Monday, March 12, 2007
Should land use law do more to encourage bicycle use on the streets? One reason for the low rate of bicycling in urban America is a vicious circle. Because so many streets are not friendly to bikes, we have not many cyclists. And because we have so few cyclists, there is little pressure to make the streets better for the handful who pedal.
One method to break the vicious circle is for land use law to demand that the infrastructure change to make streets better for cycling. Once this is done, more people will be encouraged to ride instead of drive for some trips, which in turn will build support for more and better bicycle lanes –- a virtuous circle. One way to do this is the “complete the streets” idea, which rests on the notion that a street designed only with motoring in mind is “incomplete” until it considers and facilitates cyclists, pedestrians, and those who use wheelchairs.
Is such an idea only for “crunchy” and outdoorsy places such as northern California and college towns? Planners in Louisville, Kentucky, think that the idea can work there too. They have proposed a rule that would require streets to include bicycle lanes, among other things, when new streets are built and old ones are resurfaced. This idea is reminiscent of the special “best technology” requirements for new or modified sources of air or water pollution under the environmental statutes, and also echoes the idea of low-cost housing set-asides in “inclusionary zoning” policies.