One of the biggest challenges of making cities more bike friendly is that most of the road space is already "used up." Adding bike lanes means removing something. That's when a bit of perspective comes in handy.
Convincing your city's decision-makers and other citizens to replace some car infrastructure with bike infrastructure can be a huge challenge. Unfortunately, arguing that shifting more people to bicycling will free up space on the roads and reduce congestion isn't always effective. So, how have other cities succeeded in breaking through the anti-bike barrier?
Montreal city planners have one tip. Back in 2005, when they were working on a downtown bike project that has helped make Montreal one of the better North American cities for bicyclists, they wanted to take out 300 parking spaces. Anyone who has played this game for, I don't know, 5 days, knows that requesting removal of parking spaces is a good way to get yourself stoned by the locals. Trying to find a way around a public stoning while still requesting that 300 parking spaces be turned into bike lanes, the planners decided to put things into perspective.
The planners counted up all of the parking spaces within 200 meters of the project. They came to a total of 11,000. Of course, 300 compared to 11,000 doesn't sound like much, and that leaves a full 10,700.
Put in other terms, it's just ~2.7% of the parking spaces in the area.
"The effect on the debate was a surprise," said Jean-Francois Pronovost of Vélo Québec. "No one estimated that there was that number of car parking [spaces] available."
There's probably some kind of natural law explaining this, but I'm sure humans have a tendency to underestimate the number of parking spaces in any given area. In actuality, our cities are flooded with parking spaces. Many places are designed to accommodate Black Friday crowds, even required to do so by local zoning laws. But when we can't find parking for 10 seconds, we get the idea that there isn't much parking in the area.
If you're trying to bring some sanity back to your city's transportation system and you're tackling a tough problem like removing hundreds of parking spaces, try using a bit of perspective. You can make numbers that might seem big without context seem very small in context. Make it seem downright absurd to fight against something like a shift from 11,000 parking spaces to 10,700. Slip your tempting (and genuinely helpful) bike project in by understanding how humans think about things and how to make a benign project actually appear benign.
I'm sure there are other good ways to add perspective about such a project as well. Chime in with more tips if you have them. Another idea I love is using piled up snow on the roadway "as tracing paper" to identify areas of the roadway that are really not needed and could be turned over to bikers and pedestrians.