Monday, March 7, 2011

Caution: Cyclists on the Road


It's that time of year again (at least in the Pacific Northwest) where the icy mornings begin to give way to sunny afternoons, there is a little more daylight after work, and cyclists put the trainers away and start hitting the road.  HOORAY!!!  Unfortunately, that sentiment isn't necessarily shared by all vehicle drivers.  Especially after a long winter of not seeing us on the road.  Those stupid cyclists in their stupid spandex!  Why don't they ride on the dang sidewalk?  They have no right to be in my lane!  If they are riding on the road, they need to pay more taxes, daggonit!  Oh, the rantings of fat lazy Americans everywhere.

I generally try to keep my blog a happy place.  Free from negativity and politics and debate.  But it is my blog after all, and I feel compelled to share some information that may enlighten the unenlightened.  Yes, I know that calling them "fat lazy Americans" is quite immature and probably won't help my case.  But it made me feel better.  And since I'm an American, am clinically overweight, and tend towards laziness when given the chance, I'm allowed.  I get the feeling that I'm preachin' to the choir here anyway.  So feel free to use these tips next time you find yourself in a debate on the topic.

Let's start with a few factoids:
1) I agree that to the majority of the world, our spandex does indeed look stupid.  But I guarantee that after a 4 hour ride in cotton shorts (or even a 1 hour ride), you will be a convert to the miracle fabric.
2) It is illegal for cyclists to ride on the sidewalk in most cities/states.  And just plain dangerous.  There is no way I could navigate through pedestrians, signs, curbs, and tree roots while hauling at 20+ mph.  So unless a cyclist is riding similarly to a pedestrian walking, they are required to get off the sidewalk and stay on the road.
3) Even if you are in a city where it is legal to ride on the sidewalk, it is also very much legal to ride on the road.  Love us or hate us, we are allowed to be there just as much as the cars are.

And now let me address the taxes bit.  The question "Should bicyclists pay extra taxes?" surfaces in the media on occasion.  Some of my own friends and family members (gasp!) even insist on it.  It inevitably comes up in any debate about cyclists riding on the road.  I think we can all agree that roads are paid for primarily by taxes and tolls.  I think we can also agree that taxes come from federal income tax, state income tax, sales tax, and property tax.  (As well as some taxes that don't apply to the normal US resident.)  Some thoughts:
  • The US median household income is around $50,000/year (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009).  Recent polls show that the average household income for triathletes is $126,000/year (USA Triathlon, 2010).  The median income (not household income, mind you) for competitive cyclists is $75,000/year (Active Marketing Group, 2007).  So triathletes/cyclists have about double the taxable income of the rest of the nation.
  • The majority of these cyclists are vehicle owners.  I think it's safe to say that many of these vehicles are nicer than those of the general population.  My peer group and the parking lots at race sites are certainly strong examples.  Those vehicle owners have paid sales taxes on those awfully nice and expensive vehicles, they have paid license and registration fees, and continue to pay fuel taxes to operate them.
  • The majority of cyclists either own a home and directly pay property taxes on those homes, or they are home renters and indirectly pay those property taxes on a monthly basis.  It's likely that homes owned/rented by cyclists, based on the median household incomes, are much nicer than residences of the general population.  Thus, cyclists are paying more in property taxes than non-cyclists.
  • So not only are cyclists contributing their fair share to the public road systems, they are contributing more than the average American.  Even so, paying taxes is not a prerequisite for using the roads.  Children, the unemployed, and foreign visitors all legally use our roads without so much as a single cent paid into the tax system.
  • When I'm not riding on the road, you will often find me running on the road.  And sometimes I hold up traffic to cross the street or on a narrow passage where cars can't safely pass me.  How about a foot tax, eh?
Based on the above information, I conclude that the cyclist-hatin' population is either ignorant, or jealous, or both.  There I go again being immature.  Don't be like me.  Some more thoughts:
  • People who exercise are healthier and therefore are less demanding on the health care system.  Obesity-related medical costs are estimated at $147 billion.  Per YEAR!  Smoking-related medical costs are also staggering - $97 to $137 billion per year, depending on the source.  Health costs for alcoholic related issues are over $20 billion per year.  Care to guess how much bicycle-related injuries cost?  $5 billion per year.  (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2009.)
  • Cycling emits about 100% less emissions than vehicles do.  Whether you are a super-green activist concerned about greenhouse gases, or a devout conspiracy theorist who thinks global warming was invented for financial gain by the government, you can't argue that bikes still produce less emissions than motorized vehicles.
  • Semis, cars, and trucks all cause damage to the roads.  Earthquakes cause damage to the roads.  Floods cause damage to the roads.  Construction causes damage to the roads.  Bikes do not.
But we do need to do our part.  So y'all, just a reminder to wear your helmets, stay as far to the right as you safely can, stop at the stop signs (okay okay, most of them), definitely stop at the stop lights, signal signal signal, and generally be respectful to those around you.  And if you still get honked/yelled at or buzzed or things thrown at you, here is some advice that I've found quite effective.  Blow a big ol' sloppy kiss at the jerk wad and wave like they're your long lost cousin.  They LOVE that.