Courtland Milloy is down with cycling. He’s a good guy. His latest headline, “Give bicyclists their own roads,” seems to tell you as much. It’s hard to believe this is the same man who wrote that cyclists are just as nasty as LA street gangs, and that the $500 fine for hitting a cyclist “might be worth it.” Unfortunately, actually reading beyond the headline reveals that this is exactly the same buffoonish Milloy, and that he remains as unqualified as ever to weigh in on cycling and transportation topics.
Milloy’s latest starts off with a cynical bit of concern-trolling about the death of Thomas Palermo, a cyclist who was struck and killed in Baltimore last month. Milloy seems to have realized that hitting and killing cyclists is bad, which isn’t exactly an applause-worthy breakthrough for a man his age but I guess we have to take what we can get. “Those two cyclists should never have been in harm’s way,” Milloy tells us right as he pivots into a bait-and-switch; you see, getting cyclists out of harm’s way doesn’t involve constructing protected bike lanes and developing a better breed of driver, but rather removing bicycles from cities entirely.
No bike lanes? No bikes downtown? Who could be so stupid? Well, Courtland Milloy, for one: “What cyclists need is a separate network of biking roads, not bike lanes. Give them trails through wooded areas, away from cars and trucks. Once they enter high-traffic areas in the city, it’s off the bicycle and onto alternative transportation. Like two feet.” If Jen Rubin wasn’t already monopolizing the Washington Post Award for Dumb Thoughts, we’d have to hand it over to this guy.
Milloy even realizes that an old way is being supplanted by the new, but he somehow manages to get it completely backwards, moaning about an “outdated 20th-century bike lane system.” Milloy, friend: the 20th century was the century of the car, not the bike. In the 20th century we ripped up the concept of multi-modal streets filled with pedestrians, streetcars, bicycles, and early automobiles, and replaced it with a car-only vision. We’ve been paying for these mistakes ever since.
In brief, cars incur higher infrastructure maintenance costs, run on pollutants, are very expensive, pose greater risks to everyone around them, and are the chief enabler of the exurban sprawl which has come to typify American development. Their presence makes our streets less pleasant to walk on, and the stress of commuting by car instead of walking, biking, or taking public transit takes a psychological toll on drivers. Moreover, the dominance of the single-passenger car makes gridlock, traffic jams, and blocked boxes not just commonplace but virtually inevitable in any area with a sufficient population density (cities, that is to say, the exact place where Milloy would like to ban bicycles). This picture is worth a thousand words in explaining why a million people will never be able to get into and out of DC every day in cars without all of the accompanying nonsense:
The amount of space required to move the same number of people by bus, bicycle, and car. Two of them lead to people getting around; the third leads inexorably to gridlock. As public transit planning consultant Jarrett Walker wrote, “the scarcity of space per person is part of the very definition of a city, as distinct from suburbia or rural area, so the efficiency with which transport options use that space will always be the paramount issue.”
In trying to explain why expanding the network of protected bike lanes won’t work, Milloy writes that “D.C. is not Denmark, San Francisco is not Sweden, New York is not the Netherlands. Here, bicycles and cars were not designed to ‘share the road,’ and the roads weren’t built to accommodate the wishful thinking of well- intentioned urban planners.” This is where I need to remind myself that Milloy really isn’t qualified to take this subject on, because if he knew his shit then he would know that Denmark wasn’t Denmark, Sweden wasn’t Sweden, and the Netherlands weren’t the Netherlands just a few decades ago. They tried the same car-centric model of development we did, and recoiled in horror at what they found. And what is this about our roads not being designed for sharing with cars?! DC’s layout was designed in an era when horses and carriages were the closest thing we had to cars. Am I to understand that L’Enfant and Ellicott considered the issue of cars vs. bicycles in their designs, and came down firmly on the side of cars?
The shift towards cars was a distinctly 20th century movement, and today we’re finally starting to undo it. Many of DC’s bike lanes are unprotected by barriers and thus made useless by drivers stopping in them, swerving through them, or just plain driving down them (note: those images are from the L Street bike lane, which is protected. You can imagine what it’s like on the others). With more miles of protected bike lanes, more cyclists on the roads, and better-educated drivers and police, there’s really nowhere for cycling to go but up. As bike facilities improve more people start to use them, a trend which dovetails nicely with a generational shift against cars which sees millennials turning away from them in favor of just about anything else.
If I sound like I’m disparaging Milloy’s arguments, it’s only because of how stupid they are. In fairness though, I don’t know if it’s even possible to mount a sensible defense of the role cars occupy in our cities today.
In light of all this, I would like to offer Mr. Milloy an alternate plan. We’ve already created an alternate space for cars- the highways, strip malls, and endless exurbs ringing every American city. Milloy wants cyclists to board “special buses” to move them around on their arrival to the city. These buses already exist- they’re simply called ‘buses,’ and if we truly value our ability to get around this city we should instead insist that it should be drivers who dismount outside of the District and proceed into the city on alternative transportation- metro, buses, a rebuilt streetcar network, or perhaps even bicycles. It’s the only way to avoid the pollution, dollar cost, gridlock, and deaths that cars inevitably bring along for the ride.