Original post date: 3/9/11
Here at Bike Delaware World Headquarters, we have been concerned about the absence of boxing metaphors on the blog. To address this issue we are inspired to ask, “Why didn’t Muhammad Ali fight Roberto Duran?”
Ali and Duran are often ranked among the greatest boxers of all time. Moreover, they were both at the height of their careers at the same time. Ali was the heavyweight champion during some of the same years (1974-78) that Duran was the reigning lightweight champion (1972-1979).
Why didn’t they fight each other?
Basically, because it wouldn’t have been a fair fight. Boxing weight classes were established in the late 19th century so that boxers would only be able to fight other boxers of similar size and weight. The idea, which has governed the sport ever since at both the amateur and professional levels, was to reduce the number of lopsided (and, consequently, boring) fights and to prevent large boxers from picking on smaller opponents.
Can you see where we’re going with this? Years ago, DelDOT had what they called a bike/ped “pool”. This was an upfront reservation of capital funds for bike/ped projects. All the potential bike/ped projects had to compete against each other on their merits for these limited funds. But they did not also have to compete directly against highways, bridges and roads. Then, at some point, DelDOT decided that a bike/ped “pool” wasn’t that great an idea and that all projects should compete against each another in a single, totally objective, prioritization process.
Well, why not? And why shouldn’t boxing get rid of weight classes, too? Why shouldn’t Duran have been required to fight Ali to keep his title? Wouldn’t a true champion fight all comers? And why shouldn’t bike/ped have to compete directly against road projects in a completely objective process?
The reason (one of the reasons, anyway) is that the result is boring. Duran, despite his tremendous skill, would not have been competitive with Ali in the ring. And, in Delaware, almost every last cent of DelDOT’s capital budget now goes to heavyweight projects like the Delaware Turnpike, US40 or Indian River Inlet Bridge. Lightweight bike/ped projects have almost completely disappeared from DelDOT’s capital budget.
There are other arguments for re-establishing a bike/ped “pool” at DelDOT, including cost-effectiveness, safety (16% of traffic fatalities in Delaware are pedestrians or bicyclists), public health (over a quarter of all Delawareans are obese and almost 10% have been diagnosed with diabetes), air quality, energy independence, climate change, etc….Bike Delaware usually talks about those. But, really, boring may be the best argument. While the public supports spending on non-motorized transportation options, in practice these small, lightweight projects have been unable to compete with the big boys in DelDOT’s capital budget prioritization process. So, year after year, we get wider, straighter, smoother and faster roads;and the expensive, unsafe, unhealthy and boring status quo continues.