The Active Transportation Plan Prioritizes Safety over Car Subsidies

What will it take to convince Alamedans to begin using alternative means of transportation to get around? It will take an investment in infrastructure that cars currently enjoy. The draft Active Transportation Plan presents a vision of the infrastructure required to increase safety and convenience of non-vehicular transportation.

Why are cars such a problem? Though they provide convenience and flexibility to those who can afford them, they simultaneously pollute the air, damage roads, and require immense amounts of space to store. Above all, they are dangerous. Pedestrians, cyclists, and other motorists are killed regularly by vehicles and drivers. As the draft Active Transportation Plan notes (p. 23), over 2,200 people were injured or killed in collisions in Alameda between 2009 and 2018. We have subsidized and prioritized cars as the dominant form of transportation with money, land, and ultimately, people’s lives. This has come at the detriment of any other form of transportation which has further increased reliance on cars. When people argue that streets should be “enjoyed by all modes of transportation” they are arguing for the maintenance of the status quo, which continues to prioritize convenience and subsidies for drivers, which automatically excludes kids and seniors without licenses, at the expense of others’ safety.

At worst, bicycles, scooters, and other wheeled or active forms of transport require electricity (for the electronic versions) and some pavement. They do not produce emissions simply by their use and they have the added benefit of providing exercise. Moreover, people utilizing these modes of transportation are not causing the majority of life-changing injury collisions in Alameda. According to the draft ATP, people who are walking or biking are involved in 62% of life-changing injury crashes and the top two behaviors associated with those crashes were a result of failing to yield to pedestrians and traveling at unsafe speeds (presumably by cars, since even e-bicycles and scooters have difficulty going over 25mph).

Everyone in Alameda deserves safety whether they are driving, cycling, scooting, or walking. While I wouldn’t argue that the current system is safe even for cars, the system obviously continues to prioritize the safety of those in vehicles to the safety of others. The draft Active Transportation Plan is a great start at designing a system that will improve safety for all in Alameda and provide much needed separation from cars in the form of protected bicycle lanes and greenways (in addition to other infrastructure and programs).

I recognize that it’s impossible to eliminate all trips made by car in Alameda, but we should at a minimum try to decrease the number of trips that cost the most to our infrastructure, environment, and citizens’ safety. Replacing a few trips to the shopping center, school, or work, will go a long way towards increasing safety in general, increasing health, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But in order for folks to feel comfortable making this shift, we need to make it safer. That may require folks who prefer cars to “suffer” a few inconveniences that non-drivers have been dealing with for decades.

I want to encourage folks to read through the draft Active Transportation Plan yourself and send your feedback as letters to the editor and to city officials as well. I hope you’ll agree that these investments in infrastructure and safety are well worth the minor inconveniences to car users.

— Maria Piper

Maria Piper is an Alameda resident.