pedestrian signal

Let People Get Around Walking & Biking Without Risking Death

There’s no war on cars, there are people trying to live their lives while making positive choices for their families and the environment. Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association and the Greater Metro Auto Dealers Association, authored a Star Tribune commentary on August 16th, “Counterpoint: Let people choose how they get around, even if it’s by car.” It makes facetious claims about people who are advocating for safer streets. He writes that the “anti-car movement is decidedly anti-family, anti-job and anti-progress.”

pedestrian signalThe IPCC climate report states we have at most ten more years until climate catastrophe is irreversible. Dooming our children to a future of climate wars, mass extinction, and possible starvation seems pretty anti-family to me. But the president of the Auto Dealer’s Association is working towards that future by advocating for more cars and more fossil fuel consumption.

My partner and I own one car but we rarely drive. We make that work through intentionally shaping our lives to make car driving optional, not necessary. Many people want to be able to walk and bike more and drive less. The problem is that our streets are not safe because they are designed to move cars quickly, with few protections for the most vulnerable users. Improvements to our streets to make them better places to walk, bike, and wait for the bus also have the side benefit of making it safer to drive too. The least we can do is invest in high-quality complete streets to keep folks who are trying to reduce climate impacts safe. Don’t get me started on arguments that you can’t bike in the cold, or with children, or for errands. Thousands of people worldwide manage to do all of those things in climates harsher than ours. Minneapolis is filled with enterprising folks biking with cargo, biking with infants, biking with multiple children, and biking on the coldest days.

It’s not buying a brand new car that’s going to save the environment. There is a lot of carbon burned to produce that new car, negating improvements in efficiency. We need to move away from cars entirely. Complete streets aren’t about forcing people who want to drive to stop driving, they’re about making sure the people who do walk and bike are safe and that more people can walk or bike if they want to.

I have been advocating for safe streets in Minneapolis for years. I constantly hear from people who say that they would bike, if only they felt safe. Even as an experienced bike rider in our lauded bike-friendly city, I often get cut off, almost hit, and threatened by angry drivers. We don’t have the kind of low-stress bike infrastructure that’s going to make your average person want to bike regularly. Here lies the critical failing of Mr. Lambert’s argument: a century of U.S. policy and infrastructure has created a country where driving is the only choice for most people. To give people actual choice, we have to make our streets safer.

Lindsey Aster Silas

About Lindsey Aster Silas

Lindsey Aster Silas is a year-round bicyclist, amateur urban farmer, and city planner. She has a master's degree in public health and a firsthand understanding of how the built environment shapes individual choices. When she's not riding her bike or digging in the garden, Lindsey walks her dog, reads library books about permaculture, sews her own clothes, cooks lots of vegetables, and spends too much time on Twitter (@lindsmpls). Lindsey lives in south Minneapolis with her partner, Dave, and dog, Rosie.

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38 thoughts on “Let People Get Around Walking & Biking Without Risking Death

  1. Bob Roscoe

    A related situation is the example in Uptown, on Hennepin Avenue south of Lake Street where parking spaces on both sides of the street have been removed, I assume, to make cars able to drive faster. One significant result is the dumbing down of the street vitality, which makes it a seemingly lonely place to be.

    Uptown belongs to all citizens who shop and enjoy the tastes of cafes, not for those drivers who have to get through the area more quickly.

  2. Mark

    So in what sentence you say we need to move away from cars entirely, then right after you back pedal and say you’re not trying to force people to stop driving. Which is it?

    1. Lindsey Aster SilasLindsey Aster Silas

      I don’t think it was that hard to understand unless you’re willfully trying to misunderstand. No one individual person will ever be forced to stop driving, but our policies should be focused on improving safety and infrastructure for people walking, rolling, biking, and taking transit to make those other options safe and viable.

      1. Andrew Evans

        But Lindsey, you do have to realize that having proper enforcement will also make it safer for drivers as well? Get some of these reckless drivers off the road, speeding under control, and it’s better for everyone.

        1. Jeb RachJeb Rach

          Enforcement of laws doesn’t help when the street design is terrible for anyone but motor vehicles. The bridge on Snelling Ave. between Pierce Butler and Como has a 45MPH speed limit, with slip lanes, exits, and merge lanes eating up almost all of the road space. The small curb isn’t enough to make someone feel safe when there’s 45MPH traffic zipping by right next to them without any buffer. Enforcement would do very little to make that feel safe for a casual bike rider or walker – it’s street design.

          Examples like that are all over the metro, whether it’s forcing people to cross the street three times to keep walking straight because they’re on the “wrong” side of the road, sidewalks that are woefully lacking or missing entirely, or numerous other design decisions that make traveling by anything other than car inconvenient at best, and unsafe at worse.

          Enforcement would help in certain situations, but it does little to curb aggressive behavior that’s still legal, or to fix road designs that are extremely car-centric to the detriment of other road users. Only street design fixes that.

    2. Julie Kosbab

      There’s a difference between facilitating the switch and forcing it.

      You force kids to eat broccoli. But you cover it in cheese to facilitate them wanting to do it.

  3. Andrew Evans

    Really the truth is our streets aren’t safe because (at least Mpls) hasn’t made it a priority to patrol traffic and remove or penalize speeding or other driving infractions. Start to put some teeth into the laws, add in some real consequences, and this problem will get better.

    Not sure what climate change or driving less has to do with any of that.

    1. Julie Kosbab

      Well, the streets are primarily designed to get motor vehicles from one place to another quickly. So re-engineering to make other choices more viable is a thing.

    2. Lindsey Aster SilasLindsey Aster Silas Post author

      Enforcement isn’t going to change how the streets feel nor is it going to encourage more people to ride. There are many people who don’t feel comfortable riding in the street with traffic or in tiny painted bike lanes, regardless of how much enforcement there is. I want to see better compliance with traffic laws from drivers, but I also want to see comprehensive, protected bike infrastructure that makes enforcement less needed and makes more people feel safe biking.

  4. Elizabeth Larey

    I agree with you 100% that the sentence you quoted was absurd. I think people should be able to bike safely. I also think people need to use cars. In Europe and New York, I can easily get around without a car. In most cities in the United States it isn’t possible because transit is not accessible to many areas, including mine.
    Perhaps thinking about ways to make cars less toxic to the environment ( electric ) is one of the solutions. I know there will be those that say just making cars, and producing electricity is toxic. But that position is as extreme as the one taken by Mr Lambert. We need consensus in the middle that work for the majority of citizens.
    Finding solutions that work for the environment and transportation should be front and center in the Democratic primaries. I was disappointed when the only candidate who made it the main part of his platform dropped out. Not much talk from the other candidates currently. I sure hope that changes.

    1. Lindsey Aster SilasLindsey Aster Silas Post author

      Thanks for the thoughts. Almost all of the Democratic candidates dropped major climate plans yesterday, lots of them drew from Inslee’s. There was also a seven-hour town hall about climate on CNN. Looks like there is some great discussion happening along those lines.

    2. Lou Miranda

      “I think people should be able to bike safely. … Perhaps thinking about ways to make cars less toxic to the environment ( electric ) is one of the solutions.”

      That doesn’t follow. How does electrifying cars make biking safer or help with making transit accessible?

  5. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    I was biking this morning in the bike lane on 12th Street. A school bus was in the lane next to me, slowing with its right turn signal on. I slowed, to allow it to turn in front of me. It slowed further, essentially coming to a stop. With nothing in front of it, I concluded it was waiting for me to pass before turning and resumed normal riding speed. As I did, the bus sped up and started to make its turn.

    Had I been riding on the assumption that the bus driver was paying attention and driving according to the rules, the bus driver would have killed me. It seems he never saw me. Thankfully, I was wary.

    Anyway, not sure how that relates to the post exactly, except as an example the inadequacy of our bike facilities.

    1. Andrew Evans

      Really? How is you paying attention and acting accordingly an example of something being inadequate? That’s really pushing it.

      You also weren’t in bus and don’t know what the driver could have saw or could have been looking for or waiting for.

      You should be wary, one of the first lessons in motorcycle safety class was that everything on the road (including pedestrians) is out to kill out. If you’re not wary and biking, then you’re putting yourself at risk.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        Relying on the hypervigilance of people riding bikes and walking is certainly no way to encourage those things.

        The way our street is designed set up the conflict. Were there a mixing zone so I could get to the left of his right turn, there would have been no conflict at all (or, better yet a civilized, grade-separated bike facility).

      2. Lou Miranda

        How is the fact that roads aren’t much safer for motorcycles than they are for bicycles showing that roads are safe?

        And doesn’t driver’s education for cars also teach that other cars are out to kill you?

      3. Matt SteeleMatt

        That’s why the title and purpose of this article is “Let People Get Around Walking & Biking Without Risking Death”

  6. Mike SonnMike Sonn

    Thank you. I’m so sick of “if you aren’t 100% for cars, you are against [families, kids, elderly, etc]” as I hear it all the time in St Paul. Minor street changes to allow people to feel safe enough to choose their mode is not forcing people out of cars. It’s like we have to keep having this insane argument while people die in the street and our planet burns bcs some people can’t handle the thought of someone doing something different than them.

  7. Alessandra

    Like I get it, the Strib article from the guy hawking cars was bad, but instead of just writing a generic rebuttal stating as much it would be nice to get some specific examples of how the streets could be improved. What does a complete street actually look like?

    1. Lindsey Aster SilasLindsey Aster Silas Post author

      There are lots of other posts on that delve into those details on specific projects. But in short: wider sidewalks, curb protected bike lanes, bus lanes, enhanced crossings, and road diets.

  8. Jenny WernessJenny WernessModerator  

    I’m so pleased to see you posting here, Lindsey! Thanks for this great article, and for your on-going advocacy for safer streets.

  9. Brian

    The streets will only be safer for drivers because congestion will be so bad that cars can only move a few miles per hour. Buses get stuck in this same congestion.

    Even if I lived within biking distance of work I could not do so in humid weather. I get heat exhaustion easily in humid weather and missed several days of work due to heat related illness this year.

    1. Lindsey Aster SilasLindsey Aster Silas

      That’s not true. Road diets can provide equal service for cars while reducing swerving and accidents by providing dedicated turn lanes. There’s plenty of data on this with a quick google search. Bus lanes get busses out of vehicle congestion.

      Perhaps biking isn’t for you, that’s fine! It won’t be for everyone. But the people who do want to bike should be able to bike conveniently and safely.

      1. Brian

        I was on a street yesterday with four lanes that was very slow. With two lanes you would be just as well off parking your car and not going anywhere.

        1. Rosa

          actually often going down lanes makes it faster for cars. It definitely makes it safer it it slows them down to a reasonable speed (say, within 5 miles of the speed limit – including sometimes 5 miles under). Partly this is because when there are more than 2 lanes of car traffic people spend a lot of time changing lanes, which hardly ever actually makes their travel faster but does make it a lot more dangerous – it’s not really possible to look in every direction at once (which you always have to do when there are 3 lanes and people changing lanes in both directions), so there are more crashes when there are more lanes, and they are more dangerous if traffic is moving faster.

          But here’s another example: when there is one lane of car traffic each way, with a left turn pocket, and drivers don’t swerve around left turners in the parking/bike lane, every time someone wants to turn left the longest they will have to wait is until someone going the opposite way is also turning left – because with two left turners and no one going straight, it’s safe to turn left. That makes it a LOT faster for left turners but often also makes it faster for everyone behind them, raising everyone’s average speed of travel.

    2. BearOnABike

      If those of us whose personal circumstances allow biking (and/or transit) are able to do so readily and safely, then more of us will do it instead of driving. .. thus freeing up space in car lanes for those who are better accommodated by a car. It’s a win-win!

    3. Daughter Number Three

      And this is where e-bikes come in, as my friends who use them say all the time. No heat exhaustion.

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