Monday, October 31, 2011
I had an interesting exchange with a friend of mine this past weekend, who wondered why it was legal for bikes to ride on the road when they don't pay their fair share of taxes. I was brought up short and said "gas and road taxes do not pay for the entire cost of roads." To which he responded "they pay more than bikes do!"
I was not able to formulate an informed response. His point seemed to be that because bikes don't contribute directly to the upkeep and construction of roads, they should not legally be allowed to use them. At the most basic level, this makes sense. But it seemed like I should be able to refute it somehow. . .
It turns out that the percentage of road costs covered by car, road and gas taxes (let's call them "user taxes") has dropped over the years. Now "non-users" pay about 50% of the cost of roads. That's to say, property taxes, municipal bonds and other revenue sources pay as much of the cost of roads as gas or user taxes do. So the question becomes "if cars only pay half of the cost of roads, why do drivers demand 100% of the use?"
In fact, if we weren't building so many car-bearing roads, we could get by for a lot less money overall. Car infrastructure is expensive as hell. Streets wide enough and strong enough to support cars are much more expensive to make and maintain than bike trails. So in a way the high cost of roads is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Cars make roads MORE expensive, not less, because without cars (and the subsequent need to accommodate them side-by-side and to park them) we could get by on the cheap in many areas.
Another common frustration for motorists is when a bicycle is on the roadway even when a trail runs alongside it. The thought is that the bike should be on the trail to free up the road for "traffic". I can think of a lot of reasons why this is not always the best choice for the cyclist. Many trails are rough and hard to ride or have a posted 10MPH speed limit or are clogged with pedestrians and dog-walkers and runners and baby stroller-wielding walkers, all of whom are potentially hazardous. My wife has crashed hard when a flexi-leashed dog ran out in front of her bike. The woman walking the dog had no idea what was going on and could not hear because of her earphones. The truth is, bike trails are really multi-use trails and everyone assumes that the other users will yield right-of-way. When the trails are crowded, the streets are the safest, most expedient option.
All of this said, I started the conversation by noting how courteous Minneapolis drivers had been during the summer. It seems like my motorist neighbors are more accepting and understanding of bicyclists all the time. I've only been honked at once all summer, which is a significant reduction from prior years. We still have a ways to go until everyone believes, as I do, that it is not only possible for cars and bikes to share the road, but that we can do so without stress or confusion or conflict.
Posted by Lanny at 11:48 AM