SeattleLikesBikes has a funny history with road diets. We were formed over the battle to finish the Stone Way road diet. It took a year, but the road diet was eventually finished.
Since then, SDOT has implemented more road diets and we’ve fought more battles, but the battles keep getting larger. The opposition on Nickerson was more organized and larger than we’ve seen it ever before, including having several state representatives testify to the city council transportation committee.
It seems that we are doing something wrong. We are focusing on winning the battle, convincing SDOT and the city council to keep implementing the plan of past mayors and past councils, but we haven’t been good at the war. We’ve let the Seattle Times frame road diets as bicycles vs. cars, as bike facilities taking lanes away from cars, and that is how we are losing the war.
We are losing because we are letting it be a car vs. bicycle war when it isn’t. The war is to restore healthy walkable neighborhoods. The war is to create community where neighbors can walk and meet each other and form relationships. The war is to restore civility on the roads. The war is to create roads that work and that aren’t over engineered to be racetracks through every back yard in the city. The war is to reduce areas of chronic speeding that seriously injurs our friends and neighbors.
So, how do we win the war?
We re-shape the discussion. At every turn, we lead in with the very strong problem statements. We engage drivers by talking about their inability to make left hand turns and how often they already block a lane of traffic making those turns. We inform everyone of the public costs of crashes with pedestrians, of the relative crash rates between dieted arterials and over-engineered arterials. We then describe all of the options and their relative costs without saying “a road diet is what we have already decided to do”, let them mull over the options and it should become obvious that the road diet is best. If our opponents realized that a 4-way stoplight can cost a quarter of a million dollars, if they realized the cost of an overhead pedestrian walkway, if they realized the cost to the public of uninsured motorists hitting pedestrians, they could start to see the problem through our eyes instead of through their windshield.
It is not bicycles vs. cars even though that is an attention grabbing “man bites dog” angle for the news media to take. It is friends and neighbors struggling to build a better community. It is little Johnny who has to walk uphill a quarter of a mile so he can cross the street to get to his bus. It is chronic speeding where even with repeated police enforcement only 11% of drivers obey the speed limit. It is SDOT starting to listen to the neighborhoods who have been asking for help.
To win the war, we need to change minds and re-frame the debate.