25 May 2011

Frogs and Lizards Rank Higher Than Humans

Enrique Penalosa, former Mayor of Bogota, spoke at the International Transport Forum in Leipzig today and he brought an interesting observation to the discussion.

Millions of dollars are spent protecting frogs and lizards but pedestrians and cyclists often suffer from lack of infrastructure.

It's a great comment. Ranking frogs higher than humans in our spending.

What he is referring to is the many wildlife crossings that are built to protect wildlife and prevent wildlife/car conflicts. The most well-known examples are in Canada, providing safe passage for wildlife that wish to migrate across the Trans-Canada Highway:

What an impressive, expensive structure. I'm pleased that the wildlife doesn't have to suffer the destructive capability of the automobile. Hell, they don't even have to suffer SEEING the cars because of the foliage.

30,000 cars a day pass this point in Banff National Park in the summer. Which, however, is a number similar to the number of cars on many city streets. Here is a link to several other photos of these overpasses.

Here's a text from Parks Canada's website about the crossings:
This overpass was built JUST for wildlife (no humans allowed!). It’s on the Trans-Canada Highway in Banff National Park, which serves more than 30,000 vehicles a day in summer. As you can imagine, fencing this wide and very busy roadway has greatly reduced roadkills. But without crossing structures, park wildlife would be unable to move from one side of the valley to the other. And wild animals need to move freely throughout their habitat to stay healthy.

It's quite easy to see Penalosa's point. Great sums of money spent to protect animals but very little money spent to protect humans on bicycles or foot in our cities.

Look at the last sentence in the text from Parks Canada. Human beings are no different. They need to move freely throughout their habitat to stay healthy, too. If someone could tell me how much these overpasses cost, I'll tell how many km of cycle tracks could be built for the same money.

On the same website you can see an example of wildlife underpasses. The one above, from Wateron Lakes National Park, is designed specifically for long-toed salamanders. There are also 27 underpasses along the Trans-Canada Highway through Banff National Park, in addition to the overpasses.

In Davis, California, cute houses are built to hide tunnels that help frogs cross the street.

The company Theiss is proud of their highway fauna crossings in Australia, as you can see on their website. Although you can also read that "187,000 seedlings were planted, eventually equating to taking 1265 cars off the road.". Ignoring the Bull and Greenwashing all at once. Plant trees, sure, but please don't pretend it reduces car traffic. Seedlings, as far as I'm aware, don't kill people in collisions.

Wildlife crossings were first built in the 1950's, in France. The 1950's really are a pivotal decade in urban mobility and not at all in a positive sense. The post-war prosperity that led to the explosive automobile boom in that decade. It was in the 50's that bicycle usage started to drop in cities all around the world as urban planners started to think car first and pedestrians/cyclists second. The cycle tracks in Copenhagen started to be removed in the 1950's to make space for cars and only reappeared in the 1980's.

This Wikipedia page has lots of information about wildlife crossings or ecoducts. They are found in many countries. Densely populated Netherlands is one nation that has many wildlife crossing solutions. But they invest, of course, in protecting their human cyclists first.

So that's what Penalosa was on about. And rightly so. Protect the wildlife with large amounts of taxpayers money. Absolutely. But don't do it without providing homo sapians in our cities with safe bicycle infrastructure and safe pedestrian facilities.

Safe urban mobility is a basic human right that deserves investment and vision.


Anonymous said...

What an incredible false dichotomy you've laid out above. If infrastructure priorities were laid out correctly, there is no reason why proper bicycle infrastructure and the type of projects you make fun of above (maybe you're being tongue in cheek about it, but still) couldn't co-exist. Its not an either/or situation.

Politicians fail to approve cycling infrastructure because they currently see little to no benefit in doing so, not because they're spending all the available money constructing wildlife crossings instead.

kfg said...

"maybe you're being tongue in cheek about it"

Or maybe you're just misreading it. He never said anything about its being "either/or." He noted that frogs do, but cyclists and pedestrian don't rate infrastructure.

It's the attitude he's calling attention to.

Anonymous said...

An interesting point to keep in mind. In the case of banff national park it is worth noting that they just completed a bike path parallel to the trans Canada highway between Canmore and banff that connects to the highway 1A which continues parallel to the trans Canada to lake louise and the icefields parkway.

Canada in general and Alberta in particular still have a long way to go when it comes to protecting vulnerable road users, but in the case of banff national park they have built te bike path at the same time as expanding the highway and the animal crossings.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Banff National Park and can say that there are way more animals that need help crossing than there are cyclists using that stretch of the highway. Parks Canada has ensured good cycle routes from Canmore to Lake Louise (84km). However, we can't expect too much in terms of cycling infrastructure in a land where distances between towns are so huge and terrible winter road conditions last for half of the year. The money spent on animal crossing structures and on biking infrastructure in this area is proportionate to the number of animals and cyclists respectively.

Platypus said...

Cyclists and pedestrians don't rate infrastructure? You mean *no* money is spent on them? *None*? Because that's the only way the author's point would be anything but a false dichotomy. A fair comparison would be the amount spent on ecoducts vs. the amount spent on bike lanes - not vs. an assumed zero. Then there could be an actual policy discussion instead of mere polemics.

tstreet said...

Just another reminder of what a menace automobiles and their roads are. Unfortunately, animals don't go out of their way to find overpasses or underpasses to get across highways. Thousands of animals will continue to get killed because auto drivers don't care and/or drive way too fast given the situation.

Pedestrians and bicyclists are probably better equipped mentally to protect themselves against autos than animals, but it is still a reasonable point that pedestrians and bicyclists need to be protected from autos.

Start by recognizing that we should not try to fix congestion with more and wider roads, but funds should be devoted to alternatives such as bikes, feet,
buses, streetcars, light rail, trains, subways, etc. Action should be based on the reality that maintaing and expanding road ways is a fruitless and dangerous task given the realities of dwindling resources and oil.

Larsen E. Whipsnade said...

I appreciate the question being asked, and I get the value of being provocative about such things, but I'm not sure I buy this post.

First, I agree with the previous poster who says this shouldn't be any "either/or" proposition. He's right. By presenting the issue as a zero sum game --funding for habitat restoration comes at the expense of bike infrastructure --you ultimately let the things that truly ARE soaking up all our public dollars off the hook.

Why not a comparison of bike expenditures versus a B-1 bomber?

Second, I disagree that this kind of mind exercise helps change mindsets. It might be different in your circle, but from where I sit the supporters of one are the same people supporting the other. So where does that leave your "mindset" argument?

It's the B-1 people who need a mindset adjustment, and if any of them happen upon this post I can assure you they won't come away rethinking their position. They'll continue to have equal amounts of disdain for bikers as they do for long-toed salamanders.

Nathan said...

Yeah, wow. This has to be the most disappointing Copenhagenize posting yet. Not only is this the most impotent of straw-man arguments, it seems to be just about the most aggravating misdirection of (il)logic I've seen recently.

No need to repeat what others have already posted (eloquently) above. Just also expressing my dissatisfaction that I expected more than such drivel from this blog.

Mikael said...

Thanks, kfg. Nice to see someone actually read the post.

If one reads it, one will note that I don't say at any point that bike lanes should be built in Banff National Park. I say "in our cities". I don't say "no to wildlife crossings!", I say, quite clearly, they're great, BUT why don't we invest the same amounts on infrastructure in our CITIES for homo sapiens.

Sometimes you really realise how the internet is killing off reading skills. The literary version of the MTV Generation.

Larsen E. Whipsnade said...


You said:

"Millions of dollars are spent protecting frogs and lizards but pedestrians and cyclists often suffer from lack of infrastructure."


"Ranking frogs higher than humans"


"Great sums of money spent to protect animals but very little money spent to protect humans"

and then kfg said:

"frogs do, but cyclists and pedestrian don't rate infrastructure."

Now you're both pretending that you never characterized this as an either/or or zero-sum proposition.

Yet it's explicitly what you SAID, repeatedly. It's the thesis of your post!

So before getting pissy with a long list of thoughtful commenters, You should consider improving your OWN reading comprehension skills.

ARiF said...

i could have sworn that Parks Canada built a legit human trail in the south side of the Trans Canada.

ad said...

While it might not have been your overall intention, I think a reasonable interpretation of your post above is that investing in any wildlife crossing infrastructure BEFORE investing in cycling and pedestrian infrastructure to a point you deem adequate (because, let's be honest, any nation building these things is also investing at least some money into pedestrian infrastructure as well) is a waste of resources.

How else do you explain this statement:
"Densely populated Netherlands is one nation that has many wildlife crossing solutions. But they invest, of course, in protecting their human cyclists first."

Instead of belittling your readers' reading comprehension skills, maybe you should spend the time correcting the obvious misunderstanding your message created.

kfg said...

"How else do you explain this statement"

How about as an explicit acknowledgement that it isn't a zero sum game, which is much the point of his thesis, that it isn't done simply because it isn't considered important enough to bother, rather than because the resources and knowledge aren't available?

ZA_ZF said...

I have to second what "Anonymous" (first) has said.

Ultimately, a human has a (however inadequate) choice of how to move around the world, and can complain and organize to improve those choices. A wild animal is politically mute. The political success of conservation biology by its advocates does not come at the cost to cyclists or pedestrians.

Indeed, as anyone who has riden a rural bike path or descended a rocky trail can tell you - wilderness (of which Denmark has preciously little) and human hikers and cyclists in it, are *confederates* with common cause. Just be careful about the bears.

Stewart Midwinter said...

In Alberta, where that wildlife crossing was built, there is a highway running west from Calgary to Bragg Creek, very popular with cyclists on the weekends. The provincial gov't wants to upgrade this road to carry even more truck traffic, and the Transportation Dept. spokesman recently suggested that bikes don't belong on that highway. Incredibly, he then suggested that if cyclists want a parallel pathway to mitigate their risk, they should fund it themselves!

Nathan said...

Mikael, perhaps what your readers are telling you is that more thoughtful arguments (and responses) would do yourself a favor. I think it is fascinating that instead of seeing where your piece might have been misinterpreted, you simply presume that your own blog followers are illiterate and dimwitted. Well, thanks for thinking so highly of us.

Regarding your actual piece, it says right there in the title, "Frogs and Lizards Rank Higher than Humans." YOU are the one that intended to be sensationalist, and we would have expected cogent arguments to back up such an assertion. Or at least some deft literary skill to make the transition to a more sensible topic. Yet nowhere in your rant (it really reads as nothing more) do you clarify this position, of how species extinction compares to (or is even relevant to) sound transportation policy. Conflating national budget expenditures with municipal services and urban planning? But yeah, we're the morons here. Thanks for pointing that out.

shuichi said...

It is the first time that I have seen such a fantastic wildlife bridge. I was fascinated by such a thought. However, it might be a huge budget. My friend coincidently sent me a funny flying animal across the road by a kind guy. You don't think it is related to the wildlife bridge. However I would like to send the link;http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KAmV8q4Y3b4&feature=player_embedded.
Anyway, thank you for sharing the great wildlife bridge.

Ryan said...

Ontario has the same thing being built:

Although many say it's to protect the wildlife, it's more then likely to protect motorists (IMO).
Some provinces want to cull certain animals (deer, elk etc.) because of car/wildlife conflicts.

I know many in Canada like to defend the lack of spending on bicycle infrastructure because of the "great distances", however the vast majority of Canadians live in large urban centres...These "great distances" is a reason Canada is in dire need of upgrading our rail to a modern, high speed system.

Alan said...

In fact you don't have to travel to Banff National Park to see a wildlife bridge - there is one right on your own doorstep here in Denmark. When the Fynsk Motorway (Highway 9) was constructed a couple of years ago, 18 million kroner was spent constructing the 'Hasselmus-broen' just north of Svendborg.
The Hazel Dormouse is endangered here and the motorway was constructed right through the middle of one of it's remaining habitats so the bridge was built to enable the animals to safely cross above the 130kph traffic flow.
The Hasselmus is endangered and that surely warrants some action on our part.

tstreet said...

If frogs and lizards ranked higher than humans, we wouldn't be in the mess we are in. Less autos and more bicycles will help frogs and lizards even without overpasses for frogs and lizards.

See. Encouraging bicycle use is a win win.

didrik said...

It never ceases to amaze me just how often people completely miss the point of or get offended by an article on this or other blogs advocating for proper infrastructure.

The point of this article seems pretty straight forward:

“Millions of dollars are spent protecting frogs and lizards but pedestrians and cyclists often suffer from lack of infrastructure.”

“It's quite easy to see Peñalosa's point. Great sums of money spent to protect animals but very little money spent to protect humans on bicycles or foot in our cities.”

That’s it.

It’s like there’s some deep psychological resistance that dreams up false accusations. If Mikeal writes a post about how vehicular cycling isn’t working to draw large numbers of people into using bicycles as practical transportation, it seems to draw out a bunch of people who use vehicular cycling because the have to—not because they want to—into commenting about how offended they are by his assertion.

If there is an article about how “normal” bikes with fenders and chain guards are more likely to be used by your average Joe, then everybody with a road bike in the English speaking world writes in to say how they have been offended by this terrible slight to their bicycle choice. Oh, and how riding their road bike around in their team uniform has inspired 100s maybe even 1000s to cycle. Uh huh.

I even when back and put the correct “ñ” in Peñalosa’s name because I knew someone would comment about correct Spanish spelling if I didn’t. Because after all, correct Spanish was the point of my comment.

Brent said...

Ever seen what happens when a car hits a moose or an elk, Einstein? It's not just the safety of the animals at stake...