Earlier this week, Joni Balter, at the Seattle Times, fanned the flames in a bikes vs. cars conflict based on misconceptions. While last year she penned: “Commuting choice: an absurd criterion for selecting a mayor,” she acknowledged that: “We should be grateful they are not burning fuel, while saving space for others on the roadways.” But on Wednesday, she wrote that cars have been “shoved aside.”
Balter also could not resist a swipe at Mayor McGinn this June when she pointed out, “It’s pretty hard to move airplane parts around on a bicycle.”
But Boeing bike commuters might feel that the joke is on Joni. In May’s Group Health Commute Challenge, 57 Boeing teams of 374 riders biked 2,759 trips and logged the most miles of any company, at 69,472. Moreover, pedestrians and bicyclists who use the Terminal 91 trail can regularly see fuselages rolling on rail cars between Everett and Renton.
What has happened to make bicyclists the bees in Balter’s bouffant? She writes that, “Now is not the right time to ask Seattle voters to fund bicycle improvements.” The truth is, bike projects are a small fraction of SDOT’s budget, and bicyclists care every bit as much about fixing potholes as building new lanes. Last year’s Report Card for Bicycling in Seattle found that regular bicyclists’ top concern in the city was the horrendous pavement condition. While we are excited to see new facilities that make new varieties of bicycle riders comfortable, we can’t lose sight of the potholes and other basics.
Postponing pavement maintenance costs more later, because once water makes it through the top layer, it wreaks havoc below. With the Bridging the Gap levy four years ago, Seattle made progress to save the arterial pavement program, while boosting pedestrian, bicycle and transit infrastructure. Was that the right time to pay for our roads? Balter and the Seattle Times said no: Seattle voters should say “no” to this long and winding road tax.
Balter admits that roads are expensive but in her world, it’s never the right time to pay for them. With declining sales and property tax revenues, and a gas tax that has yielded less and less because it has not kept up with inflation, municipalities in other parts of the country are ripping out pavement and switching back to gravel roads to save money. This might be in store for the unfortunate citizens of Balterland.
The latest editorials by Balter and Nicole Brodeur are not just anti-bike, but fit a broader pattern. It’s not the minority of people who bike for transportation that most worries the editorial writers at the Seattle Times – it’s the majority of Seattleites who voted for light rail, paving our streets, and the other projects that would be wonderful to build if only they didn’t cost money. The Times threw their weight behind Tim Eyman’s initiative I-960 to require a 2/3 majority to raise taxes. This initiative blew a hole in the state’s transportation budget, which in part led to Bridging the Gap, which led us to where we are today. If the Times can be counted on to complain about the very problems to which their editorials have contributed, I submit that we should expect more from Seattle’s only remaining print daily.
On the other hand, elected officials are left with the current fiscal mess, and looking for solutions to clean it up while keeping their commitments to better streets. Given the current spate of anti-bike rhetoric, it’s heartening to read these words from Councilmember Sally Bagshaw:
“What troubles me is the divide that we might be creating. This is quickly becoming another ‘us versus them’ scenario, pitting bikes against autos and this issue should be anything but that simple.
It’s ironic that the city is moving in a direction where we are asking people to share the roads but that discussion is becoming divisive in nature. We are hoping to build a system where cars and bikes (and pedestrians, for that matter) can coexist, but it’s as if we’ve created an environment where the various camps don’t even want to talk to one another.
Bike lanes and road diets should be opportunities to unite, not divide…What we are doing, or hope to be doing, is crafting the foundation for a safer environment for all modes.”
Streets For All Seattle, a coalition of over 60 business, community and nonprofit groups, is engaged in a positive conversation with our city council and mayor about how to raise needed revenue. The councilmembers have seen projections for the city’s transportation department, and the numbers don’t look good. They know that waiting to solve the problem will only cost more in the long run. So let’s have a constructive debate and create the city we all want, rather than mocking one mode of transportation.