Margaret Connell’s recent column “Getting to Work In Goleta” was excellent, as usual. However, I would like to supplement her focus on buses and trains by highlighting the benefits of another type of alternative transportation that benefits all of us, even when we don’t use it.
Like many who live here, I drive a car and I also ride a bike. I have to admit that when I’m driving my car and get behind someone on a bicycle, sometimes I get a bit impatient. Sharing the road with a bicycle means I have to drive a little more carefully, avoid getting too close, and slow down until I can safely pass.
But when I stop to think about it, I realize that bike riders are actually “donors” to car drivers. By riding either a narrow bike lane or dedicated bike trails, bikes actually use little or no roads. In that sense, bike riders “donate” their share of the road to car drivers - not just the area taken up by a car but also the several car lengths of stopping distance we are supposed to maintain. This donation of road space can drastically reduce rush hour congestion and time stalled in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
But bike riders’ “donations” don’t stop there. Bike riders are also donors of increasingly scarce parking spaces. Instead they take up just a little room at bike racks or inside their own garages. By not using up car parking spaces, bike riders “donate” their parking spot to the rest of us. And by “donating” their parking spaces to cars, bike riders save us all money because we can delay or even eliminate adding and maintaining the next expensive public parking structures.
Since gasoline taxes don’t fully fund road construction and maintenance, some road funding comes from other tax sources. This means that some of the taxes paid by bike riders help maintain and fix our roads, even though bikes cause very little road damage compared with heavy cars and buses.
By the way, have you noticed that gas prices are skyrocketing because of increasing demand? By using no gas, bike riders are leaving more for motorists, actually keeping gas prices from going even higher. They also keep gas lines a little shorter.
Then there’s the matter of health. The fewer cars on the road, the lower the pollution caused by exhaust fumes, oil leaks, gas spills, and particles of rubber eroding from tires. And as a result, the runoff of oil and tire residue to our oceans and creeks is reduced.
Let’s not forget law enforcement costs for speed control and dealing with traffic jams. There are the city police, Sheriff’s Department, and Highway Patrol, all necessary to keep car traffic moving or deal with the aftermath of an accident. Very little of that expense is necessary to keep bike riders going, compared with cars. When was the last time an officer had to stop a bicyclist for going over 25 miles per hour?
I’m not saying bike riders are perfect. Some don’t always come to a full stop at a stop sign or drive too slowly or forget to signal a lane change. Of course, the very same is true about many car drivers. And although cars can often cause injuries or property damage, bike riders seldom hurt anyone or anything.
Now I’m not suggesting that everyone should stop driving cars. Cars are convenient and even necessary when the weather is bad, the distance long, or you have to carry several passengers or a lot of items such as groceries, furniture, etc. And of course, not everyone can ride a bike, for one reason or another.
But I am suggesting that the next time we’re sharing the road with a bike rider, we should take a moment to count the many ways that bike riders “donate” to motorists every day. And we should express our gratitude by giving that bicycle rider both the benefit of the doubt and the right of way.
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Guest columnist George Relles has lived in Goleta for 18 years.