As a student of history, I must admit that being on the right side of history (i.e., attuned to the long-term trends) seems to mean being on the political left side-at least in the sense that the list of human rights-guaranteed-by-government has grown inexorably in modern times. The growth of government has historically been a leftist objective.
Sometimes growth has arrived one at a time: women's suffrage, for example; and occasionally in bunches: three of the Four Freedoms of FDR were new ones. Sometimes they're just a more generous form of a previously recognized new right-housing, for example.
Medical services have now progressed (my choice of verb has political identification) from voluntary charity to mandatory entitlement in recent decades.
All the left's efforts have in common dependence upon the broad-based tax or, if you prefer the original doctrine in translation from the Russian, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his need".
Each new human right used to be pretty basic: the U.S. Second Amendment, for example, or the Seventh Amendment. Some of them used to be half entitlement and half user-fee based (like public education in Vermont), but more recently some of them are getting-dare I say-a bit frivolous such as bicycle bridges.
The creators of such things as bike bridges don't recognize this; they don't call bike bridges a human right-instead, they prefer to define them as public improvements which in their "logic" should be paid for by all, even if they're only used by a few.
When the nation was young, such things were almost entirely user-fee based, which explains why the first national public improvement, known as the Cumberland Road, was equipped with toll booths. If you didn't use the Road, you didn't pay.
Similarly, there's the circa-1825 Erie Canal which was financed by tolls through 1882. The first interstate highways -the Pennsylvania and New Jersey turnpikes-were bonded and toll-funded.
Suburban and rural parkways of the 1920s and 1930s-the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut, the Bronx River in New York, the Blue Ridge in Appalachia, and the 1956 Eisenhower Interstate Highway System-were funded via broad-based taxes or stimulus deficit spending.
More recently, some use tolls, such as the Massachusetts Turnpike and the New York Thruway, but most later road construction spending and maintenance comes from fuel taxes and road-user fees. But the exception is Virginia which has held onto notions about user fees now considered archaic and socially unjust in blue states; the Virginia road has nine toll facilities ranging from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the Dulles Expressway-and including the improbably named Po'white Parkway.
More culturally advanced counties and states prefer an everyone-pays-so-that-some-can-use-it-free funding model.
Some localities, which are only half-advanced, split the difference; this explains why the George Washington Bridge, a New York Port of Authority project opened in 1931, now has an $8 auto fee for cars inbound to the Big Apple, a zero vehicular exit fee, and both ways free for bikes!
Regarding the Golden Gate Bridge connecting deep-blue and uncouth San Francisco with its suburb of Marin County: vehicular traffic inbound pays $6, but bicycles go free.
An attempt to establish bike tolls has been met with a massive "bridge use is an inalienable human right" no-toll campaign by the Marin County, Calif., natives on the www.marinbike.org website.
Marin County's residents have the fifth highest personal incomes in the U.S.-at $91,000. The county's major employer is-guess who?-government. Nevertheless, Marin residents demand that lesser folk, who pay their government employee salaries, also pay for their natural right to bike across the Golden Gate at no personal expense. The slogan-"Say No to a Bike Toll"-makes no mention of the residents' relative ability to pay, which in social-justice language, beloved of the political left, means "their fair share".
Decades ago, when Vermont was still a conservative part of a conservative New England, the popular slogan was "As Maine Goes, So Goes Vermont", referring to the 1936 U.S. presidential election.
Now, the slogan should be "As California Goes, So Goes Vermont" because the inalienable human right to free bike bridges and paths-paid for by non-bikers elsewhere.
This long-overdue expansion of social justice has resulted in a $3.5 million bike bridge from Burlington across the Winooski River to Colchester-complete with bike trails, raised and not, paid for by a range of mandatory taxpayer and voluntary donor inputs so that it can be deservedly free, as a basic human right, to actual bike-riding users.
So much for any archaic user-fee notions, even though today's bikeriders enjoy a higher socio-economic status than us non-bike riders-excepting the lowly balloon-tired coaster-brake-equipped Schwinn of my youth now supplanted by a multi-hundred dollar multi-speed suitably elegant racing-capable machine-for-upscale-recreational-travel.
Just as in California, modern Vermont notions of social justice enable the bicycling class to enjoy free bridge service courtesy of mandatory tax extractions from all the subordinate and mostly non-biking taxpaying classes.
Can a human right to obtain free bikes be far behind? A Ridley-Noah at $5,000 would be socially acceptable.
A post-script: The response to my inquiry to the governor's office, via the Eagle news desk, regarding the funding and toll option for the Winooski River Bike Bridge, came from David Coriell, assistant to Gov. Douglas. "Off the top of my head, I don't know," he wrote in an e-mail response to us.
Who knew that the pleading of official Montpelier ignorance ("Ich weiss nicht," in the memorable phrase of television's lovable Nazi Sgt. Schultz) as the standard response to undesired inquiry isn't confined to matters of taxation, land use, and education, but now extends, for inclusiveness, to embrace bike bridges as well? Wer weiss? Indeed.
Former Vermonter Martin Harris lives in Tennessee.