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“Daisy, Daisy, give me your answer, do. I’m half crazy, all for the love of you. It won’t be a stylish marriage: I can’t afford a carriage. But you’ll look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.”
These lyrics from the 1892 song conjure up an image of a simpler era, when life was less hectic, streets were less crowded, and there was time for a leisurely promenade–perhaps even a charming courtship–on a bicycle.
Nowadays, however, the bicycle can be seen as a nexus between that bucolic past and a frenzied present, where traffic jams on six-lane freeways are the typical daily experience of harried commuters rushing from one fast-food deadline to the next.
These events are monitored in our region by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG), which is responsible both to the state and to the federal government for providing a quadrennially updated Regional Transportation Plan (RTP). Most of the time SCAG flies under the public radar, unlike the legislatures. Nevertheless, its members ARE elected, to other posts in their respective communities, and they serve the public interest together in a strangely symbiotic–and mostly advisory–capacity.
Specifically, SCAG has projected/recommended varied transportation investments of almost 525 billion dollars (that’s $525,000,000,000, for those of you who like to see the zeroes) by 2035. Here’s a sample of some of the daunting information presented in the Executive Summary to the newly minted 2012 RTP: In the SCAG region (with Downey approximately in the center) a population increase of 4 million is expected by 2035. That’s an expansion of more than 20%. 446 million miles are currently driven each day by 13.4 million registered vehicles (the latter according to 2008 figures). And. . . but you knew this already. . . “the region wastes over 3 million hours each year sitting in traffic.” The RTP also designates roughly $57 billion within the 2035 timeframe for highway operations and maintenance, as well as over $72 billion in highway innovation and infrastructure improvements.
Despite these improvements, transportation planners will tell you that whenever highway accessibility expands to a growing population, eventually those highways will once again be maxed out. In essence, demand increases to exceed supply.
So where does the quaint old-fashioned bicycle fit into this picture? If you think of the transportation system as a pressure cooker building up steam, walking and biking, as well as transit, can be thought of as the relief valve. These modes are already expanding in the SCAG vision of a future heading towards 2035, with almost $50 billion allocated to transit improvements and $6 billion–a threefold increase–earmarked for active transportation, i.e. bicycling and walking. While advocates point out that this amount is disproportionately small, considering that active transportation already constitutes 21% of total travel in the region, the increase nevertheless signals a change in consciousness.
In conclusion, drivers can be grateful to those who walk, bike, and take the bus, for not only are they allowing vehicles more room on the road, but also they are setting aside some extra fossil fuel–not to speak of cleaner air and other health benefits to the greater community. So whenever you see a cyclist, or a pedestrian, or a transit passenger out there on the streets amid all that hustle and bustle, say to that person (to paraphrase the words of comedian Allan Sherman), “Hail to thee, biker [or walker, or bus rider]! You kept our open roads!”
Published: May 24, 2012 – Volume 11 – Issue 06