One article is written by someone who styles himself as one of Canada’s leading environmentalists, but is a global warming skeptic and an admirer of Donald Trump politics. The other is written by someone who purports to be nothing more than what he is, the commissioner responsible for encouraging more people to walk and cycle in London, England.
Which article to believe?
The anti-bike rant by Lawrence Solomon is largely premised on the absurd notion that it is good public policy to provide for a person in a 2 ton car that takes up to 100 square feet, rather than a person riding a bicycle. Without any supporting evidence, he claims bicycles consume more road space than they free up. If you doubt the absurdity of this, click here.
But Mr. Solomon doesn’t stop there. Through a convoluted thought process, he somehow wants people to believe that cyclists are responsible for the exhaust fumes emitted by cars. He also argues that money spent on large cycling projects is “staggering”, and points to the costs of building 9000 bicycle parking spots in Amsterdam. If this is staggering, then the cost of building 9000 parking spots for cars would have to be utterly mind boggling.
He goes on to argue that cyclist are a threat to pedestrians, even though it’s collisions involving motor vehicles that kill or injure thousands of pedestrians every year. He berates cyclists for being a burden on the cost of asphalt and maintenance, despite the fact that cars obviously cause far more wear and tear of roads.
While Mr. Solomon’s anti-bike tirade may not survive the slightest degree of critical thinking, there is a method to his madness. He layers on more and more absurdities in the hopes that readers will lose their reference to reality, and his statements will take on an air of normalcy.
More importantly, Mr. Solomon is really writing to his “base”, or in this case, his audience. He is telling them to stay-the-course, to hang on to their view of a car centric society where bicycles should not take up any public space except in niches and out of the way places. He’s giving them exactly what they want to hear, pure and simple.
Published on the same date is an article written by Will Norman, London’s walking and cycling commissioner. It refutes Mr. Solomon’s tirade on almost every point (although his article was obviously not written in direct response to Mr. Solomon’s).
In it, Mr. Norman talks about a recent independent study that examines the causes of traffic congestion in London, and makes recommendations for reducing it. The results undermine those individuals who promote the idea that cyclists are somehow responsible for a lot of this congestion. In fact, the study recommends that cycling along with walking and public transport should be prioritized over private vehicles.
The most damming piece of evidence he brings forth, from Mr. Solomon’s point of view, is that “At peak times, [London’s] new cycling infrastructure moves an average of 46% of people along the route despite occupying only 30% of the equivalent road space”. These numbers are only expected to grow in favour of cycling as more people start using bicycles to go to work. None of this should be particularly surprising given that traffic engineers usually figure that a road that can carry 2,000 cars per hour on average can handle as many as 14,000 bikes.
In closing, it is worth noting that while Mr. Solomon’s article is nothing more than an effort to shore-up those who hold anti-bike opinions, it does highlight a relatively new tactic of blaming cyclists for traffic congestion and motor vehicle pollution. In this regard, it has similarities to the fake news syndrome popularized by Donald Trump, insofar that it seeks to shape public opinion with assertions that have no basis in fact, and that are not supported by any real evidence.
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