All over America, cities and municipalities are gradually coming to terms with an undeniable truth:
There's no more room for cars.
It's not a matter of sanctimonious environmentalism, or promoting skinny-jeaned gentrification, or facilitating a UN plot to take away your SUV. Rather, it's a simple matter of physics: large multi-ton boxes are an astoundingly poor way to move people across cities, especially large ones that are expected to maintain any sort of sustainable growth. The inevitable consequences of car dependency are that you're either sitting in a traffic jam getting angry or speeding into the next one to make up for lost time, which is how pedestrians and cyclists—and drivers for that matter—get killed.
Given this, by way of ameliorating the pernicious effects of a century of car-oriented development, cities are increasingly retrofitting their streetscapes to simultaneously accommodate human beings and discourage reckless driving. Reclaim a car lane here, add a bike lane there, throw in some pedestrian islands and curb bulb-outs to discourage Formula One-style cornering, and suddenly you've got calmer streets and something resembling a neighborhood again. Colloquially, planning nerds refer to these sorts of retrofits as "road diets," though this is a bit of a misnomer as we wind up with more usable street space and not less.
Of course, if you tell Americans they've got to go on a diet, they shit themselves, and if you tell them they've got to rethink their approach to driving, they shit on you, too. The phenomenon of induced demand (whereby more roadways simply result in more traffic) has proven itself time and time again, yet people persist in believing that we can somehow road-widen and highway-build our way out of an ongoing congestion crisis.
The city of Los Angeles is very much in the throes of this cognitive dissonance. A series of road diets under Mayor Eric Garcetti as part of the Vision Zero initiative have elicited the usual self-soiling and feces-flinging from opponents who fear nothing more than change. One of the more vocal has been pop psychologist, author, and advice columnist Amy Alkon, who while arguing against a road diet project in her Venice neighborhood, tweeted this in response to someone who posted pictures of people cycling with children:
As an asshole who's been endangering his babies for years now, I recognize this statement immediately as the moronic utterance that it is. If transporting kids by bike is meaningfully more dangerous than pushing them around in strollers, then there certainly doesn’t seem to be any data to back that up:
Can carrying a kid on a bike be dangerous? Sure. I'd imagine hillbombing in San Francisco on a brakeless fixie with junior in tow could end pretty badly. Then again, so would doing the same thing with a Bugaboo, and it's a virtual certainty you're not going to be attempting either. The bottom line is that, despite drivers’ best efforts to hit us, cycling itself just isn't that dangerous (you can even argue it’s the safest form of transport)—and the conservative approach any halfway sensible parent takes to riding with a kid onboard is even safer.
On the other hand, if your goal is to endanger your children in transit, then you can't do any better than using a car. Setting aside the thousands of children who die in collisions every year, an average of 37 kids are killed annually due to being left in hot cars, and even more suffer "backover deaths," which are exactly what they sound like.
Then there's traffic. Road diet opponents typically fret that these sorts of changes will result in more congestion and encourage drivers to seek out their cherished side streets in order to avoid it. Given this, you'd think the idea of child-shlepping by bicycle would be very attractive to them, since nothing gums up neighborhood streets like self-absorbed parents behind the wheel.
Nevertheless, Alkon doubled down on Twitter:
Anyone who transports their child next to traffic on a bicycle, again, is a terrible parent, endangering their child in order to support their fundamentalist ideology of CYCLES UBER ALLES. I hope their child is adopted by more careful neighbors.
And muted anybody who attempted to repair the short circuit in her thought process:
This was not a science question, and it is not surprising that you, as a member of the fundamentalist cyclist mob trying to bully me into silence for daring to have an unapproved view, would argue so sleazily. Muting you.
Ultimately though, Alkon's contempt and resentment for people who engage in the cheap, safe, practical—and, quite frankly, delightful—act of transporting their kids by bike embodies perhaps the greatest toll the car has exacted upon our culture: it's completely annihilated our ability to perceive and understand danger and act accordingly. Elon Musk uses the same distorted logic to paint public transportation as scary and sell us on the notion that we can still solve all our problems with cars:
“It’s a pain in the ass,” he continued. “That’s why everyone doesn’t like it. And there’s like a bunch of random strangers, one of who might be a serial killer, OK, great. And so that’s why people like individualized transport, that goes where you want, when you want.”
Believing that bicycles are a form of child endangerment or that your neighbors are "random strangers" who want to kill you is no way to go through life, much less plan a city. Neither is driving around with the window rolled up and your fingers in you ears shouting, "Muting you!" But as long as people insist on doing that, I guess I'll just keep on being an asshole.
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