A letter to the editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that you would never see in the Washington Post
I get frustrated, often, when I read letters to the editor printed in newspapers because on a factual basis, often the writers outline faulty arguments and an incorrect recounting of facts, but the newspaper doesn't include a counter argument with the facts, but just runs the letter, thereby readers infer that the statements are correct.
This is almost always the case with regard to letters about road use and paying for roads. Even for the Washington Post, which considers itself one of the nation's best newspapers.
Most drivers, incorrectly, believe that their use of roads is fully paid by gas taxes, and this is reflected in letters to the editor and online comments on news stories.
Using Pennsylvania as an example since that's where the letter below was printed, the state gas tax is 12 cents/gallon and the federal tax is 18.4 cents/gallon for a total of 30.4 cents/gallon.
If the average motorist drives 10,000 miles/year and gets 25 mpg, then they buy 400 gallons of gas, paying a total of $121.60 in gas taxes. Or just over one penny per mile. It's more in states that pay more in gas taxes, for example, in California, where the state rate is 35.7 cents/gallon, it's just over two cents per mile.
I can't believe that anyone would think that's enough money to (1) maintain the roadway infrastructure, including bridges; (2) pay for the use of previously built roadways; and (3) build new transportation facilities.
From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, "Cyclists do pay for roads":
I would have thought that the Post-Gazette had already given enough space for motorists to express their supposed rights to the road vis-a-vis cyclists based on the old pay-for-road-use argument (most recently Henry Peter Gribbin, "It's Time to Be Sensible About Sharing Streets," Sept. 17). Besides raising that often-repeated but fraudulent argument, Mr. Gribbin asks that cyclists be prohibited from using Forbes Avenue in Squirrel Hill.
First of all, cyclists are, by and large, car owners with bikes. I myself own two cars, both of them gas guzzlers, if that makes Mr. X any happier, so I do pay gasoline taxes and license fees.
More to the point, by far most of the city streets and secondary roads cyclists use are not paid for by gasoline taxes and automobile licenses but out of general revenue paid by everyone, whether they use the roads or not. And, while bicycles impose essentially zero wear on roads, cars additionally impose an estimated 6.5 cents per mile of road wear that eventually comes due (as is only too evident in and around Pittsburgh). Everyone is forced to pay for that 6.5 cents per mile per car just by being a taxpayer, whether they contribute to road deterioration or not.
Cyclists don't deserve the imposition of a road-use fee as much as they do a tax rebate. I would be willing to cut out the middleman and accept a check directly from Mr. Gribbin. The busy stretch of Forbes Avenue he wants to ban bicycles from has two of Pittsburgh's largest bicycle dealerships on it.
A better idea would be to ban motorized traffic on this stretch. As Mr. Gribbin correctly points out, there are lots of parallel streets that cars could use instead.
Anyone who wants to contribute intelligently to this discussion should first consult Google under "who pays for roads" and read a few of the many articles cited there.
OSCAR E. SWAN
1. Actually, a bunch of the online comments on cited letter <"It's Time to Be Sensible About Sharing Streets" are negative in terms of his pro-car argument. ("Sharing" from the perspective of many motor vehicle operators is more about privileging the auto.)
2. I didn't know the 6.5 cents/mile of road wear per car. Obviously then, if people pay 2 to 3 cents per mile for gas taxes, it comes nowhere near covering the cost of maintenance, let alone new construction.