Neanderthals and bikes

An American paleoconservative wants to mainstream bicycling as transportation in American society.

William Lind is an American military theorist and conservative pundit. He’s a former director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation, where he advocated for a ‘Declaration of Cultural Independence’ in which cultural conservatives should separate themselves from American culture and government by establishing independent institutions that more closely align with conservative principles. Lind also has an axe to grind against so-called cultural Marxists which, loosely, are those who challenge conservative ideas on crime, property, family, gender, race, religion, cultural identity and Western Culture in general.

Now that you have Lind’s conservative bona fides, it might surprise you to know that he’s a big fan of both public transportation — especially commuter rail transportation — and bicycles for transportation.

Lind has decried the extensive spending in highways at the extreme expense of any other mode of surface transportation as liberal social engineering at the public expense. He likes rail and bikes because conservatives like old things, and both of those transportation forms predate the car and public highways. In his arguments for public transportation, I detect more than a hint of retro-grouchery, which is something many utilitarian cyclists can identify with.

One of Lind’s coolest ideas stems from his national defense expertise: he proposes civil defense drills to accustom people to ride their bicycles in the street. In this drill, people prepare for a future gas emergency by closing streets to motorized traffic!

Here’s an idea. We have had gasoline supply crises, both local and national, in the past, and we are likely to have more in the future. A supply crisis means the filling stations have no gas to sell. To prepare better for such situations, DOT could require all metropolitan areas over a certain size to develop a plan which would designate a grid of streets “Bicycles Only” during the gas shortage. Only local residents and businesses would be exempt. The grid should be dense enough to permit bicycle access to most points in the city.

Then to test the grid and make people aware of it before a crisis, the plan could be put into effect on some holidays. Think of it as a type of civil defense drill. Once people who do not normally cycle on streets do so while the plan is in effect, they may become comfortable with it. Potentially, they might press their politicians for a better urban cycling network that would always be available, not just in drills or fuel crises.
I ran this idea past Joline Molitoris of Ohio DOT shortly after Columbus had experienced a local fuel crisis, and she loved it. She said she would have used her bicycle for many trips if she had known she could ride safe from cars. I suspect many other people would have the same reaction.

Conservatives are believers in Murphy’s Law. If something can go wrong, it will. Prudence, the highest conservative political virtue (see Russell Kirk’s book The Politics of Prudence), suggest we plan now for fuel supply crises that are almost certain to come. The approach I have suggested would cost little. Especially where transit vehicles will carry bicycles, it would create, in an emergency, at least some small facsimile of that earlier revolution in personal mobility. For people who can’t drive because they can’t get gas, some mobility is likely to be better than none.

To me, this sounds a lot like a Ciclovia style event.

You can read a little more about Lind’s thoughts on “Mainstreaming Bikes” at his American Conservative Center for Public Transportation.

Lind published his “mainstreaming bicycles” musing in January, but I was reminded of them with this discussion with Kelly in Sacramento, who describes herself as a conservative who likes bikes.

6 Comments

  • June 9, 2011 - 10:29 pm | Permalink

    Great article! One of the things I especially like is that Lind decried the extensive spending in highways AT THE EXPENSE of any other mode of surface transportation. That’s the key. There is an answer in there, don’t you think? An answer that screams “balance.” Balance between political parties. Balance between modes of transportation. Balance between ways of thinking. Balance between cultures.

    I read (twice, actually) Lind’s article and highly encourage all to do the same. This is the beginning of a paradigm shift….and definitely worth continuing the discussion. 

  • Andy
    June 9, 2011 - 11:41 pm | Permalink

    So instead of just promoting cyclovias, we should market them as oil shortages? Doesn’t sound like a good game plan to me. His line “The approach I have suggested would cost little.” was where I stopped caring. To close off a network of city streets sounds like a huge cost to me: barriers, traffic control police, singage, advertising why the streets are closed, etc.

    I think instead of the scare tactics, we can just promote cycling in a positive manner.

  • Everett Keyser
    June 10, 2011 - 1:00 am | Permalink

    That’s just funny. Conservatives (well that one anyway) like Ciclovias because they are afraid; liberals like them because they are fun.

  • Anonymous
    June 10, 2011 - 1:16 am | Permalink

    Actually, I find the notion that it might be surprising that a conservative might be a fan of bicycles to be contradictory. Bicycles are the form of efficient transportation LEAST dependent on big government. Well, other than walking which is a LOT slower. What’s more, many conservatives DO bicycle.

    In a rational world, big government liberals would be the ones that want to stomp out cycling so they can run everything. Wait! There’s actually something TO that notion that liberals want to get us all dependent on whatever shlock facilities they tell us will make us happy and content liberal voters. There are many things worse than benign neglect…

  • June 10, 2011 - 3:03 am | Permalink

    Andy, I understand where you’re coming from, but remember: the USA is
    spending a trillion dollars a year because of fear of terrorism. People
    refuse to rider bikes because of fear. Fear is a very powerful force in
    politics.

    Sent from my Googaw

  • Siouxgeonz
    June 10, 2011 - 1:14 pm | Permalink

    One of my co-workers is a staunch conservative and is all over cycling in that “people should take care of THEMSELVES” vein.   He has me quite convinced that it is mere marketing that keeps throngs of conservatives from hopping that bandwagon.

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