Monthly Archives: June 2021

Should Bicycles be Tagged and Taxed

Also filed under “They don’t pay fuel taxes”

Since the subject of bicycles is in the public eye again due to upcoming law changes, many of the old anti-bike arguments are also raising their heads again. To the point that there are at least two concerned citizens that have decided to push the bicycle tag and tax issue with the state legislature. While it is unlikely that those minds of the people behind those efforts will be changed, it is probably still worth discussing the realities of this idea and proposal.

Why Do People Think This Matters

There are two very different and divergent reasons that are presented in this context. Both are arguably suspect and despite the logical foundations in both, they both struggle to hold up under analysis.

Tags Would Allow For Reporting and Enforcement

As any person that has ever filed a non-contact/non-crash related motor vehicle moving violation other than speed police report can tell you, even with a completely clear license plate, there are several additional issues that prevent prosecution in most cases. Any report also needs to include video of the vehicle operator at the time of the incident.

Even with these bits of information, it is a low percentage of incidents that are pursued by law enforcement, and most of those result in little more than a verbal warning. Making this a very low value in terms of enforcement or altering behaviors.

Tag and Tag Taxes (ad valorem fees) Would Fund Bike Infrastructure

Or, would it? In Georgia for example, new cars no longer pay traditional annual ad valorem taxes. They pay sales tax. So, really, this is about the annual tag fees, and perhaps include the licensing fees., since bikes are also taxed at the point of sale ( at least new, there might be some value to second hand bike sales, but there is no infrastructure to track this ).

Either way, a bit of math can give an idea of just how much this idea might mean. Auto tags are $20 / year. Licenses are $32 every 8 years. That works out to $24 per year, per bicycle and licensed operator. Most estimates of the number of active bicycle users pegs the number at about 34% total. However, for adults, that number is typically 29%, and this type of approach is generally targeted at adult cyclists.

Georgia’s adult population is roughly 8.2 million. 29% of that is 2.4 million. At $24 per year, that would be just $57 million per year in revenue. For perspective, the state budget for transportation ( including non-car transportation ), and bear in mind, this is state roads only. It has low impact upon either federal highways, and cite/county transportation budgets, is just 7.27% of a $28.1 billion budget. Meaning 2 billion in state level transportation projects.

Needless to say, the revenue would not even cover the administrative costs of collection and enforcement, all while being an unfair usury tax upon the people that use a bike because they cannot afford a car, a number consistently demonstrated to be about 66% of bicycle users. A group of users that are also disproportionately at risk from car/bike crashes.

Neither Reason Is Justifiable

Then we get to the Fuel Tax complaint. This one holds up marginally better, right up until the discussion embraces the idea of wear and tear, and paying proportional the wear and tear created. Once this is factored in, it quickly becomes evident that there are entire classes of road users that are dramatically underpaying and being subsidized by all tax payers, and these users are not bicycles.

Roads require maintenance because of mother nature and road use. Moisture and temperature fluctuations are primary factors in the side of mother nature. Vehicular use compounds these factors, with weight and speed have direct impacts upon accelerating the break down of the roadways. The heavier, and faster the vehicles, the more damage they cause.

If you consider the ‘Average’ motor vehicle weight to by ~4000 lbs, and use that as a base line for a predicted wear value as the normal, then looking at vehicle weights and how the weight impacts wear and tear, the heaviest rider on the heaviest bike would have a wear factor of 0.00006. Meanwhile a Tesla Model S would be about a 1.3. What about a Chevy Tahoe at 3.6, or a BMW X5 at a factor of 17, or an Amazon Prime Mercedes Sprinter at a factor 21 when empty?

What this means is that every road user in a vehicle over 4000 lbs is underpaying compared to the damage they are causing, no matter how much gas they buy, and the electric vehicles are not even paying fuel taxes.

In fact, when you look more closely at all of this, it quickly becomes evident that the bicycle riders cannot produce enough wear and tear on a paved roadway to cause it to need repairs before mother nature does the work without them. Or more to the point, they are more than covering their fair share through other taxes.

Conclusion

So while, it all sounds good as a sound bite, and an emotional response, the idea of tag and taxes on bicycles boils down to little more than creating an artificial barrier to using bikes on the roads, and one that would be unable to fund adding bike specific infrastructure. But, making matters worse is the reality of the sport and recreational cyclists that these ideas are really trying to target.

Between the income levels of those riders, and the culture within those communities, if there was any plausible reason to believe that these tags and taxes would alter driver behaviors when there are bike/car encounters, then most would pay it, happily. Of course, it would not change drivers behaviors. This is known, because it has been tried, and failed.

Can Bicycles Pass Cars on the Right?

This is a surprisingly common question from drivers any time the discussion of bicycles on the roads comes up. Unfortunately, while the law is fairly clear on this, it seems to confuse a lot of drivers (and cyclists too). So, let us delve into this in detail and evaluate just what the law means and intends. There are several parts to this discussion, and a couple of different laws that come into play here, so we will need to deal with a few different situations to illustrate the issues.

There are really 3 scenarios that exist and raise this question.

Road with a Bike Lane

When there is a bike lane, there should be no doubt here. If a bike is using a bike lane, it is no different than a car in a seperate lane. It should move as far forward as the traffic in that lane allows.

That said, just because there is a bike lane present, a cyclist is NOT required to use it.

Road with a Shoulder

This is where the confusion begins. If there is not a bike lane, does that change things? Well, looking to the law we get a clear answer from 40-6-291.

40-6-291

(b) Notwithstanding the provisions of Code Section 40-6-50, any person operating a bicycle may ride upon a paved shoulder; provided, however, that such person shall not be required to ride upon a paved shoulder.

Meaning that where there is a shoulder a bicycle may use it, but they may not be required to use it in the same way as they are given the option regarding the use of a bike lane when it is present. Given that, yes, they absolutely can pass on the right using a shoulder as if it is a bike lane.

Road without a Shoulder

This case is the one where things become a little less clear. Part of the confusion stems, oddly enough, from the very same 3′ law designed to protect cyclists on the roads. For the purpose of this discussion we are going to use the version of the the 3′ law that becomes effective July 1st.

40-6-56. Safe distance defined; application to bicyclist.

(a) The operator of a motor vehicle approaching a bicycle shall approach the bicycle with due caution and shall proceed as follows:

(1) Make a lane change into a lane not adjacent to the bicycle if possible in the existing road and traffic conditions; or

(2) If a lane change under paragraph (1) of this subsection would be impossible, prohibited by law, or unsafe, reduce the speed of the motor vehicle to a reasonable and proper speed for the existing road and traffic conditions, which speed shall be at least ten miles per hour less than the posted speed limit or 25 miles per hour, whichever is more, and proceed around the bicycle with at least three feet between such vehicle and the bicycle at all times.

(b) Any violation of this Code section shall be a misdemeanor punished by a fine of not more than $250.00.

When people hear and relate to the 3′ law, the common perception is that it applies to cyclists as well, and that a bicycle must also give a car ot truck that same 3′. The wording of the law however is quite clear. The explicit use of the “motor vehicle” designation as well as specifically addressing as a motor vehicle passing a bicycle and never in the reverse context.

So, no a bike does not have to give a car 3′ feet, and as there is an expectation of shared space, there is no prohibiton from a bike passing a car in the shared lane, any more than there is for a car to pass a bike, given that it can be done safely, and without leaving the roadway or paved portion of the shoulder, something that is a common occurence with cars going around left turning cars, which is, I might add, also illegal.

Things a Bike Cannot Do

All of that said, there are things that a bicycle cannot do to pass traffic at a stop control.

  • A cyclist cannot leave the road and ride down the grass/dirt area next to the roadway.
  • A cyclist (over the age of 12) cannot use a parallel sidewalk ( unless it is a designated multi-use path ).
  • A cyclist may not hold onto a vehicle in the roadway for stability or to be pulled along.
  • A cyclist may not create an impact with a vehicle ( ‘flip the miror’ ) in order to get past.
  • A cyclist may not use a right hand turn lane to filter forward.

Things a Car Cannot Do

There are a couple of common behaviors that are also not legal to be aware of.

  • A driver cannot move over to block a bike lane to prevent filtering.
  • A driver cannot move over to block a shoulder to prevent filtering.
  • A driver cannot allow a passenger to ‘door’ a filtering cyclist.
  • A driver cannot through things out the window at a filtering cyclist.

Conclusion

The reality is, there are few situations where a cyclist cannot legally filter forward, and in truth, statistically speaking filtering forward is the safest and least disruptive model for cyclists to follow. However, there are caveats to this. Large groups generally do not filter. Many cyclists will elect not to filter when they know that the far side of an intersection presents a pinch point that places them at an elevated risk for a crash.

House Bill 353 and Changes Effective July 1

While House Bill 353 may not seem like a big deal, it really is for both cyclists and drivers. Unfortunately, it does not include a large education budget, so getting the word out about these changes is going to fall heavily upon the cyclists in the state of Georgia. So, let us discuss what it means, how it affects drivers and cyclists, and how we can get the word out.

What is HB 353

In short, it is a bill that alters the wording of 40-6-56, the “Three Foot Law” as adopted in 2011 for clarity and detail. In order to understand the changes, we need to first look at the original wording.

40-6-56. Safe distance defined; application to bicyclist. as of 2011

(a) As used in this Code section, the term “safe distance” means not less than three feet.

(b) Notwithstanding any provision of this article to the contrary, when feasible, the operator of a motor vehicle, when overtaking and passing a bicycle that is proceeding in the same direction on the roadway, shall leave a safe distance between such vehicle and the bicycle and shall maintain such clearance until safely past the overtaken bicycle.

What this means is really pretty simple. When passing a bike, on a roadway ( note roadway, not lane, so even in a bike lane, the safe passing space is 3 feet ). This seems clear cut and in need of no clarification, and yet, it does.

Why?

Because sadly, there remains confusion regarding the legality of crossing a double yellow lane marking in order to accommodate the required 3 feet of safe passing space.

That is where HB 353 matters.

40-6-56. Safe distance defined; application to bicyclist. as of July 1, 2021

(a) The operator of a motor vehicle approaching a bicycle shall approach the bicycle with due caution and shall proceed as follows:

(1) Make a lane change into a lane not adjacent to the bicycle if possible in the existing road and traffic conditions; or

(2) If a lane change under paragraph (1) of this subsection would be impossible, prohibited by law, or unsafe, reduce the speed of the motor vehicle to a reasonable and proper speed for the existing road and traffic conditions, which speed shall be at least ten miles per hour less than the posted speed limit or 25 miles per hour, whichever is more, and proceed around the bicycle with at least three feet between such vehicle and the bicycle at all times.

(b) Any violation of this Code section shall be a misdemeanor punished by a fine of not more than $250.00.

There are some big changes here, and they will need to be spelled out to drivers, and to a lesser degree, law enforcement. The expansion of (a) for clarity and detail is much needed, instead of just codifying 3 feet, it details exactly HOW to apply the concept of safe passing. Starting with a requirement for a lane change if possible, which includes crossing the double yellow line ( under the existing obstruction laws that already apply for mail carriers, garbage trucks and similar ). It then continues to clarify how to safely pass when a lane change is not possible. Adopting language aligned with the successfully implemented in the Spencer Pass Law ( 40-6-16 ) regarding the passing of emergency vehicles on the roadways from 2017, when changing lanes and giving the required 3 feet of space, it codifies a speed reduction, 25 mph or speed limit – 10 mph, whichever is greater.

Finally, it also codifies, at a state level the maximum penalty for violating the statute, making this a far easier statue to enforce.

Conclusion and What Comes Next

What this means for cyclists is that the burden is now on us to educate, and get the word out to drivers, to law enforcement, to family and friends. As things stand, the 3 foot law is poorly understood, and this new law is going into effect with relatively little awareness of the upcoming change. To actively educate and promote this new law should reside with all road cyclists.

For convenience, linked is a publicly available post regarding the details of the law for sharing to non-cycling communities, one we need to disseminate as widely as possible: