Comments on: John Cassidy Watch, externalities edition A slice of lime in the soda Sun, 26 Oct 2014 19:05:02 +0000 hourly 1 By: PaytonC Mon, 14 Mar 2011 23:20:29 +0000 Cars are unique among all common modes of *urban* transportation in that their sheer size — particularly in cities, which by definition have limited, expensive ground area for a large population to share — leads to a competitive, vicious circle of congestion when they’re overused. When more people drive, congestion gets worse for everyone, potentially destroying the positive economic effects of agglomeration, and as such the state has a vested interest in reducing congestion by discouraging driving.

Cycling, walking, and transit use are so much more space-efficient that, at typical urban densities, they are subject to a cooperative, virtuous circle of congestion that reinforces the positive externalities of urban agglomeration. More cyclists make for safer cycling conditions [P.L. Jacobsen, Inj Prev 2003;9:205-209], more foot traffic leads to lower crime rates, more transit riders creates demand for more frequent service. Looked at another way, each of these modes is subject to much higher thresholds where the virtuous circle turns vicious. The space occupied by three cars can easily fit 30 bicycles, one bus with 70 passengers, or hundreds of pedestrians.

Drivers tend to blindly bring their competitive outlook to all urban transportation, which is why Cassidy and others end up with such inane arguments.

By: HarryS Mon, 14 Mar 2011 17:04:01 +0000 I live on Prospect Park West, and it’s been interesting to me to hear some of my neighbors’ completely loony accounts of life on our street. To me, the bike lane has slowed traffic and made the street quieter. I like the way it looks better now that it’s narrower – it’s much less like a major thoroughfare and more like a neighborhood street. And I’m pleased to see more bikes on our street. I have no doubt that it’s safer for the bikers, pedestrians, and even the drivers.

But to some of my older neighbors (and it seems to be mostly people over 55 and the wealthy who complain about the bike lane), the bike lane is scary, ugly, and dangerous. They’re more worried about a bike hitting them as they forget to look both ways crossing the two-way bike lane than they are about speeding traffic. They think the bike lane is an eyesore. They’re scared to open their car doors because of bike traffic on one side (they’re unaware of how scared bikes are of car doors) and car traffic on the other (How many streets in NYC isn’t it dangerous to fling a car door open?). They think there are more car accidents and they’re certain people will die because emergency vehicles won’t be able to get through when delivery trucks and cabs block one of the two remaining car lanes.

And if you show them statistics or studies contradicting anything they say, they shout that the numbers are flawed and the studies are biased.

John Cassidy is a pretty good representative of the bike lane foes out there: irrational, persistent, cranky, and most of all, really defensive. Adam Sternbergh’s comparison of Cassidy’s rhetorical style to the Tea Party is apt.

By: adamdoesit Mon, 14 Mar 2011 15:30:00 +0000 I’m a daily bike commuter in New York City. I also own a car, which I’ve been known to use to go out to dinner. Not once have my driving or parking been impeded by cyclists or bicycle lanes. Cassidy imagines a monster out of what is merely efficient progress. I can only assume that the vanity plates on his Jag read ROCINANTE.

By: rb6 Mon, 14 Mar 2011 13:11:28 +0000 Also from Arlington, Virginia, where my husband bikes to work, in bike lanes most of the time. But I also admit to sharing annoyance with the “rules for thee but not me” attitude of many bicyclist, even though I’m married to one. What I would remind motorists annoyed to share a lane with bikers is that the bikers are in the driving lane mostly at their own peril to life and limb, while your own loss is measured mostly in time — usually seconds, not even minutes. If there weren’t bike lanes bicyclists would be in the driving lane all the time instead of some of it.

What is truly annoying about Cassidy is the degree to which he feels entitled to speak on a subject he obviously knows nothing about, and to assume he speaks with objectivity when it is evident that his conclusion is foreordained. His is the quality of reasoning I usually expect to hear from priests telling me why birth control is bad for me.

By: OlafStorbeck Sun, 13 Mar 2011 12:00:05 +0000 Felix, I could not believe your argument regarding the emissions of cars. Unfortunaltely I could not open the Excel file on my computer. Hence, I did some back of the envelope calculations myself.  /2011/03/13/ccc-a-note-on-cars-carbon-a nd-cycles/
Amazingly, it looks like you really have a point…

By: axoplasm Sat, 12 Mar 2011 00:39:47 +0000 Externalities, hell. I’m waiting for someone in the econoblogosphere to take on Cassidy on the actual freaking costs of asphalt and concrete.

Using the Generalized Fourth Power rule of thumb for road damage, the cost to build & maintain a piece of roadway for a 200lb bike is something on the order of 1/160,000th the cost of doing the same for a 2-ton car. This doesn’t even count as a rounding error in most road budgets.

Consider then that roadways — and especially city streets — are subsidized from the general fund.

Drivers aren’t even paying for the actual direct value of the resources they use, let alone the externalities.

By: Carl15 Fri, 11 Mar 2011 23:49:41 +0000 Where I live, abundant bike lanes have not stopped bikers from riding in the street. Arlington County has put many bike lanes on major roads but bikers usually ignore the lanes and continue to ride in the street. As a motorist, I’ll support bike lanes when riders agree to get the hell off the road where the lanes are available.

By: tommurphy Fri, 11 Mar 2011 19:30:04 +0000 You wrote some time ago about the pedestrian/biker/driver daily consternation and, as I remember, you suggested there would be a learning/accommodation process that will be played out on the street as bikers become a bigger number of users of the road. You suggested that pedestrians who had figured out drivers, and what to expect when interacting, were not yet acclimatized to the bikers. This rattles them now but eventually an accommodation will evolve. I don’t remember any empirical evidence being referenced only wise observation. I found your thinking similar to mine: We road users will all learn to co-exist first in our heads, and infrastructure changes will follow from that.
BTW I have been reading up on the subject and have come upon several instances where writers admit there is a paucity of empirical evidence that can sway your argument pro or con.
I myself am looking into proposals for making walking more enjoyable in urban settings. Walking is more reliable for our common short trips for the most people at more times of the day and more days of the year than any other mode of transportation.
Another point: when I was reading Donald Shoupe’s lengthy book on free parking, I noted that he concedes that parking is a valuable asset and has been a great benefit to us all. He just doesn’t think there needs to be more, and that we should put a price on some of the existing parking space(but not all).
You see a public benefit when a driver abandons the car for the bike. First, I doubt this scenario. Drivers drive longer distances that are practical for biking. Also, there is empirical evidence to show that lower income drivers drive to their jobs because it is three-times faster than public transit. A more logical scenario would be a public transit user abandoning the bus/subway for the bike. Where though is the public benefit in loosing perhaps $1,000/year in fares to the legacy system that will now need a greater public subsidy. Of course, this would be only an externality to the oh-so-low cost of the bike lanes network.

By: OlafStorbeck Fri, 11 Mar 2011 16:36:55 +0000 Great post, Felix. What annoys me most is that John is trying to disguise his political view with flawed economic arguments.
1) Free parking isn’t free, as Donald Shoup (UCLA) has shown
2) There is no need that the government subsidises parking because parking is a private good. Bike lanes, however, are public goods.
3) Bike landes are not characterised by diminishing returns as John claims. There have increasing returns because better cycling infrastructure induces more people to ride.
4) (as you have written in your other post) The number of cyclists is not exogenous

I elaborate a more detailed version of these arguments on my own blog: conomics-of-bike-lanes-%E2%80%93-how-can -john-cassidy-get-it-so-wrong/

Greeting from London

By: DeathSpiral Fri, 11 Mar 2011 15:01:43 +0000 Has anybody read Evan Osnos’ post in his Letter from China blog titled, “The Bike Lanes of Beijing”? In it he states:

“But the part worth envying is the ambition of a city to envision bold changes and investments—not the ostensible efficiency of a system that deprives people of the right to participate in those choice.”

When referring to China’s ambition “to envision bold changes and investments”. This was done in defense of his colleague John Cassidy comment, ‘“it should be put to a vote rather than being enacted via bureaucratic diktat.”’ in support of putting bike lanes to a vote. Does no one at eh Net Yorker get it? Its not that such a comparison is unreasonable it’s extremely specious.