Q&A: A Sustainable Transportation Advocate Explains Why Bikes and Buses, Not Automobiles, Ought to Be the Norm
Courtney Cobbs moved to Chicago from her dwelling state of Arkansas as a younger grownup who needed to stay a car-free life-style. She felt responsible that getting right into a automotive for essentially the most fundamental on a regular basis actions meant exacerbating local weather change alongside the best way.
She picked up biking when town debuted its bikeshare system, Divvy, in 2013. Cobbs rapidly skyrocketed to turn into one of many top 1 percent of Divvy customers by mileage (earlier than ultimately getting her personal bike) and now, she’s certainly one of Chicago’s most seen advocates for sustainable transportation.
The transportation sector is the biggest contributor to U.S. greenhouse fuel emissions, accounting for 29 percent of them in 2019. In recognition of this actuality, the Biden administration is pushing laborious for a speedy change to electric vehicles, which do much less harm to the environment. However considerably misplaced within the fervor for electrical vehicles and trucks are all the opposite types of transportation individuals can and sometimes should use.
Public transit programs in lots of U.S. cities are nonetheless reeling from a pointy drop in ridership in the course of the coronavirus pandemic and are calling for federal help. However many important employees and folks with low incomes had no selection however to proceed taking public buses and trains all through the worst of the pandemic.
Households that make less than $25,000 in yearly revenue are far much less more likely to personal a automotive, and households of color are usually much less more likely to personal a automotive than white households. So, Cobbs says, higher bus and prepare service along with safer infrastructure for bikers and pedestrians can fight environmental injustice in addition to local weather change.
But, within the infrastructure bill handed by the Senate this month, $100 billion is allotted to highways, bridges and roads primarily utilized by passenger vehicles—almost 3 times the $39 billion that’s earmarked for public transit. And different types of sustainable transportation are receiving even much less assist.
Whereas transit ridership fell final 12 months, strolling and biking charges shot up. However not all communities have streets designed with pedestrians’ and cyclists’ security and comfort in thoughts. In 2019, roughly 6,000 pedestrians and 800 cyclists died throughout america after being hit by vehicles, based on the Federal Highway Administration. Her personal harmful encounters with drivers motivated Cobbs to talk out for cyclists and for sustainable transportation generally. In 2020, she co-founded a corporation referred to as Better Streets Chicago with three different native transportation advocates. She writes about sustainable transportation as an assistant editor at Streetsblog Chicago, and engages together with her fellow Chicagoans on streets, trails and on-line to champion higher infrastructure—and a greater tradition of mobility to go together with it.
In a latest interview with Inside Local weather Information, Cobbs spoke concerning the urgency of the local weather disaster, how the coronavirus pandemic modified transportation in Chicago, her private experiences biking across the metropolis and the way america can construct extra sustainable and equitable transportation programs.
(This transcript has been edited for size and readability).
When did you begin biking?
Cobbs: I began when the bike share system right here in Chicago debuted. I knew that it was a really environmentally pleasant method to get round. It was enjoyable. It may be handy within the sense that if you happen to miss a bus otherwise you miss your prepare, you’ll be able to simply hop on a motorbike and go. And I actually like the liberty of being alone schedule, versus the schedule of the transit system.
What do the transportation choices in Chicago appear like proper now?
Cobbs: Our buses make up nearly all of the transit journeys taken right here in Chicago, however they don’t get quite a lot of love. Our buses are very gradual, as a result of we as a metropolis have chosen to not prioritize them, which leads to them being unreliable, which frustrates lots of people. There are actually massive investments occurring with our prepare system in the intervening time, and there’s not as a lot deal with bettering the bus expertise.
We’ve an enormous bikeshare system, the Divvy system—they’re seeing report numbers of journeys being taken. However I believe it’s despite the shortage of infrastructure. I don’t see painted bike lanes as true biking infrastructure, and it frustrates me to see individuals label it that. Like, “Oh, that is biking infrastructure.” No, it isn’t. It’s actually automotive infrastructure.
Our metropolis council is afraid to create the kind of biking infrastructure that we actually want, as a result of it’s going to [anger] the driving public, as a result of it’s going to end in parking areas being transformed to a protected bike lane, it’s going to change the structure of the road. There’s a lot room for enchancment within the biking panorama right here in Chicago. And I additionally acknowledge my privilege of residing in a neighborhood the place it’s comparatively bike-friendly, besides I nonetheless have experiences the place I worry for my life.
Are there important variations between totally different neighborhoods?
Cobbs: Once I lived on the South Aspect, on the time there have been no quote unquote bike lanes…
Biking, in some communities, is seen because the lowest type of transportation, the transportation of final resort. It’s like, “Oh, you’ll be able to’t even afford bus fare. So you must trip a motorbike.” For some individuals, that’s the case. And for others, it’s simply how they need to get round. I believe there’s quite a lot of untapped potential there, tons of people that would trip a motorbike if the infrastructure was protected and likewise handy.
There’s a notion that Black and brown individuals in decrease revenue neighborhoods don’t trip bikes. And there’s additionally the fact that plenty of individuals do trip bikes in these neighborhoods. [Those people] are simply not seen as vital or invaluable.
Why is it vital for individuals who care about transportation to care about race and sophistication and social justice?
Cobbs: On the finish of the day, the difficulty of local weather change goes to influence us all. However those that are decrease revenue, who’re Black and brown—we would be the ones most impacted. With a purpose to sort out these points, the best way I are inclined to see it’s that those that have essentially the most privilege needs to be those to vary first, and perhaps sacrifice a bit.
I do know lots of people don’t like that phrase, and it scares individuals. However when you’ve got essentially the most privilege, what are you able to do with that privilege to assist those that are at a drawback? How are you going to elevate their voices?
Not everybody has the aptitude of attending a gathering on transportation at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday night time—perhaps they’re working a second job, perhaps they’re taking good care of their youngsters, no matter it could be. So if you happen to do have the privilege of that free time, why not use it to advocate for one thing that can assist the lives of people who find themselves much less lucky than you?
Should you may redesign the best way transportation works in Chicago, what would it not appear like?
Cobbs: The overwhelming majority of our buses would have precedence on the streets. So they might have their very own devoted lane, they might have sign precedence the place the lights change to learn the bus. We might have all-door boarding, and maybe some pay as you go boarding the place individuals will pay for his or her bus fare forward of time. And when the bus arrives, all they should do is get on, versus the actually gradual course of now we have now.
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Has the pandemic modified the best way individuals get round Chicago?
Cobbs: There’s been an enormous enhance within the quantity of individuals biking. I see it with my very own eyes, our bike-share statistics mirror a rise in ridership, our bike outlets are offered out. Together with that, I believe there’s additionally been a rise in driving. Some individuals in my life who didn’t personal a automotive went out and purchased a automotive in the course of the pandemic due to…fears about contracting Covid on transit.
Numerous cities invested in pop-up bike lanes. Chicago didn’t do this. There have been no main enhancements.
It looks as if you’ve quite a lot of encounters with individuals, particularly ladies, who see you biking round city and get impressed to start out biking themselves.
Cobbs: I actually suppose my e-bike is to be credited with that. It’s been an actual dialog starter. Earlier than, after I had a conventional bike, individuals weren’t coming as much as me and saying, like, “Hey, I actually like your bike,” or “Wow, that’s a extremely cool bike.”
I believe there’s a lot untapped potential with e-bikes. I believe so many individuals need them and the cash that we’re investing in electrical automobiles—I believe a great portion of that cash could possibly be higher spent on getting individuals on e-bikes. However I don’t essentially suppose now we have to depend on the federal authorities, this may be completed on a metropolis or a state degree. In some European cities, they’re giving individuals cash to commerce of their vehicles for an e-bike, and we could possibly be doing the identical factor.
As a result of ladies are extra environmentally acutely aware, I believe they get that bikes are the best way to go. And e-bikes, particularly, generally is a technique to get extra ladies biking. However that has to come back after you create the protected biking infrastructure. Lots of people inform me, like, “Oh, you already know, I want I may trip a motorbike, but it surely’s so harmful.”
And I wish to remind individuals driving a motorbike in and of itself will not be harmful. It’s actually the vehicles which can be harmful.
Do you suppose there’s additionally one thing inspiring about seeing somebody who’s not the stereotypical Lycra-wearing white man bike round and be so smitten by it?
Cobbs: Completely. I keep in mind one time after I was all dressed up for a date, and I went there on my bike. I used to be coming dwelling, and this younger girl noticed me and she or he was like, “Oh, my gosh, you’re doing this in heels? Kudos to you.”