I'm laying down the gauntlet to all the fiscal conservatives out there. I'm going to clear a couple of things up right here, right now, and I will issue you a very simple challenge.
By Justin Jones
Published March 27, 2014
There's been a lot of talk lately about "value for the dollar" when it comes to cycling infrastructure. This includes a few City Councillors, commentators and unnamed constituents who continue to insist that Hamilton's high-speed network of thoroughfares are a "competitive advantage" and bike lanes are frivolous and expensive.
We've heard that people would rather see this money spent filling potholes, which is certainly a concern after the winter that we've had, and we've heard the oft-repeated line about cyclists wanting infrastructure but not wanting to pay for it.
So I'm laying down the gauntlet to all the fiscal conservatives out there. I'm going to clear a couple of things up right here, right now, and I will issue you a very simple challenge.
First off, the potholes argument. Let's be perfectly clear about this: we could fill potholes a lot better and spend a lot less money doing so every year if we weren't maintaining twice as much lane capacity as we need in the lower city.
Pothole on Aberdeen Avenue (RTH file photo)
Potholes aren't just caused by freeze-thaw cycles. They're caused by heavy, high-speed objects rolling over them during those freeze-thaw cycles.
By removing automobile traffic from some of the extra lane capacity that we've built in Hamilton, we're reducing the amount of maintenance we have to do, and we can address potholes and maintenance issues more easily.
The other overlooked aspect is that the faster the traffic is going, the more damage is done to a road. So if we calm traffic, we'll also see lower maintenance costs.
So in the long run, this expenditure will actually save money on spring and summer maintenance, even though the winter maintenance costs will be higher.
Second, this whole licensing/charging cyclists argument. Now a licensing regime for cyclists would cost a lot more to set up, run and enforce than it would bring in, but that's often ignored by so called "fiscal conservatives" who use this as a wedge argument.
It's true that there used to be bike registration programs in the past, where youth and adults would register their bikes for a nominal fee (usually about $10 in modern dollars). But that wasn't a "license" in any meaningful sense of the word - what these systems really are is a bike registry so that if your bike is stolen there's a much higher chance you'll get it back.
In a few jurisdictions in the US you're required to register your bike, and the penalty for not having one is having to sign up for it on the spot if you're pulled over.
The whole "cyclists should pay for infrastructure" argument is more evidence of the divisive politics sometimes employed by those people who just can't see any way different than their own way of life.
This argument ignores that the vast majority - 89 percent - of cyclists are also drivers. They pay licensing fees, gas taxes and so on already, even though those costs don't pay for municipal roads. People who sometimes ride bicycles also pay property taxes to the City, which are the main source of revenue for local roads.
And yet, despite data that shows that more than 1 percent of Hamilton residents use their bikes every day as their primary mode of transportation, spending on cycling infrastructure has never even been close to 1 percent of the roads budget in our city.
Even with the Cannon Street Cycle Track, we'll still see just over 1 percent equivalent (I draw this distinction because the funds are not coming out of the roads budget, but out of the Wards 2 and 3 area rating funds) of the City's roads budget of $97 Million invested in cycling infrastructure, and that is only for this year.
If we truly wanted to talk about "fairness" and "equity", then we would be spending roughly $1 Million on cycling infrastructure every year and not batting an eye about it.
So now comes my challenge to all those who oppose this infrastructure investment on the grounds that it's "a waste of money" catering to "special interest groups". I can cite study after study showing that:
Again, these are studies that have been done from around the world, with most of them being done in North America.
I can also point to studies and figures that show:
I can point you in the direction of studies that highlight the true costs of sprawl, and emphasize the need to build more walkable, bikeable and livable neighbourhoods in order to start reducing some of these costs. So that's my data set that provides the economic justification for my assertions.
My challenge to you, then, fiscal conservatives, is twofold.
1) Find me one report that shows that our current patterns of automotive use have a net benefit to the economy once externalities like healthcare and infrastructure costs are factored in.
2) Find me one instance where a community made a significant investment in cycling and active transportation but did not see a net benefit.
Once you can come back to me with data that supports your hypotheses about where our money should be going, and we can have a debate where we can both compare facts, then I'm willing to engage.
Until then, all you are using is conjecture and anecdote, which holds no value when discussing how best to use limited public resources.
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