Better World Club

Thursday, June 10, 2010

To AAA Mid-Atlantic, Bikes Mean "War" On Motorists

AAA National Says They Didn't Mean It. . .

Meanwhile, DC Plans for Bike Lanes on Pennsylvania Ave Look Increasingly Like AAA's

On June 8th, the Washington DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) announced its new plan for the bike lanes set to open on the one mile stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue NW from the White House to the Capitol building (''the Promenade of Presidents''). Under DDOT's original plan, the leftmost traffic lanes on either side of the road were to form a wide bicycle corridor down the center of the Avenue, with bicyclists traveling in opposite directions separated by a median, and cyclists separated from motor vehicle traffic by a buffer zone. But that was all before the ''War.''

In a May 3rd press release, AAA Mid-Atlantic took a strong stance against DDOT's plan, insisting that the removal of two lanes of car traffic would lead to too much congestion in the heart of the capital to justify the opening of the bike lanes. The release recommended that ''lane closures...be approached with extreme caution to avoid excessive traffic delays and the diversion of motorists into neighborhood streets.'' We can't be 100% sure, but maybe it was AAA Mid-Atlantic's fear of even further delays that caused them to recommend the removal of speed bumps from those same neighborhoods. (Or maybe they just need to get their stories straight on neighborhood safety.)

Shortly after that press release, AAA Mid-Atlantic Managing Director of Public Affairs Lon Anderson released his own statement complaining about the DC government's ''war on motorists.''

Apparently, that worried AAA's national public affairs office, which then made an attempt to distance AAA national from the statements of Mid-Atlantic by reiterating their ''share the road'' message. Even so, it looks like AAA Mid-Atlantic, which did back down to pressure from national and issue a release on bike safety, has won this first battle (even if they're the only ones who seem to think they're fighting a war).

DDOT's new plan has restored the left lanes of Pennsylvania Avenue to motorists, and bike lanes will be in the median. As a result, the bike lanes will be significantly narrowed in some places, with no physical barrier between cyclists riding in opposite directions. And in others places, there will no longer be a buffer between cyclists and motor vehicle traffic. Strange, considering that DDOT's principal justification for amending its plan was its concern for cyclists' safety, which was echoed by AAA spokespeople. (Apparently a wide bike lane would look too much like any other lane for a motorist not to just drive into it.) What's more, because bike lanes will be in the median, it's likely that cyclists will now come into contact with pedestrians waiting for crossing signals in the safe zones at the center of the road.

DDOT denies having given in to pressure from AAA -- or anyone else, but its readiness to return Pennsylvania Avenue's contested left lanes to DC's motorists in the name of safety seems a little too conveniently in line with the position espoused by AAA in its yellow press.

Ironically, the results of the same poll used by AAA Mid-Atlantic to justify its claim of bike lanes drawing the ''ire of motorists'' give good reason to think that expanded bike lanes would in fact lessen congestion. From AAA Mid-Atlantic's initial press release: ''20 percent of surveyed AAA members in the District said the changes would compel them to become regular bicycle commuters.'' Considering that not nearly that percentage of DC commuters currently travel by bike, that's a potentially huge number of people getting out of their cars and onto their bikes.

Better World Club supports bikes, bike lanes, and is still the only auto club to offer nationwide Bicycle roadside. We'd love to talk to that 20 percent.

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