By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute
State Representative Brett Hulsey has found a way to solve all of our state budget problems. Everyone, get out of your cars. No really, get out of your cars and ride a bicycle.
In his press release, Hulsey cites a new study that says, “replacing short driving trips with biking would benefit the upper Midwest, including Wisconsin, by saving at least $3.8 billion, saving 1,000 lives, and cutting traffic by one-fifth or 20%.” Good to know someone on Hulsey’s staff knows 20% is the same as one-fifth. Probably homeschooled.
If only Governor Jim Doyle had known about bicycles. He, and Representative Hulsey, might never have had to raise taxes in Doyle’s last budget.
There is, of course, one small catch. When the study says, “replacing short driving trips with biking” they mean 50% of the trips less than or equal to eight kilometers. In American English, that’s almost five miles on your SUV’s odometer.
My wife’s trips today to the grocery store, Menards hardware store and for take out pizza all should have been on her bicycle. But of course that wouldn’t work. It’s hard to carry the latest Christmas outdoor decorations from the hardware store on the back of a Schwinn, even with a basket. Two gallons of milk, cereal for a week, bacon, eggs, bread, and light bulbs weren’t going to fit on the back of the bike, either. As for the carry out pizza, that might have worked. Just leave the two-liter of soda and the breadsticks behind.
So we were 0-3. Actually we were 0-4 if you throw in the trip to the corner gas station to fill the car’s tank for the week.
That sounds like a lot of trips and that’s the point. Even if she had been able to make those trips by bicycle, she would not have been able to make all the trips because of how long it would have taken her.
That means somebody else would have needed to make 4 trips today by bicycle to make up for the Wigderson family. I’m sure the elderly couple next door could have taken bicycles to church today.
It sure as heck wasn’t going to be me. If I took a bicycle everywhere I went, I wouldn’t be able to use my cell phone. The gasping for air would get me arrested for making obscene phone calls.
If my wife’s trips today were impossible to make by bicycle, imagine what they would be like a month from now. Do Trek bicycles come with a snowplow accessory?
Of course, somebody on Hulsey’s staff should have pointed out the absurdity of ever hoping that Wisconsinites would abandon their cars for 50% of their trips less than five miles.
The authors of the study don’t offer policy prescriptions that would make Wisconsinites and others in the Midwest suddenly get on their bikes and ride 50% of the time for short trips. They only point it is out that it’s possible if we become more like the Netherlands. No wonder Democrats are in love with windmills.
They do let the cat out of the bag by letting us know that converting car lanes to bicycle lanes can cost as much as $50,000 per city block. Portland, OR, spent $10,000 per block on a ten-block stretch of city streets to close a lane to cars and open it to two-way bicycle traffic. The city of Chicago, in the fiscally unsound state of Illinois, just spent $140,000 to make a bike lane on four city blocks, including a bridge.
But the authors are hopeful that cities in the Midwest can become more like their Dutch counterparts because some cities are already “bicycle friendly,” including Milwaukee. Part of being bicycle friendly is making the roadways safer for bicyclists, measured in the mortality rate of bicyclists. If Milwaukee builds a lane across the Hoan Bridge that “friendly” rating might go down.
Milwaukee recently committed to a plan to become even more bicycle friendly. They are going to spend $11.3 million over the next ten years to create more bicycle lanes, and that does not even include land acquisition. The city’s goal is for a bicycle to be used for 5% of all trips less than five miles by 2020.
That’s a long way from Holland’s bicycle use, and certainly nowhere near the 50% that the study’s authors hoped for. Perhaps the Milwaukee Common Council should pass a law requiring residents to wear wooden shoes and plant tulips.