Ecocity Snapshots

Street Fight: Cars vs Bikes

Cycling advocates in many cities may have to fight to keep the bike lanes created during the pandemic.
Written by Rick Pruetz

by Rick Pruetz, Vice President, Ecocity Builders

Drivers strongly support bike lanes …. as long as they don’t reduce any lanes for cars. To win the fight for ecomobility, we need to remind everyone (including ourselves) that creating (or protecting) space for cars does not cure traffic congestion. This lesson is currently being relearned in Culver City, California.   

Culver City, an up-and-coming community of 40,000 people largely surrounded by the City of Los Angeles, adopted an ambitious mobility goal in 2021: “…a reimagining of our streets as public space [that] prioritizes moving people over cars.“  The plan, named Move Culver City, involved the creation of separate dedicated bus and bike lanes, a change that required a road diet resulting in one car lane in each direction through the 1.3-mile downtown corridor.

These changes achieved the city’s goals: cycling increased 57 percent, bus ridership rose 38 percent, and micro-mobility (e-scooters etc.) surged 68 percent. Even with the elimination of some car lanes, peak travel times for cars increased by only two minutes for westbound traffic and not at all for eastbound traffic.

Despite this positive outcome, a majority of the members of the Culver City Council recently voted for a two-year test of a “compromise configuration” requiring bicyclists to use the bus lanes and adding back a lane for cars. Dissenting elected officials said it was hardly a compromise considering how the City’s transportation system favors cars. Those opposed to car-dominated streets also note that cars not only create congestion but also spew climate changing greenhouse gas emissions and routinely injure or kill over 100,000 cyclists and pedestrians every year in the United States alone.

Cars dominate our roadways because we have catered to them. New cars cost roughly $10,000 per year to own, repair, fuel, insure, and store. Consequently, car ownership is unaffordable for households dependent on a single minimum-wage job. Despite these equity considerations, the elected officials surveyed the households of Culver City, where the overwhelming majority of residents travel by car.

Predictably, a majority of survey respondents opposed the elimination of car lanes possibly in the belief (or hope) that more space for cars means less congestion. But, the last 75 years has shown that cars will simply fill up as much space as you give them, leaving little or no improvement in traffic flow while severely worsening pollution, crashes, fatalities, GHG emissions, and overall quality of life.

As the the expansion of bike infrastructure under Move Culver City produced more cycling, expansion of car lanes allowed under the dismantling of Move Culver City will merely cause more cars to saturate that pavement. Amsterdam, Copenhagen, and various other cities recognized the hazard of induced demand decades ago. There are many reasons why these cities embraced eco-mobility. But one of the reasons was sheer practicality. In addition to being polluting and dangerous, cars consume too much space per person. These cities realized that giving cars preferential treatment limits the mobility of people while degrading safety and quality of life.


Fonseca, Ryan. In Culver City’s street space battle, cars are set to make a comeback. Los Angeles Times. April 26, 2023. Accessed at,In%20Culver%20City’s%20street%20space%20battle%2C%20cars%20are%20set%20to,buffered%20by%20bus%2Donly%20lanes.

About the author

Rick Pruetz

Rick Pruetz, FAICP, is Vice President of the Ecocity Builders Board and an urban planner who writes about sustainability, most recently Ecocity Snapshots: Learning from Europe’s Greenest Places and Smart Climate Action through Transfer of Development Rights.