Bridge and Tunnel

13 thoughts on “Bridge and Tunnel”

  1. Where I am struggling with this, Johnny, is that if we agree that there are good public (and personal) benefits to more bike commuting (and walking), how are suburbs going to change when your philosophy simply gives in to the rednecks and Agenda 21 nuts and sociopathy of the drive everywhere mindset? That is really defeatist.

    What about those of us who for whatever reason are living in the ‘burbs but still want (or need…not everyone can or wants to drive) to bicycle?

    Maybe I am overreacting, but this is a disappointing column. Particuarly because some, many suburbs, are changing. And don;t forget that just a few years ago San Francisco was a terribly hostile place for cycling, in most areas.

    1. My advice to you is vote with your feet. Move to a place that has the right culture and good bones.

      There are suburbs and there are suburbs.

      The older streetcar suburbs from the 1880’s to the 1940’s are already pretty viable as they are. This is the low hanging fruit that’s easy to make more pedestrian and bike friendly by tinkering with the little things.

      The first car oriented post war suburbs are pretty close to historic downtown areas and mostly pretty easy to salvage if the people in the area actually want to retrofit them. Some do. Some don’t.

      Then there are the newest most far flung seriously car dependent suburbs an hour plus from anywhere that might be called an actual town. If they’re loaded up with gated communities and age restricted enclaves… Fuck it. I don’t think these places will ever be anything other than what they are now, unless they re-ruralize.

      The stuff in between? If the people want it, the so-so 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s suburbs in the middle distance could be retrofitted over time with a lot of effort. But the end result will likely look a lot like Santana Row – a half assed faux downtown that’s really a mall, some condos, and a lot of multi deck parking in disguise. Do I really care? Meh. I won’t be living there.

      Why bother trying to drag people and places in a direction they clearly don’t want to go? Leave the car lovers alone. It’s a waste of time in most suburban communities to attempt to change much of anything. These places will thrive or die on their own merits. Personally I think many will have to fail on a pretty grand scale before things shift. In the meantime, let ’em be.

      1. The thing is that there just aren’t that many truly urban places to live which also have jobs. So it’s worth fighting over SOME of the suburbs. Like the streetcar suburbs, at least.

        But it’s a fight even within those streetcar suburbs! Rather than giving up, it would be more useful to make a political map of “pedestrian-friendly suburb government”, “car-obsessed suburb government”, “influenceable suburb government”. So that we can concentrate our migration efforts.

        When you’re moving from far away, you don’t know the local culture. It takes extreme hyperlocal knowledge to know which neighborhoods are friendly to improvement and which are utterly hostile.

  2. Spot on. I’ve never understood these half-ass bike lanes in the burbs. Then they totally disintegrate at the intersection. It’s no surprise that only aggro spandex-ed road bikers are using these death traps.

    However, I don’t agree that suburbs are doomed to be car-centric forever necessarily. The one thing they have is room. Fully separated bike lanes, wide sidewalks, more frequent intersections, road diets, moderate density – all these things can be inserted into suburbs and in some cases already have.

    Of course it’s not going to make them into San Francisco, but is that the point? I think the point is to have options. Right now we have city and cul-de-sac land with very little in-between. I know purists will cringe, but car-lite suburbs with strong downtowns connected to transit would be a pretty good outcome for a lot of places. No whether even THAT is politically, culturally and financially feasible is a question that has to be answered on a town by town basis.

    1. My point isn’t that the suburbs can’t be retrofitted for pedestrians and cyclists. My point is that the culture and political will doesn’t exist to do it properly. Pick your battles. Let the suburbs fail or succeed by some other metric. And most of all, don’t live in one if you really want to walk and bike.

      1. This is a good point. In fact, I like the idea of picking unfashionable”blighted” urban neighborhoods, because nobody cares about them.

        It think that if a non-car culture does develop in the US, it will result in big shifts in where cities are. Downtown Little Rock and Tulsa are ruined for a generation. One or more new city centers could develop nearby.

    2. Careful, there. Keep in mind that with any bike lane that’s situated to the right of the car lanes (painted or curb-separated), you’re creating the perfect conditions for collisions at every driveway and intersection — in no other situation would anybody put a straight-through lane to the right of a right-turning lane. If you want to have curb-separated bike lanes, in the Dutch or Danish style, it is very possible to fix the intersections to reduce the risks of collisions — basically, you need grade separation through the intersection, and channelization to slow the turning cars and make their drivers look at the cycle track. You also need stoplights with separate cycles for the bike lanes (again, as you’d see in NL or DK). This has been done in Boulder, CO (and maybe Davis, CA? I haven’t been there), but AFAIK nowhere else in the USA. Until we agree that separated bike infrastructure requires modified intersections, you’re still better off taking the lane. I know that most people don’t like the idea of taking the lane — it’s not a program to increase cycling mode share, that’s for sure — but in the reality of US roads right now, it’s the safest thing to do.

  3. In both Denmark and the Netherlands I’ve witnessed suburbs that accommodate biking and walking quite well (and also accommodate biking between towns just fine.) It’s all about infrastructure and giving bikes completely separate paths, not just little sections of road separated by mere paint. Often these regions accomplished this by taking away parking or car lanes and then adding trees/green space between cars and bikes. They didn’t do it overnight, but over the course of thirty years. The good news is, with such wide roads, there is plenty of space to do the same in most US suburbs. It is a choice rather than a physical impossibility. While it’s true people in US suburbs at the moment cannot imagine life not tethered to their car, it doesn’t mean this will be the case always and forever.

    San Francisco does itself no favors offering free/cheap parking that encourages people from the suburbs to drive into the city, as (in my observation over twenty years of living here) they are more inclined than locals to run over pedestrians, harass bicyclists, go the wrong way down streets, drive large SUVS that spew high levels of pollution we all breathe, etc. I would love for SF to create a campaign along the lines of: “We love you, not your car. Take transit to San Francisco and leave your car at home.” (It would also help if BART, Caltrain and the ferries ran until at least 1 am on Friday and Saturday nights so people in the suburbs could actually count on them to get home.)

  4. I see your point about the limitations and advantages of bike lanes in the city vs. suburbs. However, in my experience most American cities (and their inner ring suburbs) are a little bit of both.

    Take Los Angeles for example. The central city is just as dense in population as SF, and yet a lot of the streets are 6 lane stroads. Land use can vary widely from block-to-block, with straight up urbanity in some stretches (heavy foot traffic, buildings cheek-by-jowl) to strip malls and curb cuts every fifteen feet, just around the corner.

    In the Netherlands, bike infrastructure is well ingrained in both city and suburb alike. I know we’re still decades away (at best) from that kind of cultural shift, but I don’t think we should write off the suburbs just yet.

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