Today’s post, in which I rant on anti-bike fallacies

Because one cyclist cut him off, in what may or may not have been a right-hook on the driver’s part, an Austin writer once again trots out the common fallacies that a) cyclists don’t pay for the roads, and b) we’re not held accountable because we’re not required to ride with large numbers on our backs.

Driver, please.

One of the biggest lies told in this country is that drivers pay for the roads they use through gas taxes and license fees.

The fact is, the federal gas tax, which isn’t indexed to inflation, hasn’t been raised in nearly 20 years, and doesn’t begin to cover the costs of building and maintaining federal roadways. And the overwhelming majority of funds used to build and maintain roads on the local level, where motorists do most of their driving — and cyclists do most of their riding — comes from the general tax fund.

In other words, we all pay for the roads. Even those who’ve never bought a gallon of gas or been behind the wheel of a motor vehicle, and never will.

Since the overwhelming majority of cyclists are drivers, as well — and virtually all of us are taxpayers — we already pay for the roads in multiple ways, just as other drivers do. And those who don’t drive are subsidizing those who do.

Never mind the other costs associated with driving, as pointed out in a letter from Micah Posner to the Santa Cruz Sentinel (which has since been deleted from their website, unfortunately).

But roads are not the biggest expense that society takes on for cars. For every mile driven in a car, cyclists pay 4.8 cents to subsidize car parking, 3.5 cents to subsidize accidents caused by cars, four cents to pay for the effects on human health, etc. Every mile driven costs society as a whole 32.9 cents, not including wars over oil. Only .5 of these costs are paid for by driver user taxes. That’s why gasoline is taxed much more heavily in most other industrialized countries.

Then there’s that whole licensing issue that continues to rear its ugly head far too often.

I won’t get into the abundant arguments against licensing cyclists, except to say that licensing would discourage cycling at a time when it is in everyone’s best interests to have more riders on the road to cut congestion, decrease pollution and improve overall health in our overly obese society.

Instead, let’s just consider the common fallacy the Austin writer brings up, that vehicle licenses enable enforcement of traffic laws, and that cyclists can’t be held accountable because we don’t have them.

So tell me, when was the last time a police officer knocked on your door and handed you a ticket for a traffic violation that occurred hours, or even days, before?

Because, excluding red light and speed cameras, where legal, a traffic violation must be observed by a police officer in order for the driver to be ticketed.

It doesn’t matter how many witnesses are willing to testify that the driver ran a red light, or wove dangerously in and out of traffic at an excessive speed. If a cop didn’t see it, he can’t write a ticket — even if everyone else on the road copied the license number of the offending vehicle and called it in to the police.

Yet somehow, a number on a cyclist’s ass is supposed to allow police to ticket or even arrest him or her based on eyewitness reports?

Not gonna happen.

Police have exactly the same authority to ticket cyclists as they do anyone else. If they see the violation, they can pull the rider over and write ‘em up. And contrary to the perception of far too many motorists — and cyclists — they do.

We’ll also ignore his absurd observation that whoever pays makes the rules, which applies exactly nowhere else in American law.

Then there’s this comment I received last night in response to an old post in support of SB 910, the three-foot passing law vetoed by California Governor Jerry Brown last year.

Aside from the usual bike-hating blather — including a comment that a law should be passed requiring cyclists to stay three-feet from motorists — he argues that a three-foot passing law will increase congestion. And that we don’t belong on the roads in the first place.

This law will have an adverse affect on commerce and create even more grid lock on our roadways. After all, the roadways were built to support interstate commerce and paid for with motor vehicle and fuel taxes. The roads were not built for your cycling entertainment.

Never mind that roads were not built for cars.

Very few state and local roads, where most cyclists ride, play any role in interstate commerce. And even if that standard was applied, it would result in most motor vehicles being banned along with bikes, since only a small part of traffic is engaged in commerce at any given time — let alone of the interstate variety.

And don’t get me started on the absurd misconception that bikes are only ridden for entertainment.

While many cyclists do ride for fun and health — which should be encouraged as a means of combating rising societal health costs due to obesity and related health problems — many others ride for transportation, and far more do both.

And even with California gas prices hovering well over $4 a gallon, I haven’t heard anyone call for a ban on recreational driving. Even though that contributes far more to traffic congestion than every cyclist on American roads combined, whatever reason they ride.

If you don’t believe me, just try finding parking anywhere near the beach on a sunny weekend. Or counting cars buzzing by on a popular scenic byway with no commercial centers in sight.

I’ll be riding my bike to a meeting tonight, and expect to enjoy the trip far more than I would if I was driving.

So does that make it transportation or recreation?

Other than a relative handful of bike haters, who really cares?


As for that meeting, I hope you’ll join me at the first meeting of the LACBC’s newly formed Civic Engagement committee.

The committee is being created to allow the LACBC to play a role in local elections in the city and county of Los Angeles. While the non-partisan committee will not endorse or work for individual candidates, our plan is to get candidates on the record through the use of questionnaires, as well as candidate forums, socials and debates.

The meeting will take place from 6:45 to 8:45 pm on the Mezzanine level of LACBC headquarters, 634 South Spring Street, with future meetings to be held on the last Tuesday of every month, location to be determined.

Participation is open to everyone, member or not. And candidates are welcome to stop by to introduce themselves, at tonight’s meeting or any future meetings, though time restrictions may limit speaking time.


Claremont Cyclist notes that Andy Schleck has backed into his yellow jersey. Giro winner Ryder Hesjedal takes home Canada’s first grand tour victory; Mark Cavendish misses the Giro’s points title by one point.

Evelyn Stevens wins the inaugural Exergy Tour women’s pro stage race, which should put her on the U.S. Olympic team. And Tim Duggan is your new national pro road race champion, while Dave Zabriskie wins the time trial once again.


The L.A. Weekly notes the neighborhood where a 19-year old cyclist was shot in Koreatown last weekend is ground zero for one of the city’s most notorious gangs. Will Campbell offers a time lapse of his annual ride to remember the real reason for Memorial Day; hint: it’s not barbeque, beaches or shopping. Bikas spots new bike lanes on White Oak Avenue. The Ballona Creek bike path will be closed in Culver City for two months beginning tomorrow. Glendale officers ride to remember one of their own. Long Beach gets a bike-friendly promotion.

Let’s Go Ride a Bike profiles San Diego’s Brown Girl in the Lane. Is roadway bullying just a matter of boys will be boys? A San Francisco cyclist is acquitted of hit-and-run in a collision that injured an elderly pedestrian. Wrong way cycling may seem safer, but it’s far from it. California’s proposed three-foot passing law advances after being watered down in the Senate.

Grist says Congress gives young cyclists the middle finger. Ten reasons to ride your bike. An unlicensed Washington driver swerves to avoid a skunk and kills a cyclist. Mountain bikers head to Colorado’s Grand Valley. A South Dakota political candidate is cited for DUI after hitting a seven-year old cyclist. Once again, a select group of cyclists will retrace the Trail of Tears. Chicago adopts a bold Vision Zero plan, committing to zero traffic deaths — bike, pedestrian or motor vehicle — within 10 years; so far, I only know of one L.A. candidate or elected official who even knows what Vision Zero means, let alone has called for it. David Byrne looks favorably on bike share in New York. Eight years ago, a 12-year old girl was promised a new dog if she won her age group in the national cycling championships; today, that dog helps pay for her college education.

An upcoming conference says children have a universal right to ride. Ottawa cyclists complain about non-bikes in the bike lane, just like cyclists in every other city. Utterly useless article in the great helmet debate, as a Vancouver writer refers to a number of studies to support his position without linking to or citing any; a Euro study suggests adverse health effects from a drop in cycling will outweigh benefits of a mandatory helmet law. Prince Charles rides an ebike. There’s something seriously wrong when the police are afraid to ride. Relatively inexpensive mirrors could help cyclists avoid truck blind spots. The Wall Street Journal says Asia is a hub for bikes.

Finally, rather than lock up his family’s bikes, a Nebraska man writes a stern letter to the thief or thieves; thanks to Todd Munson for the heads-up. And the Dutch don’t wear helmets or lycra, and they don’t ride racing bikes.

Except when they do.


  1. Micah’s a radical anti-car nut, which is exactly the kind of guy I like having around.

  2. Opus the Poet says:

    The intersting thing in that rant from Austin is the guy pulled the numbers from TX DOT’s web site and then botched what came from where. Taxes on cars only pay 79% of the costs to build and maintain the roads in TX, but the guy had that as registration pays 79%. So let me repeat this from the TX DOT, total taxes on cars combined only pays 79% of the costs to build and maintain the roads, the other 21% comes from the general fund and public/private partnerships (read:selling our roads to private industry to allow them to set and collect tolls). Toll roads are forbidden to bicycles except where they are the only way to get through an area or across a barrier. For the second condition the road becomes non-toll until the barrier is cleared and the toll road connects to other roads which means it’s free to everyone to use. At the moment there are no toll roads that are the only way in or out of any place, so the first provision hasn’t been tested yet. It is assumed that in such a situation bicycles would be tolled in proportion to their weight unless electronic tolling is in use which would mean that bicycles would be free because they have no plates to photograph and send the registered owner the bill.

  3. Robert Prinz says:

    Too bad the Austin opinion writer doesn’t bother to cite any of his figures, as I can’t find out where they come from on the TX DOT site. However, I did find this interesting document (pdf) produced for the TX legislative budget board staff:

    From the document: “In recent years transportation funding has not kept pace with the state’s road maintenance and construction needs. From 2002 to 2007, the highway construction cost index increased at an abnormally fast rate, rising by 62 percent. The gasoline tax that went into effect in 1991 was set at $0.20 per gallon and is worth $0.12 today when adjusted for inlation using the Consumer Price Index. As the state’s population, economy, and vehicle miles traveled have increased, the cost of materials for road construction has also increased. The value of the gasoline tax has eroded due to inflation and improvements in vehicle fuel economy.”

    The author of the article also makes the common mistake of failing to distinguish between the funding sources used for state highways and local streets and roads that cyclists more commonly use, and which are typically funded to a greater extent by non-user fees.

  4. Erik Griswold says:

    From the same Austin newspaper, a link to this article appears on the side column:

    “As the American-Statesman’s Melissa Taboada reported in Tuesday’s editions, 39 percent of Hays Consolidated Independent School District students in third to 12th grade who participated in a study were overweight. Of those, 16 percent were classified as obese and another 5 percent were tagged severely obese. The Hays rates are slightly ahead of the state, where one in three or 33 percent of school age children are considered overweight.”

  5. I’m just amazed that the Austin writer seriously asks “Why was he going so fast!” But wait, I thought cyclists were too slow and blocked traffic? Of course, his description of the incident is so vague, we can’t really tell what the case was. If he had his turn signal on, then the cyclists should have braked and waited for the car to turn instead of coming up on his right. I had a similar situation happen a few days ago where I SAW the driver’s turn signal and waited behind her for her to turn, and SHE yelled at ME for being safe and not passing her–because apparently she didn’t know how to use any of those mirrors on her SUV and I wasn’t visible to her, waiting behind her (with about 4-5 feet between her bumper and me) for her to turn right.

  6. Frank says:

    Since 1991, bicycle advocacy groups have taken the stance that they are entitled to a guaranteed percentage of federal highway funding.

    From 1956 to 2008 this fund was completely paid for with highway user fees. The fund did run dry for the first time in 2008 and Congress responded by restore monies to the fund that had previously been withheld (for things like ethanol incentives and public agency tax credits).

    What’s notable is that the various national highway advocacy groups, such as AAA, the truckers, the highway users, etc. have actually been asking Congress to raise their fuel taxes so they can pay their fair share. The complaint about bicyclists is their unwillingness to pitch in a small amount.

    Let’s face it, bicycling has evolved in the last 20 years and the cost of an adult bicycle is far from cheap. But a small fee (say 5% user fee) on a bike and its tires paid by the manufacturer and passed on to the consumer would be unlikely to seriously impact the growth in bicycling.

    It would also give bike advocates a dedicated pot of money so they don’t have to argue with the highway lobby about subsidies. More importantly, it gives bicyclists a much more legitimate claim to demand specific action for their money from Congress, rather than whining for a bigger share of the highway money.

    Bicycling still accounts for less than 0.25% of passenger miles traveled in the U.S. so it’s really hard to claim that this tiny percentage of bicycling riders are subsidizing highways for cars. The opposite is true, both the gas tax and general taxes are being paid primarily by people who drive (and don’t bike) — so the motorists in general are subsidizing the bicyclist.

    There’s a legitimate gripe from motorists about diversion when the money they already pay is not enough to keep the federal highway programs running smoothly and projects can’t get built.

    The simple solution is for everyone to pitch in with some money and then demand to get what you pay for.

    • bikinginla says:

      So Frank, what you’re saying is that the gas taxes and registration I pay on my car, and the general tax fund I pay to the state and IRS, as well as the sales taxes I pay on virtually everything I buy aren’t enough? I should have to pay an additional tax, despite the insignificant space and wear and tear on the roads I cause as a cyclist?

      Sorry, but I already pay the same taxes and fees you do, even though by cycling I impose far less cost on society than those who drive everywhere.

      I also find that .25% figure you cite highly questionable, since roughly 1% of all daily commutes are made by by, and 11% of all trips are done by bike or foot.

    • Robert Prinz says:

      Ok then, let’s also start charging a surtax on shoes to pay for all the sidewalks as well (which, by the way, are considerably more expensive than bike infrastructure). No wait, we shouldn’t, because walking is something we want to promote in our neighborhoods to promote health, community, safety, and mobility. How does this not apply to bicycling as well?

      Most of the city planners I know are very pro-bike, not because it is better for the environment and for individual health (which it is), but because they are looking at the big picture and can see the huge savings they get every time a person switches from driving to cycling. Since lots of local agencies get road fees from property taxes and bike routes have been proven to raise property values they are therefore an indirect source of revenue. Also, since lots of local agencies get road fees from sales taxes and 7/8ths of every dollar spent on a car goes out of state, switching to a bike keeps more money in the local economy which in turn creates another indirect source of revenue. Also, the most expensive infrastructure projects are bridges and tunnels where bicycling is often not even allowed, and obscenely expensive highway widening projects would be entirely unnecessary if more people chose to bike instead. Beyond this, most bicycle infrastructure amounts to no more than a couple thousand dollars to paint some stripes near the side of the road that was previously labeled as a gutter or a wide parking lane, which for all intents and purposes costs the city less than nothing.

      Please note that I realize that I am making claims about funding for local streets and roads, whereas you are talking about federal highway funding. Honestly, though, how many miles does the average cyclist even put onto these federally funded highways versus a motorist who will be rolling thousands of pounds down them for thousands of miles each year? What would the equivalent fee be for a bike rider, pennies?

      As for your claim that folks are clamoring to raise gas taxes, I haven’t heard any of that. If you know of a petition I can sign to get that proposition on the ballot please let me know, but in my neck of the woods everyone is trying to raise sales taxes instead because they say any gas tax increase is a non-starter. Beyond that, with more hybrid and electric cars on the street the gas tax is becoming increasingly less relevant, and I would much rather see a proposal for some sort of vehicle mileage fee instead.

  7. Frank says:

    @bikinginla – the less than .25% figure (actually .24%) is amount of travel in terms of miles whereas your 1% is number of trips. That’s the difference — the figures are from the National Household Travel Survey. Regardless, even if I were to agree to your 1% figure it still shows that the typical motorists is still subsidizing the typical bicyclist. Some might say that’s okay because bicycling is a more virtuous mode of travel and that there may be some benefits for motorists when someone bicycles instead of driving (as Robert Prinz notes). So perhaps bicycles deserve some subsidy but my point is that at the federal level — where the responsibility is primarily ensuring that interstate commerce is moving and that we are competing well internationally — the case for a guaranteed % for bicyclists is weak. The weakness of the case goes away considerably if bicyclists are willing to pay a *small* natioanl fee and thereby give themselves a more legitimate claim to a guaranteed supply of money. This could be used for much more than simply striping. I think that this small investment would pay huge dividends for bicyclists and it would be a blessing to this community even though there is so much resistance to the idea now. It’s an investment. As for a sneaker tax, that’s amusing but not apples-to-apples. Nearly everyone walks so there is no subsidization issue particularly as it relates to property taxes. As for federal funding for sidewalks, it probably should come from the General Fund of the treasury instead of the Highway Trust Fund. That way there is no subsidy.

    • bikinginla says:

      Actually, I have no problem with a small fee on bike sales if it goes into a guaranteed fund used exclusively for bike projects; I’ve called for similar funding myself. However, it is absurd to claim that drivers subsidize bicyclists, since drivers don’t even pay the full cost for their own roads and parking — let alone the environmental and health costs. Every American pays the costs of subsidizing motorists, regardless of how much or little they drive.

      As for federal funding bike and pedestrian projects, as noted by Robert Prinz above, every driver who can be enticed into using other methods of transportation, whether bike, foot or transit, reduces congestion on our roads and eases the need to continually expand our roadways system with projects such as the disastrously expensive I-405 expansion. Studies have shown that such projects offer only limited benefit before returning to the same level of congestion or worse.

      We have tried to build our way out of our traffic problems over the last 50 years, and failed miserably. The only way to reduce congestion and improve traffic flow on our streets and highways is to reduce the number of motor vehicles on them. And that will not happen until Americans have safe and effective alternatives — which makes federal funding of bike, pedestrian and transit projects a national imperative.

    • Robert Prinz says:

      If a nominal fee really would get motorists off my back about the legitimacy of transportation cycling and more politicians on board regarding active transportation then I would be glad to pay whatever it took. Based on my experience trying to argue facts and figures to a population raised in a society obsessed with car culture, however, I would say that is very, very wishful thinking. (note: I grew up in Michigan and have a healthy but pragmatic appreciation for what that industry brought to the nation)

      I also still take issue with your statement that bicycle infrastructure is being subsidized by non-user fees. Based on what I can find there is simply not enough research and data on the subject to support any conclusion, but I do know for a fact that spending for bike and ped funding in most urban areas is routinely at a lower percentage than the mode share (I say “bike and ped” because the most expensive bike infrastructure projects are off-street pathways and bridges which are typically multi-use).
      How much in the way of taxes the users of these facilities pay would be very difficult to determine, although many studies have shown that the general population is in favor of federal funding for more bike/ped facilities whether they will use them or not.

      As for the “miles” vs. “trips” metric, I would argue that if we are actually trying to measure how people move to their destinations then a “trips” metric is more useful, as people who are walking or biking tend to choose destinations that are closer by but still accomplish the same goals as longer car trips. The continued use of “miles” as the standard metric often just serves to justify more sprawl and less efficient transportation choices.

  8. “We have tried to build our way out of our traffic problems over the last 50 years, and failed miserably. The only way to reduce congestion and improve traffic flow on our streets and highways is to reduce the number of motor vehicles on them. And that will not happen until Americans have safe and effective alternatives — which not only makes federal funding of bike, pedestrian and transit projects a national imperative.”

    That’s exactly it. Can I quote you, Ted? You’ve put it perfectly right there.

    • bikinginla says:

      I’d be honored. But please remove the typo I just corrected first — the “not only” should have been edited out.

  9. Dottie says:

    Thank you for this rant. I rarely have the smarts or energy to sort out my ranty feelings so thoroughly. 🙂

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