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…
Fully 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.
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
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