There is nothing wrong with the city of Lawrence promoting bicycles as good exercise and an environmentally friendly commuting alternative. But a tax to fund projects to make the city more bike friendly feels like a stretch, especially when more pressing priorities loom.
On Tuesday night, City Commissioner Bob Schumm proposed a half-mill property tax increase in 2015 to pay for bicycle paths, sidewalk repairs and other improvements that would make the public less reliant on vehicles.
Such a tax increase would generate about $450,000 annually. The cost to taxpayers, on average, would be less than $1 per month.
Schumm said having a dedicated funding source would put the city in position to leverage grant opportunities that could spur significant bicycle and sidewalk projects.
“We could have a real network for nonmotorized transportation,” Schumm said. “Everything we have right now is too piecemeal.”
A large crowd of cycling enthusiasts showed up at Tuesday’s meeting to support Schumm’s idea.
Michael Almon, a leader of the Lawrence-based Sustainability Action Network, urged commissioners to spend about $2 million a year on bicycle-related projects. He said the city has talked for years about creating a network of bicycle routes and paths, but the system doesn’t work well for bicyclists who want to rely less on cars.
“Bicycles traditionally have been viewed here as recreation rather than transportation,” Almon said.
Almon’s right. But let’s be honest. Spending $450,000 to $2 million per year on biking improvements isn’t likely to change that view significantly. In fact, it’s hard to imagine the number it would take to shift enough Lawrence commuters from cars to bicycles to make a dramatic difference in traffic, parking and air quality.
Perhaps more importantly is that the city has bigger priorities, most notably a new police station. That issue will require a tax increase, either property tax, sales tax or both and it’s possible that it will require a citywide election. Timing is everything in elections — pursuing tax increases for a new police station and bike paths simultaneously unnecessarily jeopardizes both efforts.
There’s nothing wrong with making Lawrence more bicycle friendly. But a property tax to pay for it seems ill advised at this time. We’d urge the city commission not to go down that path.