Taxing bikes is like lassoing bumblebees

Published 2012-04-19

Treehugger just published The Terrible Catch-22 That Happens When Cities Choose Bikes

The gist of which is: when more people ride bikes, revenues from the gas tax go down, and there’s less money for roads.

Which inevitably leads some well-meaning people to suggest taxing bikes, or tolling bikeways.

Good gravy, why is this even an issue? Fewer cars = need less roads. This is like complaining about having to buy new jeans after you lose weight. Still not an argument for staying fat. (Note that “staying fat” in this metaphor means “spending lots of tax money.”)

Reminder: bike paths don’t cost a million bucks a mile like an urban roadway. They don’t need a seismically-stabilized roadbed or federally-mandated grades for trucks. There are no traffic signals or state troopers. They only need to be five or six feet wide, maybe 10 in high traffic areas. You can use crushed rock if you’re feeling really cheap. And the maintenance is basically zero. This is why the sidewalk in front your house has “1921” written on it but they chipseal the road every decade. Because cars are way heavier and way faster than bikes, and because roadwear is an exponential function of those two numbers.

Attempts to “toll” or “tax” bikes will work about as well as attempts to lasso bumblebees. The cost of lassooing the bumblebees will vastly outweigh the cost of whatever benefit lassooed bumblebees can provide.

Besides all of which, bikes are far more tolerant of “bad roads” than much heavier vehicles. If the money for “roadbuilding” completely dried up tomorrow, from a certain perspective (i.e. saving lots of money) that would actually be an improvement. As I have said elsewhere:

If the alternative to “bicycles should pay road taxes” is “let’s not have any roads,” well Option Number Two works just fine for me.


I took some photos of bike “non-frastructure” (i.e. unplanned or minimal infrastructure) on my commute tonight. Also dug some similar photos up from the last few years. Just to give a sense of how little such non-infrastructure would actually cost.

And yes, I ride on these paths (or ones like them) every single day, even on my skinny-wheel road bike. Lots of other bike commuters do too, mainly because it keeps us away from the cars, which are a zillion times more deadly than slippery mud. Also: they are fun. When I say “let’s not have any roads,” from the perspective atop a bike saddle, that is not only doable but in most cases preferable.