Who’s Really Footing the Bill for Roads?

img_1770_225x300.jpgHere comes the car: A 1905 mural from the Detroit Public Library.

Today on the Streetsblog Network, M-bike.org ("Promoting safe and convenient bicycling in Metro Detroit") takes a moment to set the record straight on who’s really paying for road maintenance in this country:

Most cyclists have heard or read it before: bicyclists shouldn’t have equal access to the roads because they don’t pay for them.

Those making that claim assume that fuel tax and vehicle registrations pay for all their road costs.

They’re wrong.

Also, from Cyclelicious, a video that proves you can haul 500 pounds of donated groceries by bike; a proposal from WashCycle for bike corridors to the inauguration; and, as always, much more.

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  • Larry Littlefield

    To put it more specifically, most fuel taxes go for limited access highways, and bicycles aren’t allowed on those. Neither, in the case of the parkways, are buses.

  • The private auto is an economic disaster. Only propaganda and subsidy keep it alive.

  • Roads should be supported with gasoline taxes not general funds and special sales taxes. But, then if that is fair, then bike infrastructure should be paid for by bicyclists.


    I can’t make a counter argument, but can you back your statement up? The private auto is an economic disaster? Or is this conventional wisdom that fits into the group think? Securitized mortgages, a FED that let the housing bubble keep going, and a Bush administration SEC that is flaccid are economic disasters. Our nation’s pension system is an economic disaster (this is “the other shoe”). It is unbelievable that people forget why autos and moving away from high density areas. There were and are benefits and that is why people pay good money to live in the suburbs and drive cars. You drank the cool-aid if you think the masses drive because they don’t have access to good bike infrastructure. The USA was once one of the most efficient economies in the world, and most people drove cars.

  • Roads should be supported with gasoline taxes not general funds and special sales taxes.

    It’s silly to argue that every mode of transportation should be self-supporting. The role of government is to collect revenue and spend it in ways that align with its priorities. The gas tax and road tolls serve to discourage over-consumption of scarce resources, and spending on bike infrastructure serves to encourage more efficient transportation.

    The “benefits” of living in sprawl (not all suburbs are sprawly) and driving all the time are overrated, just like kool-aid.

  • amckane

    I pay $10,000 per year in property taxes. Some of that goes toward maintaining the streets of the upstate NY village and township in which I live. I bike to work and run errands every day in the rain, the sun, the dark, the snow, the ice, etc. I am a cyclist, and yes, I do help pay for the roads.

  • Walker O

    OK captain,

    I actually agree that not all modes should be taxed for for full direct cost recovery. I don’t understand why or how you write, driving all the time is overrated. There is a reason people pay good money to drive and it is not because they have been brainwashed or don’t have choices, in fact most people make economic choices that result in them driving more. It is great that we peddle. We like to. Not everyone will and the attitude that they masses “just need to try it” and everyone will be converted is totally naive and self absorbed. The drawbacks of trying to turn society into peddlers are underrated. Have you figured out how to get your parents to peddle on utility trips, or do they still drive? Have you asked them why they don’t want to?

  • There is a reason people pay good money to drive and it is not because they have been brainwashed or don’t have choices, in fact most people make economic choices that result in them driving more. It is great that we peddle. We like to.

    Speak for yourself. I don’t actually pedal very often. I ride transit, and I walk, and in the past year, lots of people have given up one or more cars, cut down on their driving, and switched to transit – and haven’t gone back.

    There’s a reason why people have been moving back to the cities, and why housing prices in walkable neighborhoods have been weathering the crisis much better than those that require driving all the time. We can interpret people’s mode choices till the cows come home, but absent real data about subsidy-neutral choices, it’s all speculation.

    As far as pedaling goes, many of my neighbors (even the few who drive for all their errands) have told me that if they could feel safe riding on the streets they’d do it. My parents live in a place that’s particularly isolated, and a beginning bike rider just can’t get to much of anything – but when they go to Florida, they leave the car at home and bike, walk or take the bus, and they like it.

  • Ian Turner


    Regardless of the rationale behind people’s choice to drive, it is an antisocial activity that worsens the quality of life of everyone but the driver. For this reason, it is unconscionable than our government subsidizes the activity. People may have legitimate reasons to drive, but they should back up those reasons by paying for the internal and external costs associated with their choice.




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