January 2014

True story. A group of bicyclists was riding down the street when one commented about a deep crack in the pavement. “If the city doesn’t get this fixed it will only get worse. One of us may get our wheel caught in it and crash.” The other riders in the group had to resist pointing out the obvious: his bike and all of his gear had been purchased online and by doing that he had deprived the city of sales tax that could have been used to fix the pavement.

That got me thinking. How much tax revenue is lost by a city like Ferguson due to online shopping? The more I dug into it the more I realized that it would be impossible to get a specific number with any accuracy. But to give you an idea of how large the situation could be, consider this: U.S. census data shows online retail sales for 2013 to be about $240 billion. A large part of that generates no sales tax. While that’s still less than 6% of all retail sales, it represents a lot of lost sales tax revenue to states, counties, and cities. Recent studies estimate that Missouri is losing over $400 million in sales tax every year due to online sales.

Watch for some sort of federal legislation coming soon to require sales tax on all online purchases.

Whether the online sales tax issue gets resolved or not, look for opportunities to shop local whenever you can. The dollars stay in the community and support local jobs. And the city will have more money to do things like repairing streets. 

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The issue of “Complete Streets” continues to get a lot of coverage in the Post-Dispatch and in comments and letters to the editor. One recent letter writer proposed that bicyclists be licensed:

“The time has come for the many bicyclers out there to pay their own way to use the public roads. It's time for them buy a license from their city, county or state government...”

“Everyone else in this state, in order to use a public thoroughfare, needs a license…It's time to either license the bicycle rider or his equipment.”

Leave aside the fact that large numbers of people use the public thoroughfares every day in this state and don’t require a license to do so. I see them walking up and down the sidewalks all the time, completely unlicensed.

In the December 2012 column I answered a similar concern. (You can read it at http://www.fergusoncyclingclub.com/articles_Dec2012.shtml)

“A…question is sometimes asked as to why bicyclists aren’t required to have driver’s licenses. I understand the issue completely. As a motor vehicle driver, I do have insurance and I do have a driver’s license. As a bicyclist, I have neither.”

“The issue is easier to understand if you turn the questions around and ask: ‘Why are motor vehicle drivers required to have driver’s licenses? Why are motor vehicle drivers required to have insurance?’”

“The answers to both questions revolve around one simple fact: motor vehicles, due to their weight and their speeds, routinely cause massive damage to life and property. Literally every day in the newspaper there will be reports of at least a few people in the St. Louis area being killed in motor vehicle crashes. Injuries and damage to other vehicles aren’t reported; there are too many instances of those to report.”

“So…why are motor vehicle drivers required to have driver’s licenses? Because they are driving dangerous vehicles and we want to know that they have passed some level of training and testing. And why are motor vehicle drivers required to have insurance? Because they are driving dangerous vehicles capable of causing massive damage and we want to know that there will be guaranteed compensation when this damage to life or property occurs.”

“Now the answer as to why bicyclists are not required to have licenses or insurance becomes clearer. Bicycles don’t weigh much and don’t move very fast. They are not capable of causing massive damage. Bicyclists are way more likely to injure themselves or damage their own bike (I’m sure there’s a few bicyclists right now nodding and thinking, ‘Yep, I’ve done that!’) than to injure or cause damage to anyone else.”

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Winter ride alert! A few years back when I-64 was being rebuilt the Missouri Department of Transportation opened the highway to runners, walkers, and bicyclists for a full day before it officially opened to motor vehicle traffic. If you took that opportunity to ride your bike on I-64 you probably still remember it with a smile!

Now a similar opportunity is coming up. On Saturday, Feb. 8, from noon to 4pm, the new Stan Musial Veterans Memorial Bridge will be open for riders, runners, and walkers to enjoy. At 2pm there will be a ribbon-cutting ceremony and at 3pm a parade. It’s a beautiful bridge. Let’s hope for a beautiful day to ride across it!