What Does Hell Look Like?

Background Reading


The Bicycle Advocacy groups are buzzy carpet-bombing the internet with pleas to have us sign petitions and take surveys.

Fine! I will give once again!

But this time I want some real answers and not a lot of blather. We are about to find out just how untruthful the Bicycle Advocacy Industry has been about the source of the funding for all things related to ‘bicycle infrastructure‘.

The fact is the hated automobile and all of its cousins have been largely funding all those miles of pretty green pain in bike lanes. And the irony of ironies is that the stuff we use to provide additional visual separation between those lanes and automobiles is PVC. How so very ‘ungreen‘ is that?

Whose Pockets Will This Come Out Of?

Residents of Nacogdoches County, Texas, looked at maps showing the proposed Interstate 69 corridor during a meeting this week. Daily Sentinel/Associated Press

Residents of Nacogdoches County, Texas, looked at maps showing the proposed Interstate 69 corridor during a meeting this week. Daily Sentinel/Associated Press

The Bicycle Advocacy Community has been lying through its teeth when trying to give us ammunition against the charge that we do not pay our fair share for transportation projects. We don’t. At least not yet.

The truth all along has been that the monies paid for the gasoline at the pumps what fill the tanks of motor vehicles has been paying for just about everything. In essence if you were a driver then you were responsible for everything having to do with mass transit and bicycle infrastructure, whether you wanted it or not and certainly whether you knew it or not.

The reality is that after the mid-term elections there are going to be some hard decisions to make. Chicago needs new shoes for its baby (Regional Transportation Authority). And as predictable as rain in Seattle out comes the pleas for help in getting funding (essentially an income tax) for new cars and an updated infrastructure for the light rail in our area.

And you will never hear a word from Active Transportation Alliance about why this had to happen. You will never hear any of the bicycle advocacy groups tell you that they were part of the movement to get Americans to drive less and that it has had a deleterious effect on the U.S. Highway Trust Fund.

In fact if you thought you were green and went and bought a more fuel-efficient automobile you too were helping to ‘kill the golden goose‘.

So the very first thing we need to do is ‘come clean‘. Being ‘green‘ is not just a slogan. It means that you and I are going to be the recipients of requests to back the funding for projects we think we need, out of our own pockets.

And it will soon become fashionable to raise monies directly from those who use a particular service. For instance we already are hearing that the Regional Transportation Authority wants to raise ticket rates. But it will soon become evident that there needs to be a broader base than just the ridership itself.

It will need to be spread across all of the potential users of the systems that support transportation in the region. That will inevitably mean that income taxes are going to be on the table to some extent. And should the increases in ticket fares truly cover the services so that we do not need to have additional raises in the future, it will probably mean that increasingly the use of the personal automobile will have to be reconsidered.

And should that continue to happen it will mean a downward spiral in automobile sales which will mean that even less money will be coming into the U.S. Highway Trust Fund. Eventually it will seem as if we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.

Any savings we might have had from a more fuel-efficient but slight more expensive automobile will soon be offset by increases in ticket prices to get around during the week. And it will not take long before Americans begin to realize that the luxury of a personal automobile for weekend travel is gone. It will have been gobbled up by funds to pay for mass transit (light rail and buses) and that most of the users of these systems are urban and not suburban riders.

This will surely make it difficult for these two groups to get along when it comes to sharing monies. And that my friends is what Hell Looks Like. Pitted against one another will be the middle and working classes of America for the few dollars that are not being spent to fight another war. And meanwhile the bicycle infrastructure for Chicago will go largely into disrepair as the more important funding for mass transit becomes increasing critical.

And guess what? Some wag will decide that the only way to insure that bicycles get the monies they need is for the users of those lanes to help pay their fair share. And that will mean licensing and fees for parking and there will of course be the kinds of training that motorcycle riders have known for decades. And suddenly Active Transportation Alliance will have to acknowledge that this was in the offing all along.

And Urban Cyclists will suddenly feel duped. But that is the price you will be paying for the dwindling numbers of automobiles that pay gasoline taxes and parking fees in the downtown areas of cities across the country. Suddenly you will have the road more to yourselves than ever before and the demands to have you pay ‘your fair share‘ for the upkeep of all that pretty green paint in lanes will become all too great.

It would not surprise me either if the costs for things like Uber and ride-share systems skyrocketed. The price of gasoline per gallon will increase if the producers of these fuels are not getting the income they desire. And what happens if the rest of the world ceases its demand for fuels, then the prices per barrel paid will plummet and somebody running an automobile will suddenly find that fewer barrels are being refined and the prices soar.

We Need To Know Our Options

Sadly everyone has been feeding at the trough for so long that all we know is that we have a problem. It is something that no one planned for. We simply imagined that we could become more ‘green‘ and that the steady stream of green from highway trust funding would somehow continue. But we know that Millenials are no longer buying cars. They are instead moving to cities which means that sooner or later the pressures on mass transit will soar to even greater heights.

And if the pressure for higher-paying jobs continues there will be pressure on everyone to figure out new ways to get around. You simply cannot bike all year in Chicago will anything approaching safety unless you are young enough to avoid falling over in deep snow and ice or you are riding a bicycle with three wheels.

But even then you will have to figure out a way to stave off freezing to death if you commute is miles instead of blocks. That is where the velomobiles come in. But the prices on those vehicles is steep. And sooner or later we will have to answer the question, who will pay for the needed increase in production to supply electricity for the growing number of electric vehicles and e-assist bicycles?

Someone in the Cycling Advocacy Industry needs to grow a set and spell out the problems that lie ahead. We need to know this because if we find all this out after the damn has broken there will never again be any trust put into ‘green projects‘. We need too to understand that automobiles are not the problem. It is humans.

We may have to rethink the notions we have held about just how big a city can be before it begins to collapse? If every lived with a half-dozen miles from where they worked things would be a great deal better than they are when it comes to paying for transportation.

But even then where does the money for the maintenance of our bridges and roads come from in the long haul? We need to understand now and not later how the government plans to make that possible.