Spinning Our Wheels: Spending On Bike Projects Makes No Sense

Jillian Bandes
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Posted: Jun 17, 2010 9:25 AM
I'm an avid cyclist. I ride to work almost every day, regardless of the weather, and usually ride to meetings, to run errands, and to go out at night with my friends as well. It's great for exercise, convenience, and saving money.

I also realize that not everyone feels this way. Less than 1% of Americans take their bikes to work. Not everyone lives a reasonable distance from their place of employment, wants to get exercise in that particular way, or believes it to be as convenient as I do.

This is why I was baffled by the Obama administration's recent announcement that $1.2 billion would be dedicated to biking and walking projects in the United States.  "We'll be able to provide Americans with more choices and help foster more active, livable communities," said Obama's transportation secretary, Ray LaHood. Yes, for the 1% of Americans who are actually interested in pursuing this mode of transportation, and the Obama administration officials who hold biking on par with some kind of Godly activity.

It's not. Many families cannot afford to live near commercial centers where biking to work would be more convenient, so creating more biking and walking paths simply privileges those who are already privileged. Incentivizing Americans to get moving never works, because exercise is a personal preference (which is part of the reason health care should be an individual responsibility, not a public good). More importantly, in a recession, riders should have to tough it out on the side of the road. Cyclists don't deserve $1.2 billion in special lanes — right now, that money should be going towards paying down the national debt. Americans aren't going to have a job to bike to with spending levels like this crippling our economy.

The fact that this spending was announced in the middle of a recession is particularly egregious. Spending the money on improving motorized transportation would benefit far more people, and increase overall access to commerce and urban areas by a much wider margin. I will continue to advocate cycling as the most reliable, economical, and fun mode of transportation available, but I will also continue to be baffled by spending public money on an activity that should flourish only by way of personal choice.