Some recent data from Seattle, New York, and Toronto leads one writer to suggest the “war on cars” is over:
Here are some of the poll’s findings:
- 73 percent of the 400 Seattle voters surveyed supported the idea of building protected bike lanes.
- 59 percent go further and support “replacing roads and some on-street parking to make protected bicycle lanes.”
- 79 percent have favorable feelings about cyclists.
- Only 31 percent agree with the idea that Seattle is “waging a war on cars.”
The “war on cars” trope has long been a favored talking point for anti-bicycle and anti-transit types. But this survey and others seem to indicate that it might, at last, be wearing a bit thin, no matter how much the auto warriors try to whip up their troops.
Last year, a Quinnipiac poll of New York City residents showed that 59 percent support bike lanes, up from 54 only a few months earlier. Quinnipiac also found that 74 percent support the city’s sadly delayed bike-share plan. A New York City Department of Transportation poll about the Prospect Park Bike Lane – supposedly a bloody battleground of the war on cars that the New York Post insists the DOT is waging – found 70 percent of respondents liked the lane.
Toronto has also been a major front in this fight. The city’s embattled mayor, Rob Ford, famously declared that his election would mean an end to the city’s supposed war on cars. (He also said that when a cyclist is killed by a driver, “it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”) On Ford’s watch, Toronto removed some downtown bike lanes last fall, prompting protests and even an arrest for mischief and obstructing a police officer.
But the aftermath has been more constructive than martial. Tomislav Svoboda, the physician who was arrested for his act of civil disobedience, was recently joined by 34 of his medical colleagues in a call for faster construction of new bike infrastructure, asking the city council to “change lanes and save lives.” Even Ford seems to be feeling less combative. He came out the other day talking about a 2013 budget that will include 80 kilometers of new on-street bike lanes, 100 kilometers of off-street bike trails, and 8,000 new bike parking spaces.
Based on the data presented here, it sounds like these urban residents are moving toward a position where both cars and bikes can coexist in cities. This relationship is notoriously hostile as people have made zero-sum arguments: more bikes means less room for cars and vice versa.
But we could also look at why people have these opinions. Here are a few options:
1. Are bike advocates getting better at marketing or framing their cause (this is the suggestion at the end of this article)?
2. Are people generally less interested in cars (and this could be for a variety of reasons including cost and environmental impact)?
3. Are residents tired of paying for road improvements without little change in congestion (those new lanes just don’t help)?
4. Is there a genuine interest in shifting away from cars in cities and toward other forms of transportation (bicycling, more walkable neighborhoods, etc.)?