Autos Uber Alles vs. Bikes at Budget Time

Originally appeared in Fort Collins Now

5 October 2007
Eric Fried

What is about the humble bicycle that makes some people so angry? Every year at budget time, the “Autos Only” crowd bemoans the tremendous amount of tax dollars wasted – wasted! – on bike trails, master plans, paid staff, etc. To these staunch defenders of the In-Car-Nation, spending money on any form of transportation beyond the almighty automobile is heresy, which must be purged from our municipal soul.

And yet, the actual amount spent on bicycles is a drop in our city’s bucket. For instance, in 2008, funds proposed for bicycling, including fully implementing the bicycle plan, running Fort Collins Bikes and the bicycle library, total about $325,000 out of a transportation budget of over $110 million, or about one-third of one percent. Taking out the one-time $62 million expense for the Mason Street corridor – most of which is state and federal money with a small city contribution – the total transportation budget is about $48 million, with the bike portion adding up to about two-thirds of one percent. Come on, automobilistas, isn’t 99 and one-third percent of the budget good enough for you?

Fort Collins is a bicycle-friendly city. At least, that’s what the sign on the East Prospect gateway to the city says. After all, the weather is good most of the year, most of our local terrain is fairly flat, and we have a large network of bike trails and lanes. An estimated 4-5% of city residents bike (or walk) to work regularly, and the number spikes during the annual Bike to Work Week. We just witnessed a hugely successful Tour de Fat with a record-setting bike parade, so this town is on a roll, so to speak, when it comes to bicycling.

And yet we have the inevitable backlash, with complaints about bikers who don’t follow the rules, bicycles hogging the roads, and cyclists not paying their fair share for transportation upkeep.

True, some cyclists are thoughtless idiots, just like some drivers. They don’t signal, obey traffic signs, or even ride on the right side of the road. They may be talking on a cell phone, sipping a decaf mocha frappiato and not wearing a helmet. These are minor annoyances at best. When’s the last time someone was killed by a drunk cyclist, or an SUV was totalled in a collision with a Schwinn?

As for hogging the road, that’s just silly. Even when Critical Mass takes over the roads once a month, they only make a small impact, except for the clownish over-reaction of local law enforcement. Cyclists try to ride on the right side of the road, but there’s often glass and debris there that forces them to move in from the curb. And yes, sometimes they ride two abreast so they can talk to each other. But every cyclist who leaves her car home and gets on her bike leaves more space on the road for your Chevy Subdivision and Ford Excavator. So even if you never ride, thank the growing legion of local cyclists for lessening congestion and clearing our air.

Cyclists certainly pay their share of transportation expenses. They don’t tear up the roads much in the first place, or use gasoline imported from Middle Eastern dictators, or contribute to global warming, so they have much less to pay back. Most cyclists also own cars, for which they pay all the usual taxes. I generally drive because my work demands it, but we like to bicycle with our children on weekends. Some people commute by bike, but keep a car for getaways and hauling stuff. We are one and the same.

So why do some people hate bikes? Guilty conscience, perhaps? Or is it a subsconscious pyschodrama, with cyclists representing the godless, Euro-commie, sprout-eating, freeze-in-the-dark hippie crowd threatening all that is good and patriotic and fossil-fuel-burning in America. Yeah, that must be it.

Fort Collins is a bicycle town. Deal with it.

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