The Well-Tempered Bicycle Commuter: December 2008

By Steve Chambers

A bicycle commuter’s Christmas wishlist.
by Steve Chambers
Dear Santa,

I’ve been a good boy all year, really. If you check your lists, I’m sure you’ll find me on the "nice" one. So please, Santa, can you give me these few things for Christmas?

Studded bike tires. Yes, Santa, they really do make those and they work just like studded snow tires for cars.

A tax break for cyclists. Actually, there is one in the $700 billion bailout package. It’s called the Bicycle Commuter Act and it allows up to $20 per employee per month tax credit for employers who provide certain "qualified benefits" to employees who use a bicycle as a primary means of commuting to and from work. But in comparison to the $115 million allocated for public transportation and for drivers, the estimated $10 million that this will cost the federal government is miniscule, so Santa can you get our good Congress-people to shake loose a little more to help bicycle commuters. Maybe even a tax break for the cyclists themselves, kind of like the mileage deduction that drivers get.

More participation by Utah in the Safe Routes to Schools program. This program is designed to get kids riding bikes and walking to schools, since now almost 85% of school children get rides to and from school, whereas in 1969 only 50% did. Between 2005 and 2009, Utah will receive over $6 million in federal funds. Applications for the 2009 allocation ($1.7 million) are due by February 15. At least 70% of the money has to be spent for infrastruc_ture improvements – sidewalks, on- and off-street bicycle and pedestrian facilities, traffic calming devices, bicycle and pedestrian crossing improvements and the like. Up to 30% can be spent on non-infrastruc_ture, such as public awareness campaigns, traffic awareness and enforcement, and incentives, like contests to get students walking or riding to school. But these awards are made only if someone applies for them. Cities and towns, non-profit organizations or schools or school districts can apply. What we need, Santa, is people to become involved and get their cities, schools or other organizations to apply.

Folding wire bicycle panniers. These are just like the old style baskets that mounted on the handlebars, except they mount on the rear wheels. They’re less expensive than fabric panniers and they provide rigidity to hold up whatever you put in them. They make quick trips to the corner market a snap.

Community involvement in the Federal Surface Transportation Act Program. In 2005, Rails-to-Trails and other bicycle advocacy groups persuaded Congress to allocate $100 million to pilot programs to improve bicycle corridors. Four local governments, Marin County, CA; Columbia, MO; and Minnea_pol_is and Sheboygan, WI, were each awarded $25 million. Now a second round is proposed. So far 40 communities have presented plans and applied for federal money. These include a number of sunbelt communities but cold-weather cities Portland, ME; Grand Rapids, MI; Mystic Valley, MA; Billings and Missoula, MT; and even Anchorage, Palmer and Wasilla, AK have applied. If Sarah Palin’s hometown can, so can Salt Lake City/County. So please, Santa, help our local leaders apply for funds to make biking better for all of us.

A winter bike. This can be elaborate or simple. Fixed-gear bikes, the kind that the pedals have to be turning whenever the wheels are turning, are great because they have fewer components to become gunked up with salt and slush. A bike with disc brakes is nice because the road grime doesn’t get on the brake pads and score the wheel rims. Wide knobby tires provide traction and better stability on slippery roads. A second-hand bike makes a great winter bike.

Fulfillment of campaign promises by Pres-Elect Obama. Speaking in Portland, OR, in the campaign, President-elect Barack Obama stated: "If we are going to solve our energy problems, we’ve got to think long-term… It’s time that the entire country learn from what’s happening right here in Portland with mass transit and bicycle lanes and funding alternative means of transportation. That’s the kind of solution we need for America…" Please, Santa, with everything else on his plate, help him to remember this, and help us support alternative transportation.

World peace (at least between drivers and cyclists). Last but maybe mostly, Santa, can you make it so we all, drivers and riders, just get along? Can you please make it so that there are no bicycle-automobile fatalities in 2009?

Thanks, Santa. I’ll be looking for you on December 24.

Your friend,

Steve Chambers is an attorney and outdoor enthusiast.

This article was originally published on December 1, 2008.