Posts Tagged ‘Webtrends’
After much anticipation, we are pleased to release our final report on the conversation that ensued from the release of our ad on the Max light rail train asking, “Should cyclists pay a road tax?”
More education about how roads are funded is needed
No one seems to really know how roads are funded in Oregon. As we wrote in our report, “the amount of misinformation shared throughout this campaign was staggering.” That misinformation and lack of understanding took the debate to bizarre and unproductive places.
As is often the case online, people spent a great deal of time debating wrong facts, which leads to heated and unproductive conversation. Accurate and well-distributed data would at least focus that debate.
Today, we still can’t say for certain how roads are funded in Oregon. There is a national statistic from the Federal Highway Administration, but it includes sales tax as a funding source, which doesn’t exist in Oregon. Claims from participants in the conversation suggest the funding picture for Oregon is quite different, but we have not been able to validate that claim. In a discussion with Scott Bricker (former head of the Bicycle Transportation Alliance), he suggested less than 20 people how road funding really works in Oregon. Despite investing a lot of time researching it, we still cannot say we’re among those 20 people.
Secondly, we know for certain that roads are funded through taxes, whether property, gas, or other taxes. None of us pay the same amount for these taxes. The underlying motivation to understand contribution is really about fair allocation of funding for infrastructure. That brings us to our second finding, which is the real crux of the issue.
More explanation of how bike infrastructure benefits all road users
There are a few schools of thought here. A very small group feels like separate infrastructure for bikes is the wrong way to go. Most people feel like dedicated infrastructure for bikes is the solution, but they don’t all agree on who pays for it or who receives the benefits from it. Our conclusion is that more explanation of how bike infrastructure benefits all road users would help.
All of the discussion about funding sources is an attempt to argue for equal contribution for equal usage, which is an attempt to make things “fair.” But, explicit usage is not the only way roads provide us with value. Roads enable the transportation of people and things. Sometimes those things are on trucks headed to the store where we will buy them later. Sometimes roads enable an ambulance to reach us, or the police to stop a crime in progress. We use the roads to get to work, visit friends and family, and to get to the places we want to go. When Oregon thinks about the taxes we pay for roads, the real concern should be focused on if we’re getting the maximum return on our investment.
This is where arguments about decreased congestion from increased bike usage get their power. This is how safety and accessibility start to matter more to us than who paid for what.
There are amazing debates the public could have about congestion, safety, accessibility, and more but only if people have good data. So, in addition to funding sources, we need more data about allocation and usage as well as effective distribution of that data.
Too many people riding bikes ride dangerously
Speaking of safety; much of the conversation was distracted from tangents about people riding bikes dangerously. There was significant push back about the danger of motor vehicles. To me, the safety concerns of mixed-use roads are not trivial. Vehicles that have drastically different weight, inertia, and protection using the same space is a recipe for disaster. If the safety of that ecosystem is dependent upon high attention from users, that makes less sense than designing the spaces to be fool-proof to begin with. Inherently safer road designs would mitigate this debate.
Where do we go from here
The most important thing we can all do is to be considerate of each other. Since this discussion covers money, safety, identity, and more, tempers can flare. If someone is making a direct attack, it’s hard to turn the other cheek. Here are some ways we can avoid adding to the tension:
- Don’t get angry if people don’t know where road funding comes from. Remember, throughout this discussion no one provided reliable data about the funding of Oregon roads.
- Don’t assume that because you heard some guy once talk about roads and taxes at a cocktail party that he was an expert. That’s true for what you read on blogs too (including this one).
- Education is not evenly distributed; so don’t be surprised to find ignorance. Also remember that your information might be wrong, so don’t wield it as though it is undisputed fact.
- Be kind to your fellow road users. We are all entitled to the road and just trying to live our lives.
Someone on the Shift List suggested bringing people together in a town hall fashion and talking through the issues. When people are talking anonymously over the Internet, it’s easy to dismiss or marginalize other people. In person, however, we could talk through our questions and concerns to arrive at some much needed consensus.
Doing the right thing
If this had been a survey for a Webtrends client, this is what we would advise our client to do:
- Find the correct answers to road funding in Oregon to put the debate to rest.
- Frame the conversation to be about return on investment, not pay for usage. As long as we are talking about explicit road usage in exchange for equal contribution; no one wins. We get value out of the roads from not directly using them, so let’s ask what is the optimal configuration of the roads to provide everyone with the most value.
- Encourage road user accountability. This means we’ll need to talk about things like: extending insurance to bikes, equal law enforcement for moving violations, establishing vehicular homicide laws to crack down on lethal driving, etc. There is a lot to discuss there, but just having the discussion will do a lot to improve the relations between vehicle operators who feel other vehicles are operating dangerously.
Would you ask the same question if you could do it over?
If we had the opportunity, we would have asked the same question. The information we gathered was extremely informative and that was the point of our exercise. If we would have asked a question like, “Are we getting the maximum return on our investment in road infrastructure?” not only would we have had much less response, but it wouldn’t have reached the same people. We saw a disconnect, and this process was one that got to the bottom of the disconnect in order to make a recommendation for how to address it. We feel very good about our recommendations. Download our report to read more about our recommendations.