Esplanade closure begins February 1st

Do bikes get a free ride? Advocates’ infographic shows why not (updated)

Posted by on November 12th, 2013 at 8:45 am

Click for full version.

One car damages the road about as much as 9,600 bicycles. If bike riders had to pay a fee for their wear and tear on roads, they’d be writing checks for a few cents per year.

In other words: When people ride bikes, they save everyone money.

Those are the facts the Portland-based Bicycle Transportation Alliance is spreading with the new infographic below. The BTA says it’s designed to “start a conversation” about the ways we pay for our road system, despite a funding regime that Communications Director Will Vanlue calls “kind of a mess and hard to understand.”

“I think the people who aren’t very aware of this don’t think a lot about road funding,” Vanlue explained Monday. “When you’re going to the store you’re not thinking how does this government agency put roads here, you’re just thinking, ‘I want to get to the store.'”

Since Facebook-friendly infographics are a big way that complicated facts can spread from person to person these days, it’s great to see bike advocates looking for ways to use them. That’s especially true since we seem to be approaching a point at which local transportation funding will be forced to change, due to falling gasoline consumption and rising construction costs.

“If this goes well I hope to do two more,” Vanlue wrote in an email. “One that goes more into the other non-road costs associated with riding (savings to the rider), and another that goes more into the external economic benefits of riding (savings to the community).”

The fully original infographics were designed by BTA intern Maren Granstrom.

As for the facts of the infographic, there are some wrinkles: In the City of Portland, unlike in many other cities, the local transportation budget comes almost entirely from auto-related fees. That’s why our unusual success in reducing auto dependence over the last 17 years has been so rough on the city’s street budget. Vanlue said the BTA “made a conscious decision to move away from that granular level of data with this infographic.”

“Having more bikes on the road and fewer cars is going to mean smaller maintenance budgets, bottom line,” Vanlue said. “Eventually we’re going to be flying electric sky-cars, and somewhere between here and there we’re going to have to get rid of the gas tax. What do we do to fund our roads before those flyng cars come along?”

“One way we can reduce costs in the short term until we have a better plan is just to have more bikes on the road,” he said.

— For more on where the City of Portland’s money comes from to pay for transportation, see our story on the PBOT Financial Task Force Report from back in February.

Update 11:20 am 11/14: An earlier version of this infographic incorrectly reported the split between user fees and general fund taxes, overstating the statewide general fund contribution by 15 percentage points. It also characterized some transit costs as “road” costs. We’ve replaced the old infographic with the correct one. The BTA issued the following correction on Wednesday:

We’d like to share our reasons for making the corrections we did:
Categorizing bonds as a user fee. We originally categorized “bonds” as a non-user fee. Based on the source of revenue that ODOT relies on to repay bonds, this was inaccurate.
“Transportation” costs versus “road” costs. The first version of our graphic implied to some that ODOT’s revenue addresses “road” costs, when the picture is actually much more broad. The revenue also pays for things such as trails and other transportation facilities out of the on-road right-of-way.
Percentage of User Fees versus General Funds. In order to make sure we’re categorizing User Fees and General Funds accurately, here’s a list of what we’ve included in each category, based on information from ODOT’s 2011-2013 financial reporting:

  • User Fees
    • Motor Fuels Tax
    • Part of Federal Funds (portion from Highway Trust Fund)
    • Weight Mile Tax
    • Driver and Vehicle License & Fees
    • Bond/COP Sales
  • General Funds
    • Part of Federal Funds (portion not from Highway Trust Fund)
    • Other Transfers to ODOT (includes cigarette tax, local government match on construction projects, Parks & Rec fee collection)
    • General Fund
    • Lottery Proceeds
    • Sales and Charges for Service
    • All Other Revenue

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  • Richard Risemberg November 12, 2013 at 8:56 am

    For detailed research on how cyclists pay more than their share of road costs in most of North America, see the Victoria Transport Policy Institute’s’s excellent study here:
    For a good synopsis I wrote of this whole issues two years ago, see:

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  • Paul Souders November 12, 2013 at 9:06 am

    “ In the City of Portland, unlike in many other cities, the local transportation budget comes almost entirely from auto-related fees. That’s why our unusual success in reducing auto dependence over the last 17 years has been so rough on the city’s street budget”

    This is like complaining about buying new jeans after you lose weight. Fewer cars = smaller, cheaper, less over-engineered streets.

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    • paikikala November 12, 2013 at 9:44 am

      Paul, Now that you have those jeans, that you cannot sell to anyone else, do you continue to maintain them, or do you just let them rot to pieces? Your analogy is flawed. You’ll need to define ‘over engineered’ to me as well, since most of the roads were built a long time ago for different purposes. Having a car, when you only need a bike, does not mean the car was over-engineered.

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      • Chris I November 12, 2013 at 12:11 pm

        You continue to maintain them, but you spend less money, because there is less wear, and less road surface to maintain. Think of a road diet. On a road where you used to have 4 lanes of car damage to maintain, you now just have two lanes, as the bike lanes do not wear out nearly as fast. That’s a 30-50% reduction in maintenance.

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      • Paul Souders November 12, 2013 at 1:10 pm

        Well, “Road Diet” is what I’m going for but “let them rot” is approximately right.

        What you WOULDN’T do is continue to buy jeans at the Big and Tall shop, which is what the PBOT budget essentially assumes thus the handwringing.

        Bottom line: fewer/smaller roads means saving money in the long run.

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        • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
          Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 12, 2013 at 6:38 pm

          So Paul, you’re arguing that PBOT should be reducing its maintenance obligations over time by narrowing its streets, thus reducing the system’s auto capacity and letting people naturally shift to modes and lifestyles that are less pavement- and real-estate intensive. Is that right?

          I jump into this because it’s a policy question I want to understand better and you three seem to be getting to the pointy part of it.

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          • paikikala November 13, 2013 at 9:34 am

            PBOT already appears to be doing this to some degree. They have ‘streets of significance’, they’ve stopped maintaining local streets unless on the sos list, when they resurface major streets they’ve stopped doing the parking lanes and sometimes the bike lanes.

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          • Paul Souders November 13, 2013 at 12:07 pm

            I’d take it even farther and suggest reverting, renting, or selling underused street space to adjacent landowners. (Or converting it into parks, storm water management, or other less-costly public space.) There are massive details here of course, but think of it as a reversal of the policy of public domain. If homeowners were suddenly gifted an extra 150 sq ft of yard they’d be begging for road diets.

            Paikikala’s analogy about the car is actually better than my “new jeans” one, in part b/c it’s not just an analogy:

            When I began riding my bike a lot I still kept my car but seldom drove it. I never used it to its full potential but maintained it to the tune of about $4000/yr. In terms of my budget, it would have been better simply to abandon it in a ditch. (Instead I sold it and came out ahead.)

            If PBOT can’t afford all its obligations, I think the first consideration should be releasing obligations. It’s even possible — land being a valuable thing — to do so in a revenue-positive way.

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            • paikikala November 14, 2013 at 9:31 am

              You can’t sell what you don’t own. The City (citizens of portland) don’t ‘own’ most of the right of way. Most of it has been ‘dedicated’ to public use. If no longer needed by the citizens it is ‘vacated’ and reverts to the adjacent land owner.

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              • Paul Souders November 14, 2013 at 5:30 pm

                “Reverts” is OK with me. Return to the analogy of the car you don’t need any more: you’re better off just giving it away than continuing to pay for its upkeep.

                Paikikala, you clearly have more technical knowledge than I do. So help me out here: how could PBOT *reduce* its obligations?

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  • J_R November 12, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Too many people incorrectly that increased fuel economy or supposed reductions in gasoline consumption have had a severe impact on transportation funding. They have hade a minor impact. Fuel economy of the vehicle fleet is only about 1 mile per gallon better than it was twenty year ago. The top selling vehicle in the US is not the Prius or some reasonable car, it’s the Ford F150.

    The real cause of the shortage in transportation budgets is the loss of tax revenue in relation to construction costs. The federal gas tax has been stuck at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993. In 1993, Oregon’s gas tax was 24 cents per gallon. Finally, in 2011, it went up to 30 cents per gallon (a 25 % increase). During that same period since 1993, the street and highway construction cost index has risen almost 70 percent. That’s a huge difference and far exceeds the supposed loss due to better fuel economy and less driving.

    If gasoline taxes had been indexed for inflation, we’d not be in this mess of making false choices between “auto projects” and “bike projects.”

    The gasoline tax is not perfect, but a user fee that levies a cost for occupying and using the transportation system and levies an additional fee based on fuel used (i.e. a carbon tax as used in British Columbia) is actually a pretty reasonable approach. Why replace the existing gas tax with two: a vehicle miles driven tax pus a carbon consumption tax?

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    • paikikala November 12, 2013 at 9:51 am

      JR, do you have a verifiable source for your statistics?

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        • paikikala November 12, 2013 at 2:54 pm

          Interesting link, but it states the fuel economy effect us about 22%. That doesn’t sound minor to me. I’ve experienced a 20% pay cut and it hurts.

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          • 9watts November 12, 2013 at 3:12 pm

            No, that is not what the link says, paikikala. Why the article linked starts in 1997 isn’t clear to me but the 22% cited refers to the share of the effects *other than* fuel economy improvements since 1997.

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          • Dimitrios November 12, 2013 at 3:18 pm

            Is this just a semantic argument? There are two variables considered in the link: constructions costs inflation and fuel-efficiency gains. Construction cost inflation is the major contributor (78%) of the 28% loss in purchasing power of the gas tax. Fuel-efficiency is 22% responsible, AKA the minor contributor.

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        • Michael Andersen (News Editor)
          Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 12, 2013 at 6:43 pm

          Good point, Chris! I added “and rising construction costs” to the post above, with this link.

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  • Eric November 12, 2013 at 9:06 am

    Is there any way we can get the O to print this full page on their front page. Or for Oregon Live to display it full screen on their website?

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    • paikikala November 12, 2013 at 9:51 am

      Pay them.

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    • Nik November 12, 2013 at 9:55 am

      Of course not. They have a prominent article online right now by Joseph Rose covering the campaign. In the interest of balance, half of the column is devoted to the misinformed rantings of Bob Huckaby, who complains that the BTA has an agenda (who would have thought?), that motorists have to pay for insurance, and claims the BTA doesn’t “want to admit to the fact that the city treats one group of road users as special.”

      Huckaby is right, but not in the way he believes. The city does treat one group of road users as special: the automobile. This is abundantly clear when safety improvements for vulnerable road users are off limits if they have any impact whatsoever on vehicle throughput. Cyclists are told to choose their routes carefully to avoid interacting with high speed traffic, while no car driver would think twice about piloting his or her vehicle on any street in the city. People feel entitled to block bike lanes at will and consequences for doing so are nearly non-existent, especially when compared to the response that will be generated if an auto lane is blocked. Some road users are indeed special, and it ain’t people on bikes.

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      • davemess November 12, 2013 at 10:36 am

        Wasn’t that the business owner who threw a fit about the city shutting one of the entrances to his place, and then vowed to get bike licensing on the ballot? same guy?
        Guess he hasn’t gone away.

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      • q`Tzal November 13, 2013 at 1:18 am

        People feel entitled to block bike lanes at will and consequences for doing so are nearly non-existent, especially when compared to the response that will be generated if an auto lane is blocked. Some road users are indeed special, and it ain’t people on bikes.

        I must admit: when I have to maneuver my 53′ trailer and truck through tight urban streets I’ll wave through pedestrians and cyclists but take perverse pleasure in slowing down impatient drivers so I can safely make a turn. I even got a thumbs-up from a local cop once because I positioned the truck so that no one could drive themselves in to a death trap while I was turning.

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      • 9watts November 13, 2013 at 7:08 am

        Maybe it has to do with the fact that he’s always in a hurry? Remember all those speeding tickets he got?

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    • davemess November 12, 2013 at 10:35 am

      I think we just need to link it in the comments section ANY time someone incorrectly states this (which is almost every day).

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    • Spiffy November 12, 2013 at 12:12 pm

      that was my thought but after reading the article comments it’s obvious that many people didn’t even bother to look at the info-graphic because they’re still spouting the usual bikes-don’t-pay rhetoric…

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      • davemess November 12, 2013 at 1:15 pm

        Yeah, I saw. Thanks for fighting the good fight. I just always envision that most of those habitual commentators are all 60 year old white guys who live in the suburbs because the “hate the liberal city of Portland”. I’m guessing I’m not that far off.

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        • Alan 1.0 November 12, 2013 at 8:07 pm

          …60 year old white guys who live in the suburbs…

          Check, check, check and check. Your point again?

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          • davemess November 13, 2013 at 1:31 pm

            I think the comments section of Olive is usually quite homogenous and usually not that representative of the city of Portland.

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            • Alan 1.0 November 14, 2013 at 9:35 am

              Thanks. I’m sympathetic, not stereotypical.

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              • davemess November 14, 2013 at 12:52 pm

                I figured, as you’re actually posting here!

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    • Chris I November 12, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      Joseph Rose will probably pick it up for his “Hard Drive” commuting blog. I admire his efforts, but the comments just turn into a frothy mess of people attacking him for being a pinko liberal cyclist.

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      • davemess November 12, 2013 at 1:16 pm

        Which is ironic, as we see him as an inflammatory cager.

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  • Joe November 12, 2013 at 9:38 am

    Eric hahah awesome. I really think as cyclists we suffer more since all the road crap goes from the car lane into bike lane.

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  • Carl November 12, 2013 at 9:44 am
    • 9watts November 12, 2013 at 11:32 am

      I have to disagree.
      First Joseph Rose was led astray by the prominently placed (distracting and irrelevant) 89% figure, and then he gives Huckaby an opportunity to spout foolish nonsense without rebuttal.
      “As a motorist, ‘I pay my share, too,’ Huckaby said. ‘But motorists also have to pay for insurance and be licensed to be on the road. Bikes don’t. So, really, we’re paying double.'”

      Why can’t Huckaby be expected to understand the issue before being given airtime?!

      You’re not ‘paying double,’ Bob. The sum of what those who drive pay ‘into the system’ doesn’t cover the infrastructural (never mind social, health, environmental) costs of their driving. Why can’t you get that into your head?! What people who bike or walk or skateboard or whistle do is irrelevant because whistling and biking don’t tax our infrastructure enough to matter. It is lost in the noise. That is that the 9600x figure should have conveyed to you.

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      • davemess November 12, 2013 at 1:19 pm

        I also find his insurance idea comical. Why do autos have insurance? hmm… Could it be because they are capable of seriously injuring and killing people and destroying property? I would love to see a list compairing the destruction done by autos versus bikes so he could see why bikes don’t need insurance (on top of the fact that 89% of cyclists are already covered under their auto policy).

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        • Tim November 12, 2013 at 3:18 pm

          Considering that most homeowners and renters insurance cover cyclists for personal liability, the rate of unisured cyclists is less than motorists. The need for cyclists to use insurance is so rare that few know they even have coverage.

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    • Nathan November 12, 2013 at 1:30 pm

      This article brings up a very good point: “… a big chunk of the wear-and-tear on roads is done by large trucks delivering goods purchased by everyone, including bicyclists. Yet there’s no acknowledgement that the cost of that damage is carried by all consumers, not just motorists. ”

      This works in two major ways, one that goes with Joseph Rose’s stance and one that goes against it.

      Contrary to Rose, any consumer of goods pays for roads by paying for things that have transportation costs rolled into them (so many bike-only people have been paying usage fees indirectly).

      In Rose’s favor, however, the freight system is so entrenched in truck delivery that personal transportation efforts are diminished by an entire system being supported by a truck-on-road backbone.

      Bike infrastructure is relatively cheap to build and super-cheap to maintain, but I do not know where cost-benefit analysis for road damage places its effectiveness. Health benefits are where we really tip the scales (as reflected in motivation for Ciclovia and Sunday Parkways type events).

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  • Dan Kaufman November 12, 2013 at 9:45 am

    This is exactly what we liveable streets advocates need to be doing. Thank you, BTA!

    We need to eliminate the pervasive myth that motor-vehicle owners pay their share for the easy use of our right-of-way. Nothing could be further from the truth.

    I think it’s wise to avoid the granular, but I do wish there was a way we could address a lot of the indirect and hidden costs. For example, I believe property taxes cover most of the cost of policing the roads and much of the public cost of emergency services. In Portland, our combined sewage system must process all the run off from the streets and parking lots which are, of course, built larger to accommodate motor-vehicles. How much gas taxes and car user fees will be applied to the Big Pipe project, for example? As far as I know, none.

    One minor criticism to maybe think about for the next round: Citing the fact that 69% of bicyclists also own cars and pay taxes and fees on those gives legitimacy to the notion that car drivers own the streets and roads.

    Let’s not forget that under the all the paint, signs, and pavement is the right-of-way that we all share. It should make no difference if a majority of people who ride bikes, (or walk, or wheelchair) also own cars. Car drivers did not buy the right-of-way and since they operate dangerous, polluting machines in the right-of-way they should cover ALL the costs of mitigating the danger and the pollution.

    It’s time to end this counter-productive subsidy.

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    • 9watts November 12, 2013 at 11:17 am

      Dan’s criticism is also mine. The first link in the first comment above is to Todd Litman’s perspective on this, which avoids these pitfalls. The way the above graphic presents this info (circle upper left) implies that those of us who don’t *also* own a car aren’t paying our share. The accompanying text ‘still not convinced’ sets up a hierarchy within the argument that is simply wrong. The fact that most who bike also pay gas taxes may be statistically true (I’m not doubting this), but it is not relevant. If Oregon citizens were neatly divided into mono-modal camps, consisting of those who drive cars exclusively, and those who bike exclusively, the larger point the BTA is trying to make would be the same: autodom costs vast sums; biking hardly any. gas taxes don’t cover these costs. Ergo those who rant about ‘paying our fare share need to brush up on the facts and shut up.
      This larger point is excellent, important, and giving it all the exposure it can get is a valuable way to spend BTA funds, but let’s get this right.

      As for Will’s swipe at the gas tax, we’ve discussed this here before and at length. J_R above is spot on. There’s nothing wrong with the gas tax we have, except that it has been eviscerated by inflation. And most of the proposed alternatives to it that I’ve seen are overly complex, terribly expensive to administer, and offer no benefits over a gas tax worthy of the name. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that European countries have real gas taxes and damn nice infrastructure that is paid for with it.

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      • John Lascurettes November 12, 2013 at 5:16 pm

        Agree with both of your criticisms. However, I think as a PSA, this is still the right approach as a first step. “O-ish” readers are having a hard enough time swallowing this partial look at the truth. You expect them to swallow the whole truth? I’m not saying that people shouldn’t accept the whole truth (I’m always incredulous how they can’t), but still … you gotta start somewhere and hope to gain ground.

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        • 9watts November 12, 2013 at 6:02 pm

          If the partial truth obscures the core idea in the first round, muddles what should be quite easily communicated, how does this prepare the audience for the full truth in round two? Do people really learn in this manner?

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    • Peter michaelson November 13, 2013 at 6:23 pm

      Can we add rent charges for the huge amount of publicly owned land they use?

      There was a time that these same streets in inner Portland were available for multiple uses, but the cars bullied everyone else off. Should they not pay for that? Why do cars get all the land?

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  • Dave November 12, 2013 at 9:52 am

    I hope the cost of the US military is included–murdering Arabs and stealing their oil costs money.

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    • Middle of the road guy November 15, 2013 at 11:23 am

      that would include the petroleum that went into the construction of your ‘zero-carbon footprint’ bicycle?

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  • Joe November 12, 2013 at 9:57 am

    How about HWY billboard, would help when I’m riding across I-5 ppl be like
    whoa thats not a bike lane, well its a shoulder and only way to cross is ride like hell for 3 miles and exit 🙂 but the shoulder is dirty and not clean.

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  • Ethan November 12, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Great information, pretty lackluster infographic.

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  • GlowBoy November 12, 2013 at 11:25 am

    Great info in the campaign, but it will mostly fall on deaf ears. Most people don’t want to hear the truth, and they’ll tune it out except to step up the accusations of self-righteousness. A lot of the hostility we get from the non-cycling public is already the result of repressed guilt, so I’m not sure this will help us much.

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    • Spiffy November 12, 2013 at 12:15 pm

      “Most people don’t want to hear the truth, and they’ll tune it out except to step up the accusations of self-righteousness.”

      wow, it’s as if you read the O-live comments first before posting this…

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      • GlowBoy November 12, 2013 at 8:34 pm

        “wow, it’s as if you read the O-live comments first before posting this…”

        Ha! No, I haven’t been able to bring myself to read the OLive comments, though they’re extremely predictable. It was depressing enough to see the poll results this morning that 60% think bikes make their commute more difficult (how???) versus 40% who think bikes make their commute easier.

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        • davemess November 13, 2013 at 1:33 pm

          I am still trying to figure out what the heck that poll has to do with the article, other than they both involved bikes.

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        • Dimitrios November 13, 2013 at 2:03 pm

          I haven’t seen the poll, but if that’s how it’s worded it’s not conveying anything other than people don’t like congestion. Do you think a poll asking “do cars make your commute easier or more difficult” would be indicative of anything other than that? Of course bikes make your commute more difficult. PEOPLE make your commute more difficult. Not very interesting stuff here.

          An interesting poll would be “which mode of transportation would you prefer the current cyclists to choose? a) their personal automobile or (b) their bicycle”

          That type of question would force the reader to directly compare the two modes and imagine that many more cars on the road vs the status quo of bikes.

          You have to remember the context of these discussions on internet newspapers. Drivers hate other drivers too. If an article is about people not using turn signals, watch the comments light up about how everyone sucks at driving. Make it about cycling and suddenly there is camaraderie amongst the motorists. The parallels on this site are obvious as well.

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    • Dimitrios November 12, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      This is ultimately my impression of the resistance as well. There is a distortion of cause/effect when it comes to the reasons people choose to bike. My biking instead of driving helps reduce congestion/wear even though it’s not a factor in my choice. Ultimately people did benefit by that decision. I don’t want a thanks or a pat on the back, but that very truth shines a light on every person not making the same decision as me.

      Hidden in that mess is essentially an insult. “If you understand the ramifications of your choice and continue to make the same choice, you suck”. If you can figure out a way to communicate with people without them interpreting it that way, you’ll have a real chance of changing people’s attitudes.

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      • davemess November 12, 2013 at 1:21 pm

        Exactly! I don’t want to be patted on the back, I just don’t want to be killed! Is that really too much to ask?

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  • Ted Buehler November 12, 2013 at 11:45 am

    Nice graphic.

    I wonder where “grants” fit in on the ODOT dollar bill. Seems that a lot of the transportation funding is from the feds or other grant-type sources.

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  • Eric U. November 12, 2013 at 12:35 pm

    It’s really annoying that the gas taxes haven’t kept up with inflation. As a motorist, I would like to see transportation projects funded properly. People propose stupid stopgaps, like selling roads or GPS tracking. Just index the gas tax to inflation or make it a percentage of gas prices. It needs to be raised.

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  • Ty November 12, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    This flyer is a deception.

    Using the data I see quoted in the flyer sources, 22 cents of every DOT revenue dollar comes from gas tax, and 15 cents of every revenue dollar comes from fees. This means the average car driver contributes 37 cents per dollar, while a bike commuter (who owns a car) contributes 17 cents per dollar (assuming some amount of gas used). Since only 11 cents of every dollar is spent on highway maintenance, a car driver is contributing a net of 26 cents per dollar for other things like modernization, road and bridget safety, operations, and special programs, such as bicycle improvements. A bike commuter contributes the whole 17 cents, since they have negligible impact on the road. I’d have to consider the infographic a work of deception because car drivers pay 53% more towards the DOT budget than do bike commuters. If they had titled it, “Why bike commuting saves everyone money”, I could believe it given minimal damage done to roads, thus making the required road maintenance budget smaller for everyone.

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    • 9watts November 12, 2013 at 12:49 pm

      I recommend Todd Litman’s review of these costs and fees and expenses (link above). While Maren & Co. obviously consulted Litman’s work, the BTA graphic is not a good starting point for understanding this issue.

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  • Tim November 12, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    The who pays for the road discussion nearly always forgets who paid to build the road in the first place. Residential and new comercial streets are paid for by the developer and past on to the home owner, it’s in you morgage. Also, many roads and road right-of-ways pre-date the automobile.

    Face it – people do not want to think their automobile doesn’t cost as much as it should.

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    • davemess November 12, 2013 at 1:23 pm

      Yes and they want you to get “out of their way”.

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  • Rachael November 12, 2013 at 1:43 pm

    Is anybody able to direct me to where the proportion, 1 car: 9,600 bicycles came from? I’ve looked at the sources cited, but the USA Today article is actually citing 1 40lb truck: 9,600 cars, while the other references under footnote #4 all discuss the fourth power rule.

    I showed this infographic to a friend with whom I often get into conversations on this topic, and as we’ve been digging further into the numbers, it’s unclear to me where they originated.

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    • Rachael November 12, 2013 at 2:49 pm

      OK. So upon further research, I think that the USA today article is cited because it discusses a 40-ton (80,000 lb) truck doing as much damage to the road as a 4,000 lb car. This ratio of 20:1 is the same as that of a 4,000 lb car to a 200 lb cyclist, which — although the citations do not make this clear — I believe is where this piece of information came from (as discussed here:

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    • Opus the Poet November 12, 2013 at 9:03 pm

      I did the calculations a few years back and came up with SMART car = 1100 bicycles, Escalade = 8000 bicycles, half maximum semi (20 tons GVW) = 10,000,000 bicycles, and max legal semi (40 tons GVW) = 160,000,000 bicycles with 1 bicycle = 350 pounds GVW, so if you have a skinny guy riding a carbon bike with all his work documents on his smart phone you would be looking at something close to the 9600 ratio for the Escalade.

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    • trikeguy November 13, 2013 at 9:37 am

      Road damage goes up as either the cube or the 4th power of the weight difference, depending on which report you cite. So a light sports car (2300lbs) is 10times heavier than me and my trike. 10^3 = 1000, 10^4 = 10,000. Take bigger cars, use a number in between and you easily get 9600.

      As I noted below though, those numbers don’t actually come into play until you exceed the fatigue strength of the roadway – which most cars and small SUV’s don’t. The real stat is that big trucks do the vast majority of the road damage because they *do* exceed the fatigue strength of the roadway.

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      • Paul Souders November 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm

        This is true in outline, but streets also applies to surfaces that don’t need cars on them. Imagine driving a F150 down your local MUP, and consider how very much cheaper it is to build a bike path than even a residential street. The fourth-power law still applies, it’s just that we (basically) engineer any motor vehicle roadway for the maximum possible motor vehicle.

        Also: the 4th power law includes speed, which is what makes freeways so expensive.

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        • paikikala November 14, 2013 at 9:36 am

          Physics issue. You’ll have to show me where the 4th power law includes speed. vehicles that drive faster have lower impact on the road surface. The reason freeways cost more is of the number and weight of users and the desire for the roads to last 50 years. Roads are designed based on ESALs, not the heaviest vehicle that might use it.

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  • 9watts November 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    test – I keep getting errors when trying to post.

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  • John Forester November 12, 2013 at 2:47 pm

    The whole discussion discusses emotions rather than being a rational discussion of the cost of road transportation done in accordance with proper cost accounting standards. Ignorance produces more ignorance rather than knowledge.

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  • ... November 12, 2013 at 3:20 pm

    I am the 11% 🙁

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  • 9watts November 12, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    I’ll just add why I think the focus in the BTA’s graphic, which Joseph Rose picked up immediately, is unfortunate.

    – Why the 89% figure is irrelevant and distracting –

    Because the mistaken view this graphic and campaign are ostensibly responding to is that gas taxes and those who pay them are responsible for paying (more than) their fair share, of contributing disproportionately to road maintenance, etc. As such, emphasizing that most people who bike are really more like you, the subsidizing driver, than you realized only reinforces this mistaken notion – that somehow gas taxes and car ownership and use are the most important thing to know about road financing. They are not.

    Because the real value of gas tax receipts has been allowed to be eaten up by inflation, what was once mostly true is now decidedly not true: The money raised through gas taxes (and other auto-related fees) is nowhere near enough to cover the costs that driving inflicts on our transport infrastructure. Even if 100% of those who bike owned and used cars–or none of them did–this would be true. The fact that some of us bike, use bicycles to go places others choose to go by car, is what matters. Our bicycle miles traveled, the road space we take up, is I think what is being compared or should be compared here.

    Bicycling is basically free, (Bob Huckaby notwithstanding) and this is all to the good, not because I like biking and want someone else to pick up the tab, but because there is basically no tab to pick up. The only measurable public costs associated with bicycling are derivative expenditures (for bike paths, etc.), necessitated by the overwhelming presence of the automobile, and the dangers it represents to those on bicycles. People who bike exclusively should, in Todd Litman’s calculations, be owed a rebate of several hundred dollars per year, corresponding to the amount they overpaid for infrastructure maintenance relative to their demand of said infrastructure. That idea to me conveys far more clearly what we’re talking about than any of the sundry bits sprinkled across the BTA graphic.

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  • jen November 13, 2013 at 9:01 am

    I did read the comments on the oregon live website and was disheartened by the anger and vitriol against people who ride bicycles. I like the campaign, but think that most people will choose to believe what they already believe and are convinced that any information that refutes their way of thinking is a lie or skewed numbers.
    Or- as the person I was discussing the article with said, “I don’t care about your facts. I still feel that bicycles don’t pay their fair share and they need to pay more”

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    • 9watts November 13, 2013 at 9:05 am

      “I don’t care about your facts. I still feel that bicycles don’t pay their fair share and they need to pay more.”

      Aren’t you glad that 34 cents out of every property tax dollar goes to secondary education in this town?

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      • davemess November 13, 2013 at 1:36 pm

        Those students aren’t paying their fair share!!!!

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        • davemess November 13, 2013 at 5:23 pm

          I should note that “fair share” is one of my least favorite phrases in the English language.

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  • trikeguy November 13, 2013 at 9:18 am

    Damage to the roadway occurs when the weight of the vehicle exceeds the designed fatigue strength of the roadway.

    Most cars and smaller SUV’s are below that. After that limit is exceeded the damage goes up as 4th power of the weight difference – leading to the stat that many trucks are 9000 times as damaging as cars. It’s been well known that the trucking industry doesn’t pay its fair share for a very long time.

    That 4th power stat is where people conclude that bikes are 9000 times less damaging than cars – but cars are already a negligible portion of the roadway damage.

    just one study:

    excerpt ——————-
    For the purpose of this report, DPW recently conducted a pavement design analysis to determine how SUVs cause pavement damage (see Attachment 1). Based on their pavement design analysis, DPW found that:

    • Standard design manuals suggest that the impact of cars, pickups and two-axle trucks are negligible when designing pavements. The amount of heavy truck traffic is the determining factor.

    • City pavements are considered “rigid pavements” due to use of a concrete base. When using the Fatigue Strength Method of design, the pavement will fail if it is subjected to repeated applications of heavy loads causing it to exceed its fatigue strength. Due to their relatively light weights, repeated applications of car and SUV loads will not cause a pavement to exceed its fatigue strength.

    • A consultant study may be needed to verify these conclusions and to verify the citation that “roadway damage is proportional to weight raised to the fourth power”. The Board may want to seek clarification on these formulas and conclusions before proceeding with policies that target a specific vehicle category to recoup costs for road damage.

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    • 9watts November 13, 2013 at 10:02 am

      I would be curious to know how much of the expenditures on our transportation infrastructure is due to
      + repairing worn out roads vs.
      + widening them,
      + expanding the road network
      + maintaining the roads and bridges deteriorating due to weather, temperature, moisture, geology, etc.

      Let’s face it. Our roads are built to standards (width, speed, weight) that vastly exceeds what human powered transport requires. Taken as a whole this maintenance task is large, but it is not, principally, necessitated by the presence of a few or even an overwhelming number of people bicycling. It is necessitated by the overwhelming number of single occupancy vehicles and heavy trucks.

      One day when the SOVs and heavy trucks are a thing of the past we’ll find ourselves wondering how to maintain our roads and bridges. I suspect that we will discover that the task is vastly different, both in terms of procuring asphalt (horses?) and in terms of the physical standards to which roads not meant to support millions of cars and trucks must be designed, built, maintained.

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  • AndyC of Linnton November 13, 2013 at 10:56 am

    Interesting timing. I was just telling my buddy that there are people out there that believe that when he gets on his bicycle instead of driving his car, he somehow isn’t paying for the roads. He honestly thought I was making it up. His response, “GOD! who are these mouth-breathers!?” I’ll have to show him that the BTA has to actually come up with graphics to counter this point.

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  • GlowBoy November 13, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    Only at the bottom of the poster does the BTA hint at what I think is the most important point of all, anyway: it is CHEAPER to provide bike infrastructure than car infrastructure. My riding my bike SAVES car drivers money and hassle.

    If we’re going to make a point of pointing out the virtues of cycling infrastructure (and I’m still not sure it is a productive debate): rather than defensively point out who pays what and who causes the most damage, I think we should rather be focusing on how cycling actually benefits everyone, including drivers.

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  • J_R November 13, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    In response to a request for information about my statistics, I offer the following:

    For information about construction costs:

    For information about historic trends in fuel economy:

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  • James Gorman November 13, 2013 at 5:17 pm

    Every pavement civil engineer knows, the main damage to roads is caused by heavy trucks. In fact, the depth of pavement is designed for these heavy loads (could be less for only cars). The bike to car comparison is just as logical as the cars to trucks comparison, but an iteration lower. Goods we want will always be sent by some heavy vehicle (trucks, trains).

    Future Flying cars, no need for roads? wrong- Heavy vehicles will be needed for goods- unless there are nuclear (or some other extreme) powered flying trucks.

    Right now- trucks don’t pay a proportionate amount of road tax vs. their damage. Road engineers have known this for 50+ years. Tax on Fuel used for cars make up the maintenance cost difference.

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  • 9watts November 13, 2013 at 5:18 pm

    Regarding the BTA issued correction about how they classify bonds:
    “Based on the source of revenue that ODOT relies on to repay bonds, this was inaccurate.”

    I’d like to learn a bit more about this. I would have assumed that bonds were squarely outside the category of user fees. Can someone explain?


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  • your destiny November 13, 2013 at 9:10 pm

    When I first saw this I couldn’t believe that people are actually making the argument that “bikes aren’t paying their share.” Bikes are not the reason we need bike infrastructure. Autos are the reason we need bike infrastructure!

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  • Jason S. November 14, 2013 at 8:41 am

    Does BTA’s study take into account spending on traffic signals and signs, and traffic law enforcement, e.g. state troopers, county sheriffs and Portland Police? State police spend a lot of their time chasing speeders on our highways.

    However, a larger point is that roads are part of the cost of society; they are not consumer goods. Like clean air, good schools, and order and safety we all pay into this because it is our duty as citizens.

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    • 9watts November 14, 2013 at 8:52 am

      “roads are part of the cost of society”

      A valid point. But only up to a point. Unlike clean air, good schools, and order and safety, (some) roads have a tendency to drift into the category of pork (CRC), or of fee-for-service (HOT lanes, toll roads), limited access (freeways). Not to mention the fact that the roads we’re talking about, the ones that are wearing out and need to be maintained, are built to standards that far exceed what mere citizens, human- or animal-powered conveyances, pre- (or post-fossil fuel) society, require or could afford.

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  • S Bstr November 14, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Who wants to rebut specific issues in the Glenn Bridger’s points at the end of the Oregonlive article. For instance, who pays for the bike-specific improvements to the Bridges, or even the Bikes only green boxes in the downtown Portland!! Someone above argued that all infrastructure is for automobiles, which may be largely true, but not completely. There are some that are indeed specific to bikes.

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    • 9watts November 14, 2013 at 10:28 am

      Of course there’s bike specific infrastructure. But if you ask yourself why this is needed you very quickly come to one answer: the ubiquitous automobile and often inattentive people piloting them. Green bike boxes in the absence of an overwhelming number of cars make no sense, would be absurd. 96% of so-called bike infrastructure (I’d exempt infrastructure specifically designed for locking bicycles) is derivative.

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  • mikeybikey November 14, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    IMO, this is a huge messaging loss for the BTA. The bikes don’t pay thing is seriously stale bread, so why take a defensive position about it? Motorvehicles kill and maim thousands every year and thats a powerful moral authority for going on the offensive.

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  • S Bstr November 14, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    @9watts, if I ask myself the question as to why the green box is needed, it is because there are significant number of cyclists who use that route, so in a mixed traffic it makes sense. The reason, hence, is because there are cyclists; if there weren’t and it was largely auto only traffic, we wouldn’t need the green box. You also didn’t answer the other point about bike specific infrastructure in our bridges. They would again only be needed if there are cyclists, not otherwise!! So who pays for them?

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    • 9watts November 14, 2013 at 9:23 pm

      The green box as I understand it is to allow people riding bikes to place themselves in a visible, front-of-the-queue, position so as to reduce the chances of being creamed by right-hooking automobilists. This is a useful piece of infrastructure if there were 1000 cars and 1 bike, or if there were 800 cars and 200 bikes. It would make no sense to have green boxes if there were no cars.
      I don’t think I’m following your logic: “The reason, hence, is because there are cyclists; if there weren’t and it was largely auto only traffic, we wouldn’t need the green box.”

      Pedestrians don’t need walk signals but for the fact that we’ve given over our streets to cars. While we think of this as pedestrian infrastructure it, like bike paths, is derivative of the overwhelming presence of the car.

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      • Bill Walters November 15, 2013 at 10:29 am

        And to just pile on a little bit: It’s derivative of the overwhelming presence of the *two-ton (or more), creature-comfort-insular* car. If our culture was such that people confined their freeway cruisers largely to the freeway and used something smaller, lighter, less insular in the city, maybe they wouldn’t dictate such extensive/expensive infrastructure.

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      • Pete May 13, 2015 at 8:58 am

        Drivers here in California should advocate for bike boxes at all of our ‘hard’ intersections (i.e. no right-turn buffer). By giving bicyclists a small area in front of the cars going straight, cyclists could then uncork people turning right on red, and with the very long light cycles we have here that would have a positive impact. Many of the newer, or recently-redone intersections here (Cupertino comes to mind) place marked sensors in this position anyway. (I suspect, based on observations, that being passed by and watching bicyclists pile up at the ‘head of the line’ would emotionally be too much for the average Californian driver to take).

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  • S Bstr November 14, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    And, yes, I forgot one other thing. I completely agree with you, in a largely bicycle traffic, we wouldn’t need that either.

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  • ... November 15, 2013 at 12:42 am

    From J.R.’s Oregonian article: “In fact, the infographic’s most powerful point — that 89 percent of bicylists also own cars — is open to skepticism,..” Sigh… That really really should not have been part of the infographic.

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  • 9watts November 15, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    According to ODOT, Oregon’s auto-related taxes and fees are the lowest in the region:

    I do not follow their math (how they calculate a per gallon equivalent tax rate for the fixed charges like registration) but figured this table might be of interest to some folks.

    I’m still looking for a detailed breakdown of how ODOT uses gas taxes and user fees to repay the principle and interest on their bonds. This is only part of the picture:

    Washington State, according to the OSPIRG report Jonathan reviewed back in May, has managed to screw up its ability to use declining (future) gas tax revenue for ballooning interest payments (on completed projects).

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    • 9watts December 22, 2013 at 8:44 pm

      “I’m still looking for a detailed breakdown of how ODOT uses gas taxes and user fees to repay the principle and interest on their bonds.”


      Since ODOT went out of its way to tear down the BTA’s piechart, and the BTA conceded the point, I’d really like to have someone explain this a bit, because, frankly, it is not intuitive.

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      • 9watts April 1, 2014 at 10:59 am


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        • 9watts May 12, 2015 at 9:25 pm

          Still hoping for an explanation. Anyone?

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  • 9watts August 24, 2015 at 8:31 pm

    Here’s what the U.S. PIRG has to say about this topic:
    New Report Finds Drivers Pay Less Than Half the Cost of Roads

    The new report, “Who Pays for Roads? How the ‘Users Pays’ Myth Gets in the Way of Solutions to America’s Transportation Problems” exposes the widening gap between how Americans think we pay for transportation – through gas taxes and other fees – and how we actually do.

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