What’s the best evidence that America is run by a gaggle of spineless, paternalistic, hypocritical, chowder-headed liberals? Bike lanes, obviously.
Or, at least, that’s thrust of a recent screed by Wall Street Journal columnist P.J. O’Rourke. O’Rourke presents every conceivable non-argument against government-financed bike lanes, nearly all of them colossally out of touch with urban reality. If you didn’t know O’Rourke was a satirist, you’d assume from his tone that his mother never let him ride a bike and all the neighborhood kids teased him for it. Here’s a taste:
The bicycle is a parody of a wheeled vehicle—a donkey cart without the cart, where you do the work of the donkey. Although the technology necessary to build a bicycle has been around since ancient Egypt, bikes didn’t appear until the 19th century. The reason it took mankind 5,000 years to get the idea for the bicycle is that it was a bad idea. The bicycle is the only method of conveyance worse than feet. You can walk up three flights of stairs carrying one end of a sofa. Try that on a bicycle.
Ugh. Really, P.J.? Despite being loaded with 90 percent obtuse (and admittedly pretty humorous) hyperbole, O’Rourke concludes with a seemingly reasonable argument. “Bike lanes can become an acceptable part of the urban landscape,” writes O’Rourke, “if bicycle riders are willing to pay their way.” From one angle, this would make sense. In most cases, a fuel tax pays for road construction, shifting the tax burden to those who use transportation infrastructure. A bicycle sales tax could be similar source of funding for bike lanes.
But might the whole argument be just a reflection of the bigger budget crisis faced across the country? There’s massive pressure to cut services and non-essential projects—and what’s a bike lane worth if HIV/AIDS patients and victims of domestic violence are losing services. (And when the budget becomes unsteady again, how long do you think those programs will last?) If anything, O’Rourke’s too-commonsensical argument works to give back planning power and tax-muscle to the status quo—the affluent suburbanite content in their SUV and insurance plan—when those who live a life less ordinary need support more than ever.
Who could put that better than O’Rourke himself: “And if [bicyclists] pay enough, maybe we’ll even give them a lift during the next snow storm.”