What we are looking at is an index of the house property values in twenty selected cities across the USA. It shows the decline in prices since the peak of the housing boom. Hear that noise? It's the sound of falling tax revenue to a community near you.
There is an estimated three and a half million excess homes on the market today. (Nationally.) It is expected that we can work off one million units of excess capacity a year, which could mean that property values will not improve substantially for three or more years. Ouch!
"So what does this have to do with bicycle advocacy, anyway?" I am glad you asked!
It means that local property taxes are dropping, and will not likely rise for a real long time. This is the source of funding for public street maintenance and projects. This is where the seed money comes from to get "matching funds" from the feds and state governments.
If you can stand the dirty feeling, imagine that you are a county or city politician. (Shudder) Local property tax revenues are falling twenty or more percent, and that revenue stream is expected to fund local K-12 schools, all the fire and police services, and street maintenance.
Imagine as well that as you wrestle with this problem, a lobbyist for some bicycle advocacy group comes to you and he wants you to find room in the budget for a new bike lane project. What are you going to tell him? Your public works manager has just submitted a plan to you that has eliminated street sweeping of existing bike lanes in the city altogether, and this clown wants you to paint even more of them? Hah!
According to news reports, state budget cuts are as of yet shallow. Most state officials are relying on their "rainy day funds" to avoid making painful cuts in operating expenses. This is all well and good, but those resources are nearly exhausted. Some think the revenue shortfalls will only grow in the years to come.
"As of the last week in June, two-thirds of the states have adopted budgets for 2010 and already 12 of these states face new shortfalls totaling $23 billion before the fiscal year has even officially begun. Combining those new shortfalls with the fiscal year 2010 gaps already addressed, the total amount for fiscal year 2010 is at least a $166 billion gap."
A budget gap that big might even doom mass transit projects!
This is the new reality: Worldwide recession and deflation. It may last longer than you are hoping.
So if infrastructure projects are off the table, what can we do to advance the fortunes of bicycling?
There is plenty we can do now that we will no longer be mesmerized by the siren song of infrastructure. As Keri Caffrey keeps reminding us, we have been applying hardware solutions to software problems. In this context, software fixes are less expensive!
"Got no respect!"
We can begin to fix the status of cycling as vehicles on public roads by demanding the enforcement of existing traffic laws. We must insist that that scofflaw cycling be targeted by police.
How can we claim to be advocates of cycling safety if we countenance ninjas, salmon and sidewalk cycling? (Ninjas=riding at night without lights or reflectors and in dark clothing. Salmon=riding against traffic.) These are the most dangerous behaviors in our midst. Stopping them will prevent injuries and deaths. There are, on average, more than two bicycle deaths a day in the United States. This is not helping to dispel the myth that cycling is a dangerous activity.
It is time that prosecutors and judges enforce all the traffic laws. Breaking a traffic law is a crime! We have become tolerant of this pervasive criminal behavior, because we don't see a great harm in failing to obey speed limits, overtaking laws, and abandoning our duty to exercise due care. It is time we insist that law enforcement and the courts perform their duties.
We have natural allies in this endeavor. Insurance companies for example. Politicians struggling with budget gaps. Law firms. Doctor associations. Civic groups. As strict enforcement renews general observance of due care, all of our community will benefit from a more civil public way. Isn't that a worthy goal?
Rather than spend our donations lobbying for bike lanes, we can spend it to educate the general public with media campaigns. In this deflationary cycle, billboard and electronic advertising rates will fall. Highlight traffic laws that seem to be unknown by our fellow citizens. As an example, as I was researching for another blog post, I was surprised to find out that straddling a lane is against the law in Texas. Straddling ought to be easier to enforce than a three foot law, don't you think?
We should appeal to citizen groups, and local guilds and unions, to foster a renewed sense of civility in our public streets. We should learn from past efforts that were successful in modifying public behavior. We need a weeping Indian.
A public education effort would compliment the encouragement of law enforcement efforts by informing our police, prosecutors and judges about these neglected laws as well. Our natural allies here would also include the bicycle industry.
Perhaps we can make the driver's licensing process a little more comprehensive. More emphasis on due care and responsibility. Perhaps licenses should have to be renewed more frequently. The written portion should be more extensive requiring at least a little study.
One of the "software problems" is that operating an automobile on a public road has become such an common everyday event that the immense responsibility it entails has been discounted by so many of our fellow citizens. We can work toward changing this caviler attitude that our society has about driving a motor vehicle in the public way.
In these trying times, we can at least preserve the liberties that cyclists presently enjoy. As we learned in Texas recently, it takes less effort to thwart new legislation than to enact it. We need to be vigilant and jealous of our rights.
What do you think, gentle reader, what can we as a community do to advance our fortunes without using public monies?