Why the Bus Got So Bad, and How to Save It

Out of Darkness, Light Rail

Author Laura Bliss January 17, 2020

In an era of austere federal funding for urban public transportation, light rail seemed to make sense. Did the little trains of the 1980s pull their own weight?

When San Diego opened its light rail system in 1981, Mayor Pete Wilson declared it “a good idea whose time has come again.’” The bright red train cars, known as “the Trolley,” harked back to the urban railway that spanned 165 miles across metropolitan San Diego until 1949. As in so many North American cities, that streetcar system was ripped out as the automobile era dawned.

But the San Diego Trolley was built with a different spirit and purpose than its predecessor. It was light rail. And from San Diego, the new mode would spread across North America. Far cheaper to build than a subway, faster than a streetcar, and perhaps more alluring than a bus, light rail was seen as the answer to congested highways, growing populations, and civic fantasies of a dozen U.S. cities in the 1980s and early ‘90s.

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This Decade’s Mobility Winner? The Bicycle

Transport Stock

Author Enrique Dans

Bike-sharing has revolutionized urban transport over the last decade, and some studies are predicting that electric bicycles, which are easy to use in hilly cities, will become the go-to mobility solution, with forecasts of more than 130 million units set to be sold globally between 2020 and 2023.

The number of bike-sharing options in cities around the world has doubled since 2014, and the number of bicycles in operation has increased twenty-fold. Cities like Seville and Paris have deployed ambitious bicycle-based mobility programs, while in others, like New York, it has become the best and fastest option for getting around.

Obviously, bicycles aren’t for everyone, but it can, with the right planning and means, be a very good way to decongest cities, both in terms of traffic density and air quality. Tech platforms such as Google Maps or Citymapper already show the location of bicycles and availability at parking stations in cities around the world, which is an important step, as is the fact that companies such as Uber are moving their priority from cars to bicycles and scooters for short journeys: both Uber and Lime are pondering flat-rate systems to make the use of their fleets more attractive.

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At Marin County Bicycle Coalition, we promote the bicycle as a tool for good-

At Marin County Bicycle Coalition, we promote the bicycle as a tool for good–for the environment, our health, and our happiness. But under the looming threat of wildfires and natural disasters, we also see the bicycle as a tool for survival.

Over the past weekend, 185,000 people were ordered to evacuate Sonoma County under the threat of a wind-fueled wildfire. Gridlock ensued as thousands took to the roads in their cars at the same time. Fortunately, the evacuation did not take place in eye of the firestorm, and everyone was able to evacuate safely.

But that isn’t always the case, as we learned last year from the Camp Fire in Paradise, CA, where several people died sitting in traffic and many were forced to abandon their cars to flee on foot.

Does Your Escape Plan Include Bikes?

During the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa, Christina Ruiz rode her bicycle to safety while carrying her two toddlers in tow.

“I knew we had to get out,” she said. “There was no way we were going to make it through in the car.”

With Red Flag Warnings becoming increasingly frequent and the threat of fire on everyone’s minds, now is the time to think about emergency preparedness and create an escape plan, if you haven’t already.

Should a wildfire occur, most areas of Marin County will be susceptible to traffic jams like the one that occurred in Paradise, with hilly neighborhoods funneling traffic onto heavily-congested evacuation routes with few alternatives, if any. In these cases, your car may not be the best escape option.

In addition to being able to circumnavigate traffic jams, bicycles–and especially cargo bikes–are gaining traction as an essential disaster-response tool due to their ability to go where cars cannot, including on sidewalks and pathways. And it’s much easier to get over and around obstacles, like fallen trees or power lines.

As Marin prepares for another Red Flag Warning and Public Safety Power Shutoff, we encourage you to carefully consider escape routes and whether your family will be able to evacuate by car or bike should a wildfire occur.

Stay safe!


The Marin County Bicycle Coalition Team

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Why Asking for Bike Lanes Isn’t Smart

There’s a quote that’s stuck with me for some time from Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom: “You know why people don’t like liberals? Because they lose. If liberals are so f***ing smart, how come they lose so goddamn always?”

American urbanists and bike advocates are smart, or at least well informed. We know how important cycling is. We are educated about cycling cities in other parts of the world and how they are so much better for health, well-being, economics, traffic, pollution, climate, equity, personal freedom, and on and on.

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