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Rep. Ed Orcutt responds, apologizes for ‘confusing’ email

Posted by on March 4th, 2013 at 9:44 am

‘It was over the top and I admit is not one which should enter into the conversation regarding bicycles.”
— Ed Orcutt, Washington State Representative

I’m in Washington DC right now covering the National Bike Summit; but thought I’d share an update on a big story we helped break over the weekend.

As you probably know by now, Washington State Representative Ed Orcutt has gained national notoriety for his comments that bicycling pollutes the environment. Before running our story on Saturday, I contacted Rep. Orcutt for a clarification about his comments. This morning I heard back. In an email Orcutt admits his comments were “over the top.” Read the full email below:


Jonathan,

First of all, let me apologize for the carbon emissions line of an e-mail which has caused so much concern within the bicycle community. It was over the top and I admit is not one which should enter into the conversation regarding bicycles.

Although I have always recognized that bicycling emits less carbon than cars, I see I did a poor job of indicating that within my e-mail. My point was that by not driving a car, a cyclist was not necessarily having a zero-carbon footprint. In looking back, it was not a point worthy of even mentioning so, again, I apologize – both for bringing it up and for the wording of the e-mail.

Rep. Ed Orcutt.

Second, please understand that I have not proposed, nor do I intend to propose, any tax – and certainly not a carbon tax – on bicyclists. There is little in the Democrat tax proposal that I support. However, the one aspect of the Democrat tax plan that has merit is their proposed $25.00 tax on the purchase of any bicycle $500.00 or more. I am willing to consider this because I’ve heard requests from members of the bicycle community that they want more money for bicycle infrastructure. The idea of bicyclists paying for some of the infrastructure they are using is one which merits consideration.

Since I have heard concerns about doing this via sales tax due to the impact on bicycle shops, I am very willing to work with the bicycle community to determine an appropriate way to enable bicyclists to pay for some of the bicycle-only lanes and overpasses. It is my intent to seek out your advocates in Olympia to see if there are other ways to accomplish this.

Again, I do apologize for the carbon line in the e-mail and any confusion it has created. I look forward to working on reasonable solutions to the problems cyclists are having with infrastructure.

Ed

Representative Ed Orcutt
20th Legislative District

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Comments
  • Tony March 4, 2013 at 9:51 am

    not bad as far as apologies go.

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    • Todd Hudson March 4, 2013 at 10:29 am

      I’m actually surprised that he actually apologized, and am impressed that he followed it with constructive dialog. Usually what you hear from folks like this is “sorry to anyone who may have been offended that I misspoke”. Good for him.

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  • Brandon Van Buskirk March 4, 2013 at 9:55 am

    This is a fair response. I still think he needs to be educated in the basic way we pay for our shared infrastructure since he is under the impression that people who ride bikes aren’t contributing as they ride.

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  • Erik Sandblom March 4, 2013 at 9:56 am

    Does he want a shoe tax to respond to pedestrians requesting more pedestrian infrastructure?

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  • Dee Bagg March 4, 2013 at 9:58 am

    And drivers should pay for all the free parking on roadways for the storage of their haz-mat laden private property.

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  • Tax Payer March 4, 2013 at 10:00 am

    “I am very willing to work with the bicycle community to determine an appropriate way to enable bicyclists to pay for some of the bicycle-only lanes and overpasses.”

    Wow, OK. I actually was giving Ed the benefit of the doubt and assuming that his CO2 line was just a joke. Apparently, not. Well, anyway, now that the distractingly idiotic comment is out of the way, we can argue Ed’s assertion on the merits:

    Can someone please help this guy understand that people who commute by bike also, very often use transit, own motor vehicles and pay all of the fees and taxes associated with those modes of transport in addition to their bicycles. Cyclists also pay the income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes that fund the vast majority of Washington State’s transportation infrastructure. And, by the way, the cost to striping “bicycles-only” lanes on an existing street is a tiny drop in the transportation bucket.

    The notion that a special tax or fee is necessary for cyclists, is an abject absurdity. Moreover, how does this policy square with the Republican party’s ostensible desire to help small businesses, like bike shops, and to foster individual liberties, like riding a bicycle.

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  • Gabriel Amadeus Tiller March 4, 2013 at 10:05 am

    So he apologizes, and then immediately makes an ass of himself proving he has no idea where transportation infrastructure’s money actually comes from?

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    • BURR March 4, 2013 at 3:18 pm

      Like I said in the other thread, we are now watching the Idiocracy in action.

      :-(

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  • Matt Haughey March 4, 2013 at 10:10 am

    Aside from whether or not cyclists should be taxed, I’ve always thought asking for an (optional) charge at the point of purchase was a good idea.

    I’ve told representatives from IMBA, People For Bikes, and the World Bicycle Relief that letting me kick in $20 when I’m buying a $1,000 bike at a shop would be a no-brainer and I bet get some good uptake.

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    • Greg Lopes March 4, 2013 at 11:30 am

      I dunno. I think a tax on breathing based on carbon emissions is one dumb step away from saying to someone you have to pay to exist, and if you can’t pay you won’t exist. I guess that’s one way of ridding the world of the useless without the labels of “racists,” or “haters.”

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    • Randall Sewell March 4, 2013 at 11:41 am

      We already have a tax at point-of-purchase for bicycles: it’s the gas tax that we pay for the shipping of the bicycle to the store.

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  • Robert Ping March 4, 2013 at 10:13 am

    Silver Linings: I think there is now an opportunity for Washington/Seattle advocates and residents of his district to educate Rep. Orcutt, who is influential in his state. He doesn’t understand transportation funding, much less what cars, their infrastructure and outputs actually cost us directly and indirectly. This situation, and the fact that he feels the political pressure from it, may make him willing to meet with – and actually listen to – advocates on the topic of bicycles, which could help Washington state bicycling in the long run.

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  • Anne Hawley March 4, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Pretty graceful as politicians’ apologies go. But if Orcutt doesn’t understand the basics of transportation funding, how far are we from having a general public understanding? Why is this so hard?

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  • 9watts March 4, 2013 at 10:45 am

    “The idea of bicyclists paying for some of the infrastructure they are using is one which merits consideration.”

    That really depends. Beth Slovic notwithstanding, If we understand most so-called bicycle infrastructure as defensive, as protecting us against the dangers of the ubiquitous automobile, then no, it is not clear that we who bike should necessarily foot the bill.

    I can’t think of bike infrastructure that would be useful in the absence of the overwhelming presence of cars. Can you?

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    • are March 4, 2013 at 1:58 pm

      i was about to say i am not asking for the separated infrastructure and am thus not inclined to pay for it, but you have nailed it much better. the only reason anyone wants separated infrastructure is the motorists have overrun the commons.

      but if i were still in snark mode, i might also say i am perfectly satisfied with the lugged steel road bike i bought twenty-five years ago at probably just under the five hundred threshold, and would not be exposed to a point of sale excise anyway.

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  • K'Tesh March 4, 2013 at 10:48 am

    Representative Orcutt, I’m speaking as a tax paying Oregonian here, so please do some research on this for your own state…

    In Oregon, Out of each tax dollar that gets spent on our state’s roads. only 1¢ gets spent on bike and pedestrian infrastructure. I get only about 0.5¢ to meet my needs as a cyclist for a safe way to get from A to B. Please remind me how does the logic work that “I’m not paying my fair share”?

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  • Erik Griswold March 4, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Actually, this is getting international attention.

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  • oliver March 4, 2013 at 11:14 am

    At some point you have to step back and say, after all the years of talking, there are people who are still pushing the same old garbage that taxpayers who happen to use a bicycle for a given % of their mobility have not contributed to the funding for the infrastructure which has been built for people in this country to move about on.

    After so many re-iterations of the fact that costs of transportation infrastructure are born by everyone in society, we must, at some point assume, that people who continue to say otherwise are just not bargaining in good faith.

    The apology notwithstanding, representative Orcutt has employed a transparent and cliche political tactic whereby he has attempted to legitimize an unreasonable proposal by following it with a carefully presented outrageous statement, followed by a contrived yet conciliatory tone forcing us to entertain the original premise or risk looking intransigent.

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    • Pete March 4, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      Well put. I consider his reply neither an apology nor a clarification.

      By his logic, people who have children should shoulder more of the roadway tax burden as well, as they have 1) increased the aggregate supply of CO2 ‘pollution’ and 2) their children are typically driven around until they are old enough to get their own licenses and cars (which, presumably, pay for the entire cost of roadways and maintenance). If we’re going to play the “fair share” game I’ll gladly pay properly-weighted fees for my car when I drive, my bicycle when I ride, and my children when I put them through school… but you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

      And the more I read crap like this (blaming the other party for not putting together an acceptable tax proposal) the more I want a third-party alternative to challenge the partisan status quo.

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  • Kristen March 4, 2013 at 11:19 am

    I’m glad he apologized and sounds like he actually means it. I also hope that he takes this as an opportunity and a goad to educate himself on how infrastructure is paid for– the source of the transportation income is easy to find for normal people with access to the internet, and should be even easier as an elected official with inside access.

    I would also hope that the national and international readers take the time to educate themselves on this issue. We keep having this same conversation about who pays for what, and we never get anywhere. I’d like to get beyond the finger-pointing and get to the problem-solving.

    And for the record, I do not support a flat $25 tax on bicycle purchases above $500… but I would support a percentage tax, not to exceed $25. As long as the funds are earmarked specifically for bicycle projects and cannot be appropriated for other purposes, and as long as the state makes it very clear to everyone that this tax is just part of what bicyclists pay in addition to income tax, property tax, sales tax, gas taxes, vehicle licensing and registration taxes…. etc etc etc. If I were in Washington, that is.

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    • 9watts March 4, 2013 at 11:28 am

      “but I would support a percentage tax, not to exceed $25.”

      We tax cigarettes; we tax (add a deposit to the purchase price of) soda cans; we tax gasoline, we tax plastic bags (in some jurisdictions); we tax lead acid batteries, in places like Denmark cars themselves are heavily taxed. But in all cases I can think of the reason we tax those things is because as a society we agree (or a majority of legislators agree) that the activities associated with these products or the products themselves are not that great for society; that there are better alternatives. So one chief reason, often more important than raising funds, to tax these things is to discourage their use. In light of this pattern I think taxing bicycles is absurd and a bad idea, a bad precedent. Not because I don’t think we all should pay for public infrastructure; I’m all for that. But because as some have noted in this discussion we are not necessarily dealing with reasonable people, with people who agree to basic ground rules of logic and argument. Any tax on bicycles will, a la Huckaby, be taken up with glee by certain individuals and used to further cement their kooky notions of fiscal parity.

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      • Mike March 4, 2013 at 11:50 am

        Food gets taxed, property gets taxed, hotels(hospitality) get taxed.
        I do not believe it is to discourage their use or consumption.

        Sometimes things are taxed in order to generate revenue and there is no secret (or not so secret) agenda is involved.

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        • 9watts March 4, 2013 at 11:56 am

          True enough, but lots of smart people have also recognized that it is strange to tax things we like, things that are beneficial to society, when the mechanism of taxation can be used in such a way that we preferentially tax things that are harmful (fossil fuels, cigarettes, cars) and stop taxing things that are societally beneficial (labor, food, property, etc.). This is variously referred to as ecological tax reform, ecotax shift, etc. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ecotax

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        • are March 4, 2013 at 2:05 pm

          food as such does not get taxed. in some, but not all, states that have a sales tax, food is not exempted. but that is not a tax “on food.” there is a very finite supply of real property, to which one may claim only because the state affords a legal continuity that allows “property” to exist. property taxes support that continuity. hotel taxes are imposed for the most part on nonresidents, whose presence imposes additional burdens on the local infrastructure, and the taxes tend to be earmarked for promoting tourism.

          so i am not getting any of your analogies.

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  • Jacques March 4, 2013 at 11:23 am

    He fails to recognize bicyclists DO pay taxes already when we pay our income tax. Much of that money is used in infrastructure funding. No matter HOW we may pay through sales tax county taxes and city taxes as well as special bonds like California’s Measure A which diverts funding to bicycle pedestrian infrastructure, we DO pay into the funding for infrastructure. We also buy gas on occasion so our finding comes from THAT also. In my bike commutes over 33 yrs, I eliminated an estimated 235000 lb from the atmosphere in GHG. The man is a fool to have even said a cyclist’s breathing contributes, because MOTORISTS breathe and since they are likely less healthy, they likely breathe more heavily from poor metabolic rates, smoking AND STRESSES involved from driving (gridlock, road rage etc.).

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  • Jerr March 4, 2013 at 11:36 am

    I am sure that because Rep. Orcutt supports all road users paying their own way he is also supporting funding of Columbia bridges through tolls, right? I mean, if it is wrong for a cyclist to get a free ride it would be unconscienable to ask for Oregon or Federal taxes to pay for people in Kalama to drive south, right?

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  • nuovorecord March 4, 2013 at 11:36 am

    The sad thing is…this guy got elected by a bunch of other people that thought he was the best person to represent them. Sigh…

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  • Dave March 4, 2013 at 11:47 am

    weasel weasel weasel weasel weasel weasel…………………………….

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    • K'Tesh March 4, 2013 at 1:05 pm

      Apparently, Washington’s voters thought of him as the lesser of two weasels.

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  • Arem March 4, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    Quick! Everyone! Stop breathing! You’re polluting the atmosphere with all of the hot air you’re spewing!

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  • Zaphod March 4, 2013 at 2:42 pm

    The argument that cyclists pay our fair share has been replayed many times and somehow it gets ignored by many. And we roll out the commentary about shoe tax and breathing tax to point at the absurdity of it all. I propose we opt for a simple talking point, a meme that’s simply, “cycling is a net gain”
    We pay more than our road costs.
    We reduce traffic in terms of cars queued at signals etc.
    Our parking footprint is tiny.
    We do not pollute.
    We present little risk to others.

    But we should simply begin the conversation not in a “gosh give us a seat at the table oh pretty please.” But instead, “Cyclists are a net gain” and maybe begin demanding a bit more than we’ve gotten simply in the name of fairness and being efficient as a society.

    Cyclists are a net gain.

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  • John March 4, 2013 at 3:02 pm

    Tax the healthy for being responsible, why not, we already tax the rich for being ambitious…
    Seriously.

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  • Chester March 4, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    This is a very good law!

    Many people bicycle because they can’t afford cars Those same people eat fast food because they can’t afford expensive food. Fast food causes more farts than regular food. This is damaging to the environment and should be taxed.

    Bicycle taxes are more cost effective and less invasive than other fart monitoring technologies.

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  • joe kurmaskie March 4, 2013 at 3:56 pm

    We are a net gain. We (advocacy groups and individuals) should be launching a full frontal media assault campaign asking for a tax rebate just as people using mass transit get for removing a single occupancy vehicle from the stream. The fact that Rob S over at the BTA said in a recent interview that we should entertain discussion about a bike tax tells me that the BTA is impotent and quite an embarrassment to me personally. Please direct your efforts and funds elsewhere, as I have – perhaps to groups actually taking on fights like the CRC.

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  • joe kurmaskie March 4, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    As for the apology, he’s backpedaling b/c and only b/c he is an international laughing stalk at this moment. Classic political bob and weave, he goes humble with one side of his mouth while bringing back up the bike tax with the other side – proving a grave lack of knowledge about how the transportation system is paid for – talk about heavy breathing.

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  • Tim March 4, 2013 at 6:09 pm

    I too e-mailed Rep. Orcutt that I was much dismayed by his stance. The e-mail above is identical to the one I received. However this guy spins it, we are looking at potential “taxes” or surcharges on bikes if we do not remain vigilant. It makes me remember to read my voters pamphlets and to be educated about the individuals I vote for to represent me.

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  • just joe March 4, 2013 at 8:08 pm

    He shouldn’t apologize. Hes a fool. I’m ok with that..he provided me a good laugh.For free. No need to apologize to ME. As for his constituency.. thats up to them.

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  • Dan March 4, 2013 at 10:07 pm

    Given that most bike lanes are used as passing lanes by cars refusing to wait for others turning left, I’m waiting to see what “bike-only infrastructure” he is talking about…

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  • Erik Griswold March 4, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Just heard it on CBS Radio News (National Top of the Hour)!

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  • Erik Griswold March 4, 2013 at 11:17 pm

    Just heard it on CBS Radio News (National Top of the Hour)!

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  • Sara H March 5, 2013 at 3:31 am

    Here in the UK we have a tax relief scheme for those who choose to buy bikes to cycle to work. Those who take up the scheme do not pay income tax on the salary sacrificed to pay for the bike. This recognises that taking a car off the road and replacing it with a bike saves the local authority and government money in a myriad of ways ie – less vehicular damage to infrastructure, less health care provision. Cyclists do not need to pay directly for infrastructure, it will pay for itself indirectly by the reduction in the impact their cars have. The sooner Ed Orcutt works this out and stops spouting nonsence the better.

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    • 9watts March 5, 2013 at 9:59 am

      Sara H,

      Thanks for posting this fascinating little arrangement. Do you think you might be able to send us a link or some language describing this clause? I think folks here would be most interested in learning more. Thanks again.

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      • Sara H March 9, 2013 at 10:03 am

        It’s called the cycle to work scheme.

        Bikes and accessories are purchased by the employer and then hired back to the employee over a year. The payments are taken from your salary (monthly) before income tax is deducted, hence you don’t pay tax on the money used to pay for the bike.
        At the end of the year the employee has the option to buy the bike – the value assessed by the bike to work co-ordinators. Most bikes are valued at arround £0, mine was :o)
        Of course, bikes can be used for purposes other than riding to work.

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  • PaPilot March 5, 2013 at 7:17 am

    If bicyclists are so eager to pay for their own bicycle infrastructure, what’s stopping them getting out their checkbooks and writing checks to government?

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    • Alan 1.0 March 9, 2013 at 10:38 am

      I already do that, as do all bike riders I know (except kids).

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  • mark kenseth March 5, 2013 at 8:39 am

    Just heard it on OPB/NPR national news this morning.

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  • John Landolfe March 5, 2013 at 9:11 am

    He was wise to walk that statement back. The misperception that specific compounds are pollutants, and not any compound in excess of the ecological balance, is a red flag of scientific illiteracy.

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  • GlowBoy March 5, 2013 at 12:14 pm

    Sara H, that’s a great observation, and one that gets pointed out regularly here at BikePortland. But the idea that bikes and bike infrastructure SAVE motorists money does not compute for most American politicians’ brains. Which, unfortunately, is because it does not compute for most Americans’ brains. I doubt the likes of Ed Orcutt will ever get it.

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  • thedr9wningman March 5, 2013 at 1:42 pm

    He still missed the point, though. The reason his comment was so outrageous is because he doesn’t know the difference between fossil fuel-based carbon (ancient sunlight being thrown into the air and unbalancing the carbon cycle) and the current carbon cycle. No matter how many humans there are, we’ll never set the carbon balance off as long as the CO2 we produce is due to respiration, because that is all, in general, ‘now carbon’. How is everyone missing this?

    http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/research/themes/carbon/img/carboncycle.gif
    versus:
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics/Respiration_Cycle_500.jpg

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  • Clark in Vancouver March 5, 2013 at 3:46 pm

    This shows that there is a pressing need for education. It should be in school curriculums, in the driver’s handbook, as part of the drivers license test, ads on TV, radio and newspapers, etc. about how streets and roads are funded.
    Too many people who drive have no clue as to how subsidized their mode of travel is. It didn’t matter in the past what they thought but now it’s starting to become problematic. It’s time to enlighten them.

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  • Kathy March 5, 2013 at 8:06 pm

    I wish he and so many others could understand that we need to have a whole transportation SYSTEM that allows people to use different transportation modalities. There are other ways to move from point A to point B besides driving in a car–obvious to us but not to most people where I live. We’re all affected in various ways by whatever our infrastructure is. There will seldom be people who just use bike lanes or others who just use car lanes or others who just use sidewalks. And all of us can be benefited somehow by all of them being there. For example, we benefit from trucks that bring goods and foods to the communities in which we live. (I know, I know–local and sustainable. But cocoa beans don’t grow in North America.) Likewise, we benefit by less wear-and-tear on the roads, fewer emissions, and increased health when people ride bikes or walk. So maybe our ways for funding our transportation system need to be reworked. But I don’t think it is a matter of car drivers paying for car infrastructure, bicyclists paying for bike infrastructure, pedestrians paying for walking infrastructure, or public transit users paying for that infrastructure exclusively. Because, like so many others, I’m a driver, bicyclist, walker, and user of public transportation all wrapped up into one person. For now, I have my “Share the Road” stickers for my bike and my car. Maybe I’ll start wearing one when the sidewalks are all covered in snow and I have to walk on the street. (I live in Syracuse, NY.)

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  • Phil Fouracre March 6, 2013 at 2:25 am

    We thought that we had it tough in the UK! What chance have you guys got with politicians as thick as that in charge. I will look at some of ours in a different light now – best of luck

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  • kgb March 6, 2013 at 7:53 am

    He didn’t just say these things off the cuff, he wrote them down. He is dishonest to the core, apology NOT accepted.

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  • Fred Lifton March 6, 2013 at 3:00 pm

    Why, oh why can’t some DoT or other state official come out with an unequivocal statement that explains how road construction and maintenance is funded? Surely it would help if Kitz or someone else prominent were to plainly state: gas tax does not pay for the majority of transportation costs. We can try debunking this all we like in letters to Reps and the Oregonian and in comment threads, but it’s all just pissing in the wind if our elected officials can’t come out and state the plain truth.

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  • Steve Myrick March 8, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    Why is it that right wingers are so science averse? Animals (yes, right wingers, we are animals) release no more carbon (as carbon dioxide or other carbon containing substances) than they consume. If one is producing more carbon dioxide as a result of intense exercise, he must ultimately consume that much carbon if his weight is to remain constant. The net effect is no more carbon dioxide is being added to the environment because of exercise. In consuming food we are part of a carbon cycle. Living plants have incorporated the carbon dioxide and we are releasing it as part of the cycle. But burning sequestered (for hundreds of millions of years) carbon in petroleum products in hundreds of years cauases a vast net gain in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

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