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

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

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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
Guest

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:
http://www.vtpi.org/whoserd.pdf
For a good synopsis I wrote of this whole issues two years ago, see:
http://sustainablecitynews.com/rr69.html

Paul Souders
Guest

“ 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.

J_R
Guest
J_R

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?

Eric
Guest
Eric

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?

Joe
Guest
Joe

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

Dan Kaufman
Guest

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.

Dave
Guest
Dave

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

Joe
Guest
Joe

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.

Ethan
Guest
Ethan

Great information, pretty lackluster infographic.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

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.

Ted Buehler
Guest

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.

Eric U.
Guest
Eric U.

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.

Ty
Guest
Ty

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.

Tim
Guest
Tim

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.

Rachael
Guest
Rachael

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.

9watts
Guest
9watts

test – I keep getting errors when trying to post.

John Forester
Guest
John Forester

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.

...
Guest
...

I am the 11% 🙁

9watts
Guest
9watts

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.

jen
Guest
jen

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”

trikeguy
Guest
trikeguy

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: http://www.sfbos.org/Modules/ShowDocument.aspx?documentid=32665

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.

AndyC of Linnton
Guest
AndyC of Linnton

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.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

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.

J_R
Guest
J_R

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

For information about construction costs:

http://planning.usace.army.mil/toolbox/library/EMs/em1110.2.1304.pdf

For information about historic trends in fuel economy:

http://www.epa.gov/otaq/cert/mpg/fetrends/2012/420r12001a.pdf

James Gorman
Guest
James Gorman

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.

9watts
Guest
9watts

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?

Thanks.

Puddlecyle...is your destiny
Guest

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!

Jason S.
Guest
Jason S.

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.

S Bstr
Guest
S Bstr

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.

mikeybikey
Guest
mikeybikey

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.

S Bstr
Guest
S Bstr

@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?

S Bstr
Guest
S Bstr

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

...
Guest
...

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.

9watts
Guest
9watts

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

http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/JTA/AutoRelatedTaxFees_Table.pdf

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:
http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/jta/fueltax_factsheet.pdf

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).
http://bikeportland.org/2013/05/14/report-end-of-driving-boom-requires-a-new-direction-86720#comment-4019833

9watts
Guest
9watts

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.

http://uspirg.org/reports/usp/who-pays-roads