Cyclists As A Revenue Stream?


Evidently the Elmhurst Bicycle Club has decided to weigh in on the comments of John Kass in his two most recent opinion pieces for the Chicago Tribune. One club member decided to offer this gem:

In the article that Lew discussed, Kass also advocates that bicyclists pay for bike lanes via stickers similar to the ones required for cars. Hopefully, if he is consistent, he will also propose that pedestrians be required to purchase stickers for their use of sidewalks and crosswalks.

Art Frigo

George H. W. Bush

George H. W. Bush

Let’s be frank about this up front. Chicago’s Church of Urban Cycling is something of a fraud. It is embodied in the ChainLink Forum where they openly show their disdain for suburbanites and others who do not have the best interests of the planet at heart. Strongly supporting their right to be vocal is my choice. But then again so should everyone else in our Democracy.

What the ChainLinkers and their ilk fail to understand is that “being the change that you seek” is likely to require some demonstration of responsibility on your part. It was not easy for most Americans (at the onset of the Americans With Disabilities Act brought into being by George H. W. Bush) to see the benefit of having sidewalk cutouts and building ramps put into place but we did what was required and now even cyclists can have a smoother ride when entering sidewalk areas. Wheel chair owners have always understood the benefits.

The big difference between wheel chair owners and cyclists is that they are not usually flouting the law. Bicyclists are so flagrant in their disregard of the law that it is almost comical.

Another Bush Era change was the move to require food manufacturers to display the ingredients in their products. Today everyone takes for granted the fact that you can easily determine what is in each product and the relative quantities by merely reading the order of the ingredients from the labels on the container. A brilliant idea and believe it or not both of these ideas to transform society were ushered in by a Republican. Gotta say that as a Democrat I am jealous.

Every Benefit Has A Tradeoff

Sidewalks are essentially “free” in our culture if not ubiquitous. When any new construction is done there is usually a requirement by the local municipality that a sidewalk span the frontage of the property. The Complete Streets movement is all about getting local government to handle this requirement with a bit more uniformity.

Quite often a sidewalk goes in that ends abruptly simply because the adjacent property has not been developed to simply omitted doing their fair share. So pedestrians end up being “short-changed” especially here in the suburban areas. But make no mistake about it we pay a bit more for food to accommodate the labeling that everyone now loves. And those sidewalk cutouts come at a price too.

What John Kass is lampooning is the notion that cyclists can expect to get away with new infrastructure without having to become a revenue stream. Sooner or later the bill will come due. It will be in the form of some sort of toll or licensing to help pay for the upkeep of all those “pretty green lanes“.

Once upon a time licensing was a normal part of cycling responsibilities.

Take a look at this vintage video about cycling safety and owner responsibilities:

Some ChainLinkers have been touting the strictures against “riding against traffic” shown in the film to support their dislike of that practice. They even have Randy Cohen to thank for offering them the notion that they could ethically break the law where red lights and stop signs are concerned.

Take a look at his video defense of the practice:

Getting back to John Kass’ assertion that tolls are on the way, someone will have to pay for infrastructure specifically created for a very small segment of the traffic population. If you stop and think that the recent opening of the Dearborn protected lane (which is only twelve blocks in length) is estimated to have cost $450,000 (i.e. a half a million) it begins to become obvious that for Mayor Rahm Emmanuel to simply create the anticipated 100 miles of protected bike lanes the costs will be staggering.

If we end up with lots of lanes and no significant increase in year round bicycle commuting then we will have a lot of egg on our faces and citizens wondering out loud who is going to pay for the ongoing upkeep of these lanes? Make no mistaken the green paint on these lanes will have to be redone on a regular basis (perhaps annually?) to keep them looking pristine.

There is also the cost of replacing the broken plastic tubes being used to create a barrier between traffic and the lanes. And I would imagine that somewhere in the budget there will be a need to purchase special snow removal equipment that can do its job without destroying the paint job on the road surface and plastic bollards in the process. Again an expense that will have to have a revenue stream.

The tollway is a good example of what automobiles have to endure to keep them repaired and in maintained. Those bright yellow trucks that come out to help you replace a flat tire are expensive. Those tolls are what make that possible. If cyclists are to have anything similar in terms of help for stranded cyclists in the “dead of winter” somebody will have to pay for this.

Unlike sidewalks the special lanes being developed have not as yet become a standard part of infrastructure creation. Until then the public will view them as vestigial and thus someone will have to pay for them. That someone is likely to be the cyclists themselves. We are on the brink of a Libertarian’s Wet Dream. Politicians are going to be hard pressed to offer new services without finding a way to fund them.

And that most certainly includes bike lanes. I am more than willing to help pay for them provided they are safer and more convenient than anything seen heretofore.