Kass’ column on bike scofflaws is a “little” right and a lot bizarre

Today, Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass rails against “free-riding little bike people” who don’t pay for roads (wrong) and against law breaking cyclists who are rarely ticketed (true). (Registration is required to read the column).

I do agree with Kass on this point: Like motorists and even pedestrians who use yellowjacketroads recklessly, people who ride bikes should also be ticketed. We don’t endorse ticketing cyclists and drivers for minor violations that put no one at risk. Let the police focus on more important matters. But if you’re putting people at risk, a ticket is warranted whether you’re biking, walking or driving.

Unfortunately, lax enforcement of traffic laws is a problem for all modes of transportation. I agree with Kass that people biking should not get away with riding on sidewalks in the Loop and going the wrong way on one-way streets, but I also see motorists commit flagrant road violations in plain view of the police regularly, and they let it go.

On average in Chicago, 60 people are injured or killed every day in car crashes, of which about 13 are on foot or bike and 47 in cars. Bikes are rarely the cause of injury. If the police are willing to look the other way for reckless motor vehicle drivers, they aren’t likely to ticket people riding bikes.

We hear that police officers sometimes feel that traffic tickets aren’t worth the amount of time it takes to process them. We need the police to overcome this hurdle and step up traffic enforcement across the board.

As for “free-riding” cyclists – wrong! First, many people who ride bikes own cars and buy gas and vehicle stickers. Second, roads and highways are only partially funded by gas taxes and other direct user fees. A report from the Environmental Law & Policy Center found that, even counting federal funding as user-based, between 24 percent and 38 percent of road and highway money in Illinois comes from non-user fees.

As a sidenote, it’s downright bizarre how many times Kass refers to “little bike people” – he wrote it in a previous column, too. It’s obviously intended as an insult, but to me it refers to how little space we take up on the roadway, how little wear and tear we cause, and how little our facilities cost within the grand scheme of transportation dollars spent!