Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Vote Your Pedals?

This is a cycling blog, and this post is about cycling.

At the suggestion of David Hiller (Cascade Bicycle Club Advocacy Director), Michael McGinn called me yesterday. Yes, that Michael McGinn, the candidate for Mayor of Seattle.

I'm not very politically inclined, and this is not intended as an endorsement of any candidate. Michael didn't call me because I am a political bigwig. He called because he wants my help in getting the word out that he supports cycling. He pointed out that he has been a cycling advocate for years, and is a regular bicycle commuter.

Michael also wanted to make sure that I understood that while he opposes “The Tunnel”, his opponent for mayor opposes completion of the Burke Gillman Trail.

Many Americans appear to “Vote their Pocketbook,” and in some cases that may be as good a strategy as any. The message Michael is trying to get across is that if you “Vote your Pedals,” he is your candidate for Mayor of Seattle.

Once again, I'm not endorsing anybody. I just think it's impressive that a candidate would take the time to talk with constituents about his position on cycling.

Reminding myself that this is a cycling blog, how about a thought or two on the tunnel? This is off the cuff, and I have not done any research pro or con regarding the tunnel proposal. I guess that is what the comments section of a blog is for.

It seems to me that the time to build a tunnel, along with a new highway, was about 40 years ago when the Federal Government was throwing money around to build out the Interstate Highway system. Back then, there was a need, real and/or perceived, to put a lot more automobiles on the road. In 2009, I hear talk of making it easier for cars to move along on the roads, but it doesn’t appear that anyone is seriously talking about the merits of putting more cars out there. Is the whole concept of a tunnel a backward focused idea, even if it would indeed ease the flow of cars on the road?

History has shown that if you make it easier for Americans to drive, driving more is what they will do. Again, no one seems to be talking about higher automobile usage as a long term solution to our transportation, economic, or environmental issues. If Mr. McGinn is elected, and the tunnel squashed, there will be some tough medicine to swallow. There will be less capacity for automobiles, and more congestion for the reduced number of cars using the roads. When gasoline prices spiked in the summer of 2008, SUV sales plummeted, bicycle commuting and bus ridership increased, and people drove less for the first time in modern times. Would increased congestion lead to people choosing not to drive?

See, I told you that this blog is about cycling…and walking…and riding the bus or taking light rail.

Seattle takes pride in being recognized as a progressive, forward looking city. A large part of the rest of the world has already adopted a mass transportation model. No city in the United States is remotely close to London or Paris, let alone an Amsterdam or Copenhagen. I have visited both of those cities, and they are wonderful places.

Even the most hardened fossil fuel burner would have to admit that Amsterdam and Copenhagen are not wonderful in spite of the lack of automobiles; rather it is because of the lack of automobiles.

I don’t know if I will be selfish and “Vote my Pedals,” but in this case a pedal vote is a lot more than a vote for better cycling access. It could be a vote for a change that only future generations could fully appreciate and enjoy. Regardless of how I vote, I think building more highways is looking backward, and at best, a band-aid for much deeper issues. I also think that tearing down the Viaduct and using surface streets will create a huge mess.

Maybe that is the medicine that the doctor needs to order?

Please feel free to pass this message on to your cycling friends.


ghd3 said...

great post, Tom. Appreciate the thoughts. I often "vote my pedals," so to speak, and like Mr. McGinn's advocacy for cycling in Seattle, of which I am also a strong proponent. I think his stance on the tunnel is misguided and short-sighted, and not the right direction for the city. I'm really torn between the two current candidates for a number of reasons, but I think Mr. McGinn's support would surge if we would reconsider his quixotic stance on the tunnel project. Thanks for the thoughts! Great blog, which I'll now be following.

LB said...

When I hear a politician reaching out to the cycling community - to get elected or build support for an initiative - it shows we have become important enough to matter. As in this case, Mr McGinn’s specific effort to campaign via a local, known cycling blogger is a great thing all by itself.

Chris Gossard said...

I agree with ghd3, McGinn's "tunnel vision" on the viaduct is misguided and doesn't make sense at this time given the shortage of options going north and south through Seattle. If he weren't running with this being the main part of his platform, I could vote for him, but I can't support him because of his stand on this topic.