We all know that columns in the National Post will, by virtue of the publication they’re in, have a tendency to be contrary for the sake of contrariness. There’s nothing wrong with contrariness: playing devil’s advocate for an unpopular idea can stimulate public debate and give us real ideas for positive change.
Of course, the problem with being contrary is that sometimes, when someone tries to be contrary, they are just fucking stupid instead. Such is the case with yesterday’s column by Terence Corcoran. Corcoran briefly discusses Councillor Michael Walker’s suggestion about bicycle licensing, which is the sort of idea that would be great meat for a contrarian column: it’s an unpopular idea, but one that certainly deserves to be examined on the basis of merit.
But Corcoran doesn’t want to talk about bicycle licensing, because that’s not daring and edgy (well, for a middle-aged newspaper columnist, anyhow). That’s why we instead get this tidbit of hilarity:
If local governments are going to be consistent in their application of environmental principles, green regulation and pay-as-you-go footprintism, we need more than bicycle licences. We need a bike tax.
But wait. It gets better.
Everybody knows that drivers of automobiles must pay their way. To drive on city roads, they pay heavy gasoline taxes to offset the cost. Drivers pay to park. They pay for car licences and driver’s licences, which are all taxes. They pay heavy third-party liability insurance fees in case they run somebody over or ram into another car. All this is fair and just, right?
But bike riders pay nothing, even though the cost of urban bicycle infrastructure, operating risks and potential liabilities are mounting. Bikers are getting a free ride that all non-bikers are paying for.
The reason we have heavy gasoline taxes and parking fees isn’t because we feel the need to tax people for the privilege of driving. We have those fees because cars deteriorate roads when they drive upon them. Bicycles don’t degrade roads like cars do because they’re so much lighter than cars are; if all the traffic on our roads were bikes rather than cars (which it likely never will be, of course), our road maintenance budget would dwindle to a fraction of what it currently is.
Also, yes, it is possible to seriously hurt somebody by hitting them with a bike. However, one may wish to dwell upon the difference between a bike and a car. One is a two-wheeled aluminum-framed bit of metal that weighs about fifty pounds and is comparatively very agile; the other is a two-thousand pound potential block of death that can kill you when it’s going as slowly as ten kilometres per hour. That’s why insurance fees for cars are mandatory, Terry! It’s not because we hate cars; it’s because we, like everybody else over the age of five, can figure out that they’re more dangerous than bikes are.
Tens of millions of dollars have been spent bulldozing, levelling and paving hundreds of kilometres of bike trails across the GTA. Trail maintenance costs are also borne by taxpayers.
According to the City of Toronto capital budget, bicycle-related capital outlays (which includes trail management) are $16.06 million over the next nine years, out of a total projected capital outlay of $10.6 billion, or approximately 0.001% of all budgetary expenditures. Tell you what, Terry: if you send Torontoist a mailing address, we will encourage some sort of fund, wherein cyclists can tape pennies to postcards and mail them to you.
Even more costly are special bike lanes on city roads. Setting aside a four-foot-wide lane looks like a free lunch, but often these lanes displace automobile parking spaces or force the shutdown of an automobile corridor. There’s a cost to all of this, in addition to maintenance, and bikers should pay for it.
Ignoring the fact that we have multiple studies that demonstrate how the installation of bike lanes will likely benefit businesses along the streets where those bike lanes would be installed, Terry’s imagined “cost” isn’t one that can be easily quantified because it’s the old canard of “if I have to drive more slowly because now there’s a bike lane, I could miss an important meeting and then people will lose their jobs because Canadian business is inefficient because of your Commie bike lanes.” Which is, of course, grossly idiotic: the entire point of bike lanes is to encourage drivers to consider other forms of transportation, be that bicycling or public transit or plain old walking.
Speaking of walking, it’s worth pointing out that most of Terry’s arguments can be applied to pedestrians just as easily as they can be to cyclists. Does Terry want to tax pedestrians? Think of all the money we spend on sidewalks! And you, you there in the back, you walked on those sidewalks today, wearing them down with your shoes like some sort of free-riding socialist. Don’t worry: Terry’s next column will discuss a possible “shoe tax” and system of graduated licensing for walking in public. It’s the fair thing to do, you know.
Bicyclists cause accidents. So do automobile drivers, but they pay for their own accident risk insurance. Car drivers pay fines when they break traffic laws, but bike riders seem to be exempt from the laws. When’s the last time a bike rider was ticketed for running a red light, riding up on the sidewalk, or putting pedestrians at risk by recklessly swerving through crowds?
Torontoist has quite a few cyclists on staff, and those cyclists can tell you that tickets happen. Not as often as they happen with cars, but realistically, there aren’t as many situations where danger is probable enough to make an officer feel a ticket is warranted.
Of course, this brings us back to the “fifty pounds of aluminum versus one-tonne block of death” issue. And the nine out of ten car/cycle accidents are caused by drivers issue. It’s just a lot more dangerous to drive a car than it is to ride a bike, both for the driver/rider and everybody else around the driver. Any “bicycle tax” that took this proportionality into account would have to be virtually negligible to be fair.
And then there’s the carbon footprint. When car drivers cruise Yonge Street on Saturday night, their metabolisms are more or less flat-lined. They just sit there, burning up little energy personally but paying for the cost of their automobile’s carbon footprint via taxes and fees. Bike riders grinding up the same route burn up a lot more carbohydrates, which their bodies convert into carbon dioxide and exhale, adding to their carbon footprint. The volumes are small, but it all adds up, and bicyclists don’t pay.
This is the point where you have to just step back and sort of stare in awe. Terry has unleashed the rare but awe-inspiring “Full Dipshit,” rarely seen in modern discourse when the quarter-dipshit and half-dipshit are so much easier to execute. For that, we applaud him.
See, human breathing is what climate scientists call a “closed loop,” because the carbon we emit while exhaling is carbon that was originally taken out of the air via photosynthesis of plants, which humans then eat (or they eat animals, which eat the plants, and so forth). The net amount of carbon introduced to the air by a cyclist is the same amount that they take out of it. In comparison, a car usually burns fossil fuels to operate; those fossil fuels are carbon trapped in solid or liquid form, and when the car burns them it reintroduces carbon dioxide to the atmosphere that hasn’t been there for millions and billions of years. This should be staggeringly obvious, of course, because the last time we checked, human beings don’t eat coal for breakfast.
But it doesn’t matter how stupid Terry’s arguments are, because he’s not interested in properly weighing the costs of bicycling to the city. Terry is just a dickhead who doesn’t like bikes and is entirely willing to argue dishonestly to punish bicyclists. How do we know this? We know this because we read this in his closing paragraph:
Many bike rules are dangerous. There’s nothing scarier than an amateur bicyclist making a left turn at an intersection across multiple traffic lanes diligently following the rule with one hand steering the handlebar and the other stuck in the air signalling a turn.
To Terry, there’s “nothing scarier” than a cyclist diligently following traffic laws. And that’s how you know he’s full of shit.