Ed Driscoll

The Long and Winding Bike Path

As we noted earlier today, President Obama is bemoaning America’s inability to build the next Golden Gate Bridge (in a speech given to his wealthiest benefactors in San Francisco, headquarters for the bourgeois 21st century Eloi of Mark Steyn’s After America). And MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow is concurrently bemoaning America’s inability to build the next Hoover Dam even as the enviro-left is busy knocking all the old dams down, particularly in Washington State. (Making MSNBC seem very much like two networks in one at times; they praise the dam busting, even as Maddow use Hoover Dam in her ads.)

But someday, when we do build the next Golden Gate Bridge, if Mike McGinn, Seattle’s current mayor had his way, it would be nothing but eight lanes of bike paths. At City Journal, Ethan Epstein writes that under McGinn’s watch, it’s starting to become “Streetless in Seattle:”

McGinn hopes that his reforms will lead to fewer cars on the streets. But a devastating 2004 report from the Federal Highway Administration found that road diets did nothing to alleviate congestion; indeed, they made matters worse. “For road diets with ADTs [average daily traffic] above approximately 20,000 vehicles,” said the report, “there is a greater likelihood that traffic congestion will increase to the point of diverting traffic to alternate routes.” Then again, that may be the point. Road-diet advocates freely admit that one of their goals is to “slow traffic,” and congestion is certainly one way of doing that.

McGinn’s scheme comes as cyclist groups are becoming potent political forces in progressive cities. The Cascade Bicycle Club is credited with doing the lobbying that led to the Bicycle Master Plan. Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and others also have such groups, which organize in support of bicycle lanes and bicycle parking. Often, they adopt the language of ethnic interest groups, referring to themselves as “the cycling community” and attempting to frame their choice of transportation as a matter of personal identity. Their lobbying has proved markedly successful: Chicago, for example, is now undertaking its own bike-lane construction project, and New York City plans to have 1,800 miles of bike lanes in place by 2030.

Maybe it’s a sign of these politically polarized times that something as seemingly nonideological as commuting has become the latest manifestation of identity politics. In Seattle and elsewhere, citizens could pay a significant price for that development.

The first time I visited in Seattle, in 2003, it seemed like so many streets had been closed off for traffic (a la Mayor Bloomberg’s traffic rerouting efforts and bike path obsessions starting around the same time), it seemed to me that the city government had a taken a rather punitive stance towards the automobile. But apparently, the rainy city ain’t seen nothin’ yet, as the Bike Path Left pedals onward and downward.