Gridlock routinely ranks high among voter concerns. Marylanders spend more time commuting to work than the residents of every other state, apart from New York.[i] As a result of congestion, Marylanders can spend less time with families and can even avoid taking better-paying jobs if longer commutes are involved. In Montgomery County, 43% of residents have ranked traffic as the most critical issue facing the county, with no other Issue ranked higher. [ii]
Governor Larry Hogan’s $9 billion “Traffic Relief Plan proposal to add lanes to I-270, the Capital Beltway (I-495), and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (MD 295) enjoys strong popular support. According to a Washington Post-Schar School poll, a clear majority of Washington-area residents favor adding express toll lanes to Interstate 270 and Maryland’s part of the Capital Beltway. Regionwide, 61% of residents endorse Hogan’s regional transportation proposals. [iii]
On the other side of the Hogan transportation proposals comes opposition from groups such as Montgomery County’s bicycle lobby, represented by the Washington Area Bicyclist Association.[iv] Although the group’s non-profit tax status prohibits candidate endorsements, its “advocacy campaign” targets candidates with its issue questionnaire and a “Transportation Equity Pledge.”[v] This “Pledge” commits candidates to “oppose highway expansion” and “fully fund bike networks.”
This well-funded group depends on significant government support for its nearly $2 million annual budget, with member dues making barely 5% of the total.[vi] Instead of more roads, the group proposes spending $55 million on a tunnel in downtown Bethesda for the Crescent Trail and another $110 million in bike-related capital improvements to add to the existing 100 lane miles in Montgomery County bikeways.
These costs may reflect only the down payment on bike lane spending. The Montgomery County Planning Board’s Bicycle Master Plan would dramatically expand the county bikeways to over 1,000 miles.[vii] The Board is currently chaired by a former Washington Area Bicyclist Association board member, Casey Anderson [viii] [ix]
Who would benefit from these biking expenditures? Based on US Census data for Montgomery County, out of 550,000 commuters, fewer than 3,000 people commute by bike compared with 344,000 who commute by car alone and 50,000 using carpools. Among these bicyclists, 77% were men. African Americans and those over 45 years old were 40% less likely to commute by bike than the average.
What do these numbers mean? The MoCo bike lobby, in effect, is pushing for $55,000 in new capital expenditure for each bike commuter, a population disproportionally made up of young white men. [x] Call them the Bike Bros.
Among the complaints of highway improvement opponents are that more money should be spent on alternatives to roads. Yet half of Maryland’s transportation spending goes for mass transit, although cars account for approximately 97% of all travel. Anti-highway transportation zealots try to rationalize this imbalance with motorists by promising that travelers will be diverted away from the roads to alternatives. This promised travel “diversion” to public transit has never materialized and is even less likely to occur from more bike lanes. A 100% increase in bike commuting in Montgomery to 6,000 bicyclists would not match the diversion that a 5% increase in working from home produces.
The “bicycle lobby” opposition to highway congestion relief and improvements is striking in its arrogance. There are more than 100 drivers for each bicyclist just among Montgomery County commuters. (And this excludes counting longer distance drivers from outside the county commuting through.) These “Bike Bros” would deny the choice to drivers to make their own “time is money” calculation to pay for express lane passage.
These “Bike Bros” are a tiny minority intent to impose their personal preferences on others and prevent more practical transportation solutions for most Marylanders relying on automobiles.
Biking is certainly good exercise and deserves encouragement. Along with walking, it is a possible commuting means for a relatively fortunate few. However, pretending that significant public capital investment in bicycling infrastructure can be a substitute for highway investment is arrogant folly.
Call it “virtue cycling” instead.
[x] Simple math – 155 million divided by 3,000