In his recent opinion piece, Councilmember Frank Hotchkiss proposed a poll to really gauge the type of transportation infrastructure Santa Barbarans want. As is so often the case, how a question is phrased reveals the biases of the questioner and influences the answers.
The premise of Mr. Hotchkiss’s proposed poll is that our transportation infrastructure is a direct consequence of our desire: We desire to drive, therefore we should build roads for cars. By backward inference, the roads already built indicate our collective preference for driving.
But it is equally true to say that our desires are a consequence of what exists. My desire to drive my car is greatly influenced by the existence of wide, fast streets, low-cost gas available every couple miles, freeways, free parking, and all that make driving remarkably painless and guilt-free. (Imagine driving without all those things.) Conversely, the lack of equivalent bicycling infrastructure kills my desire to ride my bike. Ride where there is no bike lane? No thanks; I value my skin too well.
Additionally, Mr. Hotchkiss presumes that one transportation mode must necessarily come at the expense of any others. As the recent restriping of Cliff Drive and Haley Street has shown (and there’s been no car traffic impact that I’ve observed), some of our streets are over-provisioned for cars, and civil engineers have proven their skill at designing multi-modal solutions.
My garage, like many others, contains both cars and bicycles. Why not support both?
Last, if Mr. Hotchkiss is permitted to stereotype bicyclists as showing up “en masse to promote any expanded biking plans” (emphases his), may I be permitted to call out the car-only advocates who predict gridlock and catastrophe whenever pedestrian or bicycling improvements are proposed?
Their dire prophesies invariably fail to materialize.
The question is not as simple as, do you want to drive or bike? Our desires and our built infrastructure influence each other in complicated and subtle ways. I propose that a better question is: What infrastructure will foster the transportation choices that will in turn create the kind of community we want to live in? For me, that community includes being able to drive, and equally to walk and bike.