Conservative ideals and bicycling

The other day I promised to reveal the author of a proposal for bicycle civil defense drills. A few of you already told me you Googled the answer.

To recap: Recent discussion on disaster planning reminded me of this idea for a bicycle defense drill as a means to promote cycling as an everyday activity.

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.

Paleoconservative pundit William Lind published this in January 2011 over at The American Conservative website in an article describing the politically conservative aspects of bicycles for transportation. Lind reminds us, for example:

Had [Henry] Ford been required to build and maintain the highways his cars ran on, the outcome would probably have been different. But the government took over that job, while the privately owned electric railways were taxed and regulated out of existence.

Lind is no “Republican in name only” — though he’s perhaps best known for his military thinking, he’s a past director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism at the Free Congress Foundation and played a key role in galvanizing religious conservative political activism in the 1980s. The Free Congress Foundation does differ notably from other conservative think tanks in their support for public transportation, recognizing that highways are often a profligate waste of taxpayer resources.

He believes a monthly “practice riding your bicycle” day makes sense because:

Conservatives are believers in Murphy’s Law. If something can go wrong, it will. Prudence, the highest conservative political virtue, 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.

Lind’s proposal for a monthly car-free downtown sounds a lot like an open streets event, doesn’t it?


  1. It’s a nice trick to get more open streets events, but I’m not sure why a fuel shortage would require shutting down roads. Wouldn’t less fuel = less driving?

    The complication with bike only streets is that they are bike only until you reach an intersection. That can be great for planned events with traffic guards, but having cross streets still with heavy traffic won’t be very inviting for beginner cyclists.

    That’s not to say I wouldn’t fully support something like this – just to point out that it’s not a simple “oh, just shut down some streets so everyone can bike” deal.

  2. The idea is that the streets are closed before any emergency to get people used to the idea of biking, and to ensure they have working equipment, etc. Like running your diesel generator once a month to ensure it works before you actually need it.

  3. Seeing how much time, effort and resources it took to run just a single event on one 10-block stretch of road with 100 volunteers, I’m just saying it’s not as easy as simply calling a road closed to cars. It may be easy for cyclists like us to get around with that plan, but concerning if it’s inviting beginners (especially children) to be crossing large intersections.

  4. Sure it requires effort, but San Francisco and Los Angeles do this on a monthly basis during the summer so obviously doable.

    I’m not picturing your reticence about newbies cyclists in an open streets event. That’s kind of the point of it, right — get the uninitiated out there riding. Here’s what it looked like when we tried it in San Jose a couple of years ago.

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