Sunday's front-page story on the $220 million needed to complete regional cycling facilities is generating plenty of debate online and will be the target of many letters to the editor. Here's some perspective on some of the issues and the value of our investments in cycling.
While the figure is daunting, planned spending would be spread out over several years and doesn't have to all come from local sources. Provincial funding under cycling infrastructure and healthy living programs have helped; federal dollars from gas tax programs have paid for most of the new E&N trail that the Capital Regional District is working to complete, and many projects have been supported by jobs programs or the opportunities created by private development projects that create more bike-friendly streetscapes once the exclusive preserve of cars and trucks.
Much is already being said about licensing and insurance, costs drivers mistakenly assume pay for the roads. Those charges pay only for the cost of administering a system to ensure that people who drive have a minimum level of competence and are covered for the cost in lives and property damage resulting from the too-routine collisions that happen on our roads.
Gas taxes, which go to various levels of government, do not, for the most part, pay for the roads we use. Local streets are funded by property taxes that everyone pays, including the 30 per cent or so who don't, won't or can't drive. Like it or not, driving is heavily subsidized by the rest of us.
The value of our investments in bike facilities is significant, if not essential.
The capital region and its municipalities have signed on to regional growth strategies and greenhousegas emission targets that impel us to shift our travel choices to more sustainable modes. More than 50 per cent of our carbon footprint comes from cars and trucks, and eventually we will pay fines or buy carbon offsets if we don't meet our targets. Do we want to spend on penalties or progress?
Active transportation is also a health imperative. The fallout from autodependence is obesity, adult-onset diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and other afflictions of a toosedentary lifestyle. The costs to our overstretched health-care system now exceed those associated with tobacco, and we spend prodigiously to combat that addiction. Why wouldn't we want to spend on a strategy that is a proven preventive measure to deal with another growing health crisis?
Investing in bicycle infrastructure is also a key support for a dynamic economy that depends more and more on highly mobile workforces and companies that can locate anywhere.
Livable communities and access to amenities that support a healthy lifestyle are good business. One of the key reasons Microsoft cited in choosing to locate here last year was access to trails and other facilities that support cycling. The skilled employees they attract want to live close to work and enjoy an active life that demands the kind of community we are building.
It's not just a local phenomenon either - car ownership and vehicle miles travelled (per capita), are dropping across North America and we will need to adapt. Many seniors, too, are enjoying active and healthy lifestyles that include cycling and walking, and many are drawn here to enjoy what is no longer a secret - Victoria is a great place to ride. We already beat every other city in Canada for bicycle use, and we're still better than most in North America.
Moving forward to build a more bike-(and walk-) friendly community won't happen overnight, and it won't be funded by bake sales, charity donations or user charges (so that we can "save" our taxes for roads and parking lots). It's a good investment, it earns good returns and we need to get started on the next block, the next street or the next trail project. We've still got lots to do.
John Luton is executive director of Capital Bike and Walk, an organization that provides expert advice on infrastucture, programs and strategies to support cycling and walking.
© Copyright 2013