Letters to the editor, February 17, 2016

These are the letters and comments from the print edition

Pedal pushing

With regard to the two letters recently published in The Coast, the Halifax Cycling Coalition would like to lend our support to everyone who rides a bicycle year-round ("Snow Justice" by Warren Heiti, January 28, and "Don't winter bike" by Larry Cooke, February 11).

Last week was Winter Bicycle Week, where over 200 people attended events to celebrate winter riding and better community planning. Halifax is lucky to have a mild winter climate, which makes us like Copenhagen, where 70 percent of people still ride their bicycles in the winter, including the 80 percent of bicycle commuters who are not deterred by snow. Even if we had a more challenging winter, like Oulu in Finland, we could aspire to maintaining a 12 percent bicycle commute rate year-round.

As for Mr. Cooke's assertion that "I pay property taxes and own a motor vehicle which also costs me, and some of the money I pay goes toward services which you seem to expect for free," we need to pour ice-cold water on his thoughts. First, everyone in the city pays property taxes. Second, car expenses such as the gas tax and registration fees are not used for road repair in the city. The provincial gas tax ($252 million/year) and the Registry of Motor Vehicles profit ($85 million/year) only fund 85 percent of the approximately $400 million spent maintaining (construction, paving, snow clearing, etc.) our provincial highway system each year. Taxpayers subsidize the rest.

Halifax's share of the federal gas tax, approximately $25 million, would not cover the $70 million cost of maintaining city streets each year, even if it were spent on roads. Instead, the city spends part of its gas tax revenues buying buses and ferries, and puts only $15 million to street maintenance. The rest comes from property taxes.

That's right: 22 percent of the city's road expenses are funded by driving-related costs, while everyone, including people who ride bicycles, use transit or walk, fund the remaining 78 percent through mandatory property taxes.

The city spends less than one percent of its road budget on bicycle lanes, despite more than one percent of people choosing to ride bicycles. People who choose not to drive are massively subsidizing the city's road construction budget, even if you consider the expenses paid by delivery vehicles who bring goods close to non-drivers' homes.

People who walk, bike and take transit should not be forced to subsidize society's car addiction. People who choose to drive should not be forcing a car-only view on society either. As Mr. Cooke put it, "no pay, no say." —Ben Wedge, chair, Halifax Cycling Coalition

Larry Cooke just wrote the most ill-informed letter on cycling that I've seen in some time. Let's take a deeper look at some of his points.

1) "We have real winter here." Yes we do, and they have even more real winter in Montreal and Ottawa. If Larry were to go there, he'd see awesome cycling infrastructure, and more cyclists on the roads in winter than we ever see here. Winter cycling is very possible, and very safe, when the city does its job clearing roads of snow. (This year, Halifax is doing pretty well.)

2) "Just walk to work, or take the bus for the winter." Well, when I cycled to work year-round, I had to go from west end Halifax to the Bedford Institute of Oceanography. The trip by bus took 90 minutes, and the first bus in the morning got me to work 30 minutes late. I'm a government employee, Larry. You don't want me late for work, because then you might complain about the 30 minutes of your tax money being wasted each day. Walking to work took even longer than taking the bus. But I biked it in less than 20 minutes, using the bike lane on the Macdonald Bridge (which my tax dollars helped build).

3) "No pay, no say"? Sorry Larry, I pay, and every person you see riding a bike pays too. Through our tax dollars, we pay to build and maintain all the roads you drive your car on. Even apartment dwellers pay, because their property taxes (for their building) are built into their rent. We very much have a say, thanks very much.

But there's a silver lining in all this for you, Larry. Every person you see riding a bike in winter isn't driving a car that might take that parking spot you want before you can get to it.

You're welcome. —Peter Bartlett, year-round cyclist, pedestrian and car driver, Halifax

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