It befuddles me why motorists in Halifax look down on cyclists with such disdain, especially when you consider that one more bike on the road means one less car.

Smart motorists should see that.

There is one problem with this principle, however. By the time all the altruistic, environmentally conscious, civic-minded people have stopped driving cars, there will only be the self-centred lazy jerks driving on near-empty roads. You can picture them behind the wheel of their fancy car or their giant SUV smiling away and thinking, “Look at all those suckers waiting for the bus in the rain.”

Sorry, that was cynical.

It would never be that way. Any able-bodied person who could leave their car at home and bike, walk or take the bus would do it and only the people who really need the convenience of a car would drive.

Anyone who rides a bike on Halifax streets deserves a medal for bravery. They should also be commended for reducing pollution, reducing wear and tear on roads, and improving their physical fitness, which will reduce their need for publicly funded health care.

Add that trifecta to the one that motorists actually care about (reducing traffic congestion) and you’ve got a great case for any cyclist to be Citizen of the Year.

So why do motorists have such hate for cyclists?

Is it the tight pants? Are they jealous when cyclists slip by on the right-hand side while cars are stuck in traffic? Motorists would never admit to that, but they will point to the minority of cyclists who don’t follow the rules of the road. Those guys are the worst because they’re so influential and make all cyclists break the rules.

So while some drivers break traffic laws and some pedestrians jaywalk, all cyclists are the same.

Sound like a double standard? Of course it is. The city’s attitude toward cyclists is reflected in the reaction to Councillor David Hendsbee’s comment in September that cyclists should pay a toll to cross the Macdonald Bridge to help pay for the ramp the city is building for cyclists to access the bridge.

Hendsbee thinks there should be more cycling infrastructure and if the city is looking for a way to fund it, getting people who use it to pay for it only makes sense.

If you think that’s a great idea, you should know that the city can’t charge a toll on the bridge because it’s not HRM’s jurisdiction. Years ago, It also scrapped a bike registration system because the bureaucracy to run it was costing the city money. Councillor Waye Mason said the city would have to charge about $200 to make money on a bike registration system and he says that’s not going to happen.

Blair Barrington, a board member at the Halifax Cycling Coalition, says the bridge has come up as the number-one barrier keeping more residents from cycling. “We have said as a city that we want to double the amount of people cycling,” Barrington says. “It’s about removing barriers, not adding more.”

Cyclists are also renters or property owners and they already pay taxes, just like motorists. I know what you’re thinking, motorists: “I pay a tax on my gas to pay for roads.”

Yes, you do, but that goes to the province for the roads it builds. It doesn’t pay for city streets, which come out of the municipal budget, Mason says.

The user-pay model is popular with some people, but it’s not how society should always work. There are some things that make society better like playgrounds, libraries, schools. We aren’t going to start charging people to use those.

Mason cites the city’s manifesto, set down in the Regional Plan, as a reason why cycling infrastructure should not follow a user-pay model: “Our number-one goal is to implement a sustainable transportation strategy by providing a choice of integrated travel modes emphasizing public transit, active transportation, car-pooling and other viable alternatives to the single-occupant vehicle.”

“That’s the law,” Mason says. “Take that, San Francisco.”

The city is slowly building an infrastructure and soon a network of trails will be connected that will make people feel safer. Then, you’ll see more people cycling so get ready for it, fossil fuel luddites, it’s coming.

If we need to find some money for this infrastructure, we should divert some of the money we spend on roads, which just keeps us on the treadmill of pollution. To wean us off cars, some of those taxes should pay for cycling infrastructure and better public transit to reduce the number of cars in the city.

We need to reduce the amount of carbon we put out. We need to reign in health-care costs. Some people have realized that having more cyclists directly supports both of these efforts.

Not enough have, though.

 

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