Saying something doesn't make it true

It could be that Speaker John Boehner never read the story of Pinocchio, or maybe a life in politics has taught him that if you repeat an untruth often enough, a significant percentage of the population will believe it. A case in point is a post on the Speaker’s blog over the weekend that included this interesting, but patently false, statement:


“- Reforms passed by the Ways & Means Committee today will stop taxpayer dollars from being siphoned off for non-economic projects – such as beautification and bike paths – which currently receive 25 percent of Highway Trust Fund expenditures”


Wow, that is a doozy.  Bohener calls bicycling wasteful beautification so often, it could be a drinking game. But seriously, the post is referring to the $260 billion House transportation bill that strips dedicated funding from the Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School programs. Most cities in the US would look a lot more like Copenhagen or Amsterdam if we were spending 25% of our transportation budget on bicycle and pedestrian “beautification” projects.  In fact, we spend less than 2% on bicycling and walking, even though they make up 12% of all trips and account for 14% of all fatal crashes.

Even if you are a real budget hawk, cutting that 1.6%  for bicycle and pedestrian projects and adding billions to widen highways is not going to get you very far towards reducing our federal deficient. If you are interested in restoring the Highway Trust Fund to financial solvency, you can’t be happy with the House bill’s drilling-to-drive fantasy funding plan the leaves about a $60 billion dollar gap in revenue.

The bottom line is that bicycling and walking ARE incredibly inexpensive modes transportation, not wasteful “beautification.” Bicycling is a cheap date.  A very small investment in bicycling has a relatively huge return in terms of providing jobs, decreasing our healthcare costs,  reducing our dependance on foreign oil, creating more livable communities and reducing congestion without expanding our highways.

The full House is scheduled to take up the bill next week and it promises to be a very partisan debate.  Our own cycling superstar on the Hill, Rep.Tom Petri (R-WI) was the only Republican to vote against the bill in committee and we will need more Republicans on our side if we are to save federal funding for cycling. In the meantime, don’t believe the false rhetoric and stay tuned here for more updates and future calls to action. If we are to defeat these attacks on bicycling, the cycling community has to come together and get more politicized.

You can also come to Madison for the Wisconsin Bike Summit, Feb 21st.  John Burke, the President of Trek, is fond of saying “the world is run by the people who show up.” If you don’t show up, you can’t complain. I hope to see you all in Madison.



About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

4 thoughts on “Saying something doesn't make it true

  1. Untruths on one side don’t make untruths on the other acceptable.

    Misleading comment #1: Your blog claims cities would look like Copenhagen or Amsterdam if only we didn’t cut the TE/SRTS budget but instead multiplied it by a factor of 15. Aside from the mathematical impossibility of what you describe, what cities in the United States look anything like Copenhagen or Amsterdam? Both were medieval commerce centers, with narrow roadways built for pedestrians, well before anyone thought to tell Leonardo to begin thinking about automobiles or their design requirements. Only a handful of medium to large cities in the U.S. are pedestrian-centered cities. None of the reconstructed southern and south-central municipalities (and few of the mid-west or western ones) could be made to resemble these ancient towns without being razed to the ground. If only we could spend the billions upon billions to completely remodel them from the ground up and totally change their cultures and re-populate them with Danish and Dutch immigrants who want everything to be within 2 kilometers….

    With respect to the budget math, I live in a city of 400,000 where it would take $100 million just to make the existing sidewalks ADA compliant; imagine the price-tag on re-designing the entire infrastructure. We’ve already spent not quite twice that amount on multi-user paths, and our mode shares have remained the same.

    Misleading comment #2: Your diagram is actually all about pedestrians. Bicyclists represents around 1.5% of all traffic fatalities, while walking constitutes over 12%. You have to lump these two groups together to make it look like bicyclists have a huge problem. What do these two groups have in common? Very, very little. In fact, almost nothing, except that neither is a motorist. But even that is misleading. Smooth multi-lane roads with sensitive, well-implemented traffic signals serve both motorists and cyclists VERY well. So a significant portion of the funds spent on resurrecting our dangerously old, crumbling network of streets, highways, and bridges helps cyclists tremendously. EVEN IF not a dime is spent solely for the benefit of cyclists, every one of those dimes benefits cyclists. And what of expressways, the urban variety of which are often unavailable to cyclists? They reduce the amount of motor traffic and overall congestion on surface streets. Win-win.

    I’m not a fan of “Drill, Baby, Drill” politics; nor am I a fan of pork-in-the-sky pedestrian utopia fantasies. What I would like to see is an honest conversation about the real needs of bicyclists, aside from all the confusion created by conflating them with pedestrians, a completely separate group with completely different needs.

    As the plan for an exorbitant, unfeasible, unrealizeable, and ultimately unnecessary bike utopia, Complete Streets is, at heart, a beautification project. Cyclists cause something like 80% of their own crashes, and OVER 50% of their collisions with automobiles. A modestly priced (read 1% of that 1.6% bike-ped budget) education program could reduce car-bike collisions for virtually every cyclist in the country who participates by a factor of 11. That’s over 1000%. Imagine going from ~700 cycling fatalities per year to 65, just over one per state. And what happens to mode share when we empower people with information and skills? We have nowhere to go but up. But landscapers and facilities planners wouldn’t make nearly as much money off of the public purse if we chose the education route. Scared yet?

    The level of misrepresentation by bike-ped facilities advocates equals that of the petroleum lobby in Washington. Well done.

  2. Brian,

    Thanks for the thoughtful comment. You have quite a bit I would like to respond to, but I don’t know if there is room here or if the comment section is an ideal place for a response, but I will give it an abbreviated try.

    In the US, despite not having the density or mixed use development of cities like Copenhagen, about 25% of trips are less than 1 mile, but made by car. If we stopped subsidizing driving and started subsidizing walking and bicycling at a much higher percent, we could make it more attractive to take those very short trips on foot or by bike and less attractive to make them by car. It is reasonable to assume we could eliminate most of those very short car trips and increase our bicycle and pedestrian mode share exponentially. Boulder, CO has spent about 15% of their transportation budget on non-motorized transportation and they have dramatically increased their mode share. Bicycling is now about 10% there in the short time they have been making that investment.

    I live in Milwaukee which has a bicycle mode share just under 1%. There is no reason it could not have 10% like Boulder, or 8% like Minneapolis or Portland, if the City spent even a small percentage of it’s transportation budget on bicycling.

    We tend to lump bikes and peds together because the funding sources are lumped together and it is pretty hard to separate the amount of money spent on both. Besides, trails tend to serve both bike and ped, and they make up a large amount of the funds spent.

    As to your comment about smooth, multi-lane roads, this sounds like a vehicular cyclist argument. I don’t have time to get into that one, except to say that the only places that have seen increases in the numbers of people who bike are the places that have made it more convenient and attractive to bike. I am all for more education and stiffer penalties for violators, but the only way to get more people riding is to build facilities they find attractive. Everywhere protected bike lanes have been built, the number of cyclists has jumped on those roads. Chicago’s most recent protected bike lane now carries more bicycles than cars during peak hour.

    As for the last paragraph, again, I may be misreading between the lines, but it smacks of a pure vehicular cycling, which has never been proven to work. Again, the bike fed would be all for mandatory bicycle education classes, but we don’t even have mandatory drivers ed classes in school anymore and barely enforce the requirement that motorists have a license, so that seems like as unreasonable a suggestion as spending 15% of our transportation budget on bicycling and walking. But since we do provide the only bicycle safety education classes going in Wisconsin, we certainly agree that more education is needed and could dramatically increase the crashes and collisions that happen.

    Finally, bicyclists are a very cheap date. It would not take an “exorbitant” budget to realize a bicycle utopia. The opposite is actually true. We could save billions if we stopped expanding our highways so people could drive one mile. Developers would save plenty if they were not required to have huge parking lots.

    Some places are proving this. Boulder, NYC, Chicago, Portland, Minneapolis, Madison, etc. And they are all proving it with relatively tiny bicycle budgets compared to their overall transportation budgets.

    No, we are not scared, and it may be a compliment to say the bike lobby has the power of the petroleum lobby, however untrue that is.

  3. What a Chicago bike commuter thinks about protected bike lanes:

    Hi Dave, I’ve read your reply above. Most of my concerns were not addressed, but one in particular is very worrisome. You use the term “vehicular cycling” almost as some sort of criticism. Is that true? Is there some other form of cycling that your organization supports or teaches in its bicycling education courses? If so, it is your obligation to explain it, and more to the point, JUSTIFY it. To teach something else would be unethical. So we have a new question. Does your organization teach vehicular cycling? I don’t believe I’m “smacking” of anything here–I believe I’m being quite clear.

    The issue of misrepresentations that I presented have been roundly avoided. Where I say, “The level of misrepresentation by bike-ped facilities advocates equals that of the petroleum lobby in Washington. Well done,” you respond, ” it may be a compliment to say the bike lobby has the power of the petroleum lobby, however untrue that is.” Again, I said nothing of having the same power, only of engaging in the same level of duplicity. And for that observation, I am implicitly connected to the untruth of claiming equal power. More rhetoric.

    Let’s see if we can try this again, only with real discussion. When I first became involved in cycling advocacy, there were only 3 E’s: Education, Enforcement, and Engineering. Now there are 6. Evaluation, Equality, and Encouragement, the late-comers, have been used to “supplement” the originals in some unsurprising ways.

    In the case of a bike-ped advocacy group, the numerous E’s play the following roles.

    Education is the occasional cycling class, but more often, it is writing articles like this on blogs and lobbying politicians for the installation of facilities. It is safe to say that large-scale education is something you dismiss–”we don’t even have mandatory drivers ed classes in school anymore and barely enforce the requirement that motorists have a license” (but we want $290 billion spent on infrastructure). Your observation conveys a certain futility in setting higher standards for our citizens. I see such standards as the opposite of futile: achievable and necessary. What is true is that large scale cycling education has never been lobbied for or attempted. In fact, medium-scale education has never been lobbied for or attempted. So it cannot have been tried and found wanting, but was prejudged wanting and therefore never tried at all. Implementing such a system would be cheaper and more cost-effective than any amount of bike-ped facilities because bike-ped facilities don’t make people safer.

    Engineering Strategies of Ped Advocates:
    1) Make unsupported claims about paths, bike lanes, and cycle tracks being safe.
    2) Ignore the legitimate research that says bike lanes increase accidents where they happen most (at intersections), have little or no effect in most other situations, and are designed to deal only with the accident that happens least–the rear-end collision.
    3) Ignore the legitimate research that says sidepaths and cycle tracks are MUCH more dangerous than riding on the road.
    4) When confronted with such evidence, continue to claim (falsely) that the data are inconclusive and/or that these facilities are neutral, and/or that the facilities feel safer and therefore create safety in numbers through Encouragement. What is never explained is how novices can be educated to operate safely through false encouragement. Osmosis?
    5) Lobby for the installation of bicycling facilities on streets where bike traffic already exists and where few, if any, conflicts have been recorded. Then, when bike traffic increases due to marketing and novelty, this is claimed to be a success, even if bike traffic from other streets goes down as a result. Even if the collision rate goes up on the street with the new facilities. The statistical shell game can make irrelevant or even dangerous facilities look like an improvement. The public hardly notices when (not if) these studies are debunked.

    You do correctly point out that trails are expensive–90% of TE/SRTS funds have been spent on such trails. Of the 10% remaining, most is spent on administrative costs. Only a fraction has ever been used for education.

    Enforcement should mean the laws support the best practices for cyclists and are understood by the legislators, city councilors, city prosecutors, and police officers as granting cyclists the same rights and obligations as operators of motor vehicles. Bike-ped advocates, however, have been content to accept laws that restrict cycling to the rightmost (and worst) portion of the roadway, even accepting bike bans, mandatory sidepath and bikelane laws as conditions for having these sidepaths and bikelanes built. We have lost much safety, status, and real estate owing to the advocacy of such groups. Is this bike utopia?

    Equality should mean equal rights, equal obligations, and equal access. Bike-ped advocates seem to believe it means the right to a separate but equal system running parallel with the existing system, even though it needlessly complicates traffic because it MUST intersect with the existing system to be even remotely useful. And thus, as 80% of car-bike collisions occur at intersections, these two systems generate MORE collisions where they intersect than if cyclists were an integral part of the existing system. The increased collision rate, coupled with decreased traffic skills of newly encouraged cyclists, is used as further justification for MORE separation. The cycle is maddeningly illogical and completely ironic (in a cosmic sense).

    Evaluation: If proper evaluation were being performed, the expert enthusiasm coupled with amateur analyses of bike-ped advocates would be on full display. Just as an quick example, if you believe a 10% bike mode share would eliminate most short trips by car, then your math is mistaken. And if mode-share is the bottom line by which you evaluate your advocacy, then bike-utopia is doomed. Or if you believe a completely separate bike-ped system can be installed in any modern U.S. system, you are, quite frankly, delusional. The word “utopia” means “no place,” the tacit recognition by Thomas More and by the Greek originators of the term that this perfect topoi does not and cannot exist. Making the transportation system less efficient and more tortuous for motorists also makes it worse for bicyclists and pedestrians. Putting Chicago or Milwaukee on a road diet a) increases congestion, b) increases commute times, c) increases pollution, and d) increases the cost of transportation to the city, to the employer, and to the individual. The road works to the detriment of all the nearby lungs, ears, and nervous systems, no matter their method of transit.

    Encouragement: Paint-and-Pave to get More-Butts-on-Bikes is irresponsible because it defies good engineering, good education, good enforcement, and good evaluation. Just to be clear, it also compromises efforts to achieve equality. Will getting more people on bikes save the planet? No. Will most people want to ride bikes, even after billions have been spent on Paint-and-Pave playgrounds? No. Those who want to are doing it now and they need your help…real help…from bad laws, from badly trained drivers, to a large extent, from themselves, and most of all, from those who want to save cycling. Let’s start by making things right for those who want to ride and see who, upon noticing the difference, decides to join us.

    • Brian, I don’t think I missed your points, we just disagree at a fundamental level. I will try to respond in short bullets:
      1. Engineering: In your hyperlink a person argues he doesn’t like the Kinzie protected bike lane on anecdotal information of skid marks at intersections. The CDOT studies of Kinzie have shown all crash rates have gone down and bike ridership has skyrocketed. Kinzie proves my point, build well engineered bicycle facilities that people want and they will ride more. That is responsible and responsive. Similar studies of ridership and crash rates before and after protected bike lanes were installed in Washington, DC and NYC have proven the same thing. The ridership and crash studies I did in Milwaukee before and after I installed basic painted bike lanes (when I was the city Bike/Ped coordinator) have shown that ridership increased more than 200% and the crash rates went down 75%. Yes, I believe if you build bike facilities, more people will use them and it will become safer to ride bicycles. I believe that based on statistical studies.

      2. Education: I and the Bike Fed teach bicycle safety to thousands of people every year and we are constantly advocating for and seeking out more funding to teach more. We believe bicycle education should be a part of everyone’s education before they get behind the wheel of a car. We teach vehicular cycling, based to a large degree on John Forrester’s book, but we do not agree that separate facilities are bad.

      We have successfully advocated for more education programs, like the Safe Routes to School program that funds the bicycle education we do now and the Share & Be Aware Program that funds our bicycle ambassadors. Boehner and his cohorts want to eliminate that funding. We are fighting to keep it. I hope you are fighting to keep it too based on your desire for more education.

      3. Evaluation: Most crashes do occur at intersections, as all my crash studies I have done prove and most other crash studies prove, but so far, the evaluations of protected bike lanes and regular bike lanes that include intersection treatments in their engineering have been shown to decrease crashes. On the contrary, well engineered bike lanes, like the Kinzie bike lanes and those in NYC and Washington, DC have proven to reduce crashes. Simlarly, well-designed side paths have proven effective at increasing ridership and reducing crashes. Are there places where side paths should not be used? Yes, and we include those recommendations in the bike plans we write and in our advocacy. Are there places where bike lanes should not be used? Yes, and ditto. Can shared roads (no separate facilities) be designed in a way that they safely accommodate AND attract bicycles? Yes, and ditto.

      4. Expensive: Bike lanes and paths are very cheap compared to standard roads and highways. Bike lanes and trails can carry much more traffic for far less money than roads build just for cars. Bicycle advocates like myself do not want to spend more money on transportation. We want to spend less.

      The Bike Fed, like most advocacy organizations I know, are not “Paint and Pave” extremists, but nor are we strict vehicular cycling advocates who oppose any manor of segregated facilities. We strongly advocate for all the Es. Would we like more money spent on the other Es? Yes, absolutely. Do we advocate for that? Just as hard as we advocate to fund engineering. Is more money spent paving and painting? Yes, for all modes to transportation. Is that right? Probably not, but it is what it is and we must live with it until it changes.

      The Bike Fed staff works long days (and nights) to advocate for and represent the rights of all (perhaps most given your opinion) people who ride bicycles in Wisconsin. We listen to our members. We listen to our board members. We listen to our critics. We try our best to make transparent decisions based on that input and publicly act on those decisions by taking part in our political system given the rules of play that exist. We accept that not everyone agrees with us. We can’t force people to see things are way, or act independent of input and wait for people to join us.

      Good luck with your advocacy efforts. I sincerely hope whatever safety class you teach or example you set is getting more butts on bikes. I also hope your efforts to increase funding for bicycle safety are successful. I accept that you agree with our efforts to save funding for bicycle infrastructure and education at the federal level, but I do not accept any argument that our actions are irresponsible, ineffective, deceitful, unethical, wasteful of public funds, or dogmatic. On those points, it seems that we must agree to disagree.

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