The C Is for Crank

State Rep. Ed Orcutt (R-18, Kalama) took the lead denouncing the $10 billion transportation package today during the floor debate; it lost 48-42.  

But he got his choicest shots in yesterday, offering a parade of Republican amendments to the package (and making the tortured argument that light rail would hurt Vancouver by sending jobs to Portland ... which has light rail). Also yesterday, Orcutt had a few pointed words for his colleague Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34, W. Seattle) who proposed an amendment modestly increasing funding for bike and pedestrian projects in the package:

We are all sad when a pedestrian or a bicyclist gets hit and loses their life or is critically injured. But Mr. Speaker, let’s not forget there are many people driving automobiles on some of our oards that are narrow, that are winding, that have short sight distances for people pulling out. We have a number of people that are dying on those highways because we haven’t done enough to address those safety issues for automobiles. So Mr. Speaker, I’m rising in opposition to this not because of a lack of concern for bicylists, but because I need to reiterate that we have to have a concern for the motorists out there. They’re paying the lion’s share of all of the taxes that are going to fund our transportation projects and we need to make sure that we are providing adequate safety for them as well.

Shorter version: It's sad when cyclists get run over, but drivers should come first.

Orcutt—who once claimed that cyclists cause pollution because they breathe heavily, is well known to have only a passing acquaintence with the facts. Nonetheless, the fact is, bike and pedstrian improvements (which make up a tiny fraction of the transportation package—$323 million out of a $10 billion package) actually make the roads safer for drivers, too.

In New York City, for example, a 2011 study by the mayor's office concluded that "When protected bike lanes are installed, injury crashes for all road users (drivers, pedestrians, cyclists), typically drop by 40 percent and by more than 50 percent in some locations."

An analysis of fatal crashes in 24 California cities, meanwhile, found that cities with high rates of bicycling had fewer fatalaties among all road users, including drivers, compared to cities with low bicycling rates, in part because crashes tended to occur at lower speeds (meaning people were driving more slowly).

And a 2006 University of Texas study concluded that painted bike lanes improve safety for both cyclists and drivers by preventing over-correction by both and keeping them in their respective lanes.

As for Orcutt's claim that "the lion's share of all the taxes that are going to fund our transportation projects" are shouldered by drivers: That's just false. In reality, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan tax research group (and verified by many other sources), in 2010, highway user taxes and fees made up just 32 percent of state and local road expenses ($49 billion raised nationwide vs. $155 billion spent). The rest was paid for by general tax revenues paid by everyone, including federal aid.

It's not just that Orcutt is lying. It's that the "war on cars" framework—the idea that cyclists and pedestrians (and remember, we're all pedestrians) are stealing money from deserving drivers persists despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We all pay the price for that misconception, through a lopsided transportation funding system that dedicates billions to roads while starving bike facilities and sidewalks, all in the name of "fairness."

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