In the beginning, roads were constructed because bicycles were less sturdy than cars and needed better surfaces to ride without puncturing the wheels. Over time, people in the United States have been socialized to understand that roads are for cars, meaning that anyone not on a car is regarded as a nuisance. Deaths of cyclists, professional and amateur, have increased due to not only the presence of cars but the rise of communication devices that cars are supposed to handle. Consequently, it is up to the citizenry of this country to decide whether it can or should continue to develop an infrastructure that is steadily becoming more dangerous.
One of the biggest problems with auto-oriented development is that it requires more people to have cars. In theory, roads would be expanded and maintained, but as is evident by the cries for infrastructure repair, all of the maintenance is being delayed and/or underfunded. When the repairs do happen, entire communities are closed off due to neighborhoods with limited entry and cul-de-sac designs with no outlets. Meanwhile, low-income residents are forced to find money for vehicles that are either expensive to maintain due to age and quality, or because financing for newer vehicles is dependent on income and tends to have higher interest.
White-collar businesses are not aiding in the rise of cycling, as many of them are located off dangerous highways in suburbs that have no option for public transportation. Recently, such businesses have only returned to the central business districts in response to tax incentives, and such private enterprises drive up the cost of living in multimodal areas. Thus, only those in professional industries have the option of transportation modes, while their service workers are pushed to the margins in the opposite direction of living wages.
Neighborhoods built for cars are not only unsafe for bicycles, but they are also unsafe for pedestrians. Planned unit development (PUD) returned to the trend of sidewalk coverage, but only in middle- and upper middle-class neighborhoods, and many have extensive bike lanes, creating somewhat of an option to traverse the areas by bike. Working class communities are often forced to hope that bonds address their lack of sidewalks, even though residents come home at odd hours and streets are poorly lit. Wealthy residents then assume that such people are unwilling to use bicycles, and only the influx of immigrants has made it blatantly apparent that bicycles are prominent in other parts of world where there are more bicycles than cars.
Public expectations will also need to change for bicycles to be considered a viable transit option. Unfortunately, the auto industry has marketed its product so well and changed the landscape of the country so dramatically that such a shift would only be realistic decades from now. Long-range planning needs to consider the effects of not having bicycles or pedestrians before low-income constituents are trapped without the possibility of income in their own communities.
Featured Image: Attendees of the Good Roads Convention, Grand Rapids, 1915. The Good Roads Movement was a call for improved road conditions led primarily by bicyclists. To learn more about the construction of early roads for bicycle traffic, read Roads Were Not Built for Cars by Carlton Reid.
Image Below: The Good Roads Year Book of 1912, Published by the Washington American Highway Association