Car Land verses Bike Land in a real war.

4192+GwNR8L._SX332_BO1,204,203,200_It is not so much a war between drivers and cyclists as a war on city dwellers by those in the suburbs. The car and bike are merely the emblems that each side has taken, as though we each had to have emblems for flags.

The car is the natural emblem for those in the suburbs, given their dependence on the filthy contraption for every litre of milk in their super-sized fridges. In the city we could as easily have chosen the pull-along shopping cart, were the bike not a more direct declaration.

So here we are. At war.

Where I live, in NSW in Australia, the state government minister for transport, Duncan Gay, and all the departments and public servants working beneath him, are positively hostile to cycling. The lengths they go to, in pure economic terms, are irrational… fishy… like a guilty man’s statement to cops. They would rather spend billions on road and rail infrastructure, then billions more treating chronic disease, when some simple best-practice design would steer people toward cycling and away from crowded transit and roads? It seems crazy until you realised that attacking the bike is a dog whistle sign to swinging voters out in the suburbs. You may have seen the interview below, or the list of 1970s style actions Duncan’s Gay’s office recently distributed to the state’s bicycle user groups, with a request that we rank them. He is attacking cycling, and urbanism more generally, to win votes in the suburbs.

How do we fight the politics of the burbs? Ultimately, by bringing more voters to our side, which means bringing more people into the city. We have to speak out against our anti-development neighbours who, under the pretence of caring for sunlight and birds, block all new developments simply because they want to keep homes like their own in short supply.

The very thing NIMBYs fear most—big blocks of tiny apartments with no parking on site—are what will make politicians listen to the concerns of the city, over the concerns of the suburbs.

Which leads to the question of demand for small flats, particularly ones without triple garages. The truly poor plebs in the burbs collect every old mattress in case, god knows, they accidentally give birth to novemdecuplets. They need garages for hoarding. The cashed up plebs need garages for their caravans, quad bikes, dirt bikes, jet skis, multiple cars and the stockpiles of petrol they want to take to the afterlife. Any shortage of affordable (and by that I mean small) housing in the city is of the suburbanites’ making.

It is nonetheless a demographic that is constantly losing children to university, where we (the academics) brainwash them with our own dogmas: town planning principles, histories of postwar development patterns, and the genius of the Moulton F-frame (if they ever had me as their teacher).

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We can fill the city with student apartments and remind all the students to vote.

Meanwhile, the very kind of luxury apartment development the NIMBYs support, because it adds a small number of millionaire dwellings, are the very things we need to oppose. Investors in New York are, get this, lowering the night time population of Manhattan by buying huge new apartments and leaving them empty. In cities where rich people are buying to live, they have been shown to contribute more to the traffic than to the street life.

Repeat: oppose luxury apartment development.

I don’t see any other tactic working against these political animals who know how much the plebs like to drive in the city, like dogs spraying piss in other dogs’ yards. We have tried the kinds of tactics we used in the playground to keep the dumb bullies away from us nerds. Remember how we filled our corner of the playground with gay germs and how that kept them away? It doesn’t quite work at the scale of the city. Any time there is a yarn bombing gay mime festival that everyone rides their bike to in the centre of town, the hoons all share the location on their CB radio and walkie talkie shaped cell phones. Before we have even launched our Nana Mouskouri float they’re circling us in their cars hurling paper cups of ice from McDonalds at anyone cycling.

Do tell if there’s a tactic I’ve missed. I know about bricks on the road and lobbying cee u en tee politicians for years. But what I’m asking for are ways we might win. How do we shift political power to bike land from car land?

11 Comments

  1. Luke says:

    Young poor but relatively fit immigrants? Might be a bit of a European perspective right now.

    • Steven says:

      Here we can thank Asian immigrants for the apartment boom, Melbourne’s much lauded laneways, and any viable light rail. How do you feel though about North Africans and Eastern Europeans filling bike lanes with scooters? The pre-enlightened (ie non-cycling) Asian will politely squash onto a train.

  2. Edward says:

    Another great post.

    I think you might be giving Duncan Gay a little more credit that he is due. Rather than this being a calculated way to attract suburban voters, I’m starting to think he is simply not very bright.

    Having said that, Duncan Gay is an illustration of so many of the obstacles that stand in the way of meaningful change. He exhibits all of those funny little paradoxes that psychologists tell us about. For example, mistaking pre-conceived biases for evidence, hanging on to those biases even in the face of overwhelming evidence, assuming that everybody else experiences and sees the world the way you do, etc.

    I think that where these things work it is thanks to a combination of a grass-roots movement coupled with the right people in local government. The Stopp De Kindermoord campaign seems to have had those two attributes at just the right time. Even in Davis California, the right people at the right time led to their (unique for the U.S.) little system they’re still proud. But Davis is also notable for the almost total lack of progress since then after the initial energetic hippies left to make room for others.

    For those who are aspiring to local government or city hall, in addition to your growing glossary for cycle planning, a series of quick one-line answers to the talk-back radio objections would be most helpful, eg: we can’t have protected bike lanes in the city because mothers (sic) have to do the big family shop once a fortnight.

    • Steven says:

      And another thoughtful comment. You’ve got me thinking about power couples: clover moore and fiona campbell in Sydney; michael bloomberg and janette sadik khan…. Still, in each case there were voters crammed into the city with a wish to keep out cars driving in from the suburbs.

    • crank says:

      Australian state governments are trying to pare back power (and funding) of local governments (possibly because they are a thorn in their side). Also Australian local governments are small compared to the large amalgamated ones in North America. If Bloomberg and JSK had control of all of the City of Melbourne (half the size of Manhattan, never mind the other boroughs in NYC council) we’d probably have some nicer bike tracks in the CBD and around the universities, but our bike share would still suck arse and broader Melbourne cycling would still be the second least worst in Australia, but laughable by any international measure.

      If LGA’s could secede from the state, would could build our New Christiania, but the problem is LGA’s simply don’t have enough money from rates. Until the state gov’s pull their thumb out of their ass I don’t see a solution. We have so many bad policies, from salary-packaged car parking to helmet laws and negative gearing. I think we’d best just become a province of China.

      The only solution I can think of is to let politicians profit from creating bike districts. Perhaps they pocket the profit from developers not having to build car parks? Kickbacks from gained productivity from companies whose employees are not idling on freeways? Problem is, designing for bikes is cheap. I don’t see how it can compete with the kickbacks they get from building billion dollar tunnels. Perhaps if ‘high-class escorts’ could be made legal only if they travel by bicycle we’d see some change? 😉

    • Steven says:

      Oh god, my flights of fancy are contagious today! I don’t know about the hookers. What about so called “innovation districts” like the Boston Seaport redevelopment site. You take a big brownfield and redevelopment it around a new paradigm and let it be beacon when it’s making more money.
      On another note, any LGA that doesn’t have suburbs in constant need of re tarring has enough money to be its own city state. That’s how Bloomberg spoke of New York.

    • crank says:

      “any LGA that doesn’t have suburbs in constant need of re tarring has enough money to be its own city state” yes, no doubt correct. My council bleeds money fixing all manner of road ‘stuff’ and charges residents for on-street storage at least two zeros short they should be, but can’t afford bike tracks. Funny how rich cities can’t afford the humble bike track. I think the thing you mentioned that struck me the most was changing the planning so that property owners stand to profit massively (your example is NY, building up to the boundary, and say 3-5 floors). Yarra currently is reviewing council planning regs, and getting community input. The bicycle advisory council had some good input – http://yarraconversation.com.au/liveableyarra
      It will be very interesting to see what the outcome is, and if there are significant changes in direction.

  3. Nik Dow says:

    And here in the City of Mebourne, every bike lane proposal is filtered through one criterion: will it impact people who drive to work in the City? And you can guess which of the two wins every time.

    Because business gets two votes, whether they enrol or not, we have a City government that favours the suburbanites. Sydney is getting the same voting model, so Clover and Fiona will be out.

    As a resident of postcode 3000, I can identify the outer ‘burbs drivers in the City by their boorish and violent tactics as they abuse and (literally) throw their weight around. On weekends the “ride-over” tram stops are clogged up with clueless suburbanites who don’t bother to follow the local customs, a bit like the AU tourist who was approvingly quoted by the local “the parking space outside my terrace house belongs to me” resident group’s newsletter reporting how bikes mow down pedestrians (read: ignorant, arrogant tourists) in Amsterdam, and “do we want that for our City?”.

    Actually in inner Melbourne the high cycle use areas are just outside the wealthy inner terrace house zones, in which people have their cake and eat it (i.e., have their cars and good public transport) and can mostly walk everywhere but drive instead. It’s those inner urban suburbanites who ban bikes from using the “Gardens” (Treasury, Fitzroy, Carlton and Flagstaff Gardens), because we wouldn’t want to be like Amsterdam, which allows bikes and pedestrians to mingle in their large Gardens (I’ve only experienced Vondelpark).

  4. Francis says:

    Mr. Gay got a point. Essentially he want to limit cycling in order to save some lives. so let’s talk about saving lives. Based on road-kill-statistics:
    Ban cycling, you save a few cyclist’s lives,
    Ban driving, you save everyone, including drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.
    If Mr. Gay really want to save lives, he should look at ways to limit driving.

    • Steven says:

      “If you want to save lives, then why don’t you ban driving?” I think it was Edward who made the comment that I should be building a list of quick answers.

    • foo says:

      Not to mention all of the CVD, strokes, diabetes complications, etc.

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