Today, I’d like to talk about the bane of traffic controllers everywhere: bicycles. If we have issues with regular traffic obeying our signs and temporary lanes, bicyclists will almost uniformly ignore us all together. Recently at work I had a conversation on the question: should bicycles be registered like cars so that bicyclists paid road taxes?
As cities along the Colorado Front Range compete with each other to be considered the most bike friendly, a number of the road construction projects I’ve been working on have consisted of road widening projects to add bike lanes. Road construction is financed primarily through a mix of fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees. Now, bicycles obviously don’t use fuel so can’t be taxed that way. But there is no reason why a bicycle couldn’t be required to be registered for a fee and thus contribute to the funds used to maintain the roads.
I’ve chronicled some of the arguments for both sides of this issue.
Pros for Bicycles Paying Road Taxes
Bicycle traffic has different needs from car traffic
I’ve experienced bicycle traffic as a car driver, a cyclist, and a flagger. The one immutable conclusion I’ve been able to reach on the topic is that bike traffic is fundamentally different than car traffic. They move more slowly, are less visible, and are more vulnerable to road conditions. That is why there has been such a push for separate bike lanes. By moving bicycle traffic from car lanes, everyone is safer.
However, adding bike lanes can add a third to the width of a 2 lane road. That means more land, more asphalt, more paint, and more maintenance. The maintenance is a big one. Potholes in bike lanes need to be patched more frequently, because they are larger in relation to total vehicle size. And more roadway means more time plowing when it snows.
Bicycle registration is not unprecedented
My boss remembers being a kid in the 50’s and being required to register her bicycle with the local police. I remember a voluntary program in my own youth, where the police would take a description of the bike and the serial number. Many bike shops have started databases of bicycle serial numbers to facilitate recovery of stolen bikes.
Bicycles already have to obey traffic laws
Not many people realize this, but bicycle riders are required to obey all the same traffic laws as cars. They are supposed to signal when changing lanes or turning. They have to ride on the right side of the road. They need lights when traveling in the dark.They have to obey the speed limits (not that I’ve ever really had the issue of exceeding the speed limit while riding my bike to work!). Traffic signs and signals must also be obeyed. And they can be ticketed for riding while drunk. So, basically, the only rule that applies to cars that doesn’t apply to bicycles is annual registration.
Cons for Bicycles Paying Road Taxes
Not all bicycles are used on roads
Many people have bikes that never see a paved road. It wouldn’t be fair to require a mountain bike that only sees trails to pay for road maintenance. A first thought would be to require only road bike to register, but many people (including myself) ride a mountain bike on the road. Self reporting? Yeah, because that works so well with internet sales tax!
Of course, not all bicycles are ridden by adults either. Who would pay for children’s bike registrations? Would there be a size limit before it was required?
Where does it end?
Speaking of kid’s rides, would a tricycle need to be registered? How about a scooter or a skateboard? Rollerblades? Deciding what is road-worthy and required to be registered would be a nightmare.
Do you think bicycles should pay their fair share of road taxes? If you were in charge, how would you implement it?