Monday, October 5, 2015

Bike Argument

I had a bikes v. cars (wealthy or upwardly-mobile urban fantasist (UMUF) v. rural poor) discussion recently, in which the UMUF offered a pretty good spread of pro-bike stuff. Recording here for posterity. Jen Sorensen offered this cartoon which started it off:

High Arka: Should people who can't afford to live closer to their jobs pay increased payroll taxes in order to fund special roads for people who enjoy riding their bicycles to Whole Foods?

Alan Barta: No, HighArka, you are ALREADY paying higher taxes for not installing bike and pedestrian accommodations, which actually cost almost nothing, just paint street appropriately after they repave it, which has to be done anyway. By comparison, dedicated bikeways including land acquisition cost on average only $500,000/mile to install, whereas interstate highways cost $10,000,000/mile. More money goes to construction workers for bikeways than does for highway, too. The US government spent $1 trillion on highways in the last decade, and that doesn't include state matching from income and property taxes. In other words, you are getting ripped off royally for highways that exclude bicyclists, and pay an additional penalty for ignoring vulnerable users.

High Arka: Are you of the opinion that motorized vehicle travel by interstate highway, motorized vehicle travel by city surface street, and bicycle travel, are interchangeable? No. Bicycle travel is for the privileged few who have the free time, wardrobe and employment and appearance flexibility, and health privileges to bike places.

For those who have to show up at work exactly on time in a uniform, and who can't be sweaty or disheveled from a bike ride, and who have to make it to another job within a certain amount of time, bicycling is impossible.

Check your privilege. Biking is great for upper middle class university students, "interns," and bookstore-cruising latte-sippers in Portlandia. It is great for people who live in safe, low-crime areas where they will not be threatened with violence or harassment for being exposed to the elements, or other people, without a layer of automobile in between them and other people. It is not appropriate for the rushing poor, the physically vulnerable, or people living in low-density or dangerous environments.

Making working people pay for special non-motorized lanes for those who have the privilege of making convenience-based choices to cruise around town is theft. I completely support you having bike lanes as long as YOU pay for them, instead of robbing the paychecks of working mothers who have to go from a retail job to a waitress job in a 30 minute gap, change uniforms, and NOT get groped, grimy, or have their hair blown into a huge mess by trying to bike across the County.

And those same people shouldn't have to work more hours to pay for your special bike lanes, either.

Alan Barta: It's one misconception after another with you, HighArca. There are one billion bicyclists in the world, all poor except for a tiny percentage of spandex privileged, second only to walkers. Motorists only number in the low hundred millions, yet they get all the funding. Not democratic at all, total favoritism. Cyclists see less than 1% of budget, because they don't need much, just properly apportioned streets as already required by law. Wheelchair users get more attention because of the ADA, which demands curb relief and ramps as well as, duh, bikeways. In many cases you can arrange around motoring with several different, less costly modalities: bike, bus, cab, subway, train. This way you're not victim to the average $7600/year cost of car ownership, and, who'd have thought, might actually get around faster than driving. I routinely beat bus and traffic into city center, as do the typical 600,000 bike commuters into NYC every day who can't afford and don't want to drive. Though inconvenient, never had a problem refreshing in a lavatory, equally safe to other ablutions. A decent new bike cost only $300, not on average $25,000, 83 times more, plus insurance, license, mandatory maintenance, registration, and taxes. They collect castoff bikes and ship them to Africa so grateful rural villagers can commute to cities, earn a living, and improve their lives. Best part is you're 20 times safer cycling than driving. The fewer motorists you allow, the less crime and urban terror, which has been proven in cities around the world.

High Arka: Assuming, foremost, that your Cycling Monthly gush report was accurate about the readership-stoking estimation of "one billion"--assuming that without question--it is highly disingenuous of you to use "worldwide" bicyclists statistics to justify tax policy in a modern industrial nation.

You live in a giant concrete tumor that survives by financially exploiting hundreds of other states and nations, in order to suck up an egregious portion of the world's energy, food, and other resources. In order to obtain the kind of vulgar financial concentration you have there, you need to level the natural resources and disperse the populations of many other places, including even sister states in your own "nation," whose populations have to travel a much greater distance than your commute to "city center." Your fantasies can only apply to such a narcissistic bubble, because for many other people, having a pickup truck to drive fifty miles to a job site, laden with old blankets and tools, is a necessity in order to eat each month. People who clean houses, fix toilets, care for and transport infants and children and the elderly, and many other occupations, do not have the option at all of "choosing" to bicycle.

There are also billions of people in the world who are not surrounded by a massive police force, with a lot of witnesses nearby, on their commute to work. Many people work at night, and many people work in rural areas.

Ironically, it is the festering sore of places like New York City that have extracted so many resources from the rest of the world via the FIRE sector that peripheral wastelands are unable to afford public transportation. Check your privilege: most people do not buy a $25K car. They drive a hand-me-down vehicle with no warranty, 50-150K miles on it, and it was bought off Craigslist for $3,000 cash. The statistics you're citing from NPR's Marketplace only apply to privileged white people who think that a new Toyota Prius is a comparatively cheap car. Obviously, you've never lived in an area where the local high school track coach's $22K Camaro is the fanciest vehicle in town.

Now let's talk public transportation: it may have escaped your notice inside your cosmopolitan FIRE bubble, but many people find public transportation a rapey, violent place. Particularly if they're not a young, wealthy, fast-moving person traveling to the financial district with hundreds of their kin during peak business hours.

People traveling bad routes, who aren't able to physically protect themselves, who don't want to get shot or stalked or shouldered constantly, or who just don’t want to be surrounded by a dozen aggressive, unfamiliar poor men having an argument about something scary, every time they need to carry their cashed payroll check home, understandably prefer an alternative, and always will. And when you’re asking those people to reduce their take-home pay even further, so that special new “proportionately cheaper” lanes can be added to make it easier for rich white MBAs to get to NASDAQ in a “greener” fashion,’re definitely an American.

* * *

That's where it is so far. Carry on.


  1. The bycicle debate is just a miniature version of the upper lass strategy to disempower the working class. In particular, indsutrialization and innovation mean strengtht and importance of the working class. Deindustrialization and "degrowth" mean disempowerment, and turning theminto a superfluouspopulation.
    Hence, no other innovation is allowed other than in computers; hence, outsourcing. So, bycicle paths in protected enclaves surrounded by ghettos is the future.
    I live in San Antonio. The poor heighborhoods have been able to beat or even reverse some bycicle projects, but they will lose eventually. The downtown is bourgezified completely, and the bycicle paths are fucking up with traffic flow in adjacent historical poor areas. I am part of the problem (moved downtown to bike to my cushy job), but my angst is mostly directed to smug asshole bikers

  2. He got back to you lately.

    Back yr shit up.

  3. Yneeed ta go more tha way: Bloomberg isn't a great mayor because he has introduced bike lanes, but a bad mayor because he has created a class of people who casually accept the 'removal' of the middle class. And by that asshole's admission.