Nickerson Construction Begins, Bike-Vs-Car Debate Returns

By Josh Cohen July 26, 2010

The Nickerson St. road diet project began this morning, and with it came a rehashing of the tired (and inaccurate) bikes-vs.-cars meme, this time from local TV news station KING-5.

The Seattle Department of Transportation is restriping a one-mile section of Nickerson between Warren Avenue N. and 13th Avenue W. SDOT will reduce car travel lanes from two in either direction to one with a dedicated turn lane. That will allow the agency to reinstall three marked pedestrian crosswalks (which were removed a few years ago to comply with federal guidelines), a westbound traditional bike lane, and eastbound sharrows. In addition to adding pedestrian and bicycling facilities, one of the major aims of the project is to slow down cars.

However, you wouldn't get any of that from watching KING-5's report, "Nickerson Street bike lane construction gets under way." Starting with the title, King 5 frames the Nickerson road diet [or, according to KING, "diet road"] solely as bikes vs cars (and implies that bikes are getting special treatment at the expense of cars). There isn't a single mention of pedestrians and crosswalks or of the project's speed-reduction goals. They only use quotes from self-identified "drivers" (no bicyclists, no SDOT experts, nobody who supports the project) who are convinced the project will cause serious congestion. Nor does KING-5 discuss SDOT's study of the similar Stone Way road diet, which found little to no increase in congestion.

KING-5's report this morning does a disservice to viewers and to the city. Reports like this one are serious impediments to rational dialogue about transportation projects (and all too common). It's an issue I wrote about last month (again, in response to the Nickerson debate), but it's clearly worth repeating. The bike-vs-car meme further perpetuates a false dichotomy, presents a shallow view of road diets, and feeds base fears that progress for non-motorized transportation comes at the direct sacrifice and suffering of drivers.

Bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure projects are integral to the city's stated environmental goals (as well as to the goals of increasing bicycling and walking, obviously). As such, the Nickerson road diet is just one of many big road reconfigurations to come. We cannot afford to waste time ignoring reality and reducing projects to a scary, misleading, inaccurate debate.
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