Introducing bike tolls and the Rahm-PASS

John Kass
August 22, 2012

Bicycle enthusiasts saving money that city could use

A bicyclist travels West Kinzie Street on Tuesday. The days of low-cost city riding could disappear when Mayor Rahm Emanuel gets a look at a proposal being offered by a noted urban political theorist and newspaper columnist. (José M. Osorio, Chicago Tribune / August 21, 2012)

The thousands of Chicago bicyclists who’ve been pedaling to work each morning better finally realize something.

Your free ride may be over.

Get ready for bike tolls and the Rahm-PASS.

Under a potentially controversial plan that a sometimes-visionary Chicago urban political theorist is offering for consideration to Mayor Rahm Emanuel on Wednesday, cyclists would finally feel the City Hall pinch, just as car owners have been pinched for years.

Here’s what could be coming for the bike-to-work crowd:

  • City bike tolls and city bike vehicle stickers, which could bring in millions upon millions of much-needed revenue to City Hall, allowing the cash-strapped government to add new police to its woefully undermanned force.
  • City stop-sign cameras to automatically ticket bicyclists who cruise past the signs without stopping, infuriating those of us in cars.
  • Hefty city bike parking fees, like the city parking meter fees, easily enforced as bikers “park” in city bike racks. No sticker = big tickets. And if you don’t pay, there’s always the bike boot.
  • And my personal favorite: the Rahm-PASS. Fixed to the bike’s handlebars, the Rahm-PASS transponder would be like the I-PASS for cars on state tollways. Cyclists would cruise underneath strategically situated girders over street corners with heavy bike traffic, and they would bypass (or Rahm-PASS) the bike tollbooths run by grumpy political workers.

An artist’s rendering might depict the special Rahm-PASS arched girders this way:

Emanuel’s arms in a blue suit, his giant all-weather plastic hands folded high above each intersection, palms facing down, and the Rahmfather’s head above all, his pitiless, glowing omniscient orbs connecting to those Rahm-PASS transponders on bikes as he pulls in all that cash for City Hall. And on his forehead in flashing lights, this message: “Open city bicycling brought to you by Rahm Emanuel.”

These ideas are contained in the amazing plan crafted by that famed theorist — a guy who persuaded untold gazillions of Americans to insert an open beer can up a chicken’s butt before grilling.

OK, OK, OK, there is no actual “plan.” I’m not handing him “The Plan.” The plan is here, in this column, and I hereby give it to the mayor, since he’s a loyal reader and has been waiting for me to drop hints all summer about when I’ll finally bring him his coveted Rahmfather portrait.

Predictably, the group of elitist politically coddled bicyclists — the One Percenters of the Commuter Class — call my idea insane.

“Why should I have to pay to ride my bike?” said bicyclist Joe Sampson, 28. “Are you going to fine us to walk on the street or breathe the air? Money grab.”

Joe, why should you pay? Well, dog owners pay for licenses. Are you better than dog owners?

“Insane!” cried Joe. “It’s crazy.”

Call me what you will, Mr. Joe Bike Guy, but the facts are that the city is spending $4.7 million on 34 miles of bike lanes this year — and could spend tens of millions on some 450 miles of new bikeways planned by 2020.

So when is the last time you saw a bicyclist pulled over by a cop and given a traffic ticket? Never? Never, you say? I thought so, Mr. Joe the Bike Guy.

The Rahm-PASS idea just might protect the Rahmfather from the kind of political disaster that befell former District of Columbia Mayor Adrian Fenty.

1 Comment

  1. Truly “separate infrastructure” akin to what you have in Amsterdam would require building a set of bicycle superhighways along routes into and out of the city that resemble the Chicago Lakefront Trail. These would be essentially bike lanes that have underpasses not unlike those along the LFT. Using such a system would remove the need to install traffic signals as bikers would effectively travel unimpeded.

    But even if nothing this elaborate makes it into the system, what is planned will need to be paid for and that inevitably means some form of taxation. Besides having license plates on bikes would provide a visual reference for both motorists and other cyclists of the scofflaws who run red lights and stop signs.

    You just knew something like this would get proposed sooner or later. Now is the time to deal with it.

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