Tuesday, April 20

The Slaughter of Common Sense Stayed

I want to analyze the anti-cyclist sentiment: "When they start paying taxes then they can use the roads."

I've heard this more than once from irate motorists who truly do not want to share the road with cyclists. And this is their argument to the powers that be, in an attempt to appeal to the governing bodies' sense of economic pity. In every case I've heard this used as an argument it has not been effective, but those who discriminate against bikes continue to use this argument.

First I want to discuss the idea of these so called "taxes" that the opposition throws about. There could possibly be two (or maybe three) kinds of taxes they are referring to. I've never heard a single argument that specified which kind of taxes they mean.

First, they could be talking about transportation related taxes. Taxes you pay when you register your car, buy a vehicle, gas or other motor-vehicle related paraphernalia. This is the type of tax that would be used to improve roads, create and place signs, pay for traffic patrols and the like. This would be the most relevant argument when it comes to the Us Vs. Them debate but also the weakest. I'll get to that in a minute.

The second form of taxes I imagine they could be speaking of is property tax. John Q. Public owns a tract of land along XYZ Road and he is just sick and tired of being delayed on his way home from work by the skinny, skimpily clad, slow moving cyclists. He pays his taxes and he expects to have a smooth ride home on "his" road.

The third form of taxes that they could be referring to is sales tax, but I doubt that is usually the case, unless the person making the statement is a business owner.

Ok, the refute the first potential argument, I can safely speculate that the majority of recreational cyclists also own at least one car. In buying, registering and maintaining that car or cars they pay the same taxes as John Q. Public who is not a cyclist. Mr. Public's tax dollars are not holding up the whole system despite his delusions. Just because John Q. pays taxes he is not the only one who has a right to use the good roads. We all pay taxes that fund the nice smooth surfaced roads that which allow us to speed along at 65 mph no matter what the posted speed limit. Without the Good Roads Movement Mr. Public might be bouncing along rutted dirt roads at a much slower (cyclists') pace.

NIMBY is the attitude expressed in the second form of the argument. "I drive this road every day and I have more right to travel upon it than those who do not." Convenient argument against cyclist, but not valid in any case. Many cyclists ride in their own neighborhoods and those who do not may own property nearby or within the same tax district. Excluding cyclists as non-property tax payers doesn't work. Besides, the majority of roads are public, for the use of all without restrictions on the mode of transportation except on limited access highways. If you begin restricting the use of the roads to only those who own property in the immediate vicinity then you will upset our entire societal structure.

The third argument falls flat on its face anyway. We have the freedom of choice where we spend our income. If a person chooses to ride their bike past a local store and not buy anything that does not preclude them from using the road that passes in front of it.

What the whole argument comes down to is convenience versus necessity. Irate motorists argue that cyclists impede their travels, in essence inconveniencing them on a necessary trip to or from wherever they're going. The reality is this: human travel is necessary, but the mode of travel is a method of convenience. Do you walk, bike, drive or fly? Those are the choices. When you purchase a home that is 30 miles from your place of employment you must then decide how you will make your commute everyday. The majority of Americans believe it is necessary to drive everywhere they go, so the distance they are willing to travel is relative to how far they are willing to drive. The truth is that it is not necessary to drive everywhere you go. Many people drive distances that they could easily walk.

And when someone else makes a different choice it makes them uncomfortable. Subconsciously they fear they may not have made the right choice. Why can't that person on the bike just be like the rest of us? It would make me feel so much more comfortable.

When a person who owns both a car and a bicycle chooses to ride instead of drive they are creating in some respects a positive externality. They have paid transportation related taxes, but their impact for that trip along the transportation infrastructure is significantly less. Of course to those people who are behind the wheel and delayed a few seconds by a slow moving cyclist it seems to be a negative externality. Despite the choices of others driving a car is still a more convenient mode of transportation and will get you where you need to be much quicker than you could go under your own power.

But is getting where we need to be as fast as we can the best thing for us anyway?

Our protests often expose our ignorance.

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