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Opinion

The government should fund more bike paths

Apr 06, 2023

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Timothy Carney

Timothy Carney, Senior Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

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Americans love their bikes. In 2021, more than 51 million people in the U.S. rode bikes, up from 43 million just a decade earlier. During the pandemic, demand for bicycles soared as people were motivated to get outside. But the COVID-19 bike boom proved temporary. In many U.S. cities, pre-pandemic transportation habits have returned, in part because city planners did not improve cycling infrastructure by adding bike lanes and paths. Straight Arrow News contributor Tim Carney says the government should do more to encourage biking and walking, because more bike paths and walking trails benefit families.

If you are Gen X or older, you probably remember the days of your youth, wandering around the neighborhood on foot or on bike until the street lights came on. These days kids walk much less than we did, and they bike less, too. Take getting to school, for example. In 1969, more than 40% of American school kids walked or biked to school, according to survey data. By 2016, that number was about 10%. Today, parents are stuck taking kids everywhere they want to go. That is not pro-family.

Improved bike and pedestrian infrastructure is pro-family because it liberates kids. It makes it easier for Susie to get herself to soccer practice, or Joey to roam the town with his buddies. We should be doing whatever we can to make parenting easier these days — liberating kids will liberate parents.

Why should the government be involved? Because transportation infrastructure is inherently a governmental responsibility. Just as governments pave roads and lay train tracks, they also pave sidewalks and paint crosswalks. Bike lanes and bike trails fit into this network of thoroughfares that different people use to get around. Making these trails safer is a legitimate government role. That could include building connectors between different trails or making safer crossings over major roads. It could include more robust dividers between car and bike lanes. 

More governments should be spending more for pedestrians, too. I live in the suburbs outside of Washington, D.C. Many blocks have no sidewalks at all. Many roads are wide and fast, and the crosswalks are few and far between. That’s a world built for cars and a place built for cars is not built for humans. Which is why, in my old Wheaton-Glenmont neighborhood, pedestrians regularly were hit and killed by cars.

Walkability. Bikeability. 

If a politician or commentator uses those word in America today, he or she is probably a liberal. But conservatives ought to care about walkability and bikeability too. The cyclist lobby was on Capitol Hill this Spring pushing the pro-bike cause. Their agenda included a federal tax credit for battery powered e-bikes. 

Now, that makes no more sense than tax credits for electric cars. The tax code should not favor expensive electrified bikes over other purchases a family might make. But the other item on the bike lobbyists’ agenda was a policy proposal that conservatives should embrace: Using federal transportation money to build better and safer infrastructure for bicycles. 

 Millions of Americans ride bikes. Some ride bikes just for exercise. Others use their bikes to get to work or go shopping. These activities may or may not appeal to you, but how about a family bike ride, where Dad takes the kids out on a Saturday outing? 

Or better yet, take Mom or Dad out of the picture. If you are Gen X or older, you probably remember the days of your youth, wandering around the neighborhood on foot or on bike until the street lights came on. These days kids walk much less than we did, and they bike less, too. Take getting to school, for example. In 1969, more than 40 percent of American school kids walked or biked to school, according to survey data. By 2016, that number was about 10 percent. Today, parents are stuck taking kids everywhere they want to go. That is not pro-family.

Improved bike and pedestrian infrastructure is pro-family because it liberates kids. It makes it easier for Susie to get herself to soccer practice, or Joey to roam the town with his buddies. We should be doing whatever we can to make parenting easier these days — liberating kids will liberate parents.

 Why should the government be involved? Because transportation infrastructure is inherently a governmental responsibility. Just as governments pave roads, and lay train tracks, they also pave sidewalks and paint crosswalks. Bike lanes and bike trails fit into this network of thoroughfares that different people use to get around. Making these trails safer is a legitimate government role. That could include building connectors between different trails or making safer crossings over major roads. It could include more robust dividers between car and bike lanes. 

More governments should be spending more for pedestrians, too. I live in the suburbs outside of Washington, D.C. Many blocks have no sidewalks at all. Many roads are wide and fast, and the crosswalks are few and far between. That’s a world built for cars and a place built for cars is not built for humans. Which is why, in my old Wheaton-Glenmont neighborhood, pedestrians regularly were hit and killed by cars.

Even if you don’t care about curbing carbon emissions, and even if you love driving your car, you should want to spend our transportation money on making it safer for kids and adults to get around on foot and on bike, because it’s good for community and good for families.

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