23.6.14

Introducing the Half-Ass Bike Prize for Design Mediocrity

[Behold its glory.]
The story of bike planning goes like this. Someone decides it's time to do something for bikes. Maybe enough people complained. Maybe someone got hurt or killed in a horrible accident splashed. Maybe there's a pot of money somewhere. But for some reason someone decides it's time to do something for bikes.

Then a plan is made. It's probably a decent plan, something about bike lanes or bicycle boulevards or a new extension to a bike path or even (god forbid) an unprecedented protected bike lane.

Third there are meetings. At these meetings, it seems like everyone complains. We can't do this! It's impossible, too much traffic. But parking! Everyone begins their sentence with "Don't get me wrong..." or "I love riding my bicycle, but..." or "Some of my best friends ride bikes..."

[Dramatic re-enactment.]
Next the plan gets watered down. Many important design elements become victims of compromise. This happens quietly, in small rooms or on phone calls. Sometimes political leaders inform city staff what is possible; sometimes it's the other way around.

Finally, the plan is passed and (much later) the "something for bikes" is built. Often it is half-ass, which is a metaphorical term that refers to when you don't pull your pants all the way up. You've still got the "pants on," so you can't be accused of not making an effort. But your ass is showing...

In the bike planning world, to be "half-ass" means to have done something so symbolic as to border on meaningless.


The classic Minneapolis example would be the Hennepin Avenue bike/bus lanes, where a decent idea (bike/bus-only lanes on a major street through downtown) became so compromised in implementation and enforcement as the kind of laughingstock that throws into question the very legitimacy of road design in the first place.

The existence of this half-ass infrastructure is not only almost lost today, but triggered the birth of an advocacy group (the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition) which has grown astoundingly in size and influence.

[Safety!]
But know this friend: half-ass infrastructure is still out there. It's still being built. It is a story mumbled and forgotten again and again, even as the half-ass sharrow-laden street fades to obscurity. It's time to start recognizing the half-assed among us. It's time for the inaugural TCSidewalks Half-Ass Bike Prize for Design Mediocrity.

Hennepin Avenue isn't an "official winner." Rather,  it remains the archetype for a half-ass bike lane, now and forever. So stay tuned, the first Official Winner will be announced this week!

[Hennepin Avenue, Half-Ass Emeritus.]

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