Posted on June 8, 2015
Peduto sets Pittsburgh on down cycle
“It isn’t the way it was in 1970,” says Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto. “Not everyone’s dream is to have their own car and use it to get to work.” Actually, you’d have to go back a lot farther than 45 years to find a time that having a car was “everyone’s dream.” The Model T had made that a reality half a century earlier. By 1970, it was just a normal facet of life in a civilized Western nation. Well, we can’t have that, now, can we?
Peduto vowed last September that “Pittsburgh will become a cycling Mecca,” an ambition that was nowhere to be heard during the previous year’s mayoral campaign. He made this declaration while introducing his new “bicycle and pedestrian coordinator,” a title that suggests how little credit liberal politicians typically give their constituents, as if we required government supervision just to walk down the street.
The mayor’s plans have since started to take shape. Several major roads and bridges around town have been reduced to one lane of traffic in each direction, in order to make room for the suddenly ubiquitous bike lanes. Curbside bicycle rental stations have popped up throughout the downtown area, paid for partly with federal tax dollars, in an attempt to create a demand where none had existed before. An ironically titled project called “Open Streets Pittsburgh” closes off 25 downtown intersections from automobile traffic for one Sunday morning every month, so that city streets may be dedicated to cycling, “healthy activities,” and general snobbery.
Why does the mayor think it’s a good idea to hinder automobile traffic while encouraging a more primitive mode of transportation? Because they do it in Copenhagen. What better reason does a corksniffing elitist need? Since Peduto visited the Danish capital early last year, he’s blathered about it in much the same way that Cliff Clavin bores his friends with trivial facts about Florida. “Copenhagen has 500,000 bike commuters,” he boasted, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Forty years ago, it was just like Pittsburgh,” meaning that it was littered with those bourgeois motor vehicles. The assumption is that if a European city has become less like an American city, that cannot help but be progress.
So how is it that they’ve become so much more sophisticated in Copenhagen than we are in Pittsburgh? “As infrastructure was built, more people started to use bikes, and as more people used bikes, more infrastructure was built.” In other words, the citizens had always wanted to reject the comfort, efficiency and advanced technology that automobiles have to offer, but needed their benevolent government to ease the transition for them. Unsurprisingly, there’s a little more to it than that.
Let’s say you’re in the market for a new car, which in this country might cost you $20,000. In Denmark, there’s a 105 percent sales tax on cars, until the price reaches a certain threshold, at which point it jumps all the way to 180 percent. As a result, that same car would cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $50,000. Still interested? In addition, Danish car owners are assessed an annual “green owners tax,” which has a variable rate depending on the vehicle’s fuel efficiency. As if that weren’t enough, Danes pay among the highest gasoline prices in the world, thanks to taxes in excess of $3.50 per gallon.
Contrary to Peduto’s explanation, people do not freely choose a lower standard of living just because infrastructure projects have made it more accessible. They do it because they are victims of government coercion. If the law punished people for using MP3 players and CDs, it would create a renewed demand for cassettes, but that wouldn’t mean we preferred them.
Peduto surely understands this, because the measures he’s taken, though less severe, are likewise designed to compel a change in behavior. If deliberately exacerbating traffic congestion and temporarily closing streets for its own sake doesn’t get the intended results, he and his cycling czar are bound to think of something worse.
Liberal politicians view progress as anything that expands the power of authoritarian central planners like themselves. The people they supposedly serve, having diametrically opposed interests, must therefore be pushed backward. Thus, a society regresses just as its government becomes more “progressive.” Today, the people are pressured to trade their cars in for bicycles. Tomorrow, they may be told to turn off their air conditioners, take three-minute showers, and eat insects. Then, political leaders may approvingly declare, “It isn’t the way it was in 2015.”
The Shinbone: The Frontier of the Free Press