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Columbian editorial says bike fee idea is a "stinker"

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on July 17th, 2009 at 9:14 am

"County commissioners, back away from the bicyclists and focus on more important issues."

Two days after the Columbian newspaper reported that all three Clark County Commissioners seemed to think a bike license fee was worth looking into, the paper's editorial board has decided that the idea is a "stinker".

In an editorial published in today's paper, they write:

"For all three Clark County commissioners to even consider a bicycle licensing fee begs just one question: Are these guys running out of stuff to do? Only an abundance of time on their hands could explain such an absurd notion."

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The editorial goes on to list nine reasons why commissioners should reconsider exploring the idea of a bike fee. Among the reasons include the fact that it could discourage bike use, that several other cities around the country have abandoned similar ideas, that people who ride bikes already pay many taxes that go into transportion, and the sheer absurdity of such a fee's "narrow focus":

"Would we charge a stroller fee to parents of babies who use sidewalks? Would we put a surcharge on walking shoes to pay for hiking paths? This gets absurd real quickly, eh?"

As per recommendation by the commissioners, the idea is set to be discussed with the City's Bike Advisory Committee next week.

Read the Columbian editorial here.

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  • chelsea July 17, 2009 at 9:46 am

    Ha ha. Thank you Columbian!

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  • chad July 17, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Is it too much to ask for the Oregonian to publish an editorial like this to tell folks in Portland that we more than pay our way for the use of the road.

    Probably doesn't inflame enough people to be newsworthy for Portland.

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  • chad July 17, 2009 at 10:12 am

    Is it too much to ask for the Oregonian to publish an editorial like this to tell folks in Portland that we more than pay our way for the use of the road.

    Probably doesn't inflame enough people to be newsworthy for Portland.

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  • Jonathan Maus July 17, 2009 at 9:14 am

    New blog post: Columbian editorial says bike fee idea is a "stinker" http://bit.ly/yVxfv

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  • Joe July 17, 2009 at 10:24 am

    cool shot down! :)

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  • Dennis July 17, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Wow, The Columbian suddenly makes a little sense. Could there be a small glimmer of light, in our little neck of the woods?

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  • El Biciclero July 17, 2009 at 11:06 am

    Apparently the commenters on this editorial ain't buyin' it. The majority (so far) still say "make bikes pay!"

    Again, the problem is that Joe Motorist will not see an increase in bicycling as a net good. Drivers mostly just see the (in their view) one scofflaw cyclist arrogantly hogging the whole lane going 4mph for 17 blocks with no helmet while 29 cars are forced to a crawl as the cyclist merrily blows red lights and stop signs, leaving a wake of utter chaos and destruction behind them. TAX that guy already! Put a license plate on his bike! And make him wear a helmet, an orange vest, and knee and elbow pads!

    The typical sentiments expressed above are why the motoring public wants bikes registered and licensed (taxed). The "bikes don't pay for roads" argument is only an excuse to bring up "accountability" issues. If it could be shown by a trustworthy, neutral, third party that most cyclists are being completely ripped off by unfair allocation of tax revenue for transportation infrastructure (may or may not be true, but let's say it could be proved beyond any doubt to every Tom, Dick, and Harry out there), I would bet that drivers would still be clamoring to "make bikes pay!" because they want those free love, hippie, lawbreaking, spandex-wearing, non-stopping, pedestrian-mowing, traffic-weaving, lane-hogging, sidewalk-riding, helmetless, lightless, invisible, suicidal, tax-evading, freeloading, traffic-blocking, arrogant, self-righteous, dreadlock-sporting, non-signaling, dorky-looking, gay cyclists to be "accountable", not because they care about who pays for roads.

    Sorry to be a little extreme, but I have started to think that "who pays for roads" is not the real issue that the public wants resolved.

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  • lothar July 17, 2009 at 11:08 am

    Wow..this from the Columbian? Nice.

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  • q`Tzal July 17, 2009 at 12:20 pm

    El Biciclero:

    "... free love, hippie, lawbreaking, spandex-wearing, non-stopping, pedestrian-mowing, traffic-weaving, lane-hogging, sidewalk-riding, helmetless, lightless, invisible, suicidal, tax-evading, freeloading, traffic-blocking, arrogant, self-righteous, dreadlock-sporting, non-signaling, dorky-looking, gay cyclists ..."

    Durn funny! I was listening to the Car Talk credits and it was like an echo.

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  • SteveD July 17, 2009 at 12:23 pm

    "As per recommendation by the commissioners, the idea is set to be discussed with the City’s Bike Advisory Committee next week."

    That would actually be the Clark COUNTY Bicycle Advisory Committee. The City of Vancouver currently has no bicycle advisory committee.

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  • indy July 17, 2009 at 12:30 pm

    Current system: Bikers pay fees and bike infrastructure is an afterthought or not included because it is politically damaging.

    Proposed system: Bikers pay fees and bike infrastructure is directly tied to said taxes/fees. Infrastructure is improved as more bikers devote fees/taxes to bike tax.

    In theory then it would be politically sane to stop bikers paying for general fund for cars/bikes.

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  • Kevin Hedahl July 17, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    @indy

    The unfortunate problem is that it likely wouldn't decrease any fees paid by cyclists, only increase them. We'd still be paying fees/taxes that go towards automobile use. Only now, we'd also be paying extra because we ride a bike.

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  • April July 17, 2009 at 12:50 pm

    El Biciclero: Not only did your comment make me LOL, but I think you're right!

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  • bruce July 17, 2009 at 12:59 pm

    I'm certain to be asking for a deluge of torrid replies but I've always been a little confused regarding the argument against bicycle fees (licenses or whatever). Enlighten me please. The general argument seems to be "we're already paying one form of tax or another." This seems to be a perspective similar to another I've heard: "My kids are out of school so why should I pay"? Or I don't go in the woods so why should I support conservation.

    Many cyclists demand infrastructure such as lanes, signage and lines on the road surface. Are these things free?

    My family has one car. I commute by bicycle every day of the year. I pay taxes all over the place. I'm willing to pay a bit more. I also hear people say this would just be another govt. program which can't be run properly. Perhaps the undeniable fact that bikes are triumphing (albeit very slowly) over autos is evidence that a well run, funded by cyclists "tax" might further the cause. Few would argue that more bikes on the road is a great thing. Perhaps license fees could go towards marketing our state as a cycle tourist paradise. Change the rest of the tax code to capture funds from visitors and you stand to benefit a greater number of Oregonians. Perhaps a "bike tax" could fund propaganda that would encourage more observers to climb aboard.

    I don't buy the argument that bikes are freedom and exempt from paying a share.

    OK, bring it.

    bruce

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  • Argentius July 17, 2009 at 1:27 pm

    Basically, the idea is that we pay taxes for stuff that benefits society as a whole, right? Even if we don't directly use them?

    Then, for specific things, we pay additional taxes to offset using up resources.

    What most people don't understand is that the majority -- and I'm not digging out numbers on a blog reply -- of taxes paid for roads do not come from auto registration and fuel taxes. They come from the general fund: property, income, sales, and other taxes.

    As a bike rider who does not own a car, I pay into the system of roads far more than I take out. I pay for many roads that I cannot use, I am do infintesimal damage to the pavement.

    I relieve a small portion of the need for additional spending by relieving auto volume by replacing a car with a bicycle. Would we even THINK we needed a 12-lane CRC if I had one in ten people who make the same decisions as I do?

    That's okay. I'm fine paying for the space for trucks to deliver groceries to the stores and the like.

    But, please -- don't pretend that people whose existence benefits EVERYONE, who ALREADY pay more than their fair share, should pay MORE.

    The more bicycles are on the road, the less congestion, the less demand for gas -- and the lower the gas prices -- the better it is for ALL ROAD USERS.

    Let me say that again. More bicycles would be better for cars than more cars.

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  • Neighbor July 17, 2009 at 1:30 pm

    City helmet law and county registration fee? They're doing whatever they can to make bicycling unappealing. Forget bike/ped facilities on the CRC- by the time it's built, who would want to bike to Vancouver anyway?

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  • dan July 17, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    We need to organize a "Cyclists Drive Day". One day a year in which every cyclist drives or takes public transportation rather than riding their bike. Perhaps the horrendous snarl that day will change motorists' perceptions of bikers the other 364 days of the year.

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  • Lenny Anderson July 17, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Yes, Bike Strike! its time to drive and demonstrate our impact. I can be in the bike lane next to you or in the traffic lane in front of you...take your pick ( and then shut up!)

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  • El Biciclero July 17, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Here is another perspective--one that I have shared over on the Oregonian forums--that looks at the question of why there is such a demand specifically for cyclists to pay extra.

    1.a. Who is demanding infrastructure? As a cyclist, I am perfectly happy to ride in the street and have drivers go around me. Many times, a bike lane is added to the road simply by painting a stripe and leaving everything else unchanged. Did the stripe add width to the road? No. Why do we need it? Bike lanes often create hazardous situations and arguably make cycling MORE dangerous. I contend that the major benefit of bike lanes is for motorists because they keep cyclists "out of the way". So even IF bike lanes were 100% paid for by gas taxes, why would motorists complain about paying?

    1.b. Bike lanes are not the only bit of restricted or "extra" pavement out there. What about HOV lanes? If I am sitting alone in my car in some backed-up lane of an entrance ramp or a freeway, and there is an HOV lane next to me, how come I can't use it? I paid for it, for crying out loud! Why do drivers not complain about HOV lanes or even passing lanes for that matter? Those pieces of road are 3 times the size of any bike lane, yet they are perfectly well accepted "extras" that nobody minds paying for, even if some drivers can't use them. I've had one person explain that HOV lanes are there to ease the flow of traffic, so he doesn't mind paying for them. I think the irony was lost on him. Also, don't get me started on curbside parking in residential neighborhoods. Who decided that I should be able to store my private auto in public space without paying any extra? Residential parking renders up to 2/3 of the street unusable, yet nobody complains about that.

    2. But what about off-street paths and bike-specific signs and signals? To that I say, "what about sidewalks and pedestrian-specific signs and signals?" Why do people complain about one and not the other? Also, "Bike paths" around here are not strictly for bikes. They are Multi-use paths, used by peds, strollers, skaters, dogs, Canada geese, nutria--they are not for bicycle use only, and can be as dangerous as riding on the sidewalk at times. If all these users get to use such paths, why should only cyclists have to pay extra? Again, MUPs often make cycling more dangerous and inconvenient, while at the same time keeping cyclists out of the way of drivers--so who benefits?

    3. Who is freeloading? Motorists who complain that cyclists are freeloading because they don't pay registration or gas taxes overlook the largest population of true freeloaders on the roads today: passengers. Carrying passengers is glorified as "carpooling" and nobody minds that all these passengers are out there taking advantage of other people's cars on which they have paid no registration or gas taxes. Here is a mental visualization to try: Picture a car moving down the road (maybe passing you up) in an HOV lane with a driver and a passenger--keep in mind the passenger doesn't own the car and hasn't paid any reg fees. Now allow the car and driver to slowly fade away so only the passenger is left. So we now have a disembuggied passenger floating in the air down the road--still hasn't paid anything extra to use the road. Now picture that passenger drifting over to the right to a bike lane while a bike slowly fades in beneath them. Now we have the former passenger in the HOV lane riding a bike along in the bike lane. Why is one perfectly acceptable while the other is "no fair"? Instead of the above, imagine that the passenger fades over to their own car, and the driver and the passenger-turned-driver now both have to merge in front of you; would that be better?

    To me, the problem is two-fold. In the first place, there is a failure of imagination. Most non-cyclists, as they drive around looking at all the curbside parking, HOV lanes, sidewalks, pedestrian signals, etc. are thinking to themselves:

    "I'm by myself today, but tomorrow I might have a passenger, so I'll use the HOV lane."

    "I'm driving now, but soon I'll have to park--then I'll need that curbside parking."

    "After I park, I'll have to get out my car and (ugh) walk, so I'm glad the sidewalk and all those ped signals are there."

    The thing they DON'T think, while driving along looking at the bike lane is, "I'm driving today, but tomorrow I'm going to ride my bike, so I'll get to use the bike lane."

    In the second place, there are enough drivers who simply dislike cyclists and want them punished (as I mentioned in my earlier post), and discouraged from being on the road. I think this latter issue is why folks fail to complain about the things I mentioned above, and complain loudly about how "bikes should pay".

    Sorry this is so long!

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  • El Biciclero July 17, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    bruce, that last post #18 was for you to think about...

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  • encephalopath July 17, 2009 at 3:08 pm

    El Biciclero... those two comments should be front paged as an opinion piece.

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  • buglas July 17, 2009 at 3:23 pm

    @El Biciclero - Outstandingly well put! I want to print your comment and post it at my cubicle.

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  • Evan July 17, 2009 at 3:25 pm

    Ponder this:
    1,000 people.
    1,000 trips.

    If all of them drive, it requires:
    1,000 cars, which each need 200sf of space plus a minimum of 200sf space between them, plus a parking spot at each end (another 400sf). That's about 800sf of asphalt per person (vehicle). For 1,000 vehicles, that's 800,000sf of asphalt. This is a pretty conservative estimate, and not at all scientific. In reality, that space is likely significantly more.

    If all of them ride a bike, it requires:
    1,000 bikes, which each require about 20sf of asphalt. Add similar figures for the rest, and you have a total asphalt requirement of about 80sf per person (vehicle). For 1,000 people on bikes, you need about 80,000sf of asphalt.

    All else the same, it costs 10X as much asphalt (and real estate) to use a car as it does to use a bike.

    So if general fund $ pays for roads, and people who ride pay into the general fund, people who ride should get a refund of 90% of their taxes that go to maintain roads.

    OK, this is a simplistic argument, I know.

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  • BURR July 17, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    In those two posts, El Biciclero has hit the nail squarely on the head!

    All cyclists could become 'model'road users tomorrow and motorists would still resent our presence.

    And almost all motorists are pedestrians at some point, but only a small percentage of them are bicyclists.

    I still think the best way to get motorists to see things from the bicylists perspective is to make them get on a bike and experience a month of riding in traffic.

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  • BURR July 17, 2009 at 3:29 pm

    In those two posts, El Biciclero has hit the nail squarely on the head!

    All cyclists could become 'model'road users tomorrow and motorists would still resent our presence.

    And almost all motorists are pedestrians at some point, but only a small percentage of them are bicyclists.

    I still think the best way to get motorists to see things from the bicylists perspective is to make them get on a bike and experience a month of riding in traffic.

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  • Evan July 17, 2009 at 3:34 pm

    Let us not forget the price of entry for each mode. A new car costs $15,000; add in the cost for gas, insurance, maintenance, etc. If you drive 15,000 miles a year, and it costs about .50 per mile to operate a car, that's $7,500 out of your annual budget. It costs a lot of money to use that road. A new bike can be had for $300, plus another couple hundred for some fenders, panniers and rain gear...leaving all that extra money available for a mortgage on a house close to work, groceries, entertainment, etc...money that will flow through the local economy and support economic recovery.

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  • mabsf July 17, 2009 at 4:02 pm

    I loved this comment on the Columbian Editorial:

    Ham Chuck : 7/17/09 3:06am - Report Abuse
    As long as our bike users are families and people who ride for recreational and health reasons, we should encourage them. When they become militant and demand costly "bike boxes" because (in Portland's case) they run into slow moving trucks making right turns, they should pay.

    Yeah the roads were made for people and bikes first, but now they are paid for by cars. Given that reasoning we should allow horse carts. Oh wait, we don't allow them. How about some tuk-tuks?

    We should allow horse carts, tuk-tuks and militant cyclists!

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  • Joe July 17, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    El Biciclero * classic * LOL

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  • Lester July 17, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    I sure hope supporters of this idea license all their kids' bikes if it passes.

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  • are July 17, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    all public facilities should be paid for exclusively by user fees rather than general revenue, and privatized. water, sewer, police, fire, the works.

    or not.

    in either case, I will still not use the striped lanes or green boxes.

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  • bruce July 17, 2009 at 10:56 pm

    El and others: I haven't had time to truly digest your response but I certainly appreciate the thought you put into it. I have considered free parking for years and consider it among the most underutilized funding resources available, period. Clearly, a tax of some sort should be collected from every vehicle parked on public property. However, that will probably include the hundreds of bikes parked even tonight at the wonderful bike corrals all over town. (the mere sight of which gladdens my heart). I don't care whether there are bike lanes painted or not but I guarantee you that hundreds of our fellow cyclists do. Their value is a total illusion but if that is what it takes to get more people to give cycling transportation a try, I'll gladly pay a toll for more paint and the expensive trucks which make the lines. I have been saying this for years: you're not heroic because you make the intelligent choice to ride a bike. Intelligence doesn't exempt you from paying your way for the commons. It may be that we who are making a real difference have to shoulder even more of the load. Keep talking. I really want to know.

    bruce

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  • [...] reports on the Vancouver Columbian’s editorial calling a bike license fee a [...]

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  • Todd Boulanger July 18, 2009 at 9:32 am

    Following up on SteveDs comment...

    ...he is 100% correct...the City of Vancouver has not had a official bicycle (and pedestrian advisory committee) primarily due to the City Manager and Mayor Pollard choosing to limit discussion from the bicycling community without a on-going 'official' public forum*.

    As a former CoV transportation staffer, I often wished we had the resource of an offficial advisory group...to do much of the successful work that similar advisory groups do - like the City of Portland's. Working through Clark County's BAC is ok, but not the same.

    *It has been regular 'city policy' [unwritten] to reduce the number of official commissions and advisory groups since 2000 when Pat Mcdonnell took over from Vernon Stoner as the City Manager.

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  • are July 18, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    re comment 30. an interesting question whether the bike corral is an intrusion on the commons for which cyclists generally should pay separately. when, as often happens, I am unable to use a corral because the racks are too close to the curb or whatever, I will hook up to a nearby sidewalk staple or signpost, and I guess I am still intruding on the commons. when I put the bike away for the night, it is within my living space, and not out on the street where somehow it is still okay for the neighbor to park his car.

    anyway, to the larger point. you say lane striping is something cyclists should be willing to pay for through some separate fee because it encourages newbies to get out on the roads. let me suggest that the "value" of lane striping is worse than illusory, it is harmful, because it pushes bicycle traffic to the right, into door zones, debris, and sewer grates, and allows overtaking motorists to pass too close. the only "infrastructure" that is needed or desirable is "share the road" signage and sharrows. and even these are not so much "for the benefit" of the cyclist as they are a warning to the inattentive or incompetent motorist.

    we have placed in the hands of almost everyone a technology that is not only inappropriate to the task at hand, but is actually beyond the ability of most people to operate safely. what to do. if a partial response is "share the road" signage and some sharrows, should cyclists be paying the cost? maybe what we ought to do is withdraw the technology from such widespread access.

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  • Pete July 19, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Bruce: "It may be that we who are making a real difference have to shoulder even more of the load."

    I feel that way when I look over the percentage of my property taxes that go to public school systems - none of which I use since I don't have children - and I wonder where that money is going (must be those 'overpaid' teachers :). Then I compare that to the percentage of federal gas tax I pay that goes toward general infrastructure. It almost seems to me like the majority of people in this country drive cars and have kids - and they vote.

    While it's nice to think a bicycle fee could be used for an infrastructure-specific fund to increase safety and reduce VMT and increase the number of cyclists, etc, I think El B hits the sociopolitical reality on the head. We've increased taxes through the years to pay for schools but our test scores are getting lower and teachers aren't getting paid more. We've increased spending on transportation infrastructure dramatically since 2001 (by burgeoning the deficit to pay for it) yet our bridges are still falling down and the people at the top (i.e. Mary Peters) still scream "crisis." So given the track record I'm ill-convinced that 'taxing' bicycles will do anything but make people ride them less. Theoretically you impose a fee on something that costs a great deal to society and that you want people to do less of - like smoking and drinking, for instance - but in reality politicians tend to impose fees on the things their constituency doesn't do.

    And El B... ROTFL! Best post ever!

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  • peejay July 20, 2009 at 6:25 am

    I've always said to the motorheads: "Fine. Tax me. Just make it commensurate with the burden I place on the roads, and do the same for your taxes. Mine would be in the pennies per year, a fee that would cost more to collect than it's worth. I'd be happy to pay it if it meant my income and property taxes were reduced now that they no longer had to fund highways. Yours, currently about a hundred-something per car every two years, plus about $.50/gallon that you buy, would go up about double, possibly triple. Still want me to pay?

    So, yeah, Bruce. I see your point. Let's pay the bike tax. But only if motorists pay their fair share, too. The problem for me is, if they don't pay their fair share, the deal's off. And they never will. Too many of them, and they pretty much run the country.

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  • bruce July 20, 2009 at 10:13 am

    Abso-damn-lutely!!

    If cars were made to pay the total cost of their impact, many drivers would abandon them as fast as they could. This is the point I was trying to make. Share the road and share the cost equivalently to the total impact.

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  • Pete July 20, 2009 at 5:08 pm

    "Given that reasoning we should allow horse carts. Oh wait, we don't allow them."

    Who says we don't allow them? As long as they are equipped per vehicular standards under ORS 815 (lighting, braking, etc) and the horse is controlled as per ORS 814 and they are not expressly forbidden from that highway section it's my understanding they are allowed.

    But we should tax them, too, since "cars pay for the roads." :)

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  • revphil July 20, 2009 at 7:37 pm

    whoa impressive. I think El Biciclero is angling for an award and so:

    COMMENT OF THE WEEK awarded to El Biciclero for good content, diction and style.

    ------

    ps Columbian, Thanks for the editorial!

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