Letter to the Editor

Jeffrey Moore of Las Cruces, NM wrote a letter to the editor complaining about all the bikes on the streets! It’s been a while since I’ve covered the usual complaints, so let’s go over them again.

I realize the need for providing safe areas for walkers and bikers alike. The problem that I have with sharing the roads with bikers is that they pay no registration, they have no insurance and they never obey traffic laws.

Vehicle registration fees in New Mexico range from $25.50 to $60.50 per year. This probably barely covers the costs of running the vehicle registration system, and certainly doesn’t cover the costs of maintaining New Mexico’s roads.

Insurance is a requirement for motor vehicle operators because of the tremendous costs they put on the public. As in almost every state, though, the minimum liability requirements fall short of modern financial realities: New Mexico drivers are required to have only $10,000 coverage for property damage, for example.

Finally, cyclists hardly have a monopoly on law breaking behavior. If cyclists should be banned from the road for breaking traffic laws, the same should hold true for motor vehicle operators.

Each and every day without fail, I see bicyclists running stop signs, turning without looking at other traffic, going faster than me through school zones and driving at night with no vehicle lights.

Again, law breaking motorists are an everyday occurrence. I too see motorists committing each of the infractions Moore lists every single day and night: failure to stop, failure to yield in turns, speeding, and equipment violations. Cyclists should obey the law for their own protection, but when cyclists break the law, the most that usually happens are angry letters to the editor. When motorists commit these infractions, people die.

I hope that people wake up and realize that drivers are the main reason that roads were built and it should not be shared. Until bicyclists start paying their fair share of taxes, insurance and registration fees, they should not be allowed on public roads.

The fact is, cyclists generally pay more than their fair share for public road upkeep. In Las Cruces, a local gasoline tax contribute to 28% of the public works street department $800,000 operational budget — this pays for “pothole patching and repair; street sweeping, cleaning and debris removal; storm drain cleaning and maintenance; dirt street and alley cleaning, grading, watering, and maintenance; guard rail repair and maintenance.” Las Cruces’ $8 million capital projects street budget, on the other hand, is funded primarily through a city sales tax, which is paid regardless of your travel mode to the shop.

Mr Moore proposes that vehicle users pay for their fair share of their road use. Vehicle road damage is calculated by engineers by vehicle speed times axle weight to the fourth power. Let’s start with a 1 penny registration fee for a bicycle. A 5000 pound SUV travels at 3x the speed of a fast cyclist, and weighs 25 times as much as a cyclist and his bike. 25 to the 4th power = 390,625; multiplied by 3 = 1,171,875 pennies or $11,718.75.

Thank you to Stan in Las Cruces for bringing this to my attention.

10 Comments

  • xq
    July 1, 2010 - 11:16 am | Permalink

    You missed another obvious error of Moore's:
    “I hope that people wake up and realize that drivers are the main reason that roads were built and it should not be shared.”
    The exact opposite is true; roads were paved for cyclists, and cyclists shared their roads with cars once they were invented.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Good_Roads_Movement

  • July 1, 2010 - 11:27 am | Permalink

    I love the calculation with vehicle road damage, that's beautiful. Do you have a reference? My usual comeback to “bicycles should pay their fair share” is “OK, let's cut the road budget to zero.” My mountain bike works great without roads; I shouldn't need to pay for something I don't really need.

    Moreover, in most states roads are “public right-of-ways” which you have the right to use for any non-prohibited activity (e.g. walking: yes; hitchhiking: no.). Except driving. Most state laws are explicit that driving is a privilege that can be revoked, thus the need for registration and licensing. So, in a strictly legal sense, you have a right to bicycle/walk on a road, but you DON'T have a right to drive. You have to ask permission first.

  • July 1, 2010 - 11:37 am | Permalink

    Hi Paul,

    I don't know where the 4th power rule originated, but it's the standard formula used by transportation engineers and seems to be the subject of numerous studies that consistently show its value. For example, see “The cost of relying on the wrong power—road wear and the importance of the fourth power rule .”

  • I Bike STL
    July 1, 2010 - 2:22 pm | Permalink

    The MO Bike Fed has a nice page on exactly how much taxes bicyclists pay:

    http://mobikefed.org/paytheirway.html

    Bottom line: Local roads are, by and large, not funded by gasoline taxes, but rather property, sales and local income taxes, taxes everyone pays.

  • Khan
    July 1, 2010 - 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Have you posted this to the newspaper comments in reply? That's really what you should do, just blogging about it doesn't bring the message back to where the question arises.

  • TC
    July 1, 2010 - 7:49 pm | Permalink

    Here's a cut and paste from CalBike Report April 2010, section Bicycling and the Law:

    Obeying stop signs keeps you safe and helps protect others on the road. Bicyclists who ignore this and other basic rules of the road not only endanger themselves and others, but they make it hard for advocacy organizations like CBC to see that motorists are held accountable for unsafe and unlawful behavior. That further complicates efforts to defend the legal rights of bicyclists as equal users of the road

    http://archive.constantcontact.com/fs074/110191

  • Ron
    July 2, 2010 - 9:07 am | Permalink

    Howdy–

    While the first roads were paved for cyclists, they weren't created for bikes either. The “roads were built for [insert favorite mode here]” argument ignores thousands of years of road building. To understand why (on reason, anyway) we have roads, try picturing a neighborhood without them. It would be kind of hard to leave the house if we all just built border-to-border with no public rights of way. Roads are like the mortar in a brick wall; they hold us together by holding us apart.
    Happy Trails,
    Ron Georg

  • July 2, 2010 - 9:23 am | Permalink

    @Khan – I didn't post at the newspaper because I didn't notice the comments section. Thanks for pointing it out!

  • July 2, 2010 - 9:27 am | Permalink

    My thinking is along your lines, Ron. That's why I ignored Moore's “roads were built for cars” phrase, though the response would be that roads were built for public use.

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