In a Dec. 5 column called "The Hell of Madison Crosswalks," I published a letter from a newcomer to Madison who wondered why cars here never stop for pedestrians in the crosswalks. In response, letters poured in attacking local drivers "Crazy Madison Drivers," 1/9/2014). Then, for some reason, letters poured in attacking local bicyclists ("Madison Bicylists Are Vermin," 3/13/2014). The most recent of these was from a guy named Four Wheeler, who accused Wisconsin two-wheelers of paying no taxes to support the roads they use ("Making Bicyclists Pay," 5/1/2014). That, in turn, has infuriated bicyclists, who've written the letters below.
As you can see, Four Wheeler may well be Madison's least popular motorist of 2014.
Dear Tell All: I want to correct Four Wheeler's ludicrous assertion thatbikers "use our roads and trails without, with some exceptions, payingone nickel toward their support."
Four Wheeler clearly doesn't know that state bike and pedestrian trails require a permit; I buy one every year. Maybe FW just doesn't get out there much.
More importantly, in Wisconsin most of the money for roads and streets comes from property taxes, which, of course, are paid by everyone,including renters. All of us contribute to gas taxes, too, since whatever we buy got to the store where we buy it on a truck; gas taxes are part of the price of everything.
Who does Four Wheeler mean when he refers to "our" roads and trails?Apparently, "our" means "my" from FW's perspective. The huge subsidies of oil companies and gas prices in the U.S.A. are well documented, but maybe if you see the world only from behind a steering wheel, it's never enough.
Dear Tell All: From the perspective of a bicyclist and sometimes driver, the problem is with everyone: drivers, bikers and pedestrians. Calling any of the groups vermin, etc., isn't how you fix the issue. The solution is a mandatory biking safety course for UW freshman and more education for drivers when they first test for licenses.
But make me pay taxes because I choose a more environmentally friendly method of transportation in addition to other taxes I pay that go to road repairs? Please.
Dear Tell All: There's been a fair amount in this column recently about motorists who are upset that bicyclists don't pay for their use of the city streets. All I can say is those motorists are dead wrong. Cyclists pay far more for their use of city streets than motorists, and they deserve a rebate.
First, property taxes pay for local roads, not gas taxes. (Okay, about 80% of the cost of local roads are paid for by property taxes and the rest comes from gas taxes and auto registration fees.) Cyclists pay as much in property taxes as auto drivers, so get over it. Bicyclists are paying their fair share.
Actually, cyclists are unfairly paying too much for roads. Consider the impact a car has on the road compared to a bicycle. A bicycle and rider that weigh a combined 200 pounds have virtually no impact on a road compared to a car that weighs about 4,000 pounds. The car will do more than 38,000 times as much damage to the road as the bicyclist. So if property taxes pay for roads and cyclists pay property taxes but cause less damage to roads, they deserve a rebate. (Every bike means one less car on the road, so bikes are helping by reducing congestion as well.)
Granted, many cyclists don't obey all of the rules of the road. But show me a motorist who doesn't drive over the speed limit. How about all of those drivers who don't give the right of way to pedestrians in crosswalks? Don't get me going about road rage. In any case, cyclists make the roads safer for everyone. Communities that have lots of bicyclists have lower overall crash rates.
So bicyclists do pay a huge tax for using the local roads through the property tax, they cause far less damage to the road than cars, they reduce traffic congestion and they make the roads safer for everyone. Seems like a pretty solid case for bicyclists getting a rebate.
Friend of Wisconsin
Dear Tell All: I can't imagine what makes people think that bicyclists are not taxpayers or that they are exempt from traffic laws. I pay all the same taxes motorists pay, except for paying less in gas taxes because I consume less gas. I pay the exact same fee to register my car as people who commute an hour to work in their cars every day, despite driving a tiny fraction of the miles they do. Bicyclists cause very little wear on roads and produce no pollution, but we are still required to heavily subsidize massive road-building projects that run into the billions through our taxes. In what sense are these "our roads" -- that is, roads belonging to motorists alone? We are also required to buy an annual state trail pass to use many dedicated bike paths, and to register our bikes with the city.
I realize that there are cyclists who break traffic laws, and I probably resent them more than motorists because they allow many motorists to feel justified in harassing cyclists on the road. On the other hand, I see motorists run red lights virtually every day and have never seen one ticketed for it. Although I am a law-abiding rider, I have been nearly killed by law-breaking or inattentive drivers on many occasions. Remember too that if I run a red light and you hit me with your car, I'm the one who is going to be killed. If you run a light and hit me, I'm still the one who gets killed. There is a reason we're called vulnerable users.
Suggesting that all cyclists are scofflaws who should be banned from the roadways is akin to saying the same about all motorists. What I suggest here is getting away from all vitriol and accepting that we're going to have to work together to make our streets sane for all users.
Dear Tell All: Yes, many bicyclists in Madison aren't very good at following the rules of the road. Many pedestrians also seem to wander mindlessly without paying attention to what is happening around them. The worst offenders, however, are drivers of cars. Very few obey the speed limits, many turn right on red without stopping, many don't signal turns, and of course there are the yellow (and red) light runners we see every day. Not to mention the rolling stops and the fact that almost no car drivers stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.
Let's agree that none of us are very good at obeying the rules. Keep in mind, however, that the impacts of messing up are very different for the different modes. A car driver messing up can result in serious injury or death and significant property damage. A bicyclist or pedestrian messing up usually injures him or herself first and is much less likely to cause major damage to others.
Maybe all of us need to stop pointing fingers at others and start cleaning up our own acts.
Dear Tell All: I thought your column had beaten this dead horse long enough, but May 2 brings a fresh round of insults to people who ride bikes.
I would hope your readers are intelligent enough to know that there are people out there who behave rudely " it's not their manner of conveyance that makes them rude. Readers who only notice the rudeness of people when they are on bikes say more about themselves than about the folks on bikes. "Four wheels good, two wheels bad" is just a little too simplistic.
Probably more important is that if I behave rudely and break the law on a bike (around you in a car), the primary danger is to myself. If I behave rudely and break the law in my car (around you on a bike), the primary danger is to you. If you think the only people who break traffic laws are on bikes, look at your speedometer the next time you drive down a residential street. Does it stay below 25 the whole time? I thought not.
As for the tax question, I am still a taxpayer whether in my car or on my bike. Do readers know there are toll roads in Wisconsin? Not for cars, but for bikes. A popular local commuter route requires bicyclists to pay to use it.
Orwell on wheels
Dear Tell All: Of course cyclists help pay for roads. Half of road funding comes from the general fund. Light and small, cyclists also require less road than cars, and take stress off our road system. There simply isn't an argument about this.
There are some cyclists who aren't safe, but some drivers, too. There was a study done at some intersections in Milwaukee, and cyclists were much more likely to stop for pedestrians than cars. And cars obviously are much more likely to speed. A person on a bike rolling through a stop sign with nobody around after slowing to four miles an hour doesn't really bother me, either -- no more than a car going a few miles over the speed limit. Although a cyclist darting out in front of traffic would.
Overall, as a cyclist and a driver, I've noticed relationships mellowing between folks on bikes and folks in cars -- probably because of the new paths and people just learning how to deal with each other.
I think we'd all just do well to chill.
Live and Let Live
Dear Tell All: As a driver, bicyclist and pedestrian, I would like to respond to your letter writers. I obey traffic laws. I have had close calls while walking and biking with drivers who are texting, reading maps, talking on cell phones, and running red lights. I don't excuse bad driving or bad biking. Many people in Madison have apparently never been taught to bike or drive safely, or perhaps they feel immortal? If parents would familiarize themselves with traffic laws and teach their children bicycle safety, perhaps more cyclists would bike safely and predictably, and more drivers would know what to expect from cyclists.
Many drivers are not aware of traffic laws for bikes. Drivers, before you yell at cyclists, read the bike rules: I have been yelled at for doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing. Search "Bike Madison" for links to bike law and bike safety.
I am also a taxpayer and home owner. Over 80% of local streets, statewide, are now paid for by property taxes. The gas tax no longer pays all of the cost of state and federal highways. City streets are also plowed and policed with my tax money. I do have licenses on both my bicycles, but these are stickers that attach to the seat tube, so you probably don't see them. I buy a state trail pass for use of the various state and county bike trails. My federal tax dollars also go to support road and bridge building in the state for both bikes and motor vehicles.
Lastly, I don't speed and I don't drink, but my tax dollars are being spent to police those who do. That's just how taxes work. I would rather my taxes support more bike trails, because these offer exercise and a fun family activity to so many.
Dear Tell All: Will you please send my condolences to Four Wheeler, for he must be miserable. It appears as though he has a small mind, a cold heart, and his facts wrong.
All of the cyclists I know own cars and have therefore paid for motor vehicle registration fees - and gas taxes. They also all own or rent a house or apartment, and therefore pay property taxes " half of which go to local roads. So cyclists already pay for the roads and the minuscule amount of cycling infrastructure, comparatively speaking. The state of Wisconsin spends one-tenth of 1% of its transportation budget on safe walking and biking, grudgingly. So when you see that nice pedestrian and cyclist bridge, realize that it is a mere drop in the bucket.
The Department of Transportation is talking about adding a lane to the Beltline at a cost of $1,000 million. How much did the bridge cost that makes it safer for pedestrians and cyclists to cross busy roads? A couple million. Does it also make it better/faster/less distracting for motorists? You betcha!
So if anyone has a right to complain it would be the childless person who does not own a car and walks and bikes everywhere. They are the ones being ripped off, paying for the massively expensive "motor vehicle only" infrastructure our government has built for us (and the industries that profit off it, of course).
Perhaps it is time to stop listening to hate radio and watching Fake News Corporation? It will do your attitude - and your health - some good. Maybe even go for a nice bike ride on a sunny day?
Two Plus Four Wheeler
Dear Tell All: All these bike-hating motorists are missing the elephant in the living room. It has been estimated that 60%-70% of all motorists are breaking the law while driving. The speed limit is a legal limit, not a suggestion. One mile over is breaking the law. If you drive 55 on the Beltline, you are holding up traffic. One study in Brooklyn, N.Y., found that 88% of the cars were speeding. It has been shown that cars will come to a complete and full stop at an intersection only if there is another car involved. Otherwise they blow through it just like bikes. Maybe we learned it from them. In Chicago the police were forced to take down a ticket-writing camera out of embarrassment because almost all the cars ran the stop sign. Plus if you add in drunk driving, talking on a cell phone (not illegal but as dangerous as drunk driving), tailgating, driving too fast for conditions, etc., almost none of which bikers do, motorists sound rather hypocritical.
As to making bikers pay their fair share, consider this. Almost all adult bikers own cars. We pay all the taxes and fees associated with car ownership. Plus we pay income, sales and property taxes, all of which go to roads and those much-hated bike/pedestrian bridges and paths. If we are paying for it, we will use it.
Dear Tell All: Four Wheeler's entire premise-- that bicyclists should pay for the privilege of using streets-- is predicated upon a single assumption: that drivers and cyclists pay via the same currency. That assumption can be easily collapsed.
Perhaps you were unaware that cyclists do pay for their own streets in Wisconsin directly via the state trail pass-- $20 annually, the revenue which you demanded.
Additionally, cyclists pay inherently. A study by the city of Copenhagen found that cyclists benefit the city 25 cents for every kilometer traveled. Drivers, in comparison, cost the city 14 cents per kilometer (after accounting for all taxes!) due to the unsustainable infrastructure required to facilitate drivers.
Finally, cyclists pay voluntarily. Drivers have no need for advocacy organizations such as the Wisconsin Bike Fed; industry lobbyists have ensured drivers are well catered to. Cyclists-- despite the myriad benefits of cycling-- must still fight for every mile of bike lane or trail.
Ah, but you weren't referring to bike trails. You want bicyclists to subsidize streets-- automobile streets. To use these, though, we already pay, but in a different coin: fear.
Every time I'm forced to ride on a city street for lack of alternative infrastructure, I fear. I'm surrounded by toxic-fume-belching machines barely controlled by careless, distracted, impatient or sleep-deprived drivers. One errant movement of a driver's foot, one look away from the road to adjust the radio, answer a call or send a text, and I risk dying under their wheels. But that's not what I fear most. When I ride on streets with family, with loved ones, with friends, I'm bombarded by the constant risks to them: watching cars and buses pass within inches, or running red lights, or taking left turns while looking right, or any number of thoughtless behaviors, all of which have nearly injured or claimed the life of somebody I hold dear.
I doubt this is something you often contemplate. At my highest speed, a collision would do little more than scratch the paint of your automobile. Were you at fault, you could expect only a cursory reprimand-- such as the driver from Seymour, Wisconsin, who injured Doug Hanson and killed Kris Hanson, and was cited only with "inattentive driving."
What you mistake for an arrogant flaunting of traffic laws is in fact the opposite-- a display of desperation and frustration by those in a purely antagonistic environment, who with each ride risk injury or death to themselves or their loved ones for an activity they love and an ideal they fiercely uphold.
Never fear that cyclists pay nothing for their use of city streets; we pay with every ride.
Dear Tell All: I was thoroughly impressed by the satirical piece you published entitled "Making Bicyclists Pay." It was hilarious! I especially enjoyed the labeling of bicyclists as "ignorant and arrogant" and the assertion that bicyclists use our roads without paying "one nickel toward their support." Ha ha! I laughed, and then laughed some more. I then took a bike ride in my dark clothing at night and used four -- no, five -- pedestrians as cones and tried to knock them into tomorrow.
It is indeed true that bicyclists live in a secret, tax-free enclave completely excluded from all state, federal and local taxes pertaining to the maintenance of roads. Woo hoo! You drivers ought to visit us here some day. We're quite an interesting bunch, riding around in circles in our ignorant and arrogant manner.
Fox News, my favorite choice for news, reports that automobiles kill approximately 40,000 people in this country annually. They also smell bad, and are ugly. Bikes, on the other hand, are cool, pollution-free and awesome. They and their owners can do no wrong.
The Mad Cyclist
Dear Tell All: Four Wheeler points out that multimillion-dollar bike bridges have been built in the state "at taxpayer expense" -- implying that this isn't fair to those who don't use them. To me, this is the same as saying "I never drive in Milwaukee, so I shouldn't have to pay for the road projects there."
Four Wheeler assumes that bicyclists aren't taxpayers, and assumes that car registration fees cover the costs of roads. Wrong on both counts. There are 5.7 million registered vehicles in the state of Wisconsin, and at $100 per year in registration fees, that only comes to $570 million. The cost of most road projects is in the billion-dollar range. Revenue for these projects comes from registration fees, gas tax and, in this state budget, the general fund to pay for projects. That tells me that we all pay for the roads. And rightly so.
We all depend on roads for transport of goods and services to the population of the state, whether we use them on our bikes, motorcycles, cars or trucks. While I don't necessarily disagree that bicyclists should register our bicycles, it is wrong to assume that we don't pay our fair share.
Bicyclist, Driver, and Taxpayer
Do you have a question about life or love in Madison? Write Tell All, 101 King St., Madison, WI 53703. Or email firstname.lastname@example.org.