Tag Archives: advocacy

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.

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:

More Infrastructure/Lower Usage

Sadly, this is a cultural issue. We do so many things to create a perception that riding a bicycle is too dangerous, or too inconvenient. We lack facilities to “clean up” or even safely change clothes at our workplaces. In short, while infrastructure is a part of the problem, our cultural reinforcement of the idea that climate controlled transportation is the only way for middle and upper class people to travel is doing nothing to help our over crowded roads and cities. Fewer Americans are biking to work despite new trails, lanes and bicycle share programs

Fitness Friendly Cities?

For the last few years the League of American Bicyclists has been doing this Bicycle Friendly Community/State/Business program where they assess and study communities and grade them on their bicycle friendliness. Gee, that is great and all, but you know what? It is a load of bunk. What the League does with advocacy is a good thing, but ‘Bike Friendly’ is a mess. Worse, bike friendly is important to a relatively small segment of the population, but fitness friendly? Now we are talking.

Fitness is Important

Cycling is one way of getting and staying fit. It is not the most prevalent, nor is it the best for everyone. Bike lanes are great, but they serve a small population, and let’s be honest. We have roads already, we really don’t need bike lanes if people drive and ride with courtesy. What we do need are places for other fitness activities, and let’s face it, fewer car trips. What I want to know isn’t if a community is bicycle friendly, I want to know if it is fitness friendly.

What is Fitness Friendly?

A lot of things go into this, but ask yourself this. When you think of fitness activities, is your community conducive to them, and what fitness activities are we talking about. In many communities, in order to excercise, people have to get in a car to go someplace safe to do so. That is not fitness friendly. Fitness Friendly means that you can walk out your door and get to your workout without getting into a car to do so. If your children cannot go outside and play within walking distance of your home, you are not in a fitness friendly community, and that is what we need to be talking about.

Walking

Seems like the most basic item on the list. We actually use the act of walking to determine what is reasonable. “Walking Distance”. In most communities, we have roads. Roads built for transportation, but as cars have become the primary mode of transportation, any use of the roadway that isn’t a care has become increasingly dangerous. The solution in most communities has been to add sidewalks. Lovely. Can you hop on a sidewalk and walk to were you want to do your workout. Perhaps your workout is the walk. Can you go for a walk safely?

Running

Running, jogging, speedwalking, or whatever has the same basic needs as walking. Do you have those facilities? What percentage of the roads in your community have the infrastructure to make this possible or reasonable. In your community, do you find runners in places that you deem unsafe due to a lack of infrastructure for them? Let us just ignore the runners that won’t run on the sidewalk because it is concrete and concrete is harder than asphalt (it is, but the difference is small enough that a decent pair of padded shoes will absorb the difference, and on that same note, if you are landing hard enough that it is an issue, you probably ought to see a coach about improving your run stride).

Cycling

Oh lord, what a can of worms this is. What kind of cycling? Road cycling? that’s what roads are for. Mountain Bikes? off-road trails, Multi-Use Paths, and other options are all open question marks, but looking at a community and declaring it bicycle friendly is a huge thing when cycling itself encompasses so many different types of usage. This is my biggest issue with the League, they are too focused on too narrow a segment of cycling.

Swimming

Do you have community accessible pools in walking distance? They don’t have to be owned and operated by the community, but need to be accessible. No they don’t have to be free to use either.

Hiking

Are there trails for hiking, is the terrain even appropriate for these?

Climbing

Are there rock faces, or artificial rock facilities in the area for use climbing?

Skateboarding

You don’t want them on your sidewalks and near your place of business, then give them some place to go. Skate parks aren’t that complex or expensive.

Rollerblading

Standard width sidewalks won’t satisfy this. You need full Multi-Use Pathways to support these in community, but that isn’t a bad thing. The wider widths work well to support other mixed mode usages, like jogging with strollers.

Yoga/Cardio

Does your community have facilities for organized, or even open air yoga and cardio classes?

Weight Lifting

Does your community have workout facilities that offer weight training equipment?

Bike Friendly != Fitness Friendly != Bike Friendly

This is the whole point, you can be one or the other and not be both. But let’s go a step further.

A couple of years ago, MapMyFitness had a page that ranked cities around the world on how many activities were logged, by quantity, against the population size of the cities. IT was an interesting ranking, because when you looked at it, there is a correlation between the Fitness Friendliness of a city and the number of activities logged, but there were also some outliers. I live in the Atlanta, GA area, so when I saw Atlanta on the list, I wondered about it. Atlanta didn’t have much fitness infrastructure, few bike lanes, few multi-use facilities, though it does have a few pretty good public park areas. Perhaps that is enough, but the real outlier for me was Cumming, GA in the small city category. Suburban Atlanta at it’s worst. Sprawling, virtually no walkable infrastructure, few public park facilities, and at the time, it was heavily focused on youth sports. In short, there were a lot of people working out, but they were driving to destinations to make it happen. So while Cumming, GA may be a fit city, it is not terribly fitness friendly.

Time for a Fitness Friendly Certficiation?

Maybe. I doubt I am the one with the knowledge to create such, but it sure would be nice to have for outsiders to find and have a resource as part of the perks a community offers.