Road safety is something that benefits us all and should not be a polarizing political issue. Period.
During this recent legislative session road safety, specifically a bicycle safe passing law that died in the Senate, became politically divisive.
Why is bicycling such a hot-button political issue at the state Legislature? Is it due to the misperceptions and myths about bicycling being spread by anti-bicycling political forces?
One myth is that bicyclists don’t pay for the roads. Local and state road maintenance is primarily funded by user gas taxes, but new infrastructure is primarily funded by federal funds in which less than half of that comes from gas taxes. Property taxes are a key portion of road funds too. Furthermore, it would take 17,059 trips by bicycle to equal the damage caused by an average car. The reality is that 99 percent of Montana adult bicyclists own vehicles (and many own homes, too) meaning 99 percent of all state residents riding bicycles are paying just as much in taxes as your average motorist and cost a miniscule fraction in damages. Bicycling benefits us all.
State legislators’ hang-up with bicyclists not paying for roads has absolutely nothing to do with keeping road users safe, yet this was a leading argument against safer laws.
Bike Walk Montana worked with Rep. Frank Garner from Kalispell on House Bill 267 requiring drivers to provide a defined minimum distance when passing a bicyclist, but because road safety was political this legislative session, the bill failed. Twenty-nine states have safe passing laws with proof that they do make a difference. A safe passing bill isn’t a liberal agenda. It’s just safety. Safety benefits us all.
Another myth is that bicyclists don’t contribute economically. Visiting bicyclists spend nearly $400 million each year in Montana; 40 percent more than the average motorized tourist. These are real dollars impacting real Montanans and local businesses every day in communities like Ovando, Libby, Bozeman, Big Timber, Glasgow, and Red Lodge. Bicycle tourism benefits us all.
Many proposed anti-bicycling bills were presented this legislative session, including an amendment to the Aquatic Invasive Species bill, SB-363, which would have charged out-of-state bicyclists $25 to ride in Montana. Such a fee would have hurt Montana tourism as many out-of-state bicyclists stated they would not travel to Montana if that passed. Bike Walk Montana helped to stop this anti-bicycling amendment along with several other anti-bicycling/anti-pedestrian bills before they could detrimentally impact Montana’s economy. Bicycling and walking benefits us all.
Montana should be a safe place to bicycle and walk. Thankfully, Bike Walk Montana is fighting to make bicycling and walking safe by working to get bills passed such as HB-225 which will generate funds for the maintenance of shared-use paths and bicycle/pedestrian education. Without Bike Walk Montana there would be no one at the state Legislature fighting to keep you and your loved ones safe while bicycling and walking. Bike Walk Montana is your voice for bicycling and walking. They represent you because it benefits us all.
Melinda Barnes is executive director of Bike Walk Montana.