AAA Mid-Atlantic appears to have launched a full offensive to change the discussion of bike lanes on Pennsylvania from one of entitlement to one of process. They're no longer concerned with gridlock, but instead are worried about the environment and the safety of cyclists, so they claim. But their sudden change of story and use of astroturfing comments leaves me distrustful of their intentions.
This all started last week when AAA-MA issued a press release entitled " Removal Of Traffic Lanes On Pennsylvania Avenue For Bike Lanes Draws Ire of Motorists" which focused on the impact that bike lanes could have on traffic and bike commuting. The plan was said to "abound with problems" and it "could make things worse." The release implied that the changes could cause gridlock, clog arterials and cause delays. The MSM picked it up as a story, reporting that the bike lanes may cause gridlock and quoting AAA-MA's John Townsend II stating that these lanes will clog the arterials. This was followed by a post to a local message board from AAA-MA's Managing Director, Public and Government Affairs, Lon Anderson declaring the bike lanes as part of a "war on drivers". He states concern that we will turn lanes now open for cars and bikes into bike-only lanes, and questions whether DDOT's goal of getting more people to bike is a good idea (The Chinese, he notes, are moving towards cars and away from bicycles).
After the Bike League and David Alpert (once on his blog and once in the Post) wrote about it, AAA National distanced themselves from the statements of MA, stated that they stand behind their Share the Road message. Many commenters on this blog and elsewhere reported calling AAA or canceling their membership and WABA issued an action alert about it. And on Friday, Martin Austermuhle, a senior editor at DCist, wrote a column in the Examiner that summarized the above and piled on more criticism of AAA-MA's position.
The more that Mid-Atlantic AAA argues that there’s a local war against drivers, the more likely it is that those drivers are going to act like warriors. Crowding out cyclists on roads or aggressively honking a horn may not seem terribly threatening to someone in the safe confines of a car, but it’s absolutely terrifying from the perspective of a cyclist playing defense against thousands of pounds of metal.
As a result, it appears, AAA has decided to change tacks. On their blog and this one, AAA-MA's Kati Driscoll, let us know that this is just a simple communication problem, that they are not anti-bike or anti-bike lane, but they are FOR process. They want a "meaningful and thoughtful process" that includes
1) a published mobility analysis and full traffic impact study,
2) an environmental impact study, and
3) completion of a public comment period.
I have to say, if this is their position, then the press release from last week was one of the worst-written press releases in the history of public relations (and at the risk of sounding catty, it was pretty bad. It was disjointed, contradicted itself, and contained faulty math). It should be taught in college PR classes as a cautionary failure the same way that the Tacoma Narrows bridge is taught in engineering. I find it hard to believe though. I suspect it is more likely that AAA-MA suddenly learned that an awful lot of their members are also cyclists. It's encouraging that they realized that they can't afford to mock cycling or pit this as a drivers versus cyclists issue, because if they do, they lose.
But, let's take them at their word. Even then, they're factually wrong. There has been a thoughtful and meaningful process. Namely a three-year long bike planning process which includes bike lanes on this very section of Pennsylvania Avenue. It also shows cycletracks on 15th, 17th and M streets NW; and a bike lane on L St NW. They've had 8 years to comment on it and as far as I know, they've not.
As many commenters have pointed out, there was also a meeting on this round of bike lanes/cycletracks in March. AAA-MA and its members could have commented then. In fact, I suspect some of their members did comment, and were for the changes.
And even if they had somehow been left completely unaware of all of this, I can't imagine that a press release after the installation of the bike lanes has begun is the most productive route. How about contacting DDOT? Or WABA? Or the Bicycle Advisory Committee?
Furthermore, their call for an environmental impact study borders on the absurd. Must DDOT do an EIS for each bike lane they install? What about the 50 miles they've already installed? The idea that adding bike lanes will worsen air quality through idling buses, which seems nonsensical at its face, has been discredited in San Francisco. Must DC waste time and money to replicate that study?
Why would AAA want DDOT to do more studies?
John Townsend, a spokesman for the AAA Mid-Atlantic auto club, said environmental studies have been used to delay projects so he worried another step could bog down roadwork.
But AAA did not end their charm offensive with our polite, fellow cyclist Kati. A group of identical posts from identical IP addresses popped up all over the blogosphere, including on this blog. These comments from someone claiming to be AAA-MA manager of public affairs John Townsend II, and sock puppets Jacob Allen Kidd and Jessaica Scales all back up AAA's position.
Townsend first states that all AAA wants is for DDOT to do traffic impact and safety studies,
This is why we are calling for an open and honest discussion of the best way to accommodate and operate bike lanes in Washington that safeguards the lives, ensures the mobility and motivity of all users, and facilitate traffic flow in light of proposed adjustments to existing geometric and traffic characteristics.
and then, in a post that mostly quotes FHA documentation, states concern that the bike lanes won't be safe because DDOT didn't use the Bicycle Compatibility Index (BCI).
Without this study, we might be creating a situation that puts the lives and safety of bicyclists and motorists in jeopardy.
That is our primary concern.
Really? Because the original press release doesn't even include the word safety. It's all about gridlock and the efficient flow of cars. If AAA believes the bike lanes are dangerous, would this not then be a "war on cyclists"?
Jeff Peel gave a very knowledgeable response to Townsend's concerns about the BCI and BLOS .
streets with proposed physically separated lanes, BLOS improvements may be negligible (solely due to the items used in the analysis) but cyclist through put and comfort level would be dramatically increased. With all of these roads, the auto level of service degradation has [been] projected to be at an acceptable level. I, L, M and 9th are at D or F LOS during peak hours already. This is one of the main reasons DDOT has been moving away from using LOS analysis- a change that started with Emeke Monema. Unless you're suggesting we take out the sidewalk or change the Metro tunnels to auto tunnels, this isn't going to change. Why not then look to making it easier for other transportation modes that have proven to help mitigate this traffic congestion?
The sock puppets have less valid points to make
We should all ask if the placement of the bike lanes was carefully considered and whether the design puts cyclists in a more dangerous position.
Since DDOT spent over a year working on this, I'm going to say yes to question one and no to question two.
we are removing 25 percent of the travel lanes on Pennsylvania Avenue in non-peak hours and even a higher percentage of the lanes during peak-hours when the a steady convoy of five-ton tour buses is heading for the exists.
No. They're not removing more lanes during peak hours.
God forbids[sic], but it sounds like a fatal accident waiting to happen.
How do fewer lanes lead to fatal accidents?
The other comments from Kidd and Scales are filled with rambling nonsense, erroneous and contradictory statements and false concern for cyclist safety - as they pretend to by cyclists just like us. I really don't have the time or energy to discredit them point by point. Luckily some of the commenters here have done that for me.
Kidd on how much AAA cares about bike safety and sharing the road.
Contrarian notes that most of their advice on sharing the road involves telling cyclists that they should stay on bike paths.
I may be wrong, but I don't believe them. I think their first comments, about how they were afraid this would slow the movement of cars, are more accurate. They could stand by that statement, in which case they would just be wrong. That's not awful. I'm wrong all the time. Or they could apologize. But instead, they've decided, in my opinion, to bend the truth. To say that what they said before was not what they meant, and that what they want is more discussion, because their concern is not with preventing anything that might reduce the numbers of drivers and thus their membership(who pay the bills), but about the safety of cyclists and the environment. I find it hard to swallow, and so AAA has actually managed to make themselves look worse on this Monday than they did on the last.
We can take some comfort in knowing that while they may have crushed us in the media last week, on the ground DC is making more and more space for cyclists and I see little reason to believe that trend will change any time soon.
Photo by Eric Gilliland