Sunday, August 23, 2015

does improving streets really make a difference? perhaps not.

Over at BikePortland, there's a little debate about the value of repaving streets:

BikePortland's writers/editors seem in favor of it all around. However, the comments reveal an interesting divide, between those who want smooth streets at any price, and those who think that purposefully leaving some funk-and-chunk in Portland's roadways is actually a good idea.

I admit I share the latter viewpoint.

My bikes all have 26"/559 wheels. I no longer work a 9-to-5 job, so if I need to go somewhere I can leave as early as I like, take as long as I need and get there "on time", all without worrying about a few potholes in the road.

A regular commenter at BikePortland takes the argument even further. 9watts (who I HAVE to meet in person someday) suggests that our desire for convenience and comfort is taking us too far down a bad path:

"Cars are big, lumbering, fragile beasts that require wide roads, frequent gas stations, repair shops, a worldwide parts infrastructure, diagnostic computers, and gobs of money to keep running. Bikes, in principle and often in actuality, are light, cheap, simple, robust devices that need none of that.
Smooth asphalt has become a symbol, an entitlement, a metric of both local wealth and municipal priorities, and of the state’s ability to deliver the goods, an ideological litmus test of government. The choice between a smooth and a bumpy road is an easy one.

Just like high heeled shoes, some types of bikes have been designed around the assumption that smooth asphalt will be found everywhere. Similarly, the suit and tie became standardized as standard office wear the world over because air conditioning made it possible to wear climatically inappropriate clothing for eight or nine hours a day, year round. Fossil fuels enabled us to build infrastructure, buildings, and adopt habits that, we can now see, are tightly coupled. The fragility of these arrangements only appears when we discover that we can no longer, for reasons of money or physical limits, continue down these paths.

Smooth asphalt is fun, and I dodge the potholes as automatically as the next person, but one of these days this stance is going to seem outdated. Didn’t the head of Iowa’s DOT recently concede that the state could no longer afford to maintain their inventory of paved roads? That the time had come to put some of them back into gravel?"

In short, if we stop improving every pothole that comes along and compel people to alter their transportation choices as a result, is that a bad thing? Maybe not entirely.

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