Thursday, November 21, 2013

Bicycles don't belong, because they don't pay their way?

It's the age-old, constantly-debated question, and a weapon of choice for motorists who resent cyclists on the road. "If they want to be on the roads, they should be paying registration"... have to buy insurance, etc. Cyclists aren't paying their fair share, goes the reasoning.

I saw THIS ARTICLE recently: "Drivers get Rolled," by Christopher Caldwell. It is well-written and somewhat sympathetic to cyclists, but Caldwell contends that motorists are picking up the tab. He feels cyclists are getting more than they deserve, when they get to share lane-space with cars. His bludgeon is number-of-drivers, compared with number-of-cyclists.

"According to the U.S. census, 120 million people drive to work every weekday, and 750,000 bike. In other words, there are 160 drivers for every biker. Bike use is growing—but even at 40 times the present level it would still not be sensible public policy to squander a quarter, a third, or half of the lane space on a busy rush-hour artery for a bike lane."

Interesting and valid point, and on its own, it might be an argument for banning bicycles from roads, at least those roads that don't have adequate bike lanes.

But it seems strangely at odds with this, from the same article: "The problem is that our transportation network, built at the cost of trillions over the decades, is already over capacity... It is not so easily rejiggered. Unquestionably we have misbuilt our transport grid. It makes us car-dependent. It should better accommodate bikers and walkers. But for now it can’t."

So - he really offers no solution to the problem of overcrowded roads and bike riders, but his point seems to be that bikes impede car traffic, so they don't belong. And that must change at the expense of the cyclists who will use the facilities, or it's not fair to the motorists.

There are some other "cues" that seem to explain his viewpoint:
1) He begins with a story about a large group of recreational cyclists taking over the highway in rural New Hampshire.
2) He seems to think that cyclists are mostly affluent and upper-class. (Which may be somewhat true for recreational/sport cyclists, but certainly not for transportation cyclists! Look around, Mr. Caldwell! Lots of people ride a bike because they can't afford a car!)

Frankly, I share his resentment toward weekend-warrior bike riders who, en masse, make driving frustrating for motorists. Almost without fail, the motorists who resent cyclists recount stories of such groups and their lawlessness and lack of courtesy. (If you think I'm wrong, you're not paying attention.)

Mr. Caldwell uses numbers-on-the-roads, but overlooks the source of revenue for road building and maintenance. (Which most motorists seem to believe comes exclusively from license plates and gas tax.) I know it varies by jurisdiction, but in most places roads are supported via income tax, property tax, etc., as well as those "user fees." In our community (ACHD), property taxes are a bigger slice of the revenue pie than anything else - substantially more than the "highway users fund" (gas tax and registration).

Here's yet another way to look at how money might be allocated for road projects. Congressman Earl Blumenauer from Oregon - who is easily the most "pro-bicycle" elected official in D.C. - points to this disturbing statistic... cyclists and pedestrians account for 15 percent of all highway deaths, but only get 1 percent of safety-related highway funding. (Article HERE.) I s'pose if they were banned from the roads, they wouldn't get killed so much. Is that the direction we want to go as a society?

The Oregon Bicycle Transportation Alliance has recently begun a new "Who pays for our roads?" awareness campaign that has already been called into question, but they make the contention, among others, that it would take 9600 bicycles to damage the roadways as much as one car. (Chart HERE.) Pretty much any position can be defended with "facts and figures." As Mark Twain is alleged to have said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Mr. Caldwell's beef seems to be with a cyclist - particularly a recreational cyclist - who is exclusively occupying a motor-vehicle lane, and indeed that's an unfortunate reality, when a bike lane or breakdown lane isn't available.


Marcus said...

Caldwell's article has so many opinions and fallacies, I cannot justify a comment to fully explain why he is wrong on so many levels. Any of us can pick a stereotyped fraction of any group and make a case against. The link below shows that 26% of the roadway in Idaho is funded by fuel tax, registration etc. The rest is covered by everything else. Few things make me upset more than the notion that the roadway system is payed for by automobile drivers. That is like saying the military is paid for by military personnel, or Nasa is payed for by astronauts. The transportation system is one of the most heavily subsidized systems we have in our country. If people want to be truly conservative, eat local, don't go to war and ride a bike.

Marcus said...

Great article on the subject. Check out the links to his two other articles within this one. He breaks down the true cost savings for a well rounded transportation system.