Significant things are happening in Utah's transportation system. LaVarr calmly explains, and Frank just rants about, these changes to our lifestyle.
Salt Lake City, which has modified some streets to benefit bike riders, has proclaimed 2013 the "Year of the Bike." Mayor Ralph Becker, an avid cyclist himself, has initiated a bicycle-sharing program, providing short-term bike rentals at 10 downtown stations.
Is Salt Lake City about to become a biker's mecca, or has Becker allowed his passion to overcome his better judgment?
Pignanelli: "Everyone has the impulse to be elite." — Alfre Woodard
I am an avid trail runner and therefore the natural enemy of bicyclists (participants in these activities share this mutual hostility). Thus, I am compelled to expose the two-wheeled menace and provide a voice for the intimidated majority — commoners who utilize automobiles. I am a friend and big fan of Mayor Becker, but City Hall has created an apartheid system to the advantage of an elite few — the urban bicyclist. The number of city streets with dedicated bike lanes has exploded while the backward parking (specifically targeted to help bikers) on 200 South continues to flummox drivers.
The attitude of many bikers is intensely galling. They flaunt their privileged status and disregard traffic regulations while exuding an arrogant aura of "Oooo look at me in my spandex tights. I'm saving the planet while you cripple future generations with an obese carbon footprint." I am an exercise enthusiast who appreciates the physical benefits of bicycling. (I once owned an expensive bicycle that was stolen. I am still tracking down the thief ... so I can thank him.) The "Bicycle Share" program is well intended but could share the fate of the Segway scooters (Remember the hype about them?).
It is time for residents and visitors to Salt Lake City to shed the shackles of those silly white and green striped roads and chant "We shall overcome." Our leaders speak of racial, religious and marriage equality. This quiet majority demands asphalt equality.
Webb: I'm a Downtown Riser and an endangered species — a Republican living in the heart of the city. I walk nearly everywhere and ride TRAX, leaving my Ford F150 pickup (what good Republican doesn't have a truck?) sitting mostly unused in the parking garage.
So I think the bike share program is pretty cool, and I might even plunk down $75 for a yearly pass. I can get around downtown faster on a bike. Using Foursquare, I can also monitor exactly where Frank is, allowing me to cycle in front of his Democrat/Subaru/mini-van, hogging the middle of the lane as he cusses.
Today, the new North Temple TRAX line to the airport commences regular operations. Will this impact how Utahns access air travel?
Pignanelli: Although some bus drivers share the same bad road manners as bicyclists, I am a supporter of many subsidized transit projects (FrontRunner is really cool). I hope travelers utilize public transport to the airport, but harbor mild apprehensions. The bigger issue is the future of the UTA. Fares are high and executive salaries/pensions are famously extravagant. Ongoing maintenance of operations will become greater liabilities with political ramifications.
Webb: I work with the Utah Mobility Coalition, sponsored by the Salt Lake Chamber, so I am involved in a variety of transportation issues. I believe the public transit rail backbone constructed over the last several years, including the airport line, will prove to be among the most important investments ever made in Utah.
Providing excellent transportation infrastructure, both good highways and public transit, is a fundamental role of government. Both transportation modes are highly subsidized by taxpayers. Thirty years from now, when another 1.3 million people are crammed into Wasatch Front valleys, our children and grandchildren will be grateful for our foresight. These investments will reduce congestion, help families avoid having to purchase a second car, help air quality, and help us maintain an enviable quality of life.
The airport is now accessible all across the Wasatch Front without having to drive a car or worry about parking. It will become an enormously popular line.
Business leaders promoted an increase in the fuel tax in the last legislative session, but lawmakers declined to pass it. Is this issue still alive?
Pignanelli: The gas tax is based on usage and therefore a fair assessment. I support an increase or peg to inflation index ... especially if we can tax those freeloading bicyclists.
Webb: The fuel tax, a user fee, is one of the few taxes that doesn't keep up with inflation. Thus, the tax has lost almost 40 percent of its purchasing power in the last 16 years. Maintenance on local and rural roads, especially, is at a crisis. Declining fuel tax purchasing power means state and local governments must use more general fund money for roads and highways, in competition with education and other important state and local needs. So this issue is not going away. Thoughtful legislators know it's time to at least stabilize the tax so its purchasing power does not further decline.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is a state tax commissioner. Email: email@example.com.