The backlash against AAA firebrand Lon Anderson’s anti-bike-lane diatribe has gotten the attention of his colleagues at AAA Mid-Atlantic.
WashCycle, the Bike League, FABB, WABA, Martin Austermuhle in the Examiner, myself, and others all criticized the inflammatory press release, which got picked up uncritically by Fox 5, Newschannel 8, and (mildly critically) the Post.
Cleveland Park listserv manager Bill Adler also chose to inaugurate a new op-ed feature with another version of what Herb Caudill called “Lon Anderson’s heartfelt plea that our public policy be more car-centric, not less.” Few Cleveland Parkers were persuaded, however, with more replies recommending people join Better World Club, an alternative to AAA that doesn’t “sign 50 million people up for roadside assistance, and then ... turn around [and] tell lawmakers that those 50 million people all oppose the Clean Air Act, safety standards, airbags, mass transit, bike lanes, speed limits, and high fines for running red lights — all by virtue of their ‘membership’ in the ‘club’,” as Caudill put it.
Many people wrote here, on Cleveland Park, and elsewhere that they planned to cancel their memberships in AAA. Enough must have done so to trigger a response by AAA walking back the rhetoric. Kim Snedaker, Social Media Manager at AAA Mid-Atlantic, posted a comment on multiple blogs on behalf of Ron Kosh, VP of Public and Government Affairs, saying that “AAA Mid-Atlantic does not oppose bike lanes in the nation’s capital,” and John Townsend, AAA spokesperson, followed up with another statement.
Instead of talking about a “war on drivers,” Kosh and Townsend choose to focus on process. Kosh wants “1) a published mobility analysis and full traffic impact study, 2) an environmental impact study, and 3) completion of a public comment period.” There was a public meeting on the bike lanes, though the opportunities for public input were scarcer than some other DDOT projects, including the 15th Street cycle track. But doing a complete EIS for every bike lane is ridiculous.
Good process is important, and public comment isn’t a step agencies should skip or try to minimize. However, opponents of a project tend to hide behind process when they’re losing the argument on the merits. At a recent DC Council hearing, Meg Maguire of the Committee of 100 reiterated her opposition to overhead wires and also insisted that she supported streetcars. However, the Committee wants a thorough set of studies, including a complete EIS for the complete streetcar system before a single foot of rail is laid.
I told the Councilmembers that I had a hard time believing all the protestations of support for streetcars, given the many procedural hurdles wire opponents would like to add to the process in addition to the issue of propulsion technology. At the same time, I agreed with Ms. Maguire that I’d like to hear more about the propulsion, and we got to do just that at last week’s seminar.
We do need public involvement in decisions. Agencies need to explain what they’re planning to do, give people a chance to comment, then announce what they’ve chosen. In the case of streetcars, I believe DDOT is providing ample opportunities for input. They did for the 15th Street lane as well. For Pennsylvania Avenue, it might have been on the light side, as the single public meeting happened after DDOT had already nearly finalized the design and already presented it to the Commission on Fine Arts for review.
However, AAA really opposes the lanes themselves. And they’re entitled to. I disagree. WashCycle has a thorough rebuttal of their arguments. But if Snedaker, Kosh and Townsend are being forthright, perhaps AAA Mid-Atlantic is ready to step back from their “war on drivers” screeds.
The “war” rhetoric is destructive. It pits drivers against everyone else, when increased walking, bicycling and transit ridership is good for drivers, and many people are sometimes drivers and sometimes users of other modes. It tends to maximize Anderson’s chance of getting quoted in the Post, which is why he does it. But it doesn’t reflect the actual opinions of AAA’s members, who just want to know they can get a tow if their car breaks down and don’t actually resent every square inch of space that’s not dedicated to their exclusive use.
Enough of the war rhetoric. If AAA really wants to represent their members, they’ll tone down the hyperbole and work on making progress on issues that really are serious, like distracted driving and badly-designed roadways that make it too easy for drivers to inadvertently kill people.