Apparently, Bikes Aren’t Transportation

…and neither are your feet.

Salon reports that Bush’s Transportation Secretary, Mary Peters, has made clear that she (and her bosses) believe that using federal funds to make bike paths for pedestrians and cyclists alike has zero to do with transportation infrastructure, except, of course, that it’s taking dollars away from fixing roads and bridges. Welcome to the newest chapter in the gas-based culture-war:

Evildoer Cyclists Are Terrorists, Collapsing Your Bridges.
and Don’t Trust Them Walkers, Neither

Now, I am fortunate to live in a city with a relatively excellent share of bike paths. From my old house, I was able to use commuter trails most of the way to work, and if I wanted to take a long bike ride mostly free from vehicular traffic, I could. While I have my gripes with the way the city has dealt with some bike-related issues — the half-assed attempt at bike lanes downtown, and more importantly, the failure to properly communicate cycling laws (bikes are not allowed on sidewalks downtown) to drivers, and the police harassment cyclists face while scores of drunk drivers leave the bars every weekend — for the most part, I have an easy commute and enjoy being part of a very diverse bike commuter culture.

When I pull up to my downtown building in the morning, I lock up with 15-30 (depending on the weather) state employees getting to work by bicycle. This mode of transportation meets the demands of those not willing or able to pay $60 dollars a month for parking (not to mention gas), those who enjoy the effortless scheduling of exercise as part of the work day, or those who just enjoy riding a bike or have countless other reasons not to drive. Beyond the cyclists, there are plenty of pedestrians, too — and when it’s raining, I can arrive dry at work after a 20-minute walk instead of wet after a 5-minute ride. In a city with only a shabby bus system — buses come once an hour, and service stops before 7 PM — and where relatively flat terrain prevails, affordable transportation comes easily on two wheels.

So, we’re hogging the dollars, eh?

In fact, only about 1.5 percent of federal transportation dollars go to fund bike paths and walking trails. In the meantime, 10 percent of all U.S. trips to work, school and the store occur on bike or foot, and bicyclists and pedestrians account for about 12 percent of annual traffic fatalities, according to the Federal Highway Administration. “We represent a disproportionate share of the injuries, and we get a minuscule share of the funds,” says Robert Raburn, executive director of the East Bay Bike Coalition in the San Francisco Bay Area, who calls the Peters’ comments “outrageous.” Plus, he notes, with problems like global warming, the obesity epidemic and energy independence, shouldn’t the U.S. secretary of transportation be praising biking, not complaining about it?…

What really drives cyclists around the bend is that while they’re doing their part to burn less fossil fuel — cue slogan: “No Iraqis Died to Fuel This Bike” — they’re getting grief for being expensive from a profligate administration. “War spending, tax cuts for the rich, and gas taxes are all big sources of funding. Bike spending is not,” fumes Michael Bluejay, an Austin, Texas, bike activist, in an e-mail. “The few pennies we toss toward bike projects is not enough to fix our nation’s bridges, not by a freaking long shot.”

I have by no means gone carless. In fact, Ande and I have two cars between the two of us, even though they’re hardly ever both in use. I pay wheel taxes, and gas taxes, too, and I’d happily pay higher gas taxes for the luxury of using roads by car
when it’s simply more convenient for me to do so. Granted, my definition of convenience may involve a little more internal debate than that of those used to driving everywhere, but I’m not so pious as to rule out hopping in the car at the end of a long day for an ice cream run. That, and I absolutely love road trips. I realize, however, that these come with a cost — beyond car maintenance and the artificially low price of fuel, I’m contributing to the deterioration of the roads I drive on, the environment I’m adding emissions pollutants to, and even the animals I’m killing either by hitting them or simply by adding to the displacement of their habitats that came from the building of these roads in the first place. Since I’m not out there to build and fix the roads I might want to travel on myself, I’m perfectly willing to help pay for them to be there in the taxes I pay. In fact, when I pay taxes, part of what I expect from my government’s transportation department is a range of services that help me get where I and my fellow citizens need to go, options that local entities can develop to fit the unique geographic and demographic needs of the area.

But my god, Bush Administration, don’t blame my bicycling to work or to run errands or for recreation on your absolute inability to fund the domestic infrastructure on which people in this country have come to rely. People will keep buying gas even if you add taxes to it. At this point, enough of them have moved far enough away from work that they won’t be able to avoid driving; the alternative transportation modes have not been developed to allow them to do so, and virgin bike commuters are unlikely to devote the energy and nerves to find a way to negotiate a 25-mile ride from one satellite suburb to another, since the only logical way to get there is probably on a freeway that specifically prohibits cyclists. Instead of picking on me and my fellow bike and foot commuters, why don’t you buck up and deal with the fact that maybe you should dream up a preemptive strike on this country’s transportation infrastructure, so that those poor people in the suburbs don’t get crushed on a bridge on their way to work.

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