The Bicycle Overlords

If you sometimes scratch your head while sitting in traffic and ask yourself why transportation planners and local political leaders make such odd decisions that result in more congestion, wasted fuel, and increased pollution, you may want to check out the urban planning doctrine called Smart Growth (or, New Urbanism) that is the current fad in many communities across the country.  Chances are, your local government is fully wedded to it already.

One tactic used by Smart Growthers and other high density/anti-automobile utopians is to prod local governments into putting on annual Bike vs Car contests in which the routes are selected to enable the bicyclist to win. The message: bicycling is not just a 'legitimate' commuting option but a superior one. Now if someone wants to commute by bicycle, tricycle or even unicycle, more power to them. But not more governmental power to them.

The problem with these phony bike versus car contests is not that they function in a controlled environment without real-world variables, such as a work day involving multiple appointments at different locations, cumbersome materials one may have to carry, and the trip-chaining demands of picking up the dry cleaning, grabbing some groceries and - oh, better not forget! - got to get the kids to soccer practice in 30 minutes!

The real problem is that local activists and their progressive leaders use such gimmicks to justify bone-headed "traffic calming" strategies like road diets, lane narrowing, and the diversions of gas taxes to bike-ped-transit projects at the expense of road maintenance and capacity enhancements.

Then local politicians complain about a growing backlog of expensive and neglected road projects and conclude that they must pitch a new tax and/or divert even more road money toward "multi-modal" strategies.  "We can't build our way out of congestion!" they chant on their prayer rugs pointing toward Portland.

In many communities across the country local leaders are convinced if they make driving more inconvenient and up-zone for higher densities, people will give up automobiles for the "livability" alternatives of walking, bicycling and public (preferably rail) transit. But very few people do ... even in Portland.

So hats off to activists in Gainesville, Florida, who are putting on their own bike vs car challenge for Friday, July 22. Both the bicyclist and motorist are businessmen who have deadlines and payrolls to meet, so their challenge will be punctuated with real-world variables that make up their workday. According to their press release, "Sure, a bicycle is going to be just fine (for) a bicycle courier running around downtown, but not for the average business or sales person with 10 errands to run in the 40 square miles that is core Gainesville."

One more note.  Gainesville is in the heart of north central Florida, and I say this affectionately as a native Floridian who loves the Sunshine State.  But prior to air conditioning, Florida was a malarial swamp hospitable only to mosquitoes, alligators, outlaws, cow punchers, runaway slaves and displaced Creeks who became known as the Seminoles.  In the summer if there is not a thunderstorm, you'll get just as wet from perspiration in the stifling humidity (always mentioned with the cracker prefix "gawd-awful."

So the forecast for Friday: 91 degrees with a 40 percent chance of thunderstorms. 

Bike that in a business suit!

Ed Braddy is the director of the American Dream Coalition, a non-profit organization promoting freedom, mobility and affordable homeownership. The ADC's mission is to assist grassroots organizations that believe in the principles of a free society. Mr. Braddy is available to speak to your organization and can be reached at 352-281-5817 or at