Thursday, October 8, 2009

Bicycles and Roads

My good pal Anders frequently has told me about how some folks (yes, many of them conservative) think bicyclists should pay taxes for using the roads the cars drive on. He makes the argument that this shouldn't be necessary, since bicycles produce much less wear and tear on the road than cars. On a bicycle ride (ironically) I realized how I don't agree with this argument, because of what a road is. A road is much more than a paved stretch, it is a system.

As a quick side note, please understand that I am not saying bicyclists should pay taxes on the roads. I for one am a cycling fanatic, and it is absolutely great that so many people bike in my city. As far as who should be paying for roads I will leave to the IRS (until another bike ride where I come to some more random conclusions).

So what sort of parts and processes of this "road" system that costs money? And most importantly, ones that aren't just the pavement? Here are just a few I thought of on my ride:

Traffic Lights
Most roads have traffic lights. Although several rural roads don't have them, I can't think of a bike ride I've been on where I didn't see and use traffic lights. Both cyclists and cars use traffic lights. And although neither puts wear and tear on them (since the simple act of looking at them is the use), the simple act of maintaining them could add up. Electricity. Weather damage. Replacing parts as they age past the lifetime they were designed to have.

Evening Lights
Same as above, except evening lights are much more numerous than traffic lights. They use quite a bit more power too, as there isn't any fancy LED low-power version. Yet. The cost of all those light bulbs add up. Both cyclist and cars use these, and put equal amount of wear and tear.

Beyond the core infrastructure of stop lights and evening lights, the roads are patrolled. Cyclists depend on cars to follow the rules, and cops are around to enforce them. And vice versa.

Roads get very dirty. Cars contribute to the mess, but weather does also. Combine this with the surrounding environment (dirt, sand, leafs).

Roads are constantly being evaluated for safety and throughput, and often times civil engineers will need to add overpasses. Or create bike lanes (or in our city, bicycle boxes). Being an engineer, I know expensive this can be. It is something all users of the road take advantage of, not just cars.

There are several more I thought up of too.

A road is more than just pavement, it is a system. The cost of running it is expensive, but most of the time, all users benefit from the cost that goes into it. Not just cars.

If you do think a road is just pavement, go find a abandoned road and try to drive or bicycle on it. There are two I've actually tried this on, one in Wyoming and one in Vancouver. I failed. The sheer quantity of debris, cracks and washed out regions made it impossible. When a road becomes just pavement, and nothing else-no service, lights, maintenance-it becomes unusable.