Saturday, January 29, 2011

Bicycle licenses?

I've been hearing a lot of buzz lately in the Seattle Times and other places about how bicycles should be licensed. The bike haters generally say: cyclists flout traffic laws and don't pay taxes, and yet we spend all this tax money on bike infrastructure. Here are the problems with that argument. I apologize to the cyclists that have heard all this before and to whom I'm preaching to the choir.

1. I'm a law abiding citizen and these bikers don't follow traffic laws. All right, so you always drive the speed limit, always come to a complete stop at stop signs, always give me my 3 feet when passing? I'll bet! I drive sometimes too and readily admit that I bend traffic laws while driving. Saying that only cyclists flout traffic laws is like saying that only poor people rob people. The truth is they just rob you differently. Likewise people will bend traffic laws and convenience and enforcement allows. Rolling through a stop sign or proceeding through a red light in a vehicle are poor form for sure- but on a bike not as much. Many traffic lights won't detect bicycles so if you are at a light by yourself you'll be waiting a while for that green light. Cyclists have vastly better hearing and visibility and generally approach intersections slower than cars do, so it is possible to safely proceed through a red light when it wouldn't be in a car. I'm not talking about bombing through red lights, just rolling through them after stopping or at least being 100% certain that the intersection is clear. Similarly cars often travel above the speed limit because it is reasonably safe to do so. Bikes are not usually going to be exceeding the speed limit and if they are bikes will still be slower than the average flow of vehicle traffic. So in general, we all bend traffic rules but in different ways. The main difference is that if someone screws up behind the wheel of a 4000 lb vehicle, someone besides the driver will get hurt. A cyclist is only going to hurt him or herself.

2. I pay taxes for roads and these freeloader cyclists don't. This is straight out of the republican playbook of repeating a lie often enough that eventually everyone believes it. The truth is that gas taxes pay for a part of interstate highways (that cyclists generally don't use). Other road and infrastructure improvements come from the general tax fund that we all contribute to. Yes, thats right, cyclists pay taxes too! All these years of paying taxes, I have never encountered a cyclist specific tax bracket. If there is one that will get me out of paying taxes, please let me know at once! There are other important points here. One being that cycling specific intrastructure doesn't cost that much. The biggest projects I see are multi use trails such as the Burke Gilman. Cyclists use these but so do walkers, joggers, rollerbladers, dogs, etc. Car owners benefit from these trails as much as cyclists do. Personally, I only use these trails when I need to avoid roads that are overly dangerous for cyclists. Cycling specific improvements are limited to restriping lanes, painting sharrows, and the odd sign. Which has to be really cheap compared to repaving and building new roads. This leads to a second point: wear and tear on roads. It is directly related to vehicle weight, other factors such as water/ice/snow being equal for bikes and cars. Except studded tires that people use from November to April for that one day of snow, but I digress. Bikes don't weigh anything compared to cars so they don't contribute much to wear and tear on roads. The final point on taxes: a regular bicycle commuter is not contributing as much carbon and pollution to the air and is not getting sick as much, all other factors being equal. Pollution and hospital bills have a big impact on the tax situation. I pay 400 dollars a month on health insurance. I don't have a doctor because I never get sick. I have never taken a sick day off from work in my life. I have to think that it is at least partially due to the regular exercise I get from commuting by bicycle.

3. I don't care about the previous arguments, I still want bicycles to be licensed and add one more hurdle for would- be bicycle commuters. Because bicycle hating motorists, huge potholes, rain, and roads designed almost exclusively for cars aren't enough. Fine. I have a 2004 Suburu and the yearly licensing fees are about 100 bucks. It weighs 3800 pounds. The fair way to do this is by vehicle weight. My heaviest bike, a Bianchi Volpe, weighs maybe 30 pounds. That works out to 78 cents. I'll pony up my 78 cents if I have to. I don't think it would begin to cover the administrative costs though.

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