Five Bikers, Two Miles, $16 Million

I’m a big fan of bike lanes, as Bacon’s Rebellion readers know — but there are limits to how much money we should spend on them. Apparently, the Chesapeake City Council agrees. Yesterday the council voted to reverse a previous decision to build a two-mile, $16 million bike path paralleling a road that currently has only five bikers per day. (See today’s article in the Virginian-Pilot.)

As Virginian-Pilot columnist Kerry Dougherty railed last week:

Despite the price, all but one council member at the meeting merrily voted “yes.” And why not? The cash wasn’t coming out of Chesapeake’s coffers. This would be mostly federal and state transportation dollars.

Defending his affirmative vote, Vice Mayor Dwight Parker explained that Chesapeake couldn’t use the $16 million for anything but the bike path. “If we don’t use it,” he told me. “We lose it.” Sheesh.

That’s the quality of decision making you get when the federal government doles out money with all sorts of strings attached. The feds ought to get out of the local transportation funding business and stick to projects of national significance. It’s not clear what the state’s role was in this narrowly averted fiasco, but whatever it was, it suggests that someone is not doing a very good job of prioritizing the investment of scarce state tax dollars. Let’s hope that the NoVa and Hampton Roads regional transportation authorities are more careful. (See the previous blog entry.)

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8 responses to “Five Bikers, Two Miles, $16 Million”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    different pots of money from the Fed allocation.

    two questions:

    where would transit money come from if it were not dedicated at the Fed level – like bike money?

    JB – can you have it both ways on being a supporter of transit as a legitimate transportation mode – yet refuse the dedicated Fed money for it – on the same basis the bike money is questioned?

    which is it?

    how much is “too much” for a road?

    All parties seem to assume that the road was needed – no matter what the cost – correct?

    why not the same criteria applied to the road as to the bike trail?

    One can decry the Feds for dedicating money for bike lanes but what the locality did – was to turn down a free bike lane – on principle.

    Why did they not do that with the road money also if they feel so strongly about tax dollars?

    ..or is the idea that the road money – no matter how much.. is a good investment and the bike money is not?

    I heard through another source that if they did not refuse the bike money that it might be used against them for future road money.

    Now.. who would say such a thing and why .. further.. who would make such a decision?

  2. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Isolated bike lanes are useless.

    Under used bike lanes are the result of failure to have:

    A Regional pedestrian / bike / segway strategy and plan,

    Balanced Communities, each with agressive “Alternatives to Autonomobiles Programs”

    Systems of pathways, bikelanes on roadways and safe streets that get citizens of all ages where they want and need to go faster and safer than in Autonomobiles.

    We have proven it is possible and profitable at the Dooryard, Cluster, Neighborhood and Village Scale.

    At the Community, subregional and Regional scales it takes public investment and the first ones may seem to be unjustified by the level of current user interest.

    That is where strategies and leadership comes in — at the Regional scale.

  3. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    Yes, but it would have been a really nice bike path.

    Just like the really nice (and unused) terminal building at Manassas airport. Along with more than a dozen others, all built with 90% federal funding.

    At some point you have to be a fool to turn it down. In St. Mary’s county the “air terminal” makes a very nice police station today.

    Assume I’m a local official. Money comes my way, but only if I spend it “badly”. Is that worse than watching it get spent badly someplace else? Remember, that money gets multiplied 3X before it leaves the area.

    St. Mary’s made a silk purse out of a sows ear. Manassas has a “Freedom Museum”, which as far as I can recall consists of a collection of politically oriented posters.

    Having spent the money badly, you still have a choice as to how to make the best of it.


    Didn’t EMR once denounce Segways because they were not shared vehicles?

    “…and safe streets that get citizens of all ages where they want and need to go faster and safer than in Autonomobiles.”

    What are we going to use those streets for, if not automobiles?

    In thirty years, the only time I’ve been hurt is when I slammed my finger in the door. I have fallen off my bike a few times, once dangerously enough that I still carry the scars.

    If there is something that is both faster and safer than automobiles, it probably isn’t pedestrians or cyclists.

    I agree we do need better and more diverse systems, but let’s not promote the idea with nonsense.

  4. Ray Hyde Avatar
    Ray Hyde

    “….it takes public investment and the first ones may seem to be unjustified by the level of current user interest.”

    Lets talk about priorities here.

    We have a number of highways that have an extraordinarily high level of user interest. Yet, we have concluded that there is no point in spending money on them, because it will only generate more user interest.

    Anybody else see a problem with this line of reasoning? How are you going to invest tin the first (unjustified) bike trails, without having some that are isolated and useless? Anybody want to make that argument about roadways?

    To hear EMR explain it, the cost of living in NOVA is high because that is where people want to live, and are willing to pay for the opportunity.

    We don’t have enough money to help fund all the things people are interested in participating. A little more money on the second example might go a long way to alleviate the first example (or maybe not, we really do not know).

    Given the large public interest in some priorities, where is the political incentive to spend long term money on something that few people benefit from?

    Even at my age, ten miles on abike is reasonable, if I thought it was safe. But I don’t. And for the same reasons EMR prefers an SUV.

    I have a friend who rides thirty miles. But, he bikes one way, and drives the other, then reverses the proscess. He owns an extra car to do this.

    On any given day you can watch dozens of people arriving at the entrances to the C&O trail to ride their bikes: with their bikes on the back of their cars.

    I grew up in a bike oriented resort community. I know, and accept, the value of bikes.

    But I’m not crazy enough to think that they are an “alternative” to automobiles.

    They are an adjunct, not an alternative. We should fund them accordingly, where the interest exists. Certainly, we have got our money out of the C&O trail, and the miles of Fairfax bike paths. Certainly, there is some value in spending the money up front, before the land gets too expensive.

    I think Larry made a similar argument about roadways recently.

    So, here is the problem. Whether it is roadways or bikeways, where do you spend the money? Where land is cheap and usage is low, betting on the come? Or where land is expensive and usage is high?

    If you believe that bulding more infrastructure creates more use, and if you believe congestion is a symptom of too much use, then you would have to spend the money on new places, rather than old.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    The media has a done a horrible job reporting about this issue.

    The truth is this a $300 million project to turn rt 17 into a limited access facility. The bike path is a very small component of this project. Since the project is turning this into a limited access bridge bicycles would be banned from crossing and their current route would be terminated.

    This isn’t just a 2 mile bike path. (which would cost around $1 million) It is part of the 90′ bridge replacement (to accomodate ships on the intracoastal waterway) over the Elizabeth river.
    Since bridge replacements are a 50 year commitment AND the there are no good alternate routes across the river, bicycles and pedestrians will never be able to get across this corridor.

    Given the rate of growth in Cheasapeake, let’s look back at this project in 50 years and see if this isn’t a enormous mistake.

    Classic uninformed citizenry, complaining about the use of federal money to improve the quality of life in their own localitiy.

  6. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    …Classic uninformed citizenry..

    and what did the media do to better inform folks about the issue?

    What the media did was to fan the flames of ignorance by trumpheting the views of those who question bike trails….

    and I ask the same question again – what makes this particular road improvement a cost effective expenditure of limited road funds?

    I’m not saying that it is not but I am saying that the same folks who decry the cost effectiveness of a bike trail – don’t know what the meaning of cost-effectiveness is not only for the bike-trail but for roads either.

    The Feds and elected Congressmen and Senators apparently believe that this is a place for Fed-funded bike trails.

    You and I could disagree with this in principle – assuming one was willing to look at the cost-effectiveness issue for transportation projects in general – like light rail, transit and to include “bridges to nowhere” but I’ll be the same folks who railed against the cost of the bike trail would be among the first to take Fed money for a new tunnel crossing – no matter how cost-effective it would be or not.

    as a society – one of our biggest failures is to use uniform non-contradictory (self-consistent) criteria when forming opinons and formulating public policy.

    Instead.. we pick and choose like kids grabbing candy from a box of chocolates… no rhyme or reason.. just what you think you like or don’t like.


  7. This trick that “well we have to approve this boondoggle because otherwise we lose the free money” has been going on at least since the 1930s. Surely, there’s a way to fund transportation projects that actually meet objective standards for public benefit. The state of Virginia has such standards. What’s broken at the federal level?

  8. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    At the Fed level – most our own elected folks are NOT opposed to earmarks which are not that different from bike money NOR would the be opposed to specific road money earmarks for Virginia projects.

    So .. what is wrong at the Fed level is also wrong at the Va level because none of our elected, nor VDOT nor our localities would turn down “free” road money.. would they?

    So.. it’s not the idea that the money is “free” or not – it’s really about the purpose of the “free” money.

    And the bottom line is that Virginia takes the “free money” unless they want to make some point about free money for “useless” bike lanes.

    Have we ever seen Va officials turn down “free” highway money on the same grounds?


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