Who Should Pay for Bicycle Buffoonery?

May 14, 2009

Can winter come back -- now?

Countless Nutmeggers are asking that question, as warm temperatures prompt the reemergence of bicyclists.

Connecticut law is clear. Bike riders are “subject to all of the duties applicable to the driver of any vehicle subject to the requirements of the statutes relating to motor vehicles.” They must “ride as near to the right side of the roadway as practicable.” In addition, “Persons riding bicycles upon a roadway shall not ride more than two abreast except on paths or parts of roadways set aside for the exclusive use of bicycles. Persons riding two abreast ... shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, and, on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane.”

Sound like the behavior of any cyclists you’ve encountered lately?  

No, most of the greener-than-thou pedal pushers and Lance Armstrong wannabes on Connecticut’s roads can’t be bothered to obey stop signs, keep to the right, or ride single file. It might be because they’re too busy daydreaming of how to force you to pay for their hobby.

Cyclists aren’t content to endanger your commute or Sunday drive -- no, they’ve become militant, obnoxious crusaders who believe the “public benefits” of two-wheeling justify huge subsidies. Connecticut’s pols and bureaucrats, always eager to bash automobiles and embrace loopy strategies to atone for the state’s “carbon footprint,” have signed on to vacuous veloism. Recent years have seen rivers of revenue flow to all manner of pro-bicycle policies. The Department of Environmental Protection funds “Bike to Work” days. Bicycle paths are being built throughout the state. (Earlier this year the Birch Road Bikeway in Mansfield scored a cool $300,000 from the federal “stimulus” package.) DOT bureaucrats are currently updating the “Connecticut Statewide Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan.” (Here’s the document’s ludicrously grandiose vision: “Any Connecticut resident will be able to walk, bicycle, or use other type [sic] of nonmotorized transportation mode [sic] safely and conveniently from his or her home to any destination in the State.”)

Predictably, this legislative session, bicycle buffoonery is at work in Hartford. S.B. No. 735 would create the “Connecticut Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board,” require both the state and municipalities to spend 1 percent of highway funds on “all users” (translation: bicyclists), and establish “Share the Road” license plates, the proceeds of which are to be used to “enhance public awareness of the rights and responsibilities of both motorists and bicyclists while jointly using the highways of this state.”

At a March public hearing, “smart growth” utopians (the Sierra Club, Central Connecticut Bicycle Alliance, Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency, New Haven Mayor John DeStefano) turned out in force to back the bill. Only the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, in a rare exhibition of sound judgment, had the courage to suggest that putting “more requirements on the way towns and cities spend their dollars will increase that burden, and could harm their ability to provide services to their communities.”

The assertion that in Connecticut, bicycles are a viable alternative to cars belies economics, demographics, culture, topography, and meteorology. Try ditching your SUV for a Schwinn when your to-do list includes dropping the kids off at practice, visiting mom at the nursing home, stocking up at Costco, retrieving the dry cleaning, and taking the dog to the vet. In July. (Or January.)

And commuting? Fewer than 0.2 percent of Connecticut employees used bicycles to get to work in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Cycling’s share dropped from previous decades.

Non-cyclists worried about energy use and air pollution shouldn’t be fooled by Big Bicycle’s propaganda. As Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, observes, “Far more people telecommute than cycle to work … . Telecommuting is growing faster than cycling or transit riding, so if cities could do only one thing to promote less driving, telecommuting would be a better bet than cycling.” Of course, telecommuting’s growth is occurring organically, and any beneficial environmental trend politicians and eco-agitators aren’t able stage press conferences to claim credit for … well, can’t possibly be important, can it?

If bikes are as popular as their fanatical loyalists claim, it should be easy to raise the revenue to add bicycle lanes to every road in Connecticut. Cyclists themselves can do it, in a manner similar to the way drivers pay taxes on fuel. Yes, it’s time for an annual bicycle registration fee. (How’s $300 sound?)

The proper response to the cycling lobby’s ridiculous demands is simple: Pay up or shut up.

D. Dowd Muska is a writer, commentator and lecturer. His website is www.dowdmuska.com.

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