Manufacturing outrage over Vancouver's new bicycle pumps

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      Anyone who's visited the Victoria Transport Policy Institute website is aware of the magnitude of subsidies for private automobile users.

      One VTPI study revealed that each dollar spent on a vehicle's operating expenses imposes $2.55 in costs on society.

      Here's an excerpt from its executive summary:

      Vehicle owners have little incentive to limit driving to trips in which benefits exceed total costs, resulting in economically excessive vehicle travel that reduces transport system performance. Problems such as traffic congestion, traffic risk, and pollution are virtually unavoidable with current pricing.

      This price structure is horizontally inequitable because people must bear significant costs imposed by others. It is vertically inequitable because it tends to benefit the wealthy and reduces travel options for non-drivers. Whether price increases are regressive depends on how revenues are used. Actions that increase travel options for non-drivers, such as better transit service, improvements to the pedestrian and bicycling environment, and reduced urban sprawl, tend to be overall progressive because they benefit disadvantaged people.

      Because the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and most journalists don't pay attention to the research of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, this doesn't get much attention in the mainstream media.

      But when there's a relatively small subsidy for cyclists—such as two new electronic bicycle pumps on well-travelled bike routes—it generates howls of outrage and massive cynicism.

      That was apparent after the city installed the $3,000 pumps on the Adanac bike route at Hawks Avenue and near Science World.

      There was a predictable rant in the Province newspaper. The morning tabloid thundered that cyclists should buy their own pumps and the city "should not be bullying property owners into paying for the luxuries of other citizens, especially Vision Vancouver's pals in the cycling crowd".

      Of course, the Province never publishes editorials slamming outrageously expensive left-turn bays for drivers' convenience, which are sometimes created through the purchase of land at public expense. These engineering marvels routinely cost more than $1 million each.

      Way back in 1993, a joint B.C. government-Metro Vancouver study called Transport 2021 declared that there was a $2.7-billion subsidy in the region for drivers.

      Here's my defence of the city's decision to install the bicycle pumps. Many cyclists have traditionally filled up their tires at gas stations. However, there aren't nearly as many of them in the northern part of the city and particularly downtown, mainly because they've being replaced by real-estate developments. The remaining stations gouge cyclists with a 50-cent fee every time they use their pumps.

      The city and motorists benefit when more people ride bikes, because it frees up roadspace for the movement of goods and services. So a $6,000 expenditure on two durable, high-quality bicycle pumps along well-travelled cycling routes is not a big deal. Especially when compared to the massive subsidies provided to the relatively wealthy community of automobile users.

      Vancouver is also well-positioned to profit from the growing popularity of bicycle-related tourism. Having a welcoming environment, including free cycling pumps, could be something other cities don't offer.

      Perhaps it's time for the Province editorial board to get over Vancouver's minor free-air subsidy to cyclists. Unlike middle-class and upper-middle-class journalists, lots of cyclists can't afford to buy cars. There's nothing inherently wrong with diverting a few tax dollars toward cycling to make their ride go more smoothly, especially when they're contributing to a cleaner environment.




      Mar 30, 2013 at 10:10am

      I'm not a cyclist, but the complaints about these pumps are ridiculous. This is no different than the city installing water fountains in parks. They serve a need. There are much bigger municipal challenges that residents and media should be concerning themselves with.

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      peter krantz

      Mar 30, 2013 at 10:31am

      the more inefficient the transportation is, the more it is subsidized by the govt. and cars are on the top of the list. Cars also kill and destroy the environment so we should provide it even more money, since it is doing such a good job.

      Ken Ohrn

      Mar 30, 2013 at 10:45am

      I don't believe that this is about logic, subsidies or class war around the affordability of cars and the perceptions of middle and upper-middle class journalists.

      I think that this Province editorial is "click-bait", in which cynical editors write fact-free and predictable nonsense whose purpose is to manufacture outrage. Outrage being one of the sure-fire attractors of eyeballs and attention to the newspaper and its advertisers. It's an old, tried-and-true technique that has been in use since the invention of the mass market publication.

      The title of this article has got it exactly right.

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      S. Jang

      Mar 30, 2013 at 11:18am

      You're right, Ken. This is one of those examples where "if it bleeds, it leads," or as you put it "click-bait"


      Mar 30, 2013 at 11:53am

      Good article which raises a good point. Motorists are the freeloaders on tax payers, not cyclists. The auto industry is of course massive, and money talks on so many levels. Motorists buy influence.

      Eventually cars will become increasingly unaffordable except for the wealthy. Personally I used to own a car and an expensive motorcycle but due to massive inflation and wage cuts in the healthcare sector wiping out 50% of my salary over ten years, I am now riding a bicycle. Most people can't afford to own their cars but they don't know it yet or refuse to acknowledge this fact. Leasing automobiles is a way to avoid this fact for some. Leasing is way to drive the car you can't afford.

      I hope in the future more people will get bikes and ride so less cars are on the road.

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      Mar 30, 2013 at 12:52pm

      Oh, puh-leeeese! Just like every car driver should have a jack and a spare on board, a cyclist should have a bloody air pump.

      The cycling thing has become truly absurd. What's next - little disposable raincoat dispensers for bad weather days? Cyclist Water Stations? Poor babies.

      50 damn cents is "gouging"? Compare that to the gouging on a litre of gas.

      And by the way, you might have heard about this little demographic change currently underway - a change that will inevitably REDUCE the number of urban cyclists. Old folks don't ride bikes so much, get it?

      When cycling became a focus of political lobbying, it quickly lost my interest. There are far too many lobby groups in our society. Sadly, all cyclists are now at risk of being labelled as the ultimate whiners.

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      Prepared Cyclist

      Mar 30, 2013 at 12:55pm

      I carry my own bike pump with me, and all gas stations have free air already. The Science World location is 2 blocks from a gas station at 2nd and Main and the pump in Strathcona is in a location that I think will soon be vandalized. Not an expensive City project, but still a waste of money.


      Mar 30, 2013 at 1:04pm

      you claim the service stations gouge the public for the use of the air pump . do you consider the cost . for them in owning and providing this service , when customers , wreck the hose . at the owners expense , the high power usage at the owners expense ,the regular service required , air compressors require oil changes and air filter changes too . try putting a free air line out your door and see the cost per month .

      Greg Robinson

      Mar 30, 2013 at 1:14pm

      Many, if not most, bicycle tires used for commuting have air pressure advisories of between 60 and 100 pounds per square inch (psi). Most, if not all, gas station pumps top out at 60 psi (so drivers don't accidentally over-inflate car tires, which can have deadly consequences). This means that if you have soft bike tires and want to top them up from say, 70 psi to 90, the gas station pump is likely to bleed air out of them and leave you with even softer tires.

      I always carry a pump, patch-kit, spare tube and a tool kit, but my pump (a good one) still requires a solid 200+ strokes and that is beyond the capability of many cyclists who don't have the strength to finish the job. Often they inflate tires as much as they're capable of (i.e. not enough), ride off and get a pinch flat shortly thereafter. An increasingly common thing in this age of declining quality is for tubes to tear at the junction of the valve and the tube when standard hand-held pumping action causes the valve to rock slightly back and forth. This rocking tends to increase with the fatigue of the person doing the inflating. I remember decades (70s to 90s) when valves didn't tear in this way, but planned obsolescence was discovered by the bike industry some time ago and now most $6-$8 tubes are garbage. They're also the only thing most shops stock, so tough luck trying to find good quality tubes anywhere!

      All of this to say that inflating tires with a compressor that actually goes up to what's needed, while allowing the valve to remain stationary is a rare thing. It is also much needed.

      Richard Campbell

      Mar 30, 2013 at 2:27pm

      Main and 2nd is the likely the most dangerous intersection in Vancouver, if not the province for people riding bicycles. More specifically, it has the highest number of crashes involving bicycles. Even if someone riding a bike by Science World knows there is a pump there, it is really not responsible to suggest that they cycle to this dangerous intersection.

      There are also a lot of visitors to our city riding bikes by Science World. The chances of them knowing there is a gas station at Main and 2nd is practically nil.

      The bike pumps are a low cost measure that make cycling safer and more comfortable for both residents and tourists. Well worth the small cost.

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