Friday, February 24, 2017

An Act Promoting Work and Commuter Bicycles

I currently have a proposal in my state legislature for "An Act Promoting Work and Commuter Bicycles" by removing the sales tax on them.  It's in the VT House Transportation Committee, and it looks like it is going to "die on the wall" before even getting out of committee because of generic state budget concerns.  If you are a reader from Vermont, I'd appreciate it if you would write both the sponsors of this bill (John Bartholomew and Mollie Burke), and your House Representative for your district, and ask them to support this proposal.

Why does everyday bicycling need to be actively promoted?  Because we've had almost 100 years of heavily subsidized pro automobile policy, and our transportation system needs to be brought back into balance after the damage that this has caused.

Everyday bicycling (which includes Bike to Work) provides the greatest benefits to both the rider and society.  These include financial, health, environmental, personal well being, and societal benefits.
(click on image to enlarge)
The costs in this infographic are based on urban Vancouver, B.C. transportation.  They appear to include personal and municipal costs and some health and environmental costs (immediate but not catastrophic), but not all costs of ownership.

 Automobiles are highly subsidized.  There have been roads for thousands of years, but the automobile is effectively less than 100 years old.  The first automobiles were built in the late 1800's, but the auto did not become common place enough to affect the average person's life until the 1910's.  In much of the US around 1930 only every other family owned a car.  The car centered lifestyle we now have was built in less than 90 years.  We should be questioning whether this is an appropriate use of technology and resources, or whether it is a prop for the obsessive compulsive side of our human psyche.  Indeed, the better explanation of why we are willing to pay so much money for 38,000 fatalities (over 3000 a month) and 2.3 million injuries (half of which are disabling) each year in the US, (not to mention the 700 bicyclist or 4000 pedestrian deaths) is addiction.  If you do not think that you are addicted to your car, then try to stop using it.  Our transportation system did not have to be built this way.

Blue Hills Parkway at Brook Road, Boston, looking towards Mattapan, August, 1914
Photo credit; Massachusetts State Archives, reprinted in:
Old Wheelways, Traces of Bicycle History on the Land, by Robert McCullough
In addition to all season pathways for pedestrians, bicyclists, and the travel lane, Blue Hills Parkway designer John Charles Olmsted recognized in 1914 that many residents of the outlying city districts were unable to afford carriages, and included an electrified trolley line to serve them.

My father owned an Austin Healey sports car when I was a child, and I have played with Porsches.  I'm well aware of the joy of a pleasant motor ride through the countryside.
1950's Austin Healey Sprite, Photo credit
This world does not exist anymore.  Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) has more than doubled since I was a young driver, and the most common driving experience now is to be stuck in traffic.  If you want to motor down the road like I did, then half the cars have to be removed.

The roadway design that was acceptable for 1950's traffic is marginally criminal now, it's long term effect has been to promote only one road user.  Our car centered transportation policy developed post World War 2 with little thought to anything more than level of service, throughput, and speed.  But humans are squishy little marshmallows and don't survive hitting bridge abutments at 40 mph, so our cars have become safety cocoons that disconnect us from the world around us.  Unfortunately this does not remove the effect of cars on the world.  We now have whole populations of school children who can't breathe because of asthma from tailpipe emissions, and a general obesity epidemic.  In 1969 48% of kids rode their bike to school, in 2009 only 13% did.  Our transportation policy has deliberately moved schools to the outskirts of towns, making the bicycle rides longer while simultaneously increasing the number of cars.  (See Safe Routes to School for more info.)
Credit: Yehuda Moon

Our car centered transportation policy is seriously short sighted.  We know that distracted drivers are a major cause of crashes, but we have yet to admit that those drivers are not there to enjoy motoring down the road.  Wouldn't they be better served on transit where they can check email without the distraction of driving?  Wouldn't active transport (walking and biking) for short trips improve our health and personal connections?  Or a more fundamental question- why is it OK that we are now commuting huge distances?

This is the result of 105 years of our current car centered transportation policy.
Genesee Street, Utica, NY in 1910 above, and in 2015 below, after American Urbanism
Photo credit: Built Brooklyn
And here is an even more fundamental problem- you may like Genesee Street in 2015 because you grew up on a street just like it and it feels comfortable, however it is not a functioning landscape.  Natural ecosystems do not work this way, and it's turned out that human society does not function well this way either.  This landscape is all about the car, not humans.  A huge lack of diversity, social equity, or inclusion is required to make this landscape work.

"We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us."  Winston Churchill

"Nature is not a place to visit.  It is home."  Gary Snyder

"Bicycles are the indicator species of a community, like shellfish in a bay."  P. Martin Scott

"First, from a technical viewpoint, all negative externalities depend on speed, often significantly. On the one hand, they all increase beyond 30 to 60 km/h (20 to 40 mph). This is true not only for the most studied nuisances - noise, pollution, accidents and congestion (OECD, ECMT, 2007) - but also for less studied nuisances, such as severance effects, land use and urban sprawl, social segregation, or the disqualification of non-motorized modes."  Frédéric Héran, About the Effective Speed of Transport Modes: Ivan Illich's concept revisited, 13th World Conference on Transport Research, Rio, 2013
Photo credit:  Wes Craiglow, Deputy Director Planning & Development, City of Conway, AR
The way we think about transportation is flawed.  Technology has changed our concept of what the car is and what the car does.  With the increased levels of automobile use that we are seeing, our old paradigm of traffic management is broken.

"Much of the opposition to cycling schemes is based on a belief that motor traffic is like rainwater and the roads are drains for it.  If you narrow the pipe, these people say, it will flood.  If you block one route, they say, the same amount of traffic will simply flow down the next easiest route.  But that seldom or never actually happens in practice.  Because traffic isn't a force of nature.  It's a product of human choices...   Officially the cycling programme is about cycling.  In reality, it is about breathing.  It's about pollution, about health, about noise, about the kind of city we want to live in. It is about making the best use of scarce space on public transport.  Most of the people who will benefit from the cycling programme aren't cyclists.", Andrew Gilligan, Cycling Commissioner, Human Streets: The Mayor's Vision for Cycling Three Years On, Greater London Authority, UK, 2016

Do I expect "An Act Promoting Work and Commuter Bicycles" to solve all this?  No, this problem has been building for 90 years and it is much too big and deep,  Actively promoting everyday bicycling is a small beginner's step, but at least it goes beyond the "helmets and hi visibility clothing that politicians love because they don't actually have to do anything other than shifting the responsibility for it all onto bicyclists" (Анастасия Ромашкевич, Правда и ложь о светоэлементах, VeloNation), and is actually supporting a mode of transport other than the car.

Credit:  Adam Zyglis, The Buffalo News
We choose the car for our trips because it is easy.  It is now our job to make walking and bicycling just as easy.

I've tried to calculate the costs of this Act for our budget people, and here is my best estimate:
1.  Vermont sales of bicycles, related parts, and accessories in 2012 (Bicycle Retailer and Industry News (BRAIN) Annual Stats Issue – August 1, 2014)
2.  Corrected to 2015 (national sales of $6.5 billion in 2012 versus $6.2 billion in 2015, or a decline of ~5%) (National Bicycle Dealers Association 2015 Statpak – Industry overview)
3.  Adjusted for proportion of retail sales at shops due only to bikes (47.4%) (National Bicycle Dealers Association 2015 Statpak – Industry overview)
4.  Adjusted for portion due to commuter and utility bikes (6%) (an estimate based on both Alliance for Bicycling and Walking, and People for Bikes, survey data)
5.  Vermont Sales tax amount that would not be collected (6%):
My estimate of the market share of work and commuter bikes is the most unreliable figure above, the national average is around 10%, but this would be quite high for Vermont because of the effect of the large California, Texas, and Florida markets.  The overall mode share of people commuting by bike in Vermont is a fraction of a percent, and combined with declining bike sales at a time when we actually need more active transport, only underlines the need for a transportation policy that proactively supports bikes.

The Return On Investment (ROI) for this $46,546 could run from 7.8 to 1 (Helsinki Bicycle Account 2015 using the World Health Organization- Health Economic Assessment Tool), up to the 20 to 1 derived in several studies of the health benefits of bicycling.  This would be a return of $363,000 to $931,000.  A typical scientific analysis out of these several would be "Moving Urban Trips from Cars to Bicycles", Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, 2011, which concludes:
"Results: Shifting 5% of vehicle kilometers to cycling would reduce vehicle travel by
approximately 223 million kilometres each year, save about 22 million litres of fuel
and reduce transport-related greenhouse emissions by 0.4%. The health effects would
include about 116 deaths avoided annually as a result of increased physical activity, 6
fewer deaths due to local air pollution from vehicle emissions, and an additional 5
cyclist fatalities from road crashes. In economic terms, including only fatalities and
using the NZ Ministry of Transport Value of a Statistical Life, the health effects of a
5% shift represent net savings of about $200 million per year.
Conclusion: The health benefits of moving from cars to bikes heavily outweigh the
costs of injury from road crashes."
Since this report was published in 2011 there have a couple of studies showing that the more bicyclists there are, the lower the crash rate.  Shifting 5% of vehicle kilometers to cycling should result in less than 5 additional cyclist fatalities.

As far as I know California is the only other state with a similar working and commuting bike proposal (here is a good summary on Streetsblog).  I've had the chance to speak with Jeanie Ward-Waller, Policy Director for the California Bicycle Coalition, (, and their proposal is strongly focused on transportation equity.  Their incentive is much larger than my sales tax exemption proposal, however they expect a more complicated qualification process, compared to the simple test for a work bike that I'm proposing.  Both of our incentives face the same budget opposition though, and both could use support.

I still enjoy Porsches, and I do think Electric Vehicles are important.  But there are some deeply serious problems with the transportation system we have built, it's all been short term gain.  We need to support active bicycling and walking.  We have left the human out.

Copied below is the proposal I gave to the Vermont House Transportation committee, it has not received a Bill number yet.  In it I reduced all of the benefits of this proposal to short summaries for the legislators, but if you would like to follow up please feel free to send an email and I'll try to connect you with references.

An Act Promoting Working and Commuting Bicycles

Introduced by: Representatives John Bartholomew of Hartland and Mollie Burke of Brattleboro

Date: January 2017

Subject: Transportation, energy, greenhouse gas emissions, traffic planning, Complete Streets, First mile/Last mile, public health, social equity

Statement of purpose of bill as introduced: This bill would promote the use of Bicycles used for working and commuting purposes through a sales tax exemption incentive.


Working and Commuting Bicycles have:
-Tires wider than 1” and less than 3” wide
-Seat wider than 5.5”
-Rack(s) installed or mounts for racks built into the frame
-May have an electric motor assist, which must meet the requirements set forth in the 2016 Vermont Transportation bill for electric bicycles.

Sales tax exemption:
-Similar to the procedure that is currently in place for renewable energy equipment

Background explanations for the Committee:

This incentive covers bikes that are a practical replacement for a car, which includes:
-a regular frame commuter style bike
-a cargo bike with an extended capacity frame for carrying larger loads
-a commuter or cargo bike with an electric motor for extended range and/or cargo capacity
-electric motor conversion kits for bicycles (both a DIY route for owners or installation by a bike shop)
This proposal is not meant to cover sport bikes, but the committee may wish to extend the incentive to include them because they share some of the benefits of work and commuter bikes.

Choice of Sales tax abatement for an incentive:
The price of bicycles suitable for work purposes can vary widely from $100 bikes to $5000 or above. An incentive based on a fixed amount such as used in many Electric Vehicle incentive programs would not work well, but using a sales tax abatement would automatically link the incentive amount to the price. This amount would also be approximately in line with many EV incentive programs.

Reasons for encouraging working and commuting bicycle use:
These include meeting state GHG emission goals, Vermont Comprehensive Energy Plan goals, reduced road congestion and wear, achieving Complete Streets and local community benefits, helping First mile/Last mile issues, public health benefits, and social equity.   A brief summary of each follows:

GHG emission and VT CEP energy reduction goals:
-Bicycles produce 10 to 12 times less GHG emissions and use about 90% less energy than automobiles.
A. The European Cyclists Federation found that the complete life cycle emissions in grams of CO2 per passenger per kilometer for various forms of transportation were:
-Bicycle 21 g
-eBike 22 g
-Bus 101 g
-Passenger car 271 g (for average short trips)
Source: “Cycle More Often 2 Cool Down the Planet: Quantifying CO2 Savings of Cycling”, 2011
B. Shreya Dave at MIT using Carnegie-Mellon's EIO-LCA methodology found that:
-Electric bicycles use less than 10% of the energy required to power a sedan for each mile traveled and emit 90% fewer pollutants per passenger mile-traveled than a bus operating off peak
-walking, conventional bicycling and electric bicycling release exactly the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions
-All forms of human powered personal transport are at least three times better [for emissions] than any other form of commuter transport.
“Life Cycle Assessment of Transportation Options for Commuters”, February 2010

Reduced road congestion and wear:
-A working or commuting bike replaces a car, and will take up about 1/10 the road space, which helps traffic planning, traffic flow. and parking in urban areas.
-Cycling infrastructure is also much less expensive than infrastructure for cars, helping to reduce road budgets for similar traffic capacity.
-Road wear is proportional to the 4th power of the axle weight, and in general a 250 pound bike will have 1/1296 of the road wear that a 3000 pound car does, which is beneficial for highway maintenance budgets.

Complete Streets and local community benefits:
-Complete Streets design guidelines create a roadscape suitable for multiple users, and this incentive would help to encourage bicycles on those streets.
-Local community benefits derive from the range of a bicycle. Approximate distances based on historical trolley stop settlement patterns from the stop to a house are about:
Pedestrian 0 to 2 miles
Bicycle 1 to 5 miles
An electrically assisted bike can on average double the bike range to 5 to 10 miles.
Thus a bicycle commuter or consumer will be doing business within their local area. which promotes down town businesses, center of towns and local economies.

First mile/Last mile issues:
-Promoting working bicycles helps not only commuters that ride a bike directly to work, but also those with the First mile/Last mile problem that is connected with Park and Rides and transit.
-Increased use of commuter bikes will also fit in with Amtrak's new program for carrying bicycles on the Vermonter train line.

Public Health benefits:
-Americans have an obesity epidemic, as well as cardiovascular issues, and a rising diabetes problem that are primary concerns for public health. Exercise has been shown to help these problems, and bicycling is one of the preferred exercising methods (second only to swimming), for being easy on joints while still providing a beneficial cardiovascular workout.
-In addition biking to work is a mild exercise that is repeated as a daily routine so that it provides a continuing benefit. Many studies have shown that the health and medical benefits of regular bicycling outweigh the risks by around 20:1.

Social equity:
-In 2016, the California Bicycle Coalition (CBC), along with several coalition partners, presented a petition to the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The CARB distributes funds for the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program (CVRP), which offers rebates for electric vehicles, and CBC is asking them to expand their rebate program to include “the cleanest vehicle of all: the bicycle”. CBC is seeking the creation of a $10 million Bicycle Purchase Incentive Pilot Program. The program would rebate half of the cost of bikes that are commonly used for commuting, up to a maximum rebate of $500. Under the program, California would pay for half the cost of cargo bikes, electric bikes, folding bikes, bike share, and other utilitarian bicycles used for everyday transportation. The CBC finds that in addition to the cleanest vehicle being excluded from the CVRP, that the CVRP program is also inequitable and discriminates against both low income persons and limited income families who do not own or can not own a car.
The CBC letter to CARB can be found at this site:
-A second consideration is that for children and young people cycling and walking are the only forms of independent transport.

For further questions, please contact:
Karl Kemnitzer
My Solar Electric Cargo Bike, Scarlet Runner Bikes, VBike

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