It is Bike, Walk & Wheel Week, when Columbians of all sorts are encouraged to get around town under their own power — bicycle, pedestrian, wheelchair, for example. Included is the bus, which usually combines one of the previously mentioned modes of transportation.
A growing trend in personal mobility is adding electric power, like e-bikes. E-bikes, for which local resident Ted Curtis is our community’s most active evangelist, provide a pedal-assist boost to basically erase hills and minimize perspiration.
As e-bikes bend the traditional cycling segment, so do other micro-mobility vehicles, like Segways and electric scooters. The Bird e-scooters suddenly arrived in CoMo a year or so ago, unfortunately to some controversy.
That was too bad, as micromobility devises are fantastic on so many levels. They are a low-pollution way for people to travel in town compared to a car trip, take up little space to park and are affordable for low-income individuals.
Yes, they were a problem at first, but those issues will be worked out, and some day soon it will be difficult to imagine CoMo without them and whatever the next innovation that comes along is. This means policymakers need to shift from reactionary arguments toward a forward-looking visioning of societal trends.
Active transportation advocates and environmental activists could also do well to shift from urging the political system to provide more bike facilities and/or limit car use, instead reversing the ways public policy has actually encouraged a dependency on cars and polluting fuels.
Our city depends heavily on sales taxes, so as internet sales increased, policymakers didn’t tweak tax systems to match modern realities. Thus general revenues haven’t kept up. This has affected street maintenance, depressed wages for municipal employees and short-staffed public safety.
Our state road network instead depends significantly upon fuel taxes, but the value of those revenues has been eroded by inflation the last couple of decades.
Even with vehicles becoming more fuel-efficient — paying less in fuel tax per mile driven overall — forward-looking policymakers should have adjusted rates slowly over time to keep up or introduced tolls or increased registration fees.
But the state continues to mess around, failing to propose a straightforward fuel tax proposal or toll pilot project. Now we are to the point where the best our state governor can come up with is to borrow some money now then leave it to future legislative sessions to rob from other appropriation priorities.
I agree with several legislators quoted in the Missourian who warn of this poor precedent.
Which gets me back to biking and walking. Many people who might otherwise consider biking, walking, mass transit or carpooling likely do not feel the need to do so because driving a car is so convenient and relatively cheap.
Actually, the depreciation, loan payments, insurance and maintenance eat up many household budgets more than the owners would think, but our road network costs are too detached from the driving activity.
Subsidized driving means it’s cheaper to live even farther from where one works, shops or goes to school. Then over a few generations, the car culture and long daily commutes became normalized. To then rediscover reasonable distances and transportation methods, like living close enough for one’s kids to walk to school, becomes a countercultural concept.
As one who bikes, walks and drives for transportation, this reality has personally grown on me over time.
If road usage costs were priced to actually sustain the road network, that would naturally incentivize us to seek fewer consumptive options. Sure, there are numerous nonquantitative reasons to bike or walk, but economic incentives certainly matter.
Likewise, though semitrucks do the vast majority of damage to our highways, current diesel tax rates and freeways mean goods shipped from the ends of the earth are given an unnatural advantage over local providers. To add insult to injury, the U.S. Postal Service gives Amazon a big postage discount.
The Green New Deal proposal in part targets airplane travel. A more reasonable place to start would be to have the airline industry provide its own airports, including the runways and security. Costs would shift to ticket prices then surely shift natural market demand to high-speed rail use and other options.
Transportation subsidies of many sorts have played a large role in distorting the modern American way of mobility. In the meantime, get around under your own power some this week and get a free breakfast (graciously donated by various community sponsors and volunteers) Friday morning from one of the many Bike, Walk & Wheel Week breakfast stations.
Steve Spellman hosts “The Mid-Missouri Freedom Forum” at 5 p.m. every Tuesday on KOPN/89.5 FM.