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Larry Cohen
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Thursday 2 February 2012
“This Thursday, February 2nd, the House Transportation Committee is slated to vote on the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, a bill that would effectively eliminate funding for Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School – the two largest federal programs that fund biking and walking infrastructure.”

Creeps and Weirdos: The Auto Industry Agenda for Keeping You on Four Wheels

Recently, Dr. Richard Jackson, a friend and colleague (a leading expert in health and the built environment) received a letter from his building's management demanding he move his bike - from leaning against the wall of his rented parking spot. Though he lives in LA, he doesn’t own a car; his bike is his transportation. According to management, his bike posed an affront to the “safety, cleanliness and accessibility of the building” – meanwhile, the other tenants’ cars apparently raised no such concerns.

“The car is still king – from parking lots to roadways. And car companies intend to keep it that way.”

This Thursday, February 2nd, the House Transportation Committee is slated to vote on the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act, a bill that would effectively eliminate funding for Transportation Enhancements and Safe Routes to School – the two largest federal programs that fund biking and walking infrastructure. These programs are essential to communities across the country that are building safer streets, sidewalks and bike paths to ensure health and safety for everyone on the road.

But, the auto industry’s profits depend on making sure that cars remain the standard mode of transportation – and that car companies grow their customer base, not lose them to bicycles. Auto companies are fueled by profits, and the auto industry spent over $45 million last year alone on lobbying Congress and other federal agencies in order to maintain a monopoly on our roadways. The auto industry makes money by ensuring that the public values driving and that roads are built for cars alone – even if this means greater demand for fossil fuel, increased environmental degradation, fewer opportunities for physical activity, and more road-related injuries.

They've gone beyond lobbying, releasing a spate of ads recently – many in college newspapers - that hone in on bikers and imply that alternatives to driving are humiliating or dangerous, and generally bad for communities – despite growing evidence to the contrary. Shame becomes the bargaining chip in GM's recent ad depicting a biker, embarrassed to be seen by girls who are driving in a car. Another ad shows a bus with the destination sign reading "creeps and weirdos." But this campaign strategy makes no sense. Regular drivers benefit, too, when more people take alternate modes of travel. It means fewer cars will be on the road, which lowers the incidents of traffic crashes and helps to increase safety overall.

And, despite what these ads would have you believe, biking and active transportation are a solid investment in health, communities and prevention. Bikes could save our nation as much as $3.8 billion a year by promoting physical activity, decreasing chronic disease and reducing healthcare costs. An increase to 15% active transportation in the Bay Area would result in 2,236 fewer deaths, and a gain 22,807 total years of life. Bike commuting costs as little as five cents per mile, reduces water and noise pollution, road wear and traffic congestion. In Portland OR – known for its biking culture - researchers found that bike-related industry contribute significantly to the local economy – providing somewhere between 850 to 1150 jobs and generating about $90 million a year. A new report shows that bikes saved Iowa $70 million in healthcare costs, and generate $1 million each day.

And more people are biking. Nearly half of 18 to 34-year-old drivers are driving less and owning fewer cars. Equally important, nearly two-thirds surveyed said they would drive less if alternative transportation, such as public transportation, was available. In urban centers across the country, biking has enjoyed a re-birth of hipster cool – from fixies to cyclovias to bike rack art installations to Oakland’s scraper bikes that ‘go hard, I don’t need no car.’

This is great news for bike enthusiasts, environmentalists and public health advocates, but we need our street infrastructure to support physical activity. Roads designed for cars – and only cars – have real impacts on our health and safety. A recent report found that the number of combined biking and pedestrian traffic deaths has increased in the last two years to 14%. This is an appalling but preventable outcome, likely stemming from more people walking and biking without changes to the built environment and structural support.

Cities across the country are already building health into their transportation policies and environments by supporting pedestrians and cyclists - not just cars. Minneapolis MN now has 46 miles of streets with dedicated bike lanes, and 84 miles of pike paths. Detroit MI is currently in the process of implementing a Complete Streets policy – rebuilding city infrastructure to support all modes of transportation, and creating 24 miles of new bike lanes and 11 miles of marked bike routes. In the last year, Nashville TN spent roughly 60% of their local transportation budget on walking, biking and public transit infrastructure. And it’s paying off: nearly one third of Americans who regularly take public transportation get at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily (the amount recommended by the Office of the Surgeon General). These kinds of changes to the build environment will have a significant impact on our nation’s health. But these advances are being thwarted by the car industry, and the federal government isn’t helping.

Investing in cheap, proven solutions to improve health and the economy should be a top priority for our country. It’s time to think differently - to stand up to those who still say the car is king, and to create a new norm that is in harmony with the environment and our health. In order to do this, institutions need to support cyclists by providing bike racks, and not penalize them for locking bikes in parking lots. Cities can implement Complete Streets policies and include the needs of cyclists and pedestrians when plotting intersections and roads. But in order to do this, we also need support from the federal government – not for Congress to cut entirely federal funding for biking and walking. And we need car companies to value health over profits, and work with communities – not against them – in finding solutions.



Author pic
ABOUT Larry Cohen

Larry Cohen, founder and Executive Director of Prevention Institute, a non-profit national center dedicated to improving community health and equity through effective primary prevention: taking action to build resilience and to prevent illness and injury before they occur. With an emphasis on health equity, Larry has led many successful public health efforts at the local, state, and federal level on injury and violence prevention, mental health, traffic safety, and food and physical activity-related chronic disease prevention. Larry helped to define violence as a preventable public health concern, and developed one of the nation's first courses on violence prevention. Prior to founding Prevention Institute in 1997, Larry formed the first U.S. coalition to change tobacco policy and created the nation's first multi-city smoking ban. He established the Food and Nutrition Policy Consortium, which catalyzed the nation's food labeling law. Larry also helped shape vehicle safety policy, including strategy to secure passage of bicycle and motorcycle helmet laws, and strengthen child and adult passenger restraint laws. Larry has received numerous awards, including the Injury Control and Emergency Health Services Section Public Service Award from the American Public Health Association. He received his MSW from SUNY Stony Brook.

In New Mexico, drivers that

In New Mexico, drivers that run over walkers, bicyclists, skateboarders are let off. The law is that a walker has the right of way, and a car that is pulling out on a main street must yield to whatever. A few months ago, a grandmother and her 4 year-old grandson were crossing an empty street. A 150 feet up, a driver pulled out of a parking lot and killed them. It was their fault. All a driver has to say is they felt dizzy- they just didn't see them, I didn't know I hit anybody-etc. This is when a bicyclist is on a bike trail 30 feet off of the street, over a curb and on up a hill. There are laws-2 be green-we must have current laws enforced. People in NM are trying to get stiffer penalties, but enforcing current laws would help. This is probably true throughout the nation.

Hi, how can i set the nzbegt

Hi, how can i set the nzbegt site this way that you need to login (password username). Because now it's open for everyone and i dont like that:-)Thanks,Jesse

@LJKReporting, Dr. Jackson is

@LJKReporting, Dr. Jackson is a personal friend of Larry Cohen's, and the story was relayed between friends--you heard it first here!

I've ridden a bike for

I've ridden a bike for errands etc for 45 year. I put up with drivers who either try to door me or run me over but the worse hazard and the reason I'm going to give up biking is the deterioration of streets in Calif specifically the Bay Area. Pot holes and gaping strips over old streetcar tracks, just wide enough and deep enough to topple a bicycle rider having to veer out to avoid car doors.

Where was the original

Where was the original article about Dr. Jackson's predicament published? There shoul d have been a link so that we could read the details for ourselves. Thanks to whomever could send the link to ljkrausen@sbcglobal.net

I think you might have

I think you might have misread the article. This piece is about the role of the auto industry in perpetuating an environment where driving is the norm, and bicycling is not. This post isn't bashing drivers at all (in fact it points out some of the ways drivers will benefit from more inclusive transit policies). The point is not to pit bikers against drivers, but to point out how resources, policies and political pressure are being used in a way that makes it tough for all of us to fully access the many benefits of biking and other transportation.

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The writer talks about

The writer talks about toleration and co-operation between bycicalists and drivers but the overall tone of the article is hostile to drivers. This growing rivalry between bycicalists and drivers is stupid beyond belief. Cars are king for good reason. Our cities and country's are too large, with too many people who require fast transportation to make a living on their own schedual, ie their work hours vary tremendously. Cars make sure our living environment is larger as well. Families are scattered all over the country, even in other nations. With the advent of no pollution cars (compressed air, electric etc.) there is absolutly no need for cars to dissapear, or for drivers to be abused for owning and driving a car. Living in a city, wich most people do these days would be a very limited experiance without cars. The roads and bycical infrustructure do need upgrading so people can have free choice about what form of transportation suites their wants and needs, most effectivly. But, please, lets leave this non issue behind us and use some common sense! There must be no pressure put on drivers or bikers...enough!

I 2nd Paul Scott but this is

I 2nd Paul Scott but this is not an HOA...rather it is the building where Dr. Jackson has his office. Thus bring an action against them.Recently read Term Limits, a novel, and I like the way greedy politicians were handled in the novel.

I 2nd Paul Scott but this is

I 2nd Paul Scott but this is not an HOA...rather it is the building where Dr. Jackson has his office. Thus bring an action against them.

Just read Term Limits, a novel, and I like the way greedy politicians were handled in the novel.

I 2nd Paul Scott but this is

I 2nd Paul Scott but this is not an HOA...rather it is the building where Dr. Jackson has his office. Thus bring an action against them.

I just read Term Limits, a novel, and I like the way greedy politicians were handled in the novel.

I 2nd Paul Scott but this is

I 2nd Paul Scott but this is not an HOA...rather it is the building where Dr. Jackson has his office. Thus bring an action against them.

I jsut read Term Limits, a novel, and I like the way greedy politicians were handled in the novel.

I am 75 and I do drive a car

I am 75 and I do drive a car when necessary. However for exercise and for local light shopping I ride a bike. The greatest danger to cyclists who are mainly recreational users, are the cars who turn right at a crossing when pedestrians and cyclists have clear crossing light. What point is there in mentioning the exhaust fumes we breathe as that will not change until Big Oil has squeezed the last drop of oil out of the earth!

Excellent article, Mr Cohen!

Excellent article, Mr Cohen!

I encourage Dr. Jackson to

I encourage Dr. Jackson to take his HOA to court if they insist on the removal of his bike based on their reasoning. He can insist that all the ICE drivers (internal combustion engine) immediately stop polluting the air in the parking garage (health hazard according to CA statutes) and eliminate the oil dripping on the garage floor (hazardous waste and a slip hazard). Two can play that game. I sell electric cars, so I'm a car guy, but my cars don't do either of the above. When combined with renewable energy, they don't pollute any more than Dr. Jackson's bike. Not counting resources and energy in the manufacturing of course.

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