Time to drive right over Dowell’s bicycle tax

by Greg Hinz
October 25, 2013

Source: Crain’s Chicago Business

AR-131029818.jpg&maxw=368&q=100&cb=20131026000342Despite the weather, I almost rode my bike to work today.

It wouldn’t have been a gesture of defiance to the temperature. (Man, it was 70 degrees a week or so ago, and this morning the wind chill was 25. That’s a fast drop, even for Chicago.) Rather, a brisk ride would have been in honor of one of Chicago’s finer public servants, Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd, and her fine idea to tax the use of a bicycle and send all bike riders to “safety” classes.

Ms. Dowell has come up with one of the more obnoxious ideas to raise money that I’ve heard in a while — charge cyclists $25 per bike per year — this, in a town where the mayor insists with a straight face that raising $100 million annually from speed cameras is all about protecting little school kids and has absolutely nothing to do with balancing his budget.

Specifically, Ms. Dowell told reporters that raising $9 million or so from bike riders would allow the city to dump Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to raise that much by boosting fees on cable TV.

The latter is truly unfair to folks who don’t have a lot of money, particularly seniors, Ms. Dowell told the Sun-Times. “A lot of low-income people who cannot afford to go to fancy restaurants and movies and spend money out on the town use TV as their form of entertainment,” she said.

Only in Chicago would cable TV become a civil right, right after food, housing and health care. And only in Chicago would a public official seriously suggest taxing a healthy activity, bike riding, to subsidize couch potato-ism.

Pass the chips, please. Gotta watch Da Bears blow another one.

Ms. Dowell is a little more on target on safety. Too many bike riders think that things like traffic lights, crosswalks, sidewalks and any other rules are strictly for kids. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Bikers need to take responsibility for their own.

That having been said, if the “excuse” for this ordinance is that we need money to teach classes on rules of the road, Ms. Dowell needs to do a lot better. Those 20-somethings who zip through red lights know what the rules of the road are. They just don’t follow them, and sitting through an hourlong class won’t make them.

Maybe we can make them all wear a really big license plate on their helmets, alderman. Good for the speed cameras, don’t you know.

At its core, what this little autumn contretemps is about is envy, whether it’s a columnist acquaintance of mine sniggering about people in spandex shorts or Ald. Tony Beale, 9th, commenting on how space in streets is being taken from automobiles and turned over to bicycles.

Last time I looked, dear aldermen, the streets belonged to everybody, not just motorists. And while fees on gasoline and drivers’ licenses pay most of the costs of those streets, they don’t pay all the costs. Beyond that, relative to the total size of the pie, the amount being diverted to bike lanes isn’t even peanut shells.

Put a different way, no one is reimbursing me for the toll on my health of breathing the fumes from your automobile. Cough, cough. Pass the remote, because all I’ll soon be able to do is stare at the tube.

If I choose not to add to that pollution, don’t tax me for the privilege. If you want to tax something, try those monster-sized SUVs that crowd our streets, take up all the parking and get about a mile and a half to the gallon.

I’m biking in on Monday, rain or shine. Count on it.

Follow Greg on Twitter at @GregHinz.