Paying your way

I often see the argument that bicyclists use the streets for free, while motorists pay for them. The Department of Transportation of Madison, WI just published a report with a few pertinent facts.

Perception that “bicyclists don’t pay their way”

  • Most bicycling takes place on local streets and roads that are primarily paid for through property taxes and other general local taxes. [ed note: i.e. not gasoline taxes]
  • Bicycling inflicts virtually no damage on roads and streets compared with automobiles and trucks.
  • A 200-pound bicyclist with a 50-pound bike will impose approximately 1/65,000th the roadway damage of a 4,000 pound car.
    * Information from “Who Pays for Roads?” Published by U.S. PIRG Education Fund (2015)
  • Motor vehicle use imposes costs on the environment and public health in the form of air pollution, noise, injuries and damage from crashes, and a host of other rarely quantified costs. These costs are borne by all of society. [Ed note: One of those non-quantified costs could be the public health cost of chronic conditions exacerbated by a lack of exercise.]
  • A 2009 analysis by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute estimated that the external cost of a mile of bicycling was less than a penny, while the cost imposed by a mile of walking was 0.2 cents—compared with external costs of driving of more than 29 cents per mile.
    * Entire bulleted list from

I’ve also seen the justification that, since many bicyclists also drive cars, we are already paying our way by paying gas taxes when we drive. I guess one could argue that every mile we ride is “stealing” because we aren’t paying gas tax for those miles. One could argue that, but one would be wrong. See the list above.

What I haven’t seen in print before is an examination of toll roads. The state to the south of here has many highways on which vehicle tolls are collected. Here there has been fierce opposition to the notion of toll roads. I have not seen fierce opposition to the bike trails that require a toll, either in the form of a day use fee or an annual permit. Around here, some of those are trails used heavily for commuting, not just recreation. Are those not toll roads? Are toll roads okay for bikes but not for cars and trucks?

Speaking of paying your way…

Where does your money go? Do you pay annual dues to AAA? Do you think of it as a form of insurance for emergency road service? It may be that, but it also pays for advocacy on behalf of cars and drivers. If you ride a bike, you may want to match that/offset that with a membership to the League of American Bicyclists. If you have a state organization, like the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, toss a little more their way. Do you ride with a local club but don’t bother to pay dues because you don’t think you ride with them enough? Pay your dues. You may have a local or regional advocacy organization, or one that advocates for the kind of riding you do. If you want to advocate for bicycling, spend at least as much money there as you spend for cars.

You can also help pay your way via Adopt-a-Highway programs, in which you clean up roadside trash tossed there by other vehicle users. When spring arrives, we’ll be announcing our next cleanup near Brigham Park. Other bike groups also have programs (including the folks behind the Horribly Hilly Hundreds and the Death Ride). You can probably find (or start) one near you.

McCoy Tyner 1938-2020

I can’t end this post without a shoutout to one of the greats – pianist MyCoy Tyner, who played in the seminal early 1960s quartet of John Coltrane (during the time he recorded “A Love Supreme” and “My Favorite Things”), fronted his own bands, and worked with many of the other greats of the last 60 years. When looking for one of his solo works from the early 70s, I came across this instead:

Tyner died on March 6, 2020.

Author: halffastcyclingclub

We are a group of friends who ride bikes. Some of us are fast, some of us are slow, all of us are half-fast. In 2018, one of us rode coast to coast across the US. It was so much fun, he's doing it again in 2022! If we meet Sal Paradise, we'll let you know.

6 thoughts on “Paying your way”

  1. Check, check, check and check to everything you said. Hope all is well since you’re back to work. Decided to keep working a few more years? Google and check out ZdoggMD podcast about EPIC. I’ve been to the new Mead Witter building several times now, nice venue.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the intro to Zdogg. On the way to that song I found his viral “My Sharona” parody, “My Corona”. Reminds me of the Bicycling magazine contest some years back. They were giving away a new bike from their best bikes of the year issue. You had to tell them which bike you wanted, and why. I wrote “My Serotta”. I didn’t win. (Maybe I had to make a music video, not just send the lyrics.) But here’s a link to the EHR (electronic health record, for you civilians) rap Tim mentions: Oops, WordPress won’t let me put a link in the comments. Go to YouTube and search Zdogg EHR if you don’t want to type it copy/paste that long string.


  2. Yep. I commuted on bikes for years. It was great. If I could swing my leg over my bike now and had somewhere to go every day, I’d do it now.

    That said, I have been hit while riding my bike, hit and run, on a SIDE STREET because I didn’t want to piss off rush hour drivers, and I wanted to be safer. Severe concussion, 14 stitches in my lip, road gravel embedded in my skin that came out slowly for years (there’s still some and that was 1976). In the People’s Republic of China, in the early 80s, the bikes had the right-of-way and it made a completely different cycling experience.


  3. The 14 stitches probably added character to your face. (I have a friend who was just too handsome. The chainsaw scar gives him rugged good looks.) I’m sorry to hear your story. It took a month after my surgery to be able to swing my leg over my bike. Not being able to do it ever again is too scary to contemplate right now. Maybe I’d have to befriend a dog like Bear and go for lots of walks.


  4. Another good post, thanks! Like you, and most cyclists, we here at CAC believe strongly in giving back. We have an AAH section and are a member of the League, too. And we donate funds and time to local community causes like Music in the Park and Washoe Tribal Earth Day. I’ve also been known to move large rocks off the road – not just for us riders but for the cars too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks on behalf of everyone. I hit one of those large rocks coming down from Carson Pass once. I was afraid to swerve enough to miss it completely so drove over it, hoping it was small enough to pass under my car between the wheels. I was wrong (but I got lucky).


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