On June 16, Kim commented on a comment on this blog, noting, “Cars pay for roads, you obviously do not.”
Kim’s not the only person to make this argument. It happens a lot. It goes like this, usually: people who ride bikes don’t pay gas taxes or vehicle registration or tolls, so they shouldn’t get the luxuries of bike lanes or other forms of infrastructure that allow us to travel safely around cities.
It would be a good argument if it weren’t wrong.
I’ve written about this before, for Metro Philadelphia, so I’m going to go ahead and quote myself (emphasis mine):
Bicyclists already do pay for roads, many of which still aren’t designed with them in mind. It’s actually motor vehicle drivers utilizing public parking spots getting subsidized by everyone else.
Most of the money for roads come from tolls and user fees, fuel taxes, license fees, and general taxes and bonds. It’s true that motor vehicle drivers (including those bicyclists who also own cars) pay the tolls, fuel, and license portion of that list. But as far as the United States as a whole is concerned, these three fees do not provide the bulk of funding.
Nationally, those fees make up about 50 percent of all road funding, as noted by the Tax Foundation. The rest of the money comes from bonds and general taxes—which we all pay for, based on our income and what we buy.
As noted in “Streetfight” by Seth Solomonow and former NYC transportation commissioner Jeanette Sadik-Khan, between 1947 and 2012, “American taxpayers as a whole paid $1 trillion more to sustain the road network than people who drive paid in gasoline taxes, tolls and other user fees.” And in 2012, $69 billion in highway spending came from Americans’ general tax revenue.
Such economic realities bear repeating when taking a look at city streets and bike lanes, many of which are faded, beaten up, and full of pot holes. Bicycles provide little, if any of this wear and tear. When bike lanes get beat up, it’s because motor vehicles are allowed to illegally park in them freely, with little-to-no consequence from enforcement entities.
Long-term on-street parking additionally allows people to leave their motor vehicles on public space indefinitely for a mere $35 per year.
Think about all the good that could be done with the free public space used by people’s car storage — or if people had to actually pay to store their cars.
And that’s just part of it. Traffic deaths and injuries in Philadelphia cost the city about $1 billion per year, and $1 trillion nationwide.
Looking at the cost of roads using the simplicity of gas taxes and other extra fees people who own cars have to pay to function in a car-centric society only tells about half the story. As it happens, people who own cars significantly underpay for the usage of their vehicles, the pollution they emit, the storage, their wear on pavement, and the destruction of public property they often cause.