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PG Letter

This topic contains 35 replies, has 20 voices, and was last updated by  Benzo 6 mos, 3 weeks.

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jkoutrouba

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Dec 24 2013 at 10:54am #

http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/letters/2013/12/24/Cyclists-must-pay/stories/201312240018

I’ll admit to being a little lazy here, but I was curious about the sources of funding for highways in PA. I have this conception that vehicle and gas taxes do not cover the costs of building and maintaining roads, but I have no way to substantiate it. The best I could find is this paper from 2006 from the University of Iowa: http://www.uiowa.edu/~ipro/Papers%202006/roadfunding012307.pdf If this information is still correct, then fees and taxes pay for about two-thirds of it. That’s a lot. I don’t know how to fund infrastructure in a bicycle-only world; the fact is that bicyclists benefit from public spending that derives much of it’s source from cars and their associated operating expenses.

I’m fairly certain that arguing things like this will not change many opinions, but I’m not sure what else to do. I find it especially frustrating when reading letters like this that there is just enough truth in them that they cannot be dismissed out of hand. In this case, there are requirements for lights on bicycles, and I would prefer to see people use them (because I’m frequently on the other side of that steering wheel, and I agree that the invisible bicyclist, pedestrian, or other car with its lights off is not fun to navigate).

Has anyone had any success with changing minds?


byogman

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Dec 24 2013 at 11:24am #

I put this in the PG comments, but

This source from January 2013 says use fees (gas taxes, tools, etc) cover 1/3: http://taxfoundation.org/article/gasoline-taxes-and-tolls-pay-only-third-state-local-road-spending.

It’s certainly true that as cyclist I enjoy having roads to ride in. It’s not true that I’m not paying for them. Mostly, everyone pays for them out of general revenues regardless of how they use them.

How much we should pay is partly philosophical if you believe taxes should be aligned to benefit. But a more logical and efficient use of taxes is to discourage negative externalities, and the costs we as cyclists put on the system as exists is negligible since wear goes by axle weight^4 (page 33 in http://www.nvfnorden.org/lisalib/getfile.aspx?itemid=261) .

I responded to some other PG letters, heck, I even wrote one. But most people don’t think, most of the time. They feel (in this case, annoyed), and then rationalize something to fit their emotions. It’s very hard to actually reach someone just because the rationalization falls apart, the rationalization was never the driving factor.

Probably the most good I did in terms of changing hearts and minds was when I was test marketing my own letter with one stranger in a waiting room and with non-cyclist friends and family members to whom I’m saying something foreign, but who care about me personally enough to try to understand.


jonawebb

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Dec 24 2013 at 3:06pm #

I read somewhere that in PA the gas tax really does cover the road construction. I’ll see if I can find the source.
Even if that’s true, I’m sure that only includes the state share, BTW — not the Federal funds, of course, as well as local road maintenance.
OK, here’s something from PAHouse.com:
“In Pennsylvania, transportation funding comes from
a variety of sources, including:
? Federal funds (highway and public transit);
? Liquid fuels taxes (state gas tax);
? Licenses and fees;
? Transfers from the Pennsylvania Turnpike (tolls and bonding prescribed in Act 44 of 2007);
? Sales tax;
? Lottery proceeds;
? General Fund monies and
? Other minor sources such as fines from moving violations.”
Here’s a breakdown:
Motor license fund 41%
General fund 6%
Lottery fund 3%
Pub Trans Assist fund 3%
Federal funds 28%
Restricted revenues 18%
Other fund 2%
from http://issuespa.org/content/transportation-infrastructure-funding-transportation-pennsylvania


ericf

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Dec 24 2013 at 5:44pm #

If the letter had stopped after the second sentence, I would agree 100%. Unfortunately she went too far. Way too far.


StuInMcCandless

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Dec 25 2013 at 4:26pm #

My 2 cents added.


Pierce

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Dec 25 2013 at 4:56pm #

Even if we’re not paying gas taxes at the pump, our other taxes are still being used to subsidize oil companies, oil exploration, corn growers, ethanol research, huge defense department budgets to secure oil interests abroad, etc, etc, etc

“If bicyclists want the “freedom” to ride on the roads, well, like everything else in life, it is not free.”

I wish I could be free from the double standards that exists in the minds of people like this


Kordite

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Dec 26 2013 at 8:46am #

When it comes to road taxes and bikes paying their fair share, I worked a few things out. Let me copy and paste from a previous posting I made in the Intertubes a few years back:

Does it seem right to you that the amount of damage a vehicle does to the road, and thus the comparable amount of money needed to repair and maintain the road, would be a fair measure? Driving a vehicle that causes a lot of wear and tear should cost more than driving a vehicle that causes little damage. You break it you buy it. Fair, right?

Vehicle road damage is calculated by engineers as vehicle speed times weight to the fourth power. On my bike, I average a little over 10 mph. A typical car on city streets will go 20 – 30 mph and on the highway will go around 60 mph (if not faster). On the streets I share with cars I tend to drive faster and cars tend to go a little slower (not the 60 mph highway speed) so let’s assume a nice round number and say that cars go 3 times what I do. Me on my bike totals about 250 pounds. The average vehicle on the road is an SUV at about 2 tons, that’s 16 times what I weigh. Sixteen to the 4th power is 65,536. And multiply that by the 3 times as fast number from before is 196,608. So, a typical American vehicle causes nearly two hundred thousand times the damage to the road that I do. I would need to commute back and forth to work on the same route for 378 years to cause the same amount of damage to the road that a single trip in an SUV would cause.

How much would that actually cost? Registration for my automobile is $36 annually. If my fair share of that is based on the amount of damage caused by my bike, 36.00 / 196608= .0001831. Paying a penny every hundred years is fair, right? No? Well, municipalities that have tried registration have found that they have to charge $20 just to cover the costs of administering registration. If I have to register my bike for $20 then it would be fair to register your car for $4 million, right? No?

OK. Comparing registration fees are silly, mostly because registration fees don’t actually go towards fixing roads. For that we need to be looking at gas taxes. Since bicycles don’t use gasoline at all, perhaps it would be fair to calculate it on a per-mile basis. Well, it’s not really fair because the car tire interface with the road (where the damage is being caused) is many times larger than that of a bike tire but, for the ease of calculating I’ll ignore that for now.

The gas tax in Pennsylvania is about 50 cents a gallon. I think 30-some cents of that is the actual PA tax and the rest is the federal tax. Since average gas mileage is 20-24 miles per gallon (and, astonishingly, that number hasn’t changed much since the invention of the automobile) a typical driver is paying between about 2 and 2.5 cents per mile in taxes. I found a number that estimates that the average mileage for a typical driver is 13,476 miles, meaning that a driver might typically pay about $300 annually in gas taxes. I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a bargain to me.

On my bike, I typically rack up about 3,000 miles a year. At 2 to 2.5 cents per mile, that would be about $70. But wait! Remember that my bike is causing 1/200,000 times the damage of the car. My fair share for the miles I ride on my bike is something on the order of four cents every hundred years.

If that’s my fair share, I’d gladly pay that. Sure. No problem. Send me a bill.

But let’s, for the sake of argument, say that my fair share is based on my mileage and not by the amount of damage my bike causes riding on the road. This would be comparable to a big heavy truck paying the same gas tax per mile as a compact car. Completely unrealistic and completely unfair but it’s the kind of simplistic logic a politician might sign on for so we’ll let that go for now. Let’s say that my fair share is exactly the same as a car’s on a per mile basis, 2 to 2.5 cents per mile, 3,000 miles, $70 total.

I’ve already paid it.

I am a member of about a dozen different trail groups. There is about $300 a year that I donate to these trail groups, money that goes towards building and maintaining the trails that I use. I pay my fair share four times over. When the C&O Canal experienced a washout, cyclists and other trail users donated $100,000 to repair the trail. When was the last time a driver voluntarily donated money to help pay for the roads he uses? I know the answer to that one: never. Not one dime has ever been sent voluntarily. Not one driver has ever said “Wow, this road has some potholes. I know. I’ll send PennDOT a check for $20 so they can fill this hole.” In fact, most drivers gripe about every penny they pay in taxes and are, no doubt, going to actively oppose the governor’s efforts to raise the gas tax to pay for the roads they are using.

So I don’t want to hear any more nonsense about cyclists not paying their fair share.


Swalfoort

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Dec 26 2013 at 9:29am #

I realize that the details are important, but I am not certain that taking a step back to look at the big picture would not be belpful here.

Yes, drivers pay taxes on their gasoline (or diesel). They pay to register their vehicles.

The funds generated do not cover the entire cost of creating and maintaining our infrastructure. So, other resources (including general fund, or tax dollars) are used. The amount of general tax revenue used depends in large part is determined on how large the gap is between what comes in from the fuel taxes, and what is needed in expenditures.

Critical in that equation are several variables, including: cost of fuel, rate of tax on said fuel and fuel efficiency, among them.

CAFE standards for fuel efficiency have resulted in tremendous advancement in fuel efficiency (mpg ratings). The driver of a car that gets 40 miles to the gallon pays a lot less in fuel tax than the driver of a heap that gets 20 miles to the gallon, assuming they drive the same number of miles. Drivers of hybrid or alt fuel cars pay even less.

So, virtually every vehicle out there has a better fuel efficiency rating than a comparable car would have had 15 years ago. Which is when the current level of fuel taxation was set.

So, drivers are driving more efficient cars, buying less fuel (presumably) and paying a tax rate that was last adjusted in 1997.

I can’t think of much that I might have bought in 1997 that I would expect to pay the same rate for in 2013. Electronics, maybe, I guess.

Bottom line, motorists ARE paying into the liquid fuels tax. Good for them (I mean us). But, the amount that they are paying is a) less than they think and b) goes way less far than they think. (Note: that is my personal opinion.)

So motorists are paying non-CPI adjusted tax rates on a common commodity (gasoline), those revenues are being stretched to their very limits, and drivers are upset that they might have to pay slightly more at the pump. But, they feel that they pay their share for infrastructure.

I would argue that as a motorist and a cyclist (and a regular transit user), the value of my “investment” from the gas pump goes a lot further to protecting the resources that we have than it would if I drove my car every mile I travel. I still travel a lot of miles, but my carbon footprint (or infrastructure wear equivalent) is lowered by my use of those other modes. Maybe by doing so, I am in fact paying MORE than my fair share.

Thoughts?


J Z

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Dec 27 2013 at 9:14am #

http://news.yahoo.com/city-cycling-grows-does-bike-tax-temptation-162607878.html


Mikhail

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Dec 27 2013 at 9:27am #

J Z wrote:
http://news.yahoo.com/city-cycling-grows-does-bike-tax-temptation-162607878.html

I don’t mind to pay $25 per yearly city taxes as soon as:
1. Car owners pay $250 per year taxes per car.
2. All bike lanes, trail are cleaned up of debris and snow after emergency routes but before secondary roads.
3. Cops start to ticket drivers for getting into bike lane and 4 ft violations.


edmonds59

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Dec 27 2013 at 9:44am #

I still haven’t read the original letter. I’ve made a conscious effort not to shit up my holidays with the same old anti-bike cyclophobic bullshit. I’m taking a little mental health break. I do want to commend everyone who has put serious thought and effort into the issue. I imagine at some point in the new year the talons will come out with renewed vigor.


byogman

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Dec 27 2013 at 10:02am #

Well, for the rest of us staring at a pole, it’s all just in the spirit of the “airing of grievances”. Up next, “feats of strength”?


gg

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Dec 27 2013 at 5:40pm #

I think at some point cyclist are going to be paying. It is just going to happen.

http://news.yahoo.com/city-cycling-grows-does-bike-tax-temptation-162607878.html


Mikhail

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Dec 27 2013 at 6:26pm #

gg wrote:I think at some point cyclist are going to be paying. It is just going to happen.

http://news.yahoo.com/city-cycling-grows-does-bike-tax-temptation-162607878.html

Look 4 posts up. :)


StuInMcCandless

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Dec 27 2013 at 7:30pm #

“> View Comments (5783)”

I don’t even want to go there.

Also, my friend in Fort Lauderdale says they have a $1/bike registration fee down there. Basically it does what Bike-Pgh’s “I heart my bike” thing does, and has helped recover a couple of bikes.

I think the strategy for fighting this is to say, OK, we’ll go along with it, provided that whoever wants it also figures out a way to pay for it, since it will be an added cost to the city (or whatever). And when they call to set it high enough to actually cover costs, the hue and cry will be so loud the whole measure will be shouted down. That, and someone will crunch the numbers to show (and also call for) the costs to the city (or whatever) for car accommodation should by rights be set much higher.

So I am not too worried about it. The very idea is ultimately self-defeating.

As ever, just getting more people out on bikes will solve more problems than it causes. Keep your eye on the prize, folks.


gg

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Dec 27 2013 at 7:46pm #

Mikhail wrote:Look 4 posts up. :)

Oops.


Drewbacca

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Dec 28 2013 at 2:49am #

You can also respond to these arguments with a similar counter argument… i.e. how often do cars pay for on-street parking? It’s a matter of what we are used to, but frankly, looking at all those cars parked on the street is one big eyesore. Do drivers pay their fair share to take up that space on the road that could be used for other things (or even just making the road safer due to wider margins and better visibility?).

The example I give is based on personal experience while I was living in Seattle when condos were going up all over the place, but they had garages much too small for anything other than a sub-compact, at best. The builders were taking advantage of the fact that on street parking was free. They were putting up buildings that hogged resources and packing four family units densely into what was previously a single family lot.

It’s all about perspective. The free-rider idea can be attributed to just about anything with a little imagination.


gg

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Dec 28 2013 at 9:36am #

Maybe people should be paid to ride a bike in the city?

1. We help keep the pollution in the city down, which can lead to economical growth. Just look up Toyota not choosing Houston because of air pollution.
2. Cycling to and from work will cut down on road maintenance because simply we weigh a lot less than cars.
3. If more people cycled asthma rates would drop in schools due to cleaner air.
4. Quality of life in our city increases with less traffic and people getting healthy because they are getting exercise to and from work.

Stu or anyone else have more to add? I feel we are being ripped off and should be compensated for improving our city.


jkoutrouba

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Dec 28 2013 at 11:53am #

how often do cars pay for on-street parking?

The author of the letter raised that very issue. She was upset that bikes do not have to pay for parking at meters like cars do. This is an example of how difficult this issue is. When the author says pay for parking, she’s talking about the tiny fraction of the time that she parks in a metered space (or perhaps even in a garage downtown). When you talk about paying for parking (sorry to put words in your mouth here) you’re talking about the vast majority of the time when your car is parked in a non-metered space on the street.

I have no problem paying a registration fee for my bike, or taking a test to get a “license.” But everyone is not me. There will be people who are unwilling to pay, and will not ride as a consequence. And what about my kids? Do I buy each of them tags and make them take tests, too? And what about people out there who are riding bikes BECAUSE they can’t afford this kind of crap?

Here’s the really bad part: I’m almost willing to do it all just so I can eliminate this line of complaining. I know damn well that people in cars don’t like bikes because cyclists slow them down or they feel like the rules are not fairly applied (e.g., in the cases where bikes run lights or stop signs). All the fees, taxes, tests, and license plates in the word will not change that. Drivers who are inclined to complain will still complain.


joanne

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Dec 28 2013 at 1:14pm #

Disclosure: I didn’t read the original letter (I am trying to lighten my life by avoiding the kind of drivel posted in the P-G letters section).

That said, these complaints about fees and cycling parking are all such petty side-issue BS.

Taking the issue away from bikes vs. cars for a moment, I think most people would agree that if we want less of something, we should tax it; if we want more of something, we should subsidize it. It’s also a simple fact that more people on bikes mean fewer people in cars (I’m sure it’s not 1:1–’twould be interesting to put actual numbers to this if there is research on how many cars healthy cycling policies take off the road). So when she argues for more burdens on cyclists, she is undeniably arguing for more cars on the road, and more cars competing for her precious parking spaces.

I think this is going to be my mantra from now on when I get in these arguments–”so what you’re saying is, you want more cars on the road? How’s that been working for us so far?”

ETA: Also, neither cars nor bikes pay fees, parking, etc. People pay for various things based on their individual transportation and life choices. (Apparently I cannot resist getting drawn into petty side-issue P-G letters BS after all).


StuInMcCandless

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Dec 28 2013 at 7:43pm #

I don’t think I have too much more to say here. Mayor Peduto has established that he’s fully in support of biking and transit as primary transportation. Bike-Pgh has already gotten City Council to pass legislation removing some parking minimums.

I think the ball is squarely in our court. How do we get more people to ride more often, in more weather and lighting conditions? People’s minds will change, sooner or later.

As I’ve been saying seemingly forever, “anything but the car”. How do we get there? I say two things: A) Background information (education, training); B) Preparation (making sure people actually do have lights, helmets, rain gear).


edmonds59

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Dec 28 2013 at 8:08pm #

StuInMcCandless wrote:How do we get more people to ride more often, in more weather and lighting conditions?

Well, lights and rain gear, at any rate ;)

Prior to 1964, motorcycling in the US was pretty much limited to black leather clad hard-core enthusiasts and outliers. Then this came along;
I believe this is prescient to the current state of biking as well. Honda is now the most successful vehicle manufacturer on the planet. Normalize riding. The Bike Pgh! “Rider” billboards are a major step in the right direction.


HiddenVariable

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Dec 29 2013 at 3:46am #

for what it’s worth, i’ve been constantly impressed with a) the number of riders still going as the weather goes to hell, and 2) the percentage of those riders who are properly lighted. in, say, 2006, or hell, even 2010, if you did see an after-dark winter rider (which you mostly didn’t), they certainly didn’t have a light. now, the only people i see without lights are within an hour or so of sunset, and there are so many others, with lights. people will surely still complain, but it seems there is a lower and lower percentage of light-less bikers every year.


Pierce

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Dec 29 2013 at 10:36pm #

Well I guess if we were charged for parking, we’d still be able to park for free in privately held lots like grocery stores and stuff right? You know, like all the cars. Don’t think GE is going to start charging us to use their toaster (or good) racks

Maybe we should start requiring licenses for pedestrians too
Look at all the intersections they’re crossing for free
And don’t even get me started on joggers
And look at all the accidents they cause, the street crossers
We should probably charge more for people with strollers
More freeloaders


RustyRed

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Dec 29 2013 at 10:54pm #

Pierce wrote:

Maybe we should start requiring licenses for pedestrians too
Look at all the intersections they’re crossing for free
And don’t even get me started on joggers
And look at all the accidents they cause, the street crossers
We should probably charge more for people with strollers
More freeloaders

+1


salty

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Dec 29 2013 at 11:49pm #

How much higher are the prices at Mad Mex to subsidize their free valet parking? Why not free bus tickets or cab rides rather than essentially encouraging drunk driving?

Similarly at Giant Eagle. That parking lot didn’t magically appear for free, it’s built into the prices. Not to mention “fuelperks” – can I opt out of that and just pay less? Worse, since it’s a per-tank, per-gallon discount, it amounts to an even bigger subsidy for gargantuan vehicles with large tanks.


salty

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Dec 30 2013 at 12:00am #

BTW, I’d also like to pull a stunt where I gather enough parking permits ($20 per vehicle), and use them to create a bike lane on Negley Ave between Fair Oaks and Wilkins by putting up cones with the stickers on them. If I just did the uphill parts in each direction I’d probably only need 20 permits. AFAICT there is no limit on the number of stickers per household but they do require a vehicle registered at that address… So I’m not sure how to game it unless I get some neighbors in on my scheme.


Steven

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Dec 30 2013 at 12:22am #

“Not to mention “fuelperks” – can I opt out of that and just pay less?”

You can, more or less. Call their customer service center and ask for a trade-in. Every fifty cents in fuelperks becomes $5 off your bill the next time you use your card for groceries. (So if you buy less than 10 gallons of gas at a time, a trade-in is a better deal.)

It works out to a 2% discount if you do trade-ins. But a big truck buying gas could get the equivalent of 4-5%.


salty

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Dec 30 2013 at 1:59am #

I did not know that, thanks. The wife’s car has a 12ish gallon tank so it’s pretty close. I’ve also entertained the idea of taking a few gas cans with me to get the full 30 gal.


jkoutrouba

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Dec 30 2013 at 7:45am #

Just to keep the pendulum on the right side of the pivot, I make a strong distinction between the State of Pennsylvania and a private business. Yes, you are paying something for that free parking at Giant Eagle. But you have a choice if you don’t like it (you can go somewhere else where you also pay something for the free parking). (On second thought, does the new Aldi’s on Baum have a lot?) If you don’t like the way your tax dollars are spent on highway construction or maintenance, you have one vote to make a difference, and you go to jail if you just decide not to pay.

Before lining up your gas cans, read the rules carefully. I know you are explicitly not allowed to fill more than one vehicle on a transaction, but I’m not sure about gas cans. Personally, I don’t want that stuff in my garage just to save a couple extra cents.


jonawebb

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Dec 30 2013 at 10:13am #

The pressure for on-street parking comes ultimately from the same place as the “need” for private lots, i.e., consumers who drive to shop.
OTOH they just put a bunch of staple racks in Squirrel Hill. Not enough to replace the spaces lost when they took out the parking meters, though.
Oh, and there’s a pro-bike letter in the PG: http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/letters/2013/12/30/Money-for-bicycle-only-routes-would-be-worth-it/stories/201312300029.


RustyRed

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Dec 30 2013 at 10:32am #

jonawebb wrote:
Oh, and there’s a pro-bike letter in the PG: http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/letters/2013/12/30/Money-for-bicycle-only-routes-would-be-worth-it/stories/201312300029.

TWO, actually! :D

http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/letters/2013/12/30/Water-and-toxins/stories/201312300036


Ahlir

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Jan 1 2014 at 10:24pm #


BTW, I’d also like to pull a stunt where I gather enough parking permits ($20 per vehicle), and use them to create a bike lane on Negley Ave between Fair Oaks and Wilkins by putting up cones with the stickers on them. If I just did the uphill parts in each direction I’d probably only need 20 permits. AFAICT there is no limit on the number of stickers per household

Actually there is a limit: it’s either 1 or maybe 2 per household (I forget), plus one (1) extra that you can assign to a short-time visitor. I don’t recall offhand if this could apply to Negley; the street needs to be part of a designated permit zone.

It may be simpler to invest in some paint…

And speaking of reasonable improvements: on Forbes, why can’t we have the curb lanes between Wilkins and Craig sharrowed? You’d think that CMU, if not the city, would have an interest in making that stretch safe for all users (especially bikers, pedestrians). Though I guess I’d settle for some occasional speed limit enforcement.


salty

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Jan 1 2014 at 11:13pm #

I probably wouldn’t be able to pull it off due to the vehicle registration requirements, but I did do some research. I picked that street specifically because it is in my permit area (Z) – although I did realize after I posted it that there’s only parking on one side so my scheme to do both uphills wouldn’t work. And, if there’s a limit, I can’t find it published on the web site

Obviously I could just go paint some lines, but the point was to do it “legally”. Not that slapping the sticker on a cone is allowed, but… I mean, if they’re only netting like $500/yr for all that prime real estate, why should it be exclusively for cars?


salty

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Jan 1 2014 at 11:17pm #

Also, I assume you mean Forbes between Beeler and Craig. I’m still holding out hope for a road diet with dedicated bike lanes there like in the CMU plan. The only purpose having 4 lanes serves is allowing assholes to drive 50.


Benzo

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Jan 3 2014 at 10:27am #

Ahlir wrote:Actually there is a limit: it’s either 1 or maybe 2 per household (I forget), plus one (1) extra that you can assign to a short-time visitor. I don’t recall offhand if this could apply to Negley; the street needs to be part of a designated permit zone.

I have at least 3 vehicles for my house (1 car per person there).

I think that the limit It may be based on the registrant of the vehicle. I’ve had 2 registered vehicles under my own name with parking permits at the same time as well.

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