Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

It’s progress, at least. AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend no longer says a new bike lane means “a war on cars.” Now, in criticizing a bike lane on L Street NW, he says, “I’m not saying it’s a war on cars, but…”

Townsend is very good at getting quoted in the press. After taking a lot of flack for the “war on cars” meme, he seems to have found a way to have it both ways with Examiner columnist Harry Jaffe.

Townsend was objecting to the new L Street bike lane, which DDOT started installing this week. The lane will provide a protected path for cyclists from New Hampshire Avenue to 12th Street. AAA Mid-Atlantic apparently isn’t happy that only 3 of the 4 lanes will be designed around cars, rather than all of them.

”[The bike lane] fails to recognize that the vast majority of people still rely on cars,” said Townsend. Townsend’s statement fails to recognize that the vast majority of street space is still devoted to cars as well. The few bike lanes DC has installed to date fall far short of allocating street infrastructure fairly.

Jaffe wrote:

As a cyclist, I am overjoyed. When the city creates a matching bike lane on M Street, perhaps in early 2013, I will be able to commute from home to work in dedicated bike lanes. But as a driver, I question whether it’s fair to autos. I see it creating miles of traffic if cops allow double parking, and I fear accidents if cyclists and drivers don’t respect one another. Bikers always lose.

He seems to be saying we shouldn’t install any bike lanes because the city might not enforce the laws, or drivers might drive dangerously. Maybe bikers do always lose—if we can’t try to make streets safer for them because other people might misbehave.

Brian attended a lunch briefing yesterday with Martha Roskowski of the Green Lane Project and officials from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). Jim Sebastian and Mike Godono of DDOT said that bicycle use on 15th Street NW has increased 272% since they installed the cycle track there, and 200% on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Bike crashes have remained steady, in spite of the increased numbers of riders, and there have been no additional pedestrian or car crashes as a result of the protected lanes. According to DDOT’s evaluation, the lanes’ impact on car traffic on 15th Street and on Pennsylvania Avenue has been negligible.

The Green Lane Project supports cities building separated “cycle tracks,” like the one on L. Unlike standard familiar bike lanes, separated cycle tracks place some kind of barrier between cyclists and other road users, such as plastic bollards, raised curbs, parked cars and more. The group believes that providing a protected space for bicyclists on the roadway will make streets safer and also entice the 60% of potential cyclists who are “interested but concerned.”

Furthermore, by separating bicyclists from car traffic, these kinds of lanes will create a predictable place for drivers to expect to see cyclists. Separating bike traffic from car traffic will reduce conflicts between drivers and cyclists and allowing each kind of vehicle to travel at its appropriate speed. With more road users on bicycles, this should reduce congestion for drivers as well.

These reasons show why the bikes-vs-cars tradeoff Jaffe and Townsend set out is a false one. More people bicycling means that drivers have fewer other cars to compete with. Bikes take up far less space, even when they get a lane-wide cycletrack on a few roads. Bike lanes even get bikes out of drivers’ way in many cases.

In a video report for NBC Washington that also plays up the conflict, Adam Tuss quotes a driver who complains about how he was driving down L Street “behind a bicyclist going 5 miles an hour dead in the middle of the lane, and traffic is backed up all behind him.” Later, the same driver suggests ticketing bicyclists who don’t use the bike lanes, and then, “I’m saying a lot of bicyclists don’t follow the rules.”

Actually, it’s completely legal to drive in the middle of the lane, and in fact that’s the recommended safest practice. Riding in a bike lane is also not required. Perhaps it’s the driver who needs to learn the rules, but building this bike lane could move a lot of cyclists out of car lanes, just what this driver wants.

It’s time to not just stop with the “war on cars” theme, but also its cousins, Townsend’s “I’m not saying war on cars but …” and “bikes are squeezing out cars” from Jaffe’s headline.

WABA put out an action alert asking residents to email Mayor Gray, DDOT Director Terry Bellamy, and Sebastian to thank them for building the L Street bike lane. It can’t hurt to also encourage them to quickly follow up with its planned twin on M Street. Please send them that message, and prevent the cars vs. bikes false choice from jeopardizing a very important project.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.

Brian McEntee writes the blog Tales From the Sharrows, where he talks about his daily bicycle commute from Capitol Hill to American University and many other subjects.