Walkable West Palm Beach

Automobile bias pervades governmental meetings


On Twitter, I recently became aware of a standing pedestrian/bicycle council that is part of FDOT. This council serves an important function, considering our state’s abysmal record in pedestrian and bicyclist safety. One of the functions of the council is to “Support bicycle and pedestrian advocates in identifying and promoting best practices”, according to a recent agenda. There are good people on this council and I’m quite confident they’re doing good work. But…this.

I browsed the meeting minutes and I read the section on how to get to the meeting…




Picard-FacepalmFully two pages of the agenda are devoted to an elaborate set of instructions on how to arrive by car, just so no one gets confused and stumbles onto a bus. Nothing about arriving by foot, by bike, or by bus. It appears a Complete Street is located right in front of the meeting location, one that checks all the standard boxes with bus bays, wide sidewalks, sharrows, “bikes may use full lanes” signage – all the features that make governments pat themselves on the back. Should you have the desire to actually use this as a non-automobile user, the meeting organizers make sure that your default instinct to jump in your car overtakes any such desire. Sure, it’s a bike/ped/Completey-Streety meeting, but gosh it’s easy to jump in my car — They just make those directions so darn understandable, and the parking is free!

Here’s what the street view looks like. Urban form could be better, but it’s in a place with a street grid and it is walkable.

Right now you might be thinking this sounds awfully anal. So what, it was an honest oversight, right?

The problem is, honest oversights like these are endemic in our transportation culture. It’s the Florida Department of Transportation, not roadbuilding, but you’d be hard pressed to know that FDOT is about more than roadbuilding. This is the standard mode of operating for far too many of our transportation agencies. It happens all the time; in fact, this blog called out this transportation summit held in Fort Lauderdale several months ago, dubbing it a Driving Summit. That meeting even included free parking vouchers as part of the event registration, while non-motorized modes got nothing. Of course, the best policy would have been to just remove all transportation subsidies altogether and have people pay the full costs of their choice of travel mode.

Just as check the box exercises can lead to regrettable street designs, even though a street section is labeled a “Complete” Street, so can check the box exercises undermine the purpose of a meeting that otherwise has a good intent. Our governmental leadership, transportation agencies, and advocates all need to be cognizant of how the conversation is framed:  Are we merely paying lip service to the community of people who bike and walk for transportation? How are our governing bodies to understand the needs of those walking and biking if the only time they consider their needs, they arrive via automobile and don’t consider people arriving using the very modes they are meeting to discuss? And if non-motorized users are overlooked by meeting organizers for a meeting about non-motorized users, imagine what happens for meetings in which this isn’t the topic of discussion.

The Takeaway

Automobile bias pervades everything in this country and it’s certainly not limited to FDOT. I encourage other advocates to point out these types of incidents in their own communities. This StreetsBlog interview with Ian Lockwood is an excellent primer on automobile bias, and I believe changing the way we talk about our streets is one of the most powerful actions that could reshape our streets into more livable, economically productive, and safer places.

Streetsblog article: Attacking the Language Bias in Transportation Engineering

#AutomobileBias #PicardFacePalm


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10 thoughts on “Automobile bias pervades governmental meetings

  1. These are the people that are supposed to be looking out for us non-drivers? Not so sure my best interests are at heart when they put out instructions like this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Exactly, Curt. Really calls into question the credibility of the whole endeavor.


  3. Actually, detailed instructions were also provided for bicycle parking, because the DOE provides covered and secure bike parking directly in the basement of their building. I rode my bike to the meeting and had an easier time parking than those who drove a car, and I had protected bike parking as well. At lunch, detailed instructions were also provided on restaurants within walking distance, and most of the participants walked to lunch, so it was a “park once” environment. The detailed instructions were needed because the area has been refitted for pedestrian access, as opposed to providing acres of convenient surface parking. From that perspective, needing detailed instructions on how to park is a GOOD sign, right?


    • Thank you for commenting. I only had access to the publicly shared meeting agenda, and on that agenda I didn’t see any indication of consideration for non-auto modes of transportation.

      Glad to see consideration was given to people coming by bike. And GREAT to hear you came on bike yourself. That’s leadership by example.

      Maybe in the future the meeting agendas can include information on bike parking and bus routes in addition to vehicle parking. If I was overly critical, apologies. It’s just that I see this kind of stuff all the time, in far more egregious examples.

      Appreciate that you took the time to comment.


  4. I went to an FDOT public meeting on the new Southern Bridge, and there was no where to park my bike withing 1/4 mile of the door! Not even a signpost to lock to… Huge surface parking lot right at the door. I found it very inconsiderate, even rude.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s funny you should mention Gaines Street in Tallahassee. I just read an article in the local newspaper about how the local businesses are petitioning against infill development in their neighborhood because it may be developed on top of vacant gravel and dirt that are currently being used for (you guessed it) parking. http://goo.gl/UcxkqZ

    And here is the petition: http://allsaintsdistrict.weebly.com/

    We live in a city where only a tiny minority ever bike or walk places, but I still can’t even begin to fathom how a local business would see this infill development as a bad thing. If I had a business there, I’d be petitioning for MORE development like this. I would WANT hundreds or thousands of new residents living within a block or two of my business! I would WANT all of the foot traffic from the grocery to walk by MY business. Apparently, people think a vacant gravel lot is more valuable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow. The parking entitlement continues. Thanks for sharing that, what an ass-backwards petition.

      What if instead of more parking crater, the district got more place? More destinations, more things to go to… I understand that parking is needed, but there are lots of better uses for that site for the district. A combination of demand based pricing to park, shared parking arrangements, and a public parking structure would better serve the parking needs AND create a more pedestrian friendly, engaging place as well.

      At the end of the day, parking lots aren’t an attraction. People are. Parking lots take space that could otherwise be used for people hanging out and enjoying life in public and make it into car storage.


  6. Pingback: Inspiration for Fixing Decrepit Public Staircases | Streetsblog.net

  7. Pingback: Motordom is always on some agendas | Price Tags

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