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The Purpose of Roads
Some Stories Just Write Themselves (with a little help.)
By Chip Haynes
Editor Note: A letter to the editor spurs our friendly neighborhood cycling writer to defend the use of public roads by cyclists. History tells us a thing or two about this subject. This essay first appeared in Mason's Wire Donkey Bike Zine. Subscription information follows this article.
I came into work one recent Monday morning to find an email waiting from a local bicycling activist. She's a feisty one, so I couldn't wait to see what was going on in her corner of the county. What she sent was this letter to the editor that appeared in a local newspaper.
Roads are for cars, not bicycles
I hope I'm not the only one who is noticing that sectors of the roads in St. Petersburg are being taken away from vehicular traffic and given to bicycles.
Do bicyclists pay road taxes? Are bicycles licensed for use on roads? Do you need a license to operate a bicycle on public roads? Who is policing the use of bicycles on roads? (Not the police: They watch the bicyclists break the law and do nothing.) Not to mention the cost involved to the taxpayers. I would like to see the roads given back to the purpose for which they were created. You know, cars and trucks.
Needless to say, that was just the sort of letter to get me wide awake on a sleepy Monday morning. I zipped through the rest of my email and then went to it. By the time I was done, my keyboard was steaming. Here's my response:
In response to Carl Schirg's letter ("Roads are for cars, not bicycles"), I just have to say: Carl, Carl, Carl--Where do I begin? The City of St. Petersburg does something nice and you make it sound like a bad thing. So they took a bit of your road and made bike lanes? The nerve! Bad news, Carl. They're called public roads for a reason. They're for all of us. Even you. The tax money collected to build and maintain those roads comes from a wide variety of sources, including property taxes, sales taxes and, yes, even federal income tax. Last time I checked, the small amount of money you pay for your driver's license and auto tag barely cover the cost of, well, your driver's license and auto tag. We all pay for the roads, Carl, no matter how we choose to use them. (By the way, did you notice all of those sidewalks taking up good road space? I'll bet those pedestrians aren't licensed, either!)
Now I will admit I'm with you on the enforcement thing. As a long time cyclist, I get just as upset as you do when I see people on bicycles breaking the law and getting away with it. But then, I think the same thing when I see motorists breaking the law and getting away with it--and I see that far more often. More enforcement would be nice, but is that really the best use of police resources in St. Petersburg? I am, however, a little vague on your reference to "the cost involved to the taxpayers." What cost? Bicycles don't wear out the road like motorized traffic, and take up considerably less room, which results in better overall traffic flow, fewer traffic jams, and less pollution from all those cars stuck in traffic. As a property-owning taxpayer myself, I'd say those bike lanes were money well spent.
As for your parting shot about wanting "to see the roads given back to the purpose for which they were created," Carl, I couldn't agree with you more. But you'd better brush up on your history, my friend. Better paved roads in America were the direct result of the politically powerful bicycle clubs of the late 19th Century--before the automobile ever came along. You're welcome. Now give us cyclists our slice of the road. We've earned it.
As I finish this little story, that letter to the editor is sitting right here, stamped and ready to go. I'll walk it over to the post office next door in a minute. I'm very proud of myself for having written that letter without resorting to obscenities or saliva-spewing verbal mayhem. (I know they wouldn't print it if I did.) I do, however, have a 100% print rate with the letters I send the newspaper, so there's a good chance this one will get printed as well. I'll bet I get a nasty phone call from the Evil Emperor Schirg, but that's okay: I plan to outlive him. That much venom just can't be healthy.
Don't be afraid to fight back when people question the bicyclists' right to the road. It's our road, too.
It was our road first.
To subscribe to Mason's Wire Donkey Bike Zine, contact Mason St. Clair at email@example.com.
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