News flash for drivers: Cyclists are helping subsidize your ride

Local roads and bike lanes are almost exclusively paid for by local property taxes, not fuel taxes

As the “war on bikes” continues in my little corner of our sun-drenched paradise, I’ve been trying to understand the road rage that’s generated every time space for cars is shifted to other uses.

Some of it is fear borne out of fertile imaginings of disasters unforeseen by professional traffic engineers. It’s true, the engineers have been wrong before. They initially predicted massive lineups from the east and west to get onto the south end of the Burrard Bridge if a bike lane was put in on the bridge. Those turned out to be only minor delays in one direction at peak travel times.

Business organizations recoil at the uncertainties by assuming harm for businesses if a bike lane is put in. Yet in New York City, retail sales along new bike routes jumped by 49% compared with 3% overall. On the Hornby bike route, retail vacancies went down from 10% to 2% after the bike lane was installed. So, yes, businesses along Cornwall should be concerned about a new bike route along York Street – they’ll lose bicycle-riding customers who no longer go by their premises.

In a week when the Transport for London reported that 24% of all vehicles in the morning rush in London are now bicycles, many people refuse to believe that cycling is a viable alternative to the automobile, because it wouldn’t work for them. Fine, it doesn’t have to, but it does work for a lot of people – and will work for a lot more when they can do it safely in a protected lane.

But the biggest gagging point for many motorists is that they think cyclists are getting a free ride on someone else’s dime. The rude, arrogant and law-breaking attitude of some cyclists only adds to this resentment. Oddly, drivers who endanger lives by breaking the speed limit rarely provoke the same reaction.

In fact, the opposite is true.

Cyclists subsidize car drivers. Local roads and bike lanes are almost exclusively paid for by local property taxes, not fuel taxes. Yes, some city hall revenue comes from parking fees, but those fees don’t begin to cover the opportunity and maintenance costs of the 30% of the city’s land base that is used for cars, especially for “free” on-street parking. The amount of roadway in Vancouver dedicated to cars is 10 times that dedicated to bicycles, which usually park off-road. Property taxes are paid by everyone who lives in the city, whether they rent or own. Cyclists are more likely to live in the city, since they stay closer to home than motorists who come into Vancouver from all over the region. Cyclists also subsidize motorists when they live in buildings or buy groceries that cost more because of legislated off-street parking spaces they don’t use.

City police costs to patrol traffic, enforce drunk driving laws and attend to accidents are paid by cyclists and car drivers alike, even though car drivers use up vastly more of those resources than cyclists.

Then there are health-care costs, which everyone pays through provincial income taxes and medical service premiums. Cars are huge health hazards, plain and simple. Pollution from cars generates huge health-care costs – especially diesel cars like my Passat TDI. Accidents and ambulances are an obvious source of those costs, but they only account for 10% of the casualties due to traffic. Three times as many people die from the effects of emissions, and twice as many again die prematurely from lack of exercise and obesity-driven diseases related to time spent driving.

Protected green lanes reduce non-fatal cyclist road injuries by 90%, so the return on investment from bike lanes is possibly covered by that health care saving alone.

Drivers concerned about unfair tax burdens should welcome more bicycle lanes – especially in pricy waterfront neighbourhoods where the increased property values will lighten the property tax load for everyone else. •

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