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Footing the Bill: How Cyclists Pay Their Share of the Road by Owen C. Franklin
It's time to set the story straight. While some motorists feel like gracious hosts when they share the road with a cyclist, it is a myth that motor vehicle drivers are paying for everyone else's transportation. Drivers seem to buy a sense of road-entitlement with their vehicle registration fees and fuel taxes, and may see cyclists as getting a free ride.
The truth is, drivers don't even pay their own ways. According to a report from the U.S. Department of Transportation, every gallon of gas purchased represents only about 20 to 25 percent of the true cost of driving. If you add in maintenance costs for highways, the cost of providing free parking, emergency services, law enforcement, traffic-related health care, and dozens of other buried real costs, they add up to from $4.50 to $7.50 a gallon.
Cyclists, on the other hand, pay for every mile they use, and actually end up subsidizing motor vehicle travelers. The next time you find yourself in that age-old debate with your car-loving friends about who pays for the roads, keep the following ideas in mind:
- Cyclists pay for the roads they use. Vehicle registration fees, tolls, and fuel taxes are mostly applied to highway projects. These projects rarely benefit cyclists. General taxes (which we all pay) fund local roads, which make up the main routes for bike travel.
- Cyclists often pay more per mile than motorists. A cyclist and a motorist may pay the same amount in general taxes. However, cyclists tend to travel fewer miles than motorists. Because of this, a low-mileage cyclist will pay more for her use of the road than a high-mileage motorist.
- Cyclists pay for more services than they need. Motor vehicle use requires extensive road maintenance, traffic police, parking facilities, and emergency services. Cyclists could function on a much simpler and more affordable road system than the one we currently use.
- Cyclists offer cheap solutions to transportation problems. Bike travel can greatly reduce congestion and air pollution, perhaps the two greatest concerns in traffic management, and can offer many indirect improvements as well. Cyclists pose less of a safety risk to other travelers, they offset parking costs, and they promote alternative transportation choices and mass transit options.
- Cyclists get less consideration in transportation planning. While cyclists pay for road development, routes with heavy car use often get the most attention. Safety improvements rarely address cyclists' needs, and new highways can sever crucial bike paths. Land use policies often cater to the car culture, setting up low-density developments instead of pedestrian and bike-friendly neighborhoods.
- Cyclists contribute to the economic success of their communities. Bike and pedestrian traffic supports local stores, while motorists can more easily drive across town. Bike-friendly travel routes can promote recreational activities, which can improve the livability and property values of a given area.
And there are other, less quantifiable benefits to bicycling. If children can ride bikes or walk, parents don't have to spend their days chauffeuring them around. The children learn traffic skills and gain other positive attributes. Health and fitness levels are improved. Better air quality can result where a substantial number of bicycling and walking trips are substituted for motor vehicle trips.
It may be hard to shake a motorist's car-centric philosophy. However, cyclists are financially accountable for the roads, and should enjoy all the rights that they pay for.