In Olympic News, AAA Mid-Atlantic Wins a Gold Medal in Backpedaling

Back in 2010, when new bike lanes were being installed along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington DC, AAA Mid-Atlantic put out a press release titled "NEW BIKE LANES COULD MAKE A BAD THING WORSE." In it, spokesperson John Townsend stated that β€œIn the minds of many motorists and commuters this plan abounds with problems," "many motorists are wondering why this plan made it to the drawing board in the first place,” and "this plan is counter-intuitive." The press release's title also insisted that "New Bike Lanes Won't Entice District Motorists Out Of Cars," even though it later states that "20 percent of surveyed AAA members in the District said the changes would compel them to become regular bicycle commuters."

AAA Mid-Atlantic seemed very certain that bike lanes would increase congestion and not increase the number of people on bikes.

Just two years later, in early 2012, the Washington DC Department of Transportation released their statistics on the Pennsylvania Avenue bike lanes. Bicycle volume increased 200% after the lanes were installed. 90% of users said they felt safer, and nearly 3 in 4 residents believe the lanes to be a valuable asset to the neighborhood.

That press release (which has since been removed from AAA's website) starts to sound like Napoleon boldly proclaiming that steamships will never catch on. But we can't fault AAA Mid-Atlantic for not flip-flopping with the times.

On August 1st of 2012, in response to news that signs reading "Bicycles May Use Full Lane" have been posted on select roads in Maryland, Townsend stated that "Bicyclists have the right to use the full lane on narrow roads. As drivers, we are operating the heavier vehicle which can seriously injure a cyclist. So it is up to drivers to avoid a collision...signs may also decrease hostility between drivers and cyclists by informing all road users that cyclists have the right to be in the center of the lane."

It gives us at Better World Club hope to hear cyclists’ rights defended by a regional auto club that has, in the past, been a synonym for the highway lobby. 

There's another side to this issue, though, that still has us worried. In the case of Pennsylvania Avenue, real infrastructure changes were being enacted. Valuable urban space that had previously been dedicated to cars was being given to cyclists. In the case of signs along a 2-lane suburban road, nothing has substantively changed. Even though Townsend has also spoken in support of stronger laws for motorists who kill cyclists, AAA's national stance on cyclist and pedestrian safety seems to be much more talk than action.

In May of 2012, AAA's Managing Director for Government Relations and Traffic Safety Advocacy wrote to Washington to encourage support for Section 32301 of the Federal Transportation Bill. Section 32301 directs the DOT to require the use of on-board recorders on commercial trucks.

The letter stated that "this provision is an important step in the right direction for safety."

The Transportation Bill happened to also include language that removed guaranteed funding for Safe Routes to Schools as well as other bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure. We have found no record of AAA's opinions on the matter - and certainly no letters to Senators arguing for the safety of non-drivers.

-August 2012
Kicking Asphalt

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