Sunday, February 17, 2013

What the Car Tax, the 'Single File Bill' and Snow Removal Have in Common



Until this past Friday, I haven't biked at all in the last two weeks and I certainly haven't written about it, either. You see, my wife and I have been renovating our kitchen, which is a wallet-draining and time-consuming exercise that has long ago transformed from a 'project' to an 'undertaking.' My creative impulses are spent on things like trying to make a cup of coffee using fewer than three rooms in our house. But enough of that. 

During my unwanted hiatus, talk of a bill that would force cyclists to ride single file have begun, as has been the discussion of ending the car tax. 

Ever feel like you can't leave kids alone for a second before they get into trouble?

Never mind.

Let me talk about those two things as a person who drives a bigger SUV than I need but is also regularly uncertain as to how many bicycles I own. And I do hope that Connecticut legislators and Governor Malloy have a chance to read this, so please pass this along as I don't want transport in this state to grind to a halt. 

First the car tax. It is truly, truly annoying. But I pay it, and its existence is another thing on the list that stops my wife and I from buying a second car. As big as our SUV is, it's the only car we have between us. Between bikes, buses and her using Metro North to get to work, we can manage okay with one car. 

This is good for Connecticut, and particularly for Stamford, where we live. Our decision not to own a second car means everyone who lives and works around us has one more available parking space when they get to their destination and one less car between them and a traffic light before it cycles from red to green and back again. It means there is one less car clogging Rt. 106 going in or out of New Canaan on a weekday and one less car squirming its way through Ridgeway Plaza. 

It also means one less car parked legally on the street when a blizzard arrives. I say this because when we talk about more cars 'on the road' we often forget that a good number of them have to park on the road when not in use, and just ask any DOT plow operator how much faster roads would be passable post-snowstorm if there were fewer parked cars for them to contend with. It makes me wonder how much more of my tax dollars go into snow removal because parked cars make the process take longer. Anyone else?


I know the car tax is hated, but tell me: what tax isn't? The problem with the car tax isn't that it is there, but that Connecticut lawmakers haven't figured out how to offset the disgust. If I knew the taxes I was paying on my SUV were going straight to better sidewalks, bike lanes, bus routes and other infrastructure improvements, I'd want the car tax doubled. 

When you pause and think about it, there are only one of two things  government has the power to do: one is encourage, the other is to discourage. Tax incentives may encourage home ownership, bureaucratic red tape may discourage businesses from starting up. Since taxes and regulations are certainties, they ought to be tweaked to encourage things we all want and discourage things we don't want. When Connecticut pushes for the end of the car tax, they're encouraging more second, third and fourth cars to hit the roads, and in case you haven't noticed, more cars on the road isn't what any part of this state needs right now. 

The 'Single File' bill relates to this too, but first I need to do a bit of finger-wagging to my fellow two-wheeled friends: We all like group rides but the 'share the road' idiom works both ways. Do make an effort to get into single file formation when a car appears behind you (and there is no shame in buying a helmet-mounted rearview mirror so you can see it coming). I say this not just because it is good manners, but because it isn't hard to imagine the circumstances under which the 'Single File' bill came into being: a few drivers were caught behind one pack of cyclists too many, and got on the phone with their representative in a huff. 

So now, cyclists are facing the possibility that riding alongside your child or having a pleasant chat while pedaling on a Connecticut road worthy of the 'Still Revolutionary' commercial could be against the law. This would not only affect recreational riders but also practical riders like me who try - when the weather is decent and I remembered to charge my bike lights - to leave the car at home and try to go to work or to the grocery store on a bike. I don't need to tell anyone that two side-by-side bicycles still take up less space than one car, let alone two, and a person on a bike means the person who passes them in a car has another shot at a parking space and a better chance of making it to where they are going one traffic light faster. 

So here is what I'd like to have happen: I want my bicycle-riding friends to make a real effort to ride single file when cars appear behind them. I also want them to stop weaseling their way through red traffic lights. It infuriates motorists and makes them think and feel you are not of this earth and do not play by the same rules that they do. In fact, I think we could go a long way in cyclist/motorist relations if we all make an effort to not only stop when cars do, but if we were to look into the faces of motorists (maybe even removing the sunglasses that, let's face it, often make us look like aerodynamic space aliens) and smile. It'll serve as a reminder that we are actual human beings - with pulses, families and everything - and given enough time motorists will stop seeing cyclists as obstacles and start seeing us as comrades in commuting trying to get somewhere. 


I also want Governor Malloy and the Connecticut legislature to keep the car tax and market it better so we at least feel that, by paying it, we're helping the state build a better infrastructure made for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists - preferably in that order.  I also want the 'Single File' bill to disappear from whence it came. Connecticut roads are crowded enough as they are, so let's not look for ways to push people off of bikes and back into cars to get where they are going.

I'll see you at the next red light. Thanks for reading and thanks for riding. 

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