Gage Stromberg: Car culture can’t rule the road
The Washington state Senate’s statewide “Listening Tour” to gather citizen input on our transportation system stops off in Spokane on Wednesday, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., at the Central Valley High School theater.
Among the topics is the inclusion of funds for cycling, walking and mass transit within transportation budget priorities. If you are interested in seeing equitable treatment of cycling, walking and mass transit, I urge you to attend and make your voice heard. Cyclists, walkers and bus riders don’t have big-budget campaigns or organizations to make sure we are included in the discussion, but we collectively deserve consideration.
When the subject of bikes comes up within the context of roads, the primary and loudest reaction is that cyclists don’t pay for roads and therefore shouldn’t have a say in what happens. Some believe cyclists may not even deserve space on the road, much less designated bike lanes or other accommodations. The sentiment appears to be based on the idea that those riding bikes must not own a car, may not have a job, don’t contribute to the economy and certainly aren’t doing their fair share to pay for the roads, which are, admittedly, usually designed for cars.
When I get together with cyclists, however, I have a hard time squaring this perception against reality, which is that cyclists come from every walk of life. Many own businesses, multiple cars and homes, and pay all sorts of taxes. Why, you might ask, is it important to note that we are homeowners who pay taxes? Because direct taxes and fees, such as gas taxes, license fees and road tolls, pay for only 47 percent of the cost of streets and roads in Washington. The rest is from the other taxes that state residents pay, including sales taxes and property taxes (either through ownership or rental).
That means everyone in our state is contributing to the tax base that funds 53 percent of our roads, even if we don’t own a car. This includes some of the estimated 2 million state residents who can’t, don’t or shouldn’t drive because they are too young, too old, too poor or otherwise are unable to operate a vehicle. So to be fair to those who don’t drive, whether by circumstances or choice, it is reasonable to take these needs into account when developing budgets and designing projects.
Besides the fundamental equity of including cyclists, walkers and transit users, there is also an economic case. A Washington State Parks study found that the Centennial Trail has an economic impact of $30 million per year. According to Visit Spokane, the trail is one of the top five tourist attractions, and 53 percent of its users are visitors. Those people pay hotel and motel taxes and help to support our retail establishments, restaurants, theaters, museums and the jobs attached to them.
Other studies have shown that home prices are more stable near bike trails and that businesses on streets with bike lanes show higher sales tax revenue. Simply stated, spending money to include cyclists shows an ongoing return on investment.
It is fair to assume that at the various stops of the Listening Tour, the senators will hear from people supporting investment in moving goods quickly and efficiently in large trucks. They are also likely to hear from folks who don’t want to spend money on anything that increases the expense of a transportation project. That is why supporters of cycling, walking and transit need to speak up.
Our transportation system should work for everyone. A system that honors all choices is equitable and reflects the way transportation is funded. Plus, it makes economic sense. Please take the time to make your voice heard.
Gage Stromberg and his family own River City Brewing and he is a partner at Powers Stromberg Pension Consulting Inc. He is a founding board member of SpokeFest and regularly rides his bike to work.