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Cyclists Paving the Way for Ungrateful Drivers 23


Photo by earcos / Flickr

Sitting at a red light, a car driver yells out his window “Excuse me, is this the bicycle lane?”. The cyclist passively shrugs and slowly rolls his bike closer to the curb. The light turns green and the driver stomps on the gas pedal flying past the cyclist with less than a foot in between.

Many drivers feel that cyclists have no right to use the roads because drivers pay for the roads through fuel taxes and license fees. This couldn’t be further from the truth and reminds me of a modern-era tobacco industry-like outright fabrication.

Last week a National Post bigot columnist wrote a grossly ignorant and irresponsible article suggesting that cyclists should be licensed and taxed.

“But bike riders pay nothing, even though the cost of urban bicycle infrastructure, operating risks and potential liabilities are mounting. Bikers are getting a free ride that all non-bikers are paying for.”

It is sad that a journalist working for a national newspaper with 200,000+ daily circulation would make such a claim. At best it’s sheer ignorance; at worst it’s a contrived lie – both leaving Terence Corcoran absent of any sort of journalistic conduct.

The truth is, cyclists pay more than their fair share for roads. In fact, in many cases cyclists are actually subsidizing the cost of roads for drivers. Imagine that Terence, cyclists are subsidizing the cost of the roads for you – not to mention cyclists take up less space, reduce gridlock and don’t pollute.

But telling this to Terence would be fruitless. This is the same writer who made the outrageous claim that cyclists should be held accountable for the carbon emissions that they output from their breath while cycling. If this was an attempt at humour, Mr. Corcoran failed miserably.

“And then there’s the carbon footprint. When car drivers cruise Yonge Street on Saturday night, their metabolisms are more or less flat-lined. They just sit there, burning up little energy personally but paying for the cost of their automobile’s carbon footprint via taxes and fees. Bike riders grinding up the same route burn up a lot more carbohydrates, which their bodies convert into carbon dioxide and exhale, adding to their carbon footprint. The volumes are small, but it all adds up, and bicyclists don’t pay.”

Let’s get back to the topic on hand since this dense National Post columnist doesn’t deserve any more of our time.

A 2004 study by the Victoria Transport Policy Institute found that cyclists and pedestrians are subsidizing drivers:

“Since bicycling and walking impose lower roadway costs than motorized modes,
people who rely primarily on nonmotorized modes tend to overpay their fair
share of roadway costs and subsidize motorists.”

Let’s look at how roads are funded. It is true that drivers support a substantial amount of the funding for highways. The Victoria study found that about 60% of highway funding comes from fuel taxes and vehicle taxes and 40% comes from general taxes and bonds. But more than 90% of cycling and walking happens not on highways, but on local roads – so the highway argument is inconsequential.

When we look at local roads, the study found that “in 2002, $27.9 billion dollars were spent on U.S. local roads, of which only $3.1 billion was from user fees.” The other $24.8 billion dollars were paid for by general taxes, of which cyclists, pedestrians and drivers all pay.

Cyclists and pedestrians pay income taxes, sales taxes, property taxes (directly if owners and indirectly if renters) and other taxes that contribute to local roads – all while automobiles are putting substantially more wear-and-tear on these roads, driving the costs even higher.

If anyone should be outraged it should be those who don’t drive but pay into the vast funds that subsidize drivers.

Instead of spreading lies, those in the media should be encouraging what they know in their heart to be the better way.

While sitting at the red light, with a streetcar directly to my left – another cyclist sits between me and the streetcar. The driver of a car behind us sticks his head out the window and says to the cyclist to my left, “is this the bike lane?”. The cyclist grudgingly rolls his bike to the curb without responding to the driver.

I turn my head to the left and say, “Excuse me, is this the asshole lane?”

James D. Schwartz is the Editor of The Urban Country. You can contact James at or follow him on Twitter.

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23 thoughts on “Cyclists Paving the Way for Ungrateful Drivers

  1. Steve Oct 9,2009 1:43 pm

    Great work on research to raise the Victoria Study Jim. May be worth a post back to Terrance with this information (even if only to give exposure to the study on a page that’s probably getting lots of page views)

  2. James D. Schwartz Oct 13,2009 12:14 am

    Thanks Steve. I sent a note over to our friend Terence to see what he thinks of the Victoria study. Maybe Terence should just stick with his financial/business articles instead of writing on a topic he obviously knows very little about.

  3. boyan Oct 13,2009 1:41 am

    Great article Jim! I like the way you finished if off.

  4. Troy Nov 11,2009 2:29 am

    By this logic, I should be able to drive my car down the middle of my local bike paths, since my tax dollars pay for them. Or maybe I could drive my car down the sidewalk, since my tax dollars pay for that as well.

    Calling people “ungrateful” for expecting bikers to be considerate is a bit silly, don’t you think? Roads are built and maintained to facilitate motor vehicle traffic. It’s great that bikes can use them, but that’s not what they’re there for.

    I’ve seen many local bikers that get very annoyed with people that walk on the bike trails and don’t jump out of the way when a bike comes through, so this article seems somewhat pot/kettle-ish to me.

    • you'recrazy Feb 5,2013 11:19 am

      Wrong on all counts. Roads are there to facilitate vehicular traffic. That includes bikes and horse and buggy, and cars and trucks and motorcycles and mopeds and on and on. Sidewalks are for people walking, roads are for vehicles. Sometimes roads are also to facilitate walking. I suggest you bone up on your local motor vehicle code and the rules of the road. This article had nothing to do with bikers being inconsiderate. Please re read it. Most places a bicycle is allowed to ride in the traffic lane, as far to the right “As practical”. This does not mean in the gutter, balancing on the curb or over every sewer grate and swerving around parked cars. It is INCUMBENT on motor vehicle drivers to pass safely, and wait till it is safe to pass. many states require the vehicle driver allow 3 feet as they pass. If my riding slower than you are speeding irritates you so much as to buzz me and make an infantile gesture (hypothetically speaking) then it is you who has the problem and needs anger management therapy and to re take your drivers test.

    • peacebaby Feb 5,2013 11:20 am

      cyclists being courteous on a bike trail is as important as walkers being courteous on the bike trail as well. Same for cyclists being courteous while on a road and drivers being courteous as well. Its a small planet and we all share it.

  5. James D. Schwartz Nov 11,2009 2:52 am

    Troy, the difference is that driving is a privilege that many people aren’t able to take advantage of (even if their taxes pay for the roads).

    You have the right to walk on the sidewalk, and you have the right to cycle on a cycle path. After all, your tax dollars are subsidizing them.

    But to tell someone who can’t afford a car or who chooses to live without a car that they don’t have the right to use a road is a bit unfair, no?

    The ungrateful part of the article refers to the National Post article that I linked to where the author criticizes cyclists for getting a “free ride”.

    On a side note, drivers should be grateful to cyclists for helping reduce gridlock. Imagine all of the cyclists in Copenhagen drove cars?

    • profgumby Feb 5,2013 11:12 am

      Free ride….the funny thing about that comment in the NP is anyone can choose the free ride option! Just gotta put down the keys to the car and get on a bike!

  6. Carlos Nov 12,2009 8:48 pm

    Your proposition of driving of driving on the sidewalk/bike-lane is asinine and illegal. In most cities cyclist (other than children) are required by law to ride on the road, not the sidewalk.
    In fact the roads are there for cyclist, skateboarders, and any number of Type 2 vehicles. There has never been a motorist killed by a collision with a Type 2 vehicle.

    The burden of proper conduct is generally on the motor vehicle driver to be considerate of their RESPONSIBILITIES. Finally, your ad hominem attack on the James baseless and uncalled for.

  7. Winston Nov 28,2009 2:06 pm

    As far as the roads being for motor vehicles, the Highway Traffic Act defines a list of vehicles of the road of which bicycles are one of the non-motorized ones that are expected to use the road. By law the bicycle has more right to the road than a car as your privilege to drive can be taken away whereas there isn’t a provision to do that with a bicycle.

  8. lonerider May 14,2010 3:48 pm

    Taxing cyclists for breathing? Even if it was in jest, that’s absolutely the dumbest thing anyone ever heard.

    And exactly what part of the roads should cyclists be paying for? Fixing the potholes and such? How many 20-lb bicycle cause potholes? With the roads taking a pounding daily from two-ton cars how can anyone even measure the posited wear and tear inflicted by a bicycle? It seems to me if anything the cyclists are already paying for more road maintenance than they themselves require, which is, largely, none! If a given stretch of road only had bicycle traffic it would deteriorate much slower!

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  12. dinbuffalo Feb 5,2013 9:18 am

    Um, most of the cyclists I know (including daily commuters) also own cars, or at the very least own a driver’s license. I don’t believe that bicyclists who also drive is an anomalous condition specific only to the Buffalo, NY region, so I’m going to conclude that we cyclists are indeed paying for the roads, and any modifications/repairs to those roads. I really don’t know how a respectable paper could print such unprofessional vomit, but then again, journalism, at least in the US, is definitely taking a backseat to sensationalism.

  13. Profgumby Feb 5,2013 10:59 am

    I don’t know where to begin….
    So according to the Idiot Journalistic Hack formerly known as Terence Corcoran, it is okay to use a vehicle that spews many times the pollution and a much larger “carbon footprint” than a bike as long as you pay? So, to extrapolate his thought outward, corporations can dump waste into the oceans too then, as long as they pay a tax?

    I for one am sick until death of hearing the same stupid rhetoric out of the car mongering anti bike idiots! We run red lights, we don’t pay for the roads and on and on. Frankly, when someone say such things I immediately ask them if they have been tested for any mental disease!

    We don’t need to ask Terence Corcoran that, he has proven without a doubt that a Cocker Spaniel has a higher I.Q. and better cognitive reasoning….by his own words!

  14. William Noah Feb 5,2013 11:06 am


  15. pedaler Feb 5,2013 11:23 am

    I have never seen a study to back it up, but I am sure a bike rider pays far more for their ride than any vehicle driver when one factors in carbon foot print, wear and tear to the roadway, pollution, congestion and danger to others around them.

  16. troyneedseducation Feb 5,2013 11:26 am

    Troy – I hope you read the comments to your opinion and then go re read the motor vehicle code and re study the traffic laws! Driving is not a right it is a privilege! Sharing the road with courtesy top others is a social and safety must! The roads are NOT owned or solely paid for by vehicle drivers! You have as much or more responsibility for your actions in your 2 ton death machine as anyone else….

  17. Lloyd Alter Feb 5,2013 3:04 pm

    Forget it James, It’s Corcoran.

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