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Coercing People Out of Their Cars

The road to hell is paved with bike paths.

Nov 8, 2010, Vol. 16, No. 08 • By FRED BARNES
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But it’s hardly an answer to traffic congestion. Most people, most of the time, aren’t going to ride a bike to work or walk. They’re going to drive, even in the face of disincentives erected by LaHood.

 As a solution to congestion in the foreseeable future, this leaves us with building more highways, repairing existing ones, and maintaining them. The question is how to pay for this. The current gas tax won’t suffice. It hasn’t been increased since 1993, and it’s lost one-third or more of its value since then through inflation.

Republicans—conservatives especially—get red in the face when they hear of raising the gas tax. It makes more sense, however, than cutting back on the highway program or paying for it out of general revenues. Presi-dent Reagan understood this when he backed a 5-cent increase in 1982. It “will make truck transportation more efficient and productive for years to come,” he said in a radio address. “We will be preserving for future generations of Americans a highway system that has long been the envy of the world.” 

The days of envy are gone. What’s required to restore a great highway system is a hike of 10 to 15 cents in the gas tax. Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? The gain—more and better highways, less congestion—makes the trade-off worthwhile.

The Obama administration, with its priority on ejecting people from their cars and its embrace of an environmental ethic that regards highways as evil, is unlikely to champion a higher gas tax. Any other tax increase you can imagine, yes. This one, no. That means Republicans will have to step up. They can insist the revenues be used solely for highways and bridges. Local governments would then be free to spend on bikeways.

In his tabletop speech, LaHood said he and his wife take their bikes to the path along the C&O Canal and “ride as far as we possibly can.” That’s nice. But it’s interesting, and perhaps telling, that the canal, as a major mode of transportation, has been obsolete since the 1880s—a lot like bicycling and walking.


Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.



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