An open letter to Patrick Appel (writing on Andrew Sullivan's blog about cars and bikes).

Published 2009-08-10

Responding to Ryan Avent on the subject of cars, pedestrians, and cyclists, Patrick tosses out this old chestnut:

but the roads for bikes wouldn't exist without the cars

Which prompted me to reply:

If this is the best argument you can muster for the continued existence of cars, I heartily endorse the alternative.
I have two bikes that frankly ride better without any roads at all. And the other two bikes would do just fine with a strip of concrete about 4' wide (OK, 8' wide for two-way traffic). You know, the kind of sidewalk you can pour for yourself on a weekend for a few thousand bucks.
Roads exist for the health and pleasure of cars, and if the “price” we pay for a car-free world is no roads ... crap, hang on, “price” isn't the right word at all. It’d be like walking into a nice restaurant and the waiter says, “please take this food off our hands for us. We’ll give you $5 if you’d just eat some of it for us.”

I think about this particular issue a lot, because every so often someone will have the brilliant flash that cyclists should “pay for their share of the road.” Let’s set aside the fact that, in Oregon at least, roads are subsidized from the general fund (so therefore cyclists pay more for the road than motorists); and let’s also aside the relative wear-and-tear a car causes a road vs. a bike; and we won’t even get into the degree of engineering required to build a road for such wear-and-tear. And the incidental costs of collisions (and resulting funerals), and the police patrols required to reduce same. Let’s just set that all aside. If the alternative to “bicycles should pay road taxes” is “let’s not have any roads,” well Option Number Two works just fine for me.

Let’s be clear: I own a car and like driving places. I like living in a civilized world where we can drive to the hospital when we’re ready to have a baby (instead of ride bikes, I guess). But this is a crap-awful argument, both against bikes and for roads.