vehicle. For commuting, bicycles will never be a significant factor in moving masses of people in Denver compared to cars and public transit. 450 miles of bike lanes disrupting Denver traffic and giving bicyclists a false sense of security is a bad idea and ought to be stopped in its tracks.
Milton Friedman described the conflict between concentrated and diffuse interests. The concentrated interest is relatively small but organized, activist and selfishly committed to its own good. Think of corn farmers and the financial benefits they derive from ethanol mandates. The diffuse interest, while large, is unorganized and unfocussed, with other things on its mind. Think of corn eaters. Motorists are the diffuse interest. But we greatly outnumber bicycle activists. Perhaps it’s time we organize, raise our voices, and push back on this delusional element of Denver’s multi-model transportation plan. Think of the boy who cried out, “The Emperor has no clothes!” (Or, in this case, spandex.)
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.