We responded to some questions from our host Jeff Mayers, the editor of WisPolitics, and then Jeff opened it up for questions from the audience. We took five questions and two were about biking.
"How can we get bikers to help pay for roads?" asked one county official.
As the designated bike, pedestrian and transit advocate in the group Jeff asked me to respond. I told him that a commission set up to explore long-term transportation funding, which I was on, looked at that and concluded that there just wasn't a lot of money in something like a state bike registration fee, and that the costs to collect it made it even less attractive.
Then Tommy Diehl, owner of the Tommy Bartlett Show and a leader in the tourism industry, came back with another challenging bike question. He asked if money couldn't be saved by cutting bike amenities in highway projects like those installed next to Highway 12.
I responded by suggesting that the costs of those amenities wasn't very high and that the benefits of bike tourism probably outweighed them. In any event, I thought it was an odd question coming from a tourism business owner whose industry benefited from the bike paths.
But the questions, both of which came with an edge, pointed up a problem. There's a cultural disconnect around bikes. This state spends about $1.6 billion a year on roads and about $25 million on bike and pedestrian projects. And yet two of five questions were about how bikes somehow didn't pay their way.
I pointed out that, at least in urban settings, bikes are very welcome to local officials because every bike commuter means one less car putting wear and tear on the roads, the need for one less expensive parking stall, and no air pollution or contribution to global climate change. What's more, since we have no oil in Wisconsin, every dollar not spent on gas means that's a dollar that has a fighting chance to be spent in the local economy. Far from wanting to charge bikers, we should be encouraging as many people to bike as we can because biking will make us all more prosperous in the long run.
And while these guys were talking about bikes in rural settings, they seemed not to appreciate the potential for bike tourism in their area.
The economic arguments and the environmental and health benefits of biking aren't in doubt. But there is a cultural chasm between those of us who love bikes and those who don't.