Via Pedal Fort Collins, here’s a simple chart showing the basic relationship between vehicle weight and the amount of “damage” or wear that is caused to the roadway. The relationship is pretty straightforward, but thanks to the magic of gasoline, people often forget to think about the weight disparities on our roads.
Thus the chart, where weights and damage ratios are scaled against the weight of the average car:
vehicle weight and damage chart
Here’s the conclusion from Meg Dunn, the Colorado bike blogger:
It would take 700 trips by bicycle to equal the damage caused by one Smart Car. It would take 17,059 trips by bike to equal the damage caused by an average car. And it would take 364,520 bike trips to equal the damage caused by just one Hummer H2. !!!!!
So let’s talk about this in terms of taxes. For the sake of argument, let’s say that every 1,000 miles traveled in an average sized car equals $1’s worth of damage to the road that will have to come out of City coffers for repair work. A bicyclist would have to travel over 17 million miles to cause the same $1’s worth of damage.  Or another way to look at that, for the $1’s worth of damage that a car does to a road, a bicycle, traveling the same distance on the same road, would perpetrate $0.0005862 worth of damage. That’s about a tenth of a ha’penny.
The “bicyclists don’t pay taxes” argument is one you hear over and over again. Not only is it incorrect, but if road taxes were weighted (see what I did there) to scale in proportion with road wear, bicyclists could pretty much pay for the roads with spare change.
Actually, I’m sure that’s not completely true. Roads do not last forever, even when never used. Entropy is a thing, after all…
But it’s almost completely true. Especially when compared to a garbage truck. is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit produced primarily by volunteers. Our members and donors help us highlight Minnesota’s conversations about land use, planning and people-centered communities. Please consider a one-time or monthly donation to, and check out our podcast, which appears twice a month.
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Bill Lindeke has writing blogging about sidewalks and cities since 2005, ever since he read Jane Jacobs. He is a lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota Geography Department, the Cityscape columnist at Minnpost, and has written multiple books on local urban history. He was born in Minneapolis, but has spent most of his time in St Paul. Check out Twitter @BillLindeke or on Facebook.