Tuesday, September 30, 2008


(This is my October column from the Red Dirt Pedaler's newsletter "Wheel Issues.")

Recently, the Large Hadron Collider has been in the news. Some are afraid that once it's operational, it will produce a black hole and the planet will be destroyed.

I'll admit to thinking about this, particularly in light of my own project, a small hadron collider which produces only medium gray holes rather than black ones. Unlike a true black hole which sucks in everything, medium gray ones are more selective, preferring hand tools, digital watches, eight-track tapes, and encyclopedia salesmen. My sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Tessmacher, was sucked into one, plugging it firmly and saving humanity in the process. She was a big woman, after all.

My spouse insists that there's a medium gray hole inside the local bike shop and it gobbles up too much of my money. Cyclists are accustomed to seeing money disappear just as if it had been thrown into a black hole. Besides supporting the bicycling industry, we supply tax money for transportation out of proportion to the benefits we receive.

You've probably read about the decline in federal highway funding due to decreased fuel consumption. For the first time, Americans are driving less. Some are switching to more fuel efficient cars. Fewer miles driven should equate to fewer injuries and fatalities on our roads, but we'll have to wait until next year for the data crunching.

But here's an interesting question - are fewer cars on the road a good thing for cyclists? At first, it would seem to be a no-brainer. Of course it's better! Fewer cars result in less noise, less pollution, and less risk for anyone else using the road. But as always, the devil is in the details.

For the most part, federal fuel taxes support highways and expensive infrastructure like bridges. The reduction in taxes means there's less money available for those projects. But almost all road projects rely on some federal funding, so even a county road can impacted by cutbacks. One side effect is to increase traffic on formerly quiet county roads as motorists avoid highways due to congestion which wastes fuel. Similarly, construction and maintenance delays waste fuel, and even if roads are in good repair, higher speeds consume more gasoline. All of this serves to increase motor vehicle traffic on roads shared with cyclists.

There's a solution to this, of course, and it involves some sacrifice and a little progressive thinking. It's time we cyclists hang our bikes on hooks in the garage, dust off our cars, and drive them. Drive them a lot. I'm going to do my patriotic duty by getting my old '64 Lincoln back on the road. If possible, I'll slap some bias ply tires on the beast. Singlehanded, I can reverse the downward plunge of the highway trust fund since the Lincoln only averaged about 3 miles per gallon. Now that I think about it, the Lincoln was black too. I should be able to fill those federal coffers with enough money to get all those motorists off the county roads I use.

I'll be generous, though. If one of you wishes to experience that same heart-swelling pride that comes from doing your patriotic duty, I'll offer this vehicle to you at a seriously discounted price.



Blogger Brandon said...

Is this similar to a Tobacco tax to fund health care?

Or maybe a Lottery to fund Education (I guess they aren't teaching statistics anymore)?

I get real scared when I hear governments speak of the need to increase their "revenue."

BTW - the cost of building roads and bridges has increased dramatically in the past year or two. This means that less miles will be repaired/replaced than originally planned/budgeted.

10:11 AM  
Blogger Ed W said...

The cost of asphalt has increased right along with crude oil since asphalt is petroleum based. And there's all that fuel that powers the road building equipment too. I wonder what the mpg figures are for a paving machine?

Our company had a CEO who said that if you save a million here and a million there, eventually it adds up to really big money. I think that's part of the problem for many of us. We just can't grasp the enormity of the funding, whether it's a local street improvement project, a bridge over the Mississippi, or a B1B bomber. I think in household terms using hundreds or thousands of dollars, while an 'inexpensive' governmental project comes it at under a million. Traffic lights that detect cyclists are a bargain at only $100,000!

11:00 AM  

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