Sunday, 17 April 2016
Why "it's too expensive" and it will take 45 years" arguments don't hold up.
This night as I was reading Mark Treasure's As Easy as Riding a Bike blog and thinking about the cost of cycle paths on my bed, I realized something. Mark's post was about using the extra roadway space to build cycle paths. He said a lot about reconstruction, and this is where I had my "a ha" moment.
I realized something fundamental about the cost of building roads. They will need to be replaced at some point. This is a critical thought. All roads and paths need to be replaced over time. It's the ship paradox, which is the original road if you gradually replace parts of it? We don't usually notice because only some areas are rebuilt at a time and very few brand new roads are built, and even when they are, they are usually only noticed by residents. Only freeways and divided highways tend to get that much attention, as well as projects like twinning 23 Ave a long time ago. As time goes on, we can't even remember a time before daily using the old road or thing. I can't remember ever driving on Ellerslie Road past the church near Calgary Trail without it being a 4-6 lane arterial road, but it was once a 2 lane road with no divide between the two directions.
Including cycleways as part of a road reconstruction (or indeed, as a new construction) is almost nothing, especially if you replace existing lanes of traffic with cycleways, widened grass medians or sidewalks, and even building separate bus lanes physically separated with a median is actually less than the cost of building a pair of lanes for motor traffic in the same space in many cases because then you don't need bays to stop in or things like a construction allowing for large trucks all of the time (buses tend to run even on BRT corridors maybe every 7.5-10 minutes during off peak times, less often than trucks tend to and trucks usually weigh more).
So because every road will eventually need to be rebuilt at some point and including non motor traffic facilities (buses are technically motorized, but they don't induce demand for cars and don't need freeways), what would happen if roads began to be replaced now?
It would increase costs, but only right this minute. Well, right this timeframe, maybe 5 years, but there are many benefits that justify the cost. Crashes go down when Sustainable Safety is introduced, and crashes require a huge amount of money to rectify the damage, and sometimes the damage is permanent, from someone being too scared to cycle again to killing someone. An average life is statistically although not emotionally about 7.9 million dollars in 2006 US currency. We don't need as many resources or money to reconstruct roads in the future, given that we would have less to reconstruct and well built cycleways don't need to be replaced as often just by wear and tear. We would encourage cycling and walking on masse, very quickly so long as we build a network of cycleways. This reduces our spending on cars, until we all get Telsas, gasoline and diesel. We get health benefits. You're never too late to start cycling. We get economic benefits. People get sick less often, students are happier and healthier in school and do better in school. The long term benefits would easily outweigh the short term costs.
People so often feel like short term benefits are better than long term benefits if the latter involves some sort of small cost. Not even that long term, maybe 30 minutes from now, or even just 5 years from now, a time most of us will still be around and have lives that mostly resemble those right now. 5 years from now, we probably will have a functioning Valley Line LRT in Edmonton. What else do we want to see in even just 5 years? People can't help but have biases towards easy short term goals vs slightly harder very large long term goals, but we can keep our emotional brain in check and keep using our logic sensors to great effect.
We've done many great things by investing in the present to make a great future. Just yesterday I went on a plane of my own accord for the first time and conquered my aerophobia. It took a lot of convincing myself that the statistics in favour of it were far greater than the costs, but I did it. And so can Edmonton and the rest of the car centric world realize the error of it's ways, make some short term sacrifices to have a greater future with longer lives, healthier people, happier people, and a system which gives sustainable transportation to everyone regardless of income and ability. When do we want it? And when will we realize that we are killing ourselves with our cars, directly and indirectly, and that the benefits of Sustainable Safety and cycle paths everywhere with 30 km/h zones everywhere else are worth it?