Opinion Your Views — 13 March 2014
Heading down the path to a compromise on contentious King Street bike lane proposal

By Dino Drudi, Alexandria
(File Photo)

To the editor:

Alexandria Traffic and Parking Board member Kevin Posey remonstrated against his colleagues’ decision to delay bicycle lanes on the King Street hill for further discussion, preferring instead to defer to professionally trained staff and — in his words — cyclists familiar with bike lanes and what King Street is like. He later likened the board’s decision to “an airplane passenger telling the pilot how to fly the plane.”

As one who sat through the six-hour hearing and spoke after midnight, these remarks say more about a board member’s governing philosophy than the subject.
At the country’s founding, the polity divided between Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian political philosophies. Both favored an ordered republic over Europe’s monarchies and principalities, but approached government from two distinct vantages. Jeffersonians believed in bottom-up governance with a highly involved populace whereas Hamiltonians believed in governance from the center with a vibrant middle-class coordinated by a dominant commercial establishment.

Around the time of World War I a new philosophy arose. Progressivism adapted Old World aristocracy into a republican framework under the rubric of deference to — or rule by — experts. Posey’s argument fits this model: The experts have spoken and who are we to question their conclusions?

This is even though experts’ pet theories evolve over time and what was often thought vogue by one generation’s thinkers is considered completely bogus by the next. Experts, moreover, often take a narrower view of issues than generalists, who weigh competing interests.

A Jeffersonian would react to Posey’s quip as role confusion. The traffic and parking board represents the pilot’s superiors, the duly designated representatives of the people’s elected government. They are in charge of overseeing the airline, with every prerogative to tell the pilot how to fly.

A Hamiltonian would describe Posey’s remark as an example of tunnel vision. The impact on residents’ day-to-day lives, property values and so on seem to have gotten the short shrift.

The traffic and parking board was wise to seek an agreement — even if the two sides don’t especially like it — with each faction giving and taking. This is far better than one side getting its bicycle lanes and giving up hardly anything, while the other side is extraordinarily and unreasonably burdened by losing its parking.

 

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(1) Reader Comment

  1. If the discussion it about safety, then leaving the discussion in the hands of the users and professional experts seems to make sense. In this case, the bicyclists and the transportation staff.

    If the discussion is about values, then yes, the conversation should be happening at the level of the traffic and parking board. Here’s a value question I want answered. If parking it so valuable, why do we give it away practically for free? The cost of a residential parking permit is $30 / year. So even though parking is a precious resource, we charge people just $0.08 / day to use it.

    What is a reasonable cost to ask people to pay if they want exclusive use of public land? What is a reasonable cost to ask people to pay if they want to permanently obstruct a possible lane of traffic? That parking lane could be a lot of other things – a pair of bike lanes, a reversible third lane for cars, a priority lane for buses. But we can only have a conversation about what works best for the transportation needs of residents, workers, and visitor if we move beyond the idea that automobile parking should be both abundant and free.

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