Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Cutting Through Party Lines, Why Cycling Shouldn't Be A Democrat Versus Republican Issue


Cycling as a political issue has little support by any political party save for the mostly invisible U.S. Green party, but the support we do get tends to come from Democrats, and some of the most vocal critics of cycling are hard-line Republicans (looking at you Patrick McHenry). Personally I'm more liberal, as are many of my cycling friends, except for my libertarian leaning cycling girlfriend, which makes for some fun intellectual debates and then we kiss and make up. But where ever you are coming from, there are a number of good reasons cycling should be embraced regardless of political party or ideology.

Cyclists have often been type cast in the role of granola eating tree huggers (I'm somewhat guilty of this), but the reality is people riding bikes come from all sorts of backgrounds, income levels, and have various personalities and political ideologies. Since most people view cycling as a liberal thing, I'm going to focus on why cycling should be embraced as a conservative thing too.

One of the hall marks of conservative ideology, is the concept of being fiscally conservative. Now the Republican party has drifted from that concept for quite a long time, and all of the biggest deficits of the past several decades have been under Republican presidents. But lets pretend for a moment that Republicans stand for fiscal conservatism.

Well nothing is as fiscally conservative and self reliant as riding a bike. There is little operating subsidy involved in riding a bike, unlike the billions and billions and even more billions we spend in tax payer dollars maintaining leviathan freeways with left overs going to public transit networks. Compared to motorists, we take up less space on roads, do less damage to them, and the dedicated paths we do have are comparatively cheap to maintain compared to auto sized roads. When it comes to parking, the space of a single car space is enough to fill an entire rack of bicycles. Cyclists are fueled by food and not barrels of imported oil, and our vehicle maintenance is generally a few little tweaks and some drops of lubricant. Since we spend less on transportation we have more money to spend on other sectors of the economy.

So encouraging more cycling through safer infrastructure (safety is often the most common cited reason keeping people off the bike) and better accommodations would in fact save money and reduce foreign oil dependence. Many republicans were quick to point to drilling for more oil as a solution, despite the limited supplies we have left to tap. However using less of the supply we already have is the most immediate and effective way to reach greater national self sufficiency. NYC Mayor Bloomberg, often described as an anomaly on the conventional political spectrum, but widely cited as a fiscal conservative despite liberal social policy, describes fiscal conservatism as doing more with less. The bicycle is a perfect example of doing more with less, as it burns even less energy (in calories) than even walking to get around. New York city is now embarking on long term strategies to promote cycling through infrastructure improvements, and other cities should be taking note of this.

Looking beyond just the energy use, there are other savings as well. Despite however much people are afraid of being killed by a car, statistically the life and health enhancing qualities of cycling are more likely to result in you living longer than shorter, and with less medical complications later in life. This is especially true if you remove the most hazardous road cycling behaviors like riding at night without lights, and riding against traffic, which result in most cycling fatalities. Cyclists typically also take less sick days from work. So compared to a typical automobile commuter we use less energy, less material resources, less land space, are more productive and have less medical costs.

Despite all these reasons that cycling should be equated with fiscal conservatism, sadly there are divisive Republican politicians and political personalities that seek to keep cycling a partisan issue. They sometimes even use political support for cycling among opposing candidates as an excuse to smear them, and will openly ridicule riding a bike as a product of the 19th century and claim it is no longer relevant. This in spite of the fact in America 40% of trips made are within 2 miles, a very easy cycling distance, and even 25% of trips are under a mile.

Rush Limbaugh, a talk show host with a massive conservative listener base and GOP leaders groveling to apologize when ever they cross him, what does he have to say on cycling? "Frankly, if the door opens into a bicycle rider I won't care. I think they ought to be off the streets and on the sidewalk." [Rush Limbaugh, Story #8] This comment is hardly surprising to me after reading Bicycling And The Law, which includes numerous references to radio hosts in some cases outright advocating for listeners to injure cyclists intentionally.

What ever the politicians and radio hosts say, there are a number of valid reasons cycling should not be a partisan issue. If the Republican party wants to remain relevant, or have any semblance of true fiscal conservatism, they should not be making cyclists into their enemy. And for cyclists seeking to advance our transportation mode, we need to be reaching out to everyone, liberals and conservatives alike. We have to convince everyone, even those who may strongly disagree with us, why cycling for transportation is a worthy investment.


LisaNewton said...

I totally agree. Bikes, riding them, and all the benefits should have no party affiliation.

Biking riding is a win/win situation for everyone.

Gary said...

At least the Republican most important to this issue right now, transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, seems to get it. Bike riding is definitely a win/win situation.

JLB said...

Ask your girlfriend if she wants a Libertarian jersey! I am a cyclist and just had a small number made!