Truth-o-meter for Tom Held’s readers

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.


About daveschlabowske

Cyclechic advocate from Milwaukee
This entry was posted in Bicycle Funding, Biking by the Numbers and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Truth-o-meter for Tom Held’s readers

  1. d'Andre says:

    First, thank you once again, Dave, for injecting actual numbers into a discussion that gets emotional so quickly. Being all wonky like that is a great trait, particularly coupled with such fine taste in shoes 😉

    Second, does anyone else see the irony in the fact that all car trips are lumped together and considered “serious” and “important”, but bike trips have to be justified?

  2. Barry Stuart says:

    Thanks, Dave for speaking the truth. Far too many non-cyclists treat bicycles as toys instead as transportation because they don’t use them for transportation. Many motorists perceive the car as the only means of transportation there is because that’s all they use. How do we get these motorists to see the truth?

  3. the biking and car discussion reminds me of the sailboat/motorboat discussions i heard many years ago when i sailed. each party was a touch self righteous about their mode of transportation. i just wanted to sail and stay out of the way of the motorboats.

    the more i dip my toe into the milwaukee bike community the more i find myself (which is unlike myself) thinking about the gandhi approach to bike transportation. i don’t want to fight with people but i would like to convert them. i’ll do that by biking, talking about biking and encouraging friends to bike. i’ll stress the long term benefits of exercise and the benefit to the wallet – it might even help limit juvenile diabetes.

    having said that it is odd that we give drivers a tax deduction for driving for business purposes but when i bike to a meeting with a client i get no deduction. that is the wrong “nudge.” i am in the process of drafting a letter to mr. walker. i’ll include that note in my comments. as always, thank you dave. p.s. the velib worked well i’ll be in touch.

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