If user fees were the deciding factor, cars would be kept off roads
At last Thursday’s Planning Commission study session on 8th Street there was a small debate about bike lanes on a portion of the Street that is currently a four-lane, posted 25-mph, half-mile long stroad zone smack in the middle of the City. It is a major east-east corridor. By all accounts, it is a dump, there is no other way to say it; it serves no one well and is a resource liability for the city’s property values. I think that is something we can all agree on.
We’ve already debated bike lanes on 8th Street, both on this blog back in 2010 and in the community over the last 30 years. The last two master plans actually specifically called out for improved bicycle facilities on 8th Street. We started experimenting with bike lanes on 8th Street back in 2009 with a re-striping of the eastern section near Munson Ave–the world did not implode. People are already biking on 8th Street, by law and ethics of public space, they have that right, so the question needed is:
How do we design for people, walking or biking, as if they belong? As if they are respected citizens?
User fee mythology
Something else came out of last week’s short, and civil,
debate discussion (UpNorthMedia). A fellow planning commissioner raised the specter of users fees and suggested that the City needs to focus its spending on those paying for the roads.
The argument being, I suppose, that bike lanes are purely niceties and since people on bikes don’t pay for the roadways, well, they can remain after-thoughts. As one might suspect, I took issue with this because, mainly, the user fee myth is just that–a myth.
My April guest commentary for the Traverse City Business News dives into the socialized benefits we receive as drivers more directly, but a few quick items are instructive First, in Michigan for 2010 expenses on roadways, user fees only paid for 29.9% of the road spending (TaxFoundation). This is slightly below the national average of 32%. That’s a 70% subsidy in the state that comes from taxes we all pay regardless of how we get around. It comes out of sales taxes, property taxes, and other revenue that isn’t already dedicated to any specific government service. Locally, we only have to look at the currently mothballed W. Boardman Lake Ave. project, which would use captured property taxes to build the entire 2-3-million dollar in-town by-pass.
The subsidy we all pay to ensure that cars can move around our communities is well documented.
A report from the Strategic Planning Director (UDEL) for the City of Milwaukee back in 1991 found that, “If the city’s total costs relative to cars, more than $400 per vehicle, were directly charged to car owners, property taxes on a $50,000 house would be reduced by approximately $500.” Put another way, if user fees on cars actually were to pay for the pavement, streetlights, roadway enforcement, and needed storm water treatment, our property taxes could theoretically be reduced.
A similar 2011 study in Wisconsin found that the average household in the cheese state pays $779 annually in general taxes that go towards roads (SSTI-PDF). This study, and many others, are referenced in a report published by Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute titled, Whose Roads? Evaluating Bicyclists’ and Pedestrians’ Right to Use the Public Roadways (VTPI-PDF).
In this report, Litman compares two neighbors, one who
only drives 10,000 miles a year, and another who bikes 3,000 miles a year. After explaining the research on the different mode choice costs imposed on society (per mile, 29.3¢ for automobile, .9¢ for bicycle, and .2¢ for walking), he compares how much they 1) either over-pay or, 2) under-pay, and are thus being subsidized by those who over pay relative to what their personal choice costs society.
Your comments,considerations, or concerns?
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