This is the first reader comment under Tom Held’s recent column about the bike tax in Maine: “Biking is a recreational activity akin to skiing, tennis and golf. It’s a luxury that only a few people choose to partake in.”
That comment may represent the perception of a loud, conservative minority, but how true is it? I’ll dissect the statement here, working my way from end to beginning:
few people choose to partake in: According to a random phone interview conducted by UWM for our recent bike plan update, 49% of people 16 and older in the City of Milwaukee ride bicycles. If you count kids, it is probably over 50%, hardly a fringe activity.
It’s a luxury: look behind any restaurant kitchen, coffee shop or target store and you will find bicycles parked. These are the vehicles of necessity for the low wage employees who work within. Cars are actually the luxury item and bikes are cheap transportation.
Biking is a recreational activity akin to skiing, tennis and golf: This is the bigger bombshell and I think there are many people, even self-proclaimed cyclists, who believe this to be true. Guess what? It’s not.
John Pucher and Ralph Bueller recently published a study that takes a comprehensive look at cycling trends in the US over the last 10 years. There is tons of great information in the study, but one interesting statistic I found was that the transportation related bicycle trips are on the rise. According to the National Household Transportation Survey, utilitarian bicycle trips have risen from 47% to 52%. (That’s right, I said 52! One more reason to call the new Milwaukee area bicycle advocacy group 52).
Utilitarian trips for transportation are now the majority use of bicycles. So the old concept that bikes were toys may have been true, but it no longer is. Bicycles are transport by majority rule as well as state law. Wisconsin Statute 346.02(4)a states that bicycles are legal and intended users of the road and every person riding a bicycle upon a roadway or shoulder of a highway is granted all the rights and is subject to all the duties which this chapter grants or applies to the operator of a vehicle, except those provisions which by their express terms apply only to motor vehicles or which by their very nature would have no application to bicycles.
So the truth-o-meter reading for this statement is: Liar, liar, pants on fire.