Suppose We Invested Our Retirement Funds Like This?


Let’s do a bit of a ‘thought experiment‘. Ask yourself if there are any streets where bike lanes have been installed that you still think are ‘too dangerous‘? In fact is there more than one that came to mind?

Now let’s ask ourselves why these streets (despite their bicycle infrastructure improvements) still seem lacking? You might have decided that:

  • cars still travel too fast
  • lanes are too narrow
  • you think the bike lane should be to the right of parked cars
  • lights are poorly times
  • pavement really sucks
  • etc., etc.

Now ask yourself why these streets were designed the way they were? This is important so give it some thought.

Baking Analogy

When you follow a baking recipe there is little room for variation. You either add the correct ingredients in the proscribed order or things fall flat, literally. So we need to ask why the installers of this roadway we dislike got it wrong.

Did they not follow the recipe? Did they try to add things that were not needed or were there some things missing?

One thing you might not realize is that there really is ‘no recipe‘. Yes, there are books full of ideas about what kinds of tricks you could play to get a road just right, but there is ‘nothing definitive‘. It is a bit like trying to design a new bicycle.

You have a general notion of how many wheels you want the thing to have. You have a general idea of whether it will be an upright or recumbent design. But there are lots of little things that go into a bike design that may or may not work for your new bike.

This is the same problem with bicycle infrastructure creation. You might have to rework the design over a period of years before you get it good enough that you have a positive impact on the number of deaths occurring along that stretch of road and whether or not (as a result) people feel safe in riding it.

Stock Portfolio Analogy

If you ever plan to retire you will need to have a portfolio of savings and stocks that are design to allow you to sustain your current lifestyle into your senior years.

So when you go into a brokerage or see a life insurance specialist or a certified financial planner you will get all sorts of varied advice. But generally there is going to be an acknowledgement that having a ‘varied portfolio‘ helps in weathering the down turns in the economy.

Where exactly does the bicycle infrastructure portfolio (if I may call it that) show that ‘balanced variation‘ with respect to its impact on traffic? Frankly, the only approach that seems to be used in larger cities is the ‘shotgun‘ approach.

You can see this at work all over Chicago. Everything from admitted failures like the Berteau Greenway to the Kinzie PBL are in evidence. Even the Dearborn Street PBL is a bit of a disappointment. And all of these have reasons for not being liked.

Some of these even include the nifty special effects like personalize traffic signals for bikes. It appears that getting things just right is about as iffy as choosing stocks.

In fact you might ask the question, why would you invest in stocks (which can go up and down) when you probably should be investing in interest-bearing tools like savings accounts to watch you money grow as you grow older.

So my question would be where is the evidence that we are investing our tax dollars in things that really work? And if they turn out to not work what are our alternatives?

What Role Does Culture Play?

I have a hunch that what works in Amsterdam might not work here. But it is difficult to say why. But certainly the culture of the country has a lot to do with it.

So perhaps the better approach is to determine how to change American Culture or better yet how to adapt to that culture assuming it really cannot be changed.