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Bike tax seen as neccessary to address “political reality”

Posted by on November 19th, 2008 at 12:43 pm

“We’re not going to put our blinders on and say ‘no, we refuse to talk about it’.”
–BTA lobbyist Karl Rohde

One of the many interesting conversations that we’ll follow in the upcoming legislative session is the concept of a bike tax.

We shared news of the tax last week and reported that the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) is discussing the idea with lawmakers in Salem and a committee formed by Metro is supportive of the concept. The idea is to charge an excise tax (in the realm of $5-20) at the point-of-sale on new bicycles.

Initial conversations have been modeled after a previous effort to pass a bike tax that came up in 2005. During that session, the BTA’s then-lobbyist and now executive director Scott Bricker worked with legislator Bruce Starr (R-Hillsboro) on the idea. Their effort had momentum and support from other lawmakers, but was eventually killed (once word got out) by big box retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, who sell the vast majority of new bikes in Oregon.

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In 2005, Starr and Bricker estimated the tax would bring in $2 million a year and would cost $500,000 to administer.

So far, response to the bike tax idea from the community has been mixed; but a majority of commenters have not been supportive of it and many have expressed vehement opposition to the idea (even threatening to not renew their BTA membership if they continue to support it).

To learn more about why the BTA would support a bike tax, I talked with their head lobbyist who will be representing them in Salem this year — Karl Rohde.

Rohde emphasized that the idea is only in the “conversation stage” at this point and that, “there are a lot of unanswered questions” about it. But, in talking with Rohde and others, it’s clear to me that if the right kind of bike tax proposal is hammered out, the BTA would not hesitate to support it.

“We are willing to be constructive members of a committee that discusses a bike tax,” Rohde told me, “we’re not going to put our blinders on and say ‘no, we refuse to talk about it’. I think it’s naive that you just demand that we not even talk about it.”

Rohde feels that anyone who says they should reject the concept outright just “don’t understand the political reality” of Salem lobbying. “If you go in with a ‘no!’ attitude you get bulldozed…it’s just not constructive for all the other things we’re trying to accomplish.”

The point Rohde makes is that if the BTA doesn’t at least play ball with the bike tax discussion, other major players in Salem (the trucking lobby, the highway lobby, etc…) will make it much more difficult for them to pursue their other funding goals — like increasing the state’s mandatory bike spending fund (the Bicycle Bill) by .5% and going for $20 million for “non-motorized corridors”.

Besides the political points the BTA hopes to score, Rohde also reminded me that if $1.5 million could be raised for a designated pot that would fund Safe Routes to Schools (which is one of the ideas on the table), it would mean they could teach bike safety to an additional 50,000 children a year. (The BTA currently teaches 5,000 kids a year with a $150,000 budget).

I asked Rohde if supporting a bike tax is essentially giving up on the false argument that bikes don’t pay their way. “I don’t think it’s giving up,” he said, and then added, “it allows us to continue to have that conversation. He also said he’ll continue to make the argument that bikes do in fact pay their fair share.

Noted bike lawyer and member of the BTA’s Legislative Committee Ray Thomas also shared his support for a bike tax in a comment on a story last week about a bike excise tax in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Thomas wrote that he feels the bike tax would give advocates respect (emphasis mine):

“What keeps us from sitting as full participants at the transportation table? Size? Numbers? Yes. But the two main criticisms I hear are that bicyclists don’t pay road taxes and fail to stop at stop signs. If we could remove these two gripes from the public mind it would push us closer to a real seat at the table.

We can argue all we want but until we pay tax dollars as bicyclists for roads we just can’t provide an argument that satisfies most complainers and a bike tax would shut the whole subject down.”

Thomas also wrote that he feels the League of American Bicyclists (a national bike advocacy group) should take on the bike tax as a priority. Until we pay a tax, Thomas wrote, “we are under served by the system and viewed as a sort of transportation novelty by many motorists.”

Early this morning, BTA leader Scott Bricker published a story on their blog about the issue.

Bricker wrote that the BTA will be, “at the forefront of the fight to ensure that any measure that raises transportation fees or directly taxes cycling are cost-effective, fair and efficient.”

In the end, Rohde says this is about having the community be “willing to accept a nominal charge” in order to “engender enough goodwill that it results in a whole host of other successes.” He likened their support of the bike tax idea as being “willing to put a little more skin in the game” in order to accomplish their goals.

Is taxing bikes a devil’s bargain? Or is this a move that will finally turn the tables and open up new possibilities for advocates? Either way, it will be interesting to see how this (and other legislative ideas) play out in the coming months.

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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

  • jrep November 19, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    And raising the gas tax by one-tenth of a cent per gallon would raise $2.9 million per year with no increase in administrative costs.

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  • Velo Vanguard November 19, 2008 at 12:58 pm

    Respectfully, Rohde and the BTA are mischaracterizing the attitudes and statements of those of us who are opposed, and want BTA to oppose, this proposed tax. I don’t think anyone is saying, “Don’t talk about it. Go to Salem, stamp your foot, and act like a jerk.”

    Sure, you engage constructively in the political process, but you *oppose* the tax. Acting like people don’t understand the “political reality” just because they’re against the tax, or that BTA can’t simultaneously be engaged and oppose the tax, is disingenuous.

    There are many good reasons for opposing the tax, the most obvious of which is that when goods are taxed, their sales go down to the extent demand for the goods is elastic. That’s the case with bikes.

    BTA should be listening to the will of their members, instead of seizing an opportunity to tax bike sales in order to perpetuate their own organizational programs.

    Is there really any doubt that the majority of BTA members oppose this tax?

    Incidentally, if I thought BTA had any meaningful quid pro quo in mind — something that would really help bicyclists — in exchange for accepting this tax, I might be swayed. But I don’t. And I haven’t heard Rohde say anything like that above or elsewhere. Sure, the Safe Routes to School program is great, but have they thought about how reaching more kids will be offset by parents buying fewer bikes?

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  • gabriel amadeus November 19, 2008 at 1:06 pm

    Bicycling should receive an equal share of subsidies, not be disproportionately taxed.

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  • velo November 19, 2008 at 1:10 pm

    I’m wondering why the BTA believes a tax like this will create goodwill? It might, but I’d like to see data? Have they done research or polling? Share it! We need information if we are going to support this idea, otherwise it is just making a token financial effort when bikes are already a great deal in terms of impact on roads.

    BTA – please give use more information with specific information that supports your assertions. Public and elite opinion is not logical so give us reasons to believe this will work!

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  • Randy November 19, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    New taxes should have health, green, and equity criteria. Air pollution remains one of Portland’s biggest health risks. Taxing low carbon/zero pollution vehicles such as bikes appears to be a step in the wrong direction. Cars and trucks damage roads much more than bicycles. How about a tax on the polluters: 2-cycle engines, idling paper recycling trucks, and vehicles with large engines. Check out for more about the car bicycle debate.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) November 19, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    “It might, but I’d like to see data? Have they done research or polling?”


    remember, this thing is in its formative stages. the BTA and others will be doing all the analysis in the coming months.

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  • Ash..Housewares November 19, 2008 at 1:16 pm

    I would be willing to pay 5% on all purchases from a bike shop if:

    The funding went to bike related projects only.

    Language stating that the funding could not be redirected under any circumstances. No loopholes ect.

    Yes, I’m one of those wacky folks that thinks taxes are good. All be it, widely misused and sold under false pretences. If some of my income goes towards filling in some pot holes, marking more bike lanes and education then I’m in!

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  • Duncan Watson November 19, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    I am fine with a bike tax. It declaws many of the arguments used by bike foes.

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  • GLV November 19, 2008 at 1:24 pm

    “when goods are taxed, their sales go down to the extent demand for the goods is elastic.”

    While that is a true statement, I highly doubt a $5 per bike tax will be a deal breaker for very many consumers. “Well, I have $299, but $304…that’s insane!” I just don’t see that happening.

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  • John Peterson November 19, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    I’d say from reading comments that we readers are at least 4 to 1 against a bike tax, not just “mixed” or “majority” against.

    I’d also like to hear the pro tax folks address the whole double taxation issue.
    I mean the vast majority of bicyclists already pay taxes to support transportation. Why should we pay twice?

    How about a PR campaign that emphasizes the transportation taxes that bikers already pay and the benefits that biking brings to society as a whole?

    How about instead of a tax we talk about a donation funded foundation like NPR or any number of charities?

    And if we are going to start taxing bikes, how about a progressive tax that starts low (1%) on say new bikes over $500 and goes up from there? And make sure that low cost and used bikes are not taxed at all.

    In addition, if we are going to accept a new tax on bikes, we should at the same time see new taxes on motor vehicles and gas.

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  • Lennon November 19, 2008 at 1:38 pm

    The suggestion that bike taxes be applied to alternative-transportation projects is, I think, a fair one. Mandate that a large portion (up to 100%) of bike excise taxes go towards Safer Routes to School, Get Lit, and facility improvements, and you’ll make a supported out of me (and I suspect, a decent number of other bike commuters and advocates).

    Also, I think that you’ll probably see a much stronger correlation between gas prices and bike sales than you will with a modest excise tax. Bikes are for many people an alternative to driving, not recreational equipment, so their demand is driven by many factors entirely outside the bike market.

    I.e., the tenth-cent gas tax increase suggested by @jrep would probably increase bike sales as much as a $5 excise tax decreased them. Of course, the former could prove fatal to a legislator’s career in a state with such a tax-hating electorate as ours.

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  • El Biciclero November 19, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    First, accepting a tax on bikes is like confessing to something you did not do just to get a lighter sentence…but you’re still innocent and going to jail.

    Second, if the complaint is that “cyclists don’t pay for roads”, I would be curious to know which “roads” a bike tax would help pay for? If new money starts coming in from cyclists, will motorists suddenly acknowledge that bikes belong on the same roadways used by autos? Or will a perception develop that causes motorists to ask why cyclists are still getting in their way on the road if we now have all this money for “bike paths”.

    Taxing bikes, or rather using bike tax revenue solely for “bike infrastructure”, adds a new facet to the “us vs. them” mentality: “ours vs. theirs”. Motorists would easily form the notion that “the streets I paid for are mine, the bike paths you paid for are yours. I’ll stay off yours, you stay off mine.” Cyclists’ legal right to use the streets would fall even farther out of favor than it already is, perhaps leading to “separate but equal”, less safe and less efficient facilities that cyclists are mandated to use.

    A bike tax may raise a “nominal” amount of revenue, but I don’t think it will quell anyone’s anti-bikes-on-the-street attitude.

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  • JDL November 19, 2008 at 1:41 pm

    Why should the proposed excise tax apply only to bicycles? To be fair, it should apply to cars and motorcycles too. “in the realm of $5-20” sounds like about 1% of the purchase price. A fair transportation excise tax could charge 1% of the purchase price of all new vehicles that use public roads, no matter whether they use human, fossil fuel, or electric power. That way, all road users would contribute their fair share when they purchase a new vehicle of their choice.

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  • cyclist November 19, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Duncan: The bike tax doesn’t do much to nullify the arguments used by anti-bike folks. In the last 20 years the city of Portland has paid 55 million (in 2008 dollars) for bike facilities (this is according to an article Jonathan posted a few weeks back), and the bike tax would raise 1.5 million a year, which means that according to the anti-bike folks, we’re still not paying our way. Don’t forget, that 1.5 mil per year is the number for the entire state, it wouldn’t (and it shouldn’t) all get spent in Portland.

    The premise that bicyclists don’t pay their way is false, setting up a tax that has cyclists contribute a trivial amount of money doesn’t really address that argument, and opponents of bike funding will be smart enough to point that out immediately after the tax passes. I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong to support a tax, but it’s not realistic to expect the people to oppose us to give up their opposition once this tax passes.

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  • E November 19, 2008 at 1:43 pm

    Hey if Walmart is against it, then I’m for it.

    Everything intelligent I might have said, has been said already. Thank you.

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  • canuck November 19, 2008 at 1:47 pm

    I’m mainly against it when the same piece of legislation was going to give a tax break to those purchasing electric vehicles.

    How can you stand up for alternative transprotation, by giving a break to one form or transportation, which still pollutes when used, and taxing another form of transportation that doesn’t pollute when used?

    It’s easy to slap a tax on cyclists because they represent a minority of society and the majority feels we aren’t taxed enough for use of the road even though we proportionally pay more than we should as it is.

    This is the same thing they are doing with smokers. Politicians feel they can tax them because the majority of people don’t smoke and they are considered a class of citizen that can be put upon without a major backlash.

    Allow this to happen and we become the next easy target for tax schemes.

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  • toddistic November 19, 2008 at 1:50 pm

    Hey everyone,

    Remember, risking your life riding in streets with 2 ton metal machines to provide cleaner air, less congestion and a healthier body DOESNT MEAN A THING!! Give us more money!


    BTA / Metro

    (in all honesty, we are tired of being laughed at down in Salem and want to have equal footing with good ‘ol big boys!)

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  • Argentius November 19, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    Are non-Interstate roads funded mostly by gas taxes, or are they general fund projects, or some combination?

    Bikes ought to pay a lot less for roads than cars do, since they take up less space and cause less damage, but I’m okay contributing in some equitable fashion.

    I had the general sense that my income taxes and property taxes, (should I become a homeowner) pay for roads…

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  • A-dub November 19, 2008 at 1:55 pm

    I have a car. It is registered, titled and my wife drives it to work so I pay the gas tax. I’m fine with that. I’m also fine with paying a sales tax (yep, I said that word in Oregon) on bikes and bike accessories.

    I agree with Ash..Housewares @7 and Duncan @8 100%. I want to see this go be budget augmenting not budget relieving for bike projects (lanes, paths, education, etc.). Is this double taxation? Sure. Consider it a donation just like you would to the Portland Public Schools Foundation. Do we pay are share…yes. Are there political realities we deal with…yes. Would this help promote biking…yes.

    As for nullifying the “no free rides” folks. Find another way to pay for infrastructure rather than gas tax while your at it.

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  • Eric November 19, 2008 at 2:03 pm

    I think that a big part of the perception problem is not just the (false) idea that bikes don’t pay their way, but (also false) idea that cars *do* pay their way. Yes, cars pay license fees and gas tax, but that does not begin to cover all the costs associated with automobile use (the license tabs in Washington state probably don’t even cover the cost of “free” street parking). These costs come from general fund revenues (income, property, sales, whatever the particular local tax structure consists of). This is not necessarily a bad thing, but the persistant notion among many drivers that they pay their way with a (way too low) gasoline tax needs to be exposed for the falsehood it is. Then we can have a reasonable discussion of how (not whether–since we clearly already do) to subsidise societey’s transportation infrastructure.

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  • Pete November 19, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    Duncan (#8): “I am fine with a bike tax. It declaws many of the arguments used by bike foes.”

    So does the reality of spending for bike infrastructure. Bike foes already have weak arguments that “bikers don’t pay their way” that are debunked with facts and figures. Taxing new bicycles won’t change their opinions, which are often driven by bias and emotion.

    IIRC, wasn’t Bruce Starr the legislator who said “$30M would go a long way in Washington County” when discussing the cost of bike and ped infrastructure on the controversial bridge? And he’s the guy the BTA is “working with” regarding the tax?

    Pathetic. Wake up and raise the gas tax $.02 instead, at the very least, and ban studded tires, and stop deficit spending in the highway budgets. Money doesn’t grow on trees. It comes from employed people.

    Correction: Bruce said “(the $30 million allocated for bike and ped facilities) buys me a new interchange in Washington County that allows me to move people safely.”

    I suspect he meant move people *in cars* safely. Get your hands off my bike, Bruce.

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  • hanmade November 19, 2008 at 2:17 pm

    I agree with the no tax arguments above, but I can understand in this imperfect world the reason for the tax: It will give us more leverage in Salem for our cause. Since I have never bought a new bike (or car for that matter), I probably won’t be affected. If the tax money goes directly towards Safer Streets and such, then that is a good thing, even though it snot.

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  • Dave November 19, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    I’m all for the tax if the proceeds go towards bike-related programs and infrastructure. I think again in this whole discussion of bikes becoming an accepted means of transportation, we can’t just expect people to “get with it” and realize that we’re the superior ones here, and should make all concessions to accommodate us. In order to become an accepted demographic of society, we’re going to have to give in a bit, at least until cycling becomes a more universally accepted form of transportation around the city as a whole. That might mean you have to pay $5 more for your bike (are you really bent out of shape about that?), but it may also mean that you get the infrastructure and education that gets more people out riding, and convinces more people of the value of cycling. I agree that in general, cyclists more than pay for their use of the roads, but is it worth hanging onto your “rights” so tightly that you alienate everyone else? I agree with the BTA that it’s worth talking about this, and as long as a solution which feeds money back into the biking programs comes up, go for it.

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  • G.A.R. November 19, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Sounds idiotic and very dangerous to the progress of cycling in Oregon.

    Taking #12 further I anticipate pressure to stop funding bike amenities from the usual sources and instead rely solely on the bike tax for all bike-related road features, etc. And I think $5-20 for each sale of a new bike will go virtually NOWHERE toward what our system needs in the way of cycling infrastructure. let me say I’m in favor of safe routes to school. However, if funding safe routes to school has gotten so difficult that the BTA has to resort to compulsory payment, then I guess I think safe routes to school needs to be the loser here, not the entire bike infrastructure network.

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  • Lynne November 19, 2008 at 2:25 pm

    If the tax was only on adult bikes (although those Bike Fridays with their tiny wheels, hmm)…

    Really, I have no problem plunking down a seriously small amount of change ONCE when I buy a new bike. Not that I cause even $5 of wear on a roadway for the life of that bike.

    And yes, I understand that all those OTHER taxes I pay (property, income) subsidize the roads.

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  • Mike Bratty November 19, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    $500,000 to administer? Doesn’t seem worth it to me. I’m not opposed to paying the tax, but the cost to keep it operating is a bit ridiculous.

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  • Critter's Keeper November 19, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    I am really disheartened that I live in a society where this is true—
    “In 2005, Starr and Bricker estimated the tax would bring in $2 million a year and would cost $500,000 to administer.”
    -Moral Bankruptcy is such an unpleasant reflection

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  • D. :Jason Penney November 19, 2008 at 2:31 pm

    Hmmm…my first reaction was, it really kinda depends on the magnitude of the tax. $50 per new bicyclewould be a deal breaker. $5 per? Not such a big problem.

    Looking at the objections above, I see an interesting thread asking why we’re being asked to pay more when we’re part of the *solution*.

    I can understand that. So, how about this, Scott Bricker? Let’s make this proposal an insidious means by which we can revisit the way that *all* vehicle users contribute to regional transportation priorities.

    For instance, how about a $50/year smog tax for vehicles inside of the DEQ air quality boundary? Or a ten cents per gallon smog surcharge for fuel purchases in the Metro area? How about a $250/year congestion charge for vehicles that take up more pavement than a motorcycle?

    You see where I’m going here? Since bicycles are part of the *solution*, let’s make sure that the people who are part of the *problem* also pay their part.

    D. Jason Penney
    Chairman, Washington County BTC

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  • Ash..Housewares November 19, 2008 at 2:34 pm

    Thanx for the echo A-Dub! Too many folks complain about it not being fair about this or that. Mamma said life isn’t fair..and it’s not. Life is about standing up and saying “I may not have created some of the problems but, I going to do something about them anyway”. Take the high road so to speak. If the cycling community does something that winds up helping the driving community as well, then so what. It only makes us look better.

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  • Shoemaker November 19, 2008 at 2:35 pm


    Maybe the complementary story to this is the detailed story on transportation spending and funding source by project type.

    Are bike projects allocated a percentage of transportation spending in the state budget or not?

    I know this is bikeportland, not pedportland, but are pedestrian projects allocated a percentage of the state budget?

    With no hard facts to present, I personally suspect that the federal DOT will be changing its tune quickly with regards to modeshare priorities. (see energy, emissions, green house gasses, etc.) This means actual money, and/or authority to redirect existing money. Departments at the state and local level will start jumping when this happens.

    Is there also a complementary story about BTA and Metro’s plans to gear up to create or prepare for big changes in transportation funding priorities?

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) November 19, 2008 at 2:41 pm

    Are bike projects allocated a percentage of transportation spending in the state budget or not?”

    yes they are. The 1971 Bicycle Bill states that bikes must get 1% of funds for all major road re-construction and new construction projects.

    “are pedestrian projects allocated a percentage of the state budget?”

    no, not specifically… but I’m sure the bike bill has included things that are good for peds too.

    “Is there also a complementary story about BTA and Metro’s plans to gear up to create or prepare for big changes in transportation funding priorities?”

    I’m not aware of any specific “gearing up” campaign but I know both groups are gearing up internally.

    personally, I think both Metro and the BTA should be being much more aggressive at this point and take nothing for granted because I feel like bikes run a serious risk of being left at the side of the road once the decisions get to nitty-gritty time.

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  • Tupe November 19, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    It’s refreshing to see that the BTA will never stop reminding me why I quit being a member.

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  • the "other" steph November 19, 2008 at 2:51 pm

    i don’t think i’m the only known with the sentiment, “boy, if i heard a nickel for every ‘don’t pay for the road, no right to be on it’ line, i’d have a lot of nickels.” a new hobby of mine is to shoot back, “well then give me 1/4 of the gas in your tank, because i paid for that.”

    sure, talk about a bike tax to show we’re for free speech, but let’s not seriously give credence to the notion while the national government is bailing out auto-makers, and all levels of government are providing subsidies and incentives for SUV purchases and below-market gas consumption. we certainly wouldn’t want to put politicians in the embarrassing spot of seeming short-sighted (and perhaps a wee naive themselves).

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  • N.I.K. November 19, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Scott Bricker on the freeloader myth and then some:
    “At the BTA, we know that’s not true. But we also know that investments in cycling lag behind investments in autos and other forms of transportation. We’re fighting to change that.”

    Scott’s a funny guy when it comes to compromise. Put him in front of any sort of official body, he’ll be civil and engaging. Put him in front of the cycling community and he’ll proceed to tell anyone who’s even marginally critical of his or BTA’s actions that they’re ungrateful punks who had better learn to play ball, regardless of the tone or thrust of the criticism. That makes it really difficult to be critical: you wind up feeling like a jerk, and some folks around you walk away believing it. After all, the BTA’s done awesome work and gets into places where, otherwise, citizens would just be writing legislators and hoping they’d get taken seriously.

    You know what? I don’t care anymore. The BTA is running risk of two things here: a) advocating a tax with ridiculous administrative costs compared to what can be achieved with said tax’s revenue (hoo-boy, that’s scary), a b) perpetuating a myth which jeopardizes funding for cycling infrastructure and programs. The latter’s not just me being some high-minded curmudgeon waving the ethics stick, it’s a serious problem. One of the key ideas behind this tax, whether you call it “pitching in” or “putting skin in the game” or whatever other bad analogous device you might care to employ, is that it will quiet the “user pays!” who frequently say cyclists don’t pay their way.

    We’re talking faulty reasoning in the extreme here, folks. If there’s suddenly a bike tax and it’s held up as “a-ha! we’re contributing!”, the reaction of these critics is going to be “A-ha! You admit you weren’t before, and now you are. We need to pull out bicycle funding from everywhere else now. You people are responsible for yourselves.” And to lazy, uninformed people who like to repeat the sharpest talking points rather than check the facts, this is going to carry weight.

    If this issue doesn’t get addressed appropriately, Scott Bricker, Ray Thomas, and numerous other folks at the BTA can be labeled traitors to the people for whom they’re supposed to be advocating. We’ve pointed this out again and again. Either it’s falling on deaf ears or they’re rejecting it out of hand simply because it isn’t flowing from their own particular pool of infinite wisdom. Letting this slide just because their determined strategy suggests otherwise is foolhardy in the extreme.

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  • brettoo November 19, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    I understand wanting to be at the table in Salem, but participating in a bike tax scheme of any kind will do Oregonians more harm than good because it completely undermines the major argument in favor of investing in bike infrastructure: the fact that it’s a money-(and planet-) saving public good. I’ve made some of these arguments on the other thread and on the BTA’s site, but as long we’re starting a new thread that specifically addresses the “political reality” argument, please forgive the repetition.

    1. Once such a tax was in place, there’d be political pressure to limit bike spending to the amount paid for by the tax, as a user fee, which would mean either raising the tax (and increasing the disincentive for bike purchases) or insufficiently funding bike infrastructure. But bike infrastructure is a public good whose benefits transcend bike users. Everyone, including drivers and anyone who enjoys cleaner air, fewer climate changed induced disasters, less car gridlock, etc. benefits from bike spending, and therefore it should be paid for by everyone, out of general revenues. A bike tax fund would make that politically difficult.

    2. It legitimizes the false argument that bikes don’t pay their way. In reality, every time a bike trip replaces a car trip, the public saves money.

    3. A bike tax creates a disincentive to cycling and therefore to sustainable transportation. We should be taxing the things we don’t want (carbon) and subsidizing the things we do want (alternatives to carbon). If anything, bike purchases should be subsidized, not taxed.

    4. Like any sales tax, a bike tax is regressive and disproportionately affects poorer people — a major reason why Oregonians have repeatedly rejected sales taxes for decades.

    I want the BTA to devote our resources toward making the case cogently that not only do bike riders pay more than their fair share, but also that the return on investment in bike spending (in dollars, reduced climate change, quality of life, reduced auto gridlock, etc etc) far outweighs the initial investment. Include statistics to back it up. Make the argument so clear and concise that it’ll fit in a letter to the editor of any local newspaper. Run it on the front page of the BTA website.

    I’m not reflexively anti tax and would willingly, even eagerly pay more taxes for national health care, sustainable energy intiatives, poverty reduction and more. But this tax is bad economics, bad politics, and bad environmentalism.

    If BTA signs on to any bike tax agreement, fails to vigorously oppose all of them, or fails to effectively make the case for bicycling as a money-saving public benefit, I will not be renewing my membership.

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  • maxadders November 19, 2008 at 2:54 pm

    Anyone who thinks bike opponents will be satisfied by a one-time-per-user / per-bike fee of five measley dollars is living in a fantasy world. They’ll counter with arguments about the high gas tax, automobile tax, registration, etc.

    The dollar amount will never be high enough to silence the critics, who’ll keep squawking as long as their bitterness persists. Hopefully the transportation landscape will have changed drastically in 20 or 30 years and bikes can no longer be attacked with such empty, baseless arguments.

    The BTA will never see a penny from me if it continues to push this policy of idiotic surrender.

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  • Angela November 19, 2008 at 3:05 pm

    Excuse my ignorance, but aren’t we already paying road and transportation taxes? If we hold a driver’s license, which I imagine most of us bikers do, don’t we already pay fees?

    On the surface, and without more information, I definitely would have a hard time supporting this, even if I’m not in the market for a bike.

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  • JohnO November 19, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    Eric (#20) makes the point that the majority of funding for roads and cars doesn’t come from gas taxes — it comes from other taxes. He’s right.

    Streetsblog teases out the numbers. A nationwide study noted that “current tax and fee payments to the government by motor-vehicle users fall short of government expenditures related to motor-vehicle use by approximately 20-70 cents per gallon of all motor fuel.”

    In other words, drivers are feeding at the public trough just as much as cyclists.

    I’m not very happy about a tax that slaps a $5 surcharge on a kid’s first bike just the same as the bike I ride to work.

    Plus, the tax builds in a 25% inefficiency ($2 million less $500K to administer) just to accomplish its goals.

    I have to think there’s a better way: how about a “vehicle tax,” which reflects the true costs that that each vehicle incurs?

    Cars and trucks would have to account for all the pollution and traffic they contribute, plus road degradation, etc.

    Ah, nevermind. Bottom line, I’d pay $5 to promote cycling, bike education and bike infrastructure. It’s much better spent than blowing it on 2 gallons of gas.

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  • Ron November 19, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    My kid came home the other day and said “Dad, I checked out that book I wanted from the library instead of buying it, and I volunteered at the Humane Society instead of going out with my friends — I feel good about my choices and how they work toward the sustainability of our community”.

    So I took her allowance away from her and told her she has no right to the library because she doesn’t pay taxes, and asked why those animals get her time when they don’t pay taxes either.

    I think she learned her lesson and won’t be doing those things again.

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  • Mitch Conner November 19, 2008 at 3:18 pm

    I’d rather see a license requirement and fee. I don’t see a sales tax making a bit of difference.

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  • Scott November 19, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    I am not a proponent of biking, but there are possitive sides to both arguments. We need to meet in the middle and compromise, instead of the die hard bikers in the community always expecting to get their own way. True, biking reduces carbon, but that is a mute issue as there are still arguments for and against global warming. If, for example, there is massive global warming, why has the earths average mean temperature COOLED in the last decade? These are facts, not just a agenda. Ok, yes, bike riders who own drivers licenses do pay fees that supposedly go towards road repair. However, this is a small part of the road maintenance pie. The taxes collected off of each gallon of gasoline sold account for much more state and federal income. Now, since most of you do not drive much, how are you contributing your fair share? I, for one, am sick and tired of paying taxes for road maintenance just so some bike rider can come along behind me and demand (not ask) that improvements be made to fit their lifestyle. Who the hell do you think you are? I do not own the road, but neither do the bike riders. In most cases, we who drive cars subsidize your bike lane improvements. How fair is that to us? When are you guys going to start paying a tax to offset a portion of our fuel costs? Thats not fair? Well, now you know how we drivers feel.

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  • N.I.K. November 19, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    Ron: yeah, but you *do* get income tax breaks on account of having her as a dependent, you get glorified babysitting (“school”) when she’s 5-18 (so that’s return on all the money diverted there before you had a kid), and maybe your job even gives you some manner of childcare benefits. And if you’re raising her in a traditional marriage home, cha-ching, tax breaks further still. So don’t think of her as a liability just because she doesn’t pay directly through the usual or most obvious channels. She’s your daughter. She’s an asset. No, not that kind, the *good* kind.

    **doubles over in laughter**

    Really, though thanks for the splendid teardown of fake-ass libertarianism. Wonderful way to encapsulate the bunkness of the argument into plain and stupid terms.

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  • N.I.K. November 19, 2008 at 3:32 pm

    When are you guys going to start paying a tax to offset a portion of our fuel costs?

    Federal and state taxes drawn from many sources already do this by way of subsidies. The same rings true for numerous other things related to automobiles. As someone pushing 30 who has *never* gotten a driver’s license and doesn’t plan on it, I’ve contributed a hell of a lot of money over the years through income tax, property tax (collected as a portion of rent), sales tax (in places I’ve lived which have it), and so on. I don’t see nearly as direct a return as someone who drives everywhere, but you know, I don’t mind, because I figure that those people driving might be responsible for goods and services that ultimately benefit me.

    But when folks like you come around with all this garbage about how all *your* money is getting pissed away on stuff you don’t use? Oh brother, am I ever tempted to ring your doorbell and ask for my effing money back.

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  • Dave November 19, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    Isn’t Oregon proud of the fact they don’t have a sales tax? So if we call it an excise tax, is it somehow different?

    Bring on the tax.
    I’ll buy my bikes over the internet or go across the river and pay Washington sales tax. …On principle alone!

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  • Velo Vanguard November 19, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    BTA has become entirely too comfortable with itself as the only bike advocacy group in town … so comfortable that it’s now putting its own budget ahead of its members’ interests.

    If BTA continues to push this idea, I’ll file the papers to start the new nonprofit “Oregon Bicyclists’ Union.”

    The OBU will provide *real* advocacy for Oregon’s bicyclists, and then we’ll see where the donations go.

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  • Paul Tay November 19, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Political “reality,” Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?!

    Bicyclists ALREADY pay sales tax, property tax, and income tax, which SUBSIDIZE auto driving.

    If they keep talking bike tax, BTA is in danger of going down the same slippery slope as LAW, irrelevancy.

    Why settle for teaching bike driving to only 150,000 kids? Both the State Legislatures of Oregon and Oklahoma could simply mandate bike driving instruction to EVERY 16 year-old who wants a driver license. Get busted for DUI? It’s bike driving skool for you, buddy.

    And, $2 million per year in bike tax revenue statewide? CHUMP change. Why bother?

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  • Jeff TB November 19, 2008 at 4:08 pm

    “why has the earths average mean temperature COOLED in the last decade?”

    Sorry Scott but, What?

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  • Pete November 19, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Scott (#40): “If, for example, there is massive global warming, why has the earth’s average mean temperature COOLED in the last decade?”

    Off-topic, scientists point to this cooling as evidence the polar ice caps are melting due to thinning of the ozone layer (allowing more radiant energy in the ultra-violet spectrum through). As ice melts it cools the surrounding ocean water and associated air masses. Thermodynamics 101.

    On topic, the fact remains that gas taxes DO NOT cover their share of highway costs, the federal highway budget has spent at an increasing deficit since 2001. It is primarily funded by bonds which are sold to investors at a return which is ultimately paid for by (my) federal income taxes. Mary Peters has announced deficit figures in the billions.

    Don’t assume that because I argue for a gas tax increase I’m some car-less, job-less freeloader. I’ll gladly compare what I pay in income and auto taxes and fees, and I’ll argue that I DESERVE the right to a better future for the children that I’ve paid dearly to put through schools – even though I have none of my own.

    I’ll make a deal with you. I’ll pay a bicycle tax based on the actual costs of improving pedestrian / cyclist safety in the Portland area, and you pay auto taxes based on the costs of maintaining the bridges and roads you drive on. Sound fair? I’ll even throw in a hefty wager betting in this scenario I come out way ahead.

    Oh, and you get to pay an education tax based on the actual costs of sending your own children, if you have any, to public schools.

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  • Coyote November 19, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    Ok let’s blow-up the Safe Routes to Schools thing. It is insane that there are not safe routes for self-propelled travel to all schools. The engineers and Districts that designed or approved such designs should be strung-up by their thumbs. Safe routes to schools should not be some special interest funding scheme. It is just common sense that every school should have a safe way to a get there. Duh! Having to levy a special tax to ensure our kids are not mowed down on the way to school makes us look like a bunch of animals!

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  • El Biciclero November 19, 2008 at 4:38 pm


    “True, biking reduces carbon…”

    …and carbon monoxide, and asbestos, and MTBE, and particulates, and ozone, and road wear, and traffic congestion, and oil consumption, and health care costs, and… none of which have one whit to do with “global warming”

    “bike riders who own drivers licenses do pay fees that supposedly go towards road repair.”

    Bike riders who own driver’s licenses usually also own cars, on which they pay registration fees. When using a car, the owner/driver is burning gas on which they paid gas taxes. The driver of a car is also doing orders of magnitude more damage to the road than a cyclist. You believe you pay gas taxes to fix potholes? Do you also believe a cyclist riding a 200-lb vehicle on the road caused those potholes? You believe you pay gas taxes so additional lanes can be added to freeways? Do you believe excessive bike use of the freeway created the demand for more lanes? You are also apparently forgetting that income and property taxes are used for road maintenance as well, and everybody pays those.

    “bike rider[s] can come along behind me and demand (not ask) that improvements be made to fit their lifestyle.”

    Most “improvements” that are made to roads, such as bike lanes, are for the convenience of motorists who want bikes out of their way. If not for those improvements, drivers would spend a lot more time stuck behind cyclists who have no choice but to use an entire traffic lane to get where they are going.

    “I do not own the road, but neither do the bike riders.”

    This should say, “I own the road, and so do the bike riders”. Roads are public space, owned by everybody.

    “In most cases, we who drive cars subsidize your bike lane improvements.”

    This is backwards. All taxpayers subsidize car use.

    I can’t even deal with the rest of your post.

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  • David Dean November 19, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    The quickest way for the BTA to lose my member dues would be to support a bike tax. I must be one of those uninformed people who finds it ridiculous to even kick around the idea because I can’t imagine any other political lobbying organization which would advocate specifically taxing its own members. The very notion is ridiculous. It won’t buy us any goodwill with our adversaries because our adversaries don’t hold a rational position.

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  • David Dean November 19, 2008 at 4:50 pm

    Does Ray Thomas seriously think that if bicycle users obeyed traffic laws and paid taxes that there would be less political opposition? Really?

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  • cyclist November 19, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Everyone who disagrees with BTA’s position on this tax should contact them about it, they’re nothing without the support of their members, if they come to recognize that they’ll lose significant support (in terms of overall membership as well as financial support) they’ll probably have a change of heart. If your voices are *not* heard, they’ll assume everything’s hunky dory.

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  • Grant November 19, 2008 at 5:35 pm

    If the tax goes towards Safe Routes to School then I don’t see how it would stop those who argue that bicyclist don’t pay their fair share. Invariably they are talking about the cost of building and maintaing roads or cycling infrastructure. The tax would have to go towards that to be an effective counter argument.

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  • Graham November 19, 2008 at 5:38 pm

    You know, if you asked every cyclist to pay $5 per new bike purchase into a fund that would be used purely to fund Safe Routes to Schools, I bet a lot of cyclists would go for it. I mean, what’s five bucks compared to the price of a bike? And who could be against kids riding their bikes safely to school? You might as well be staunchly anti-puppy.

    But that’s not what we’re talking about here, or at least it’s not *all* we’re talking about. It seems like the fact that we’re going a step further in framing this as a way for cyclists to “pay their way” is the part that is creating a lot of problems.

    It’s the principle of the thing, and that principle has implications.

    As others have pointed out, acting like this will prove we’re paying our way presupposes we’re not already paying our way.

    Look at the quote from Ray Thomas:

    “We can argue all we want but until we pay tax dollars as bicyclists for roads…

    That’s what I’m talking about, right there. Are we, or are we not, already paying tax dollars as bicyclists?

    From what I’m reading here, the answer is a resounding, “hell yeah, we are!” If the facts back up that point view, shouldn’t the BTA be saying that too? In a clear, strong voice?

    …we just can’t provide an argument that satisfies most complainers and a bike tax would shut the whole subject down.”

    Do you really think that those complainers who look at bike traffic – made up of folks who get out there among dangerous, motorized vehicles, who cause hardly more damage to roads than do pedestrians, who have to be bold just to claim the most gravel-covered sliver of road’s edge, and who, if they are so bold as to claim a little more road to keep themselves from getting doored, apparently risk getting buzzed by our own police department – do you really think that someone who looks at these cyclists and thinks to themselves, “freeloaders!!” is really going to be satisfied by a $5-$20 per bike fee? Do you think they will ever be satisfied?

    There’s only one way to fight back against those guys, and it is to FIGHT BACK. With the many facts in our favor.

    Rohde feels that anyone who says they should reject the concept outright just “don’t understand the political reality” of Salem lobbying. “If you go in with a ‘no!’ attitude you get bulldozed…it’s just not constructive for all the other things we’re trying to accomplish.”

    I’m no lobbyist, but it seems easy enough to turn that ‘no’ attitude upside down, creating a series of ‘yes’ attitudes:

    Yes, actually, we *are* already paying our way.

    Yes, cycling *is* a net win for the whole community.

    Yes, if anything, we should be talking about *subsidies* for cycling!

    I think we should hold our ground on this issue. I think it’s the moral high ground, and should not be sacrificed for political expediency. I find a little grating the suggestion that we do so. (Which may be in part because I’m still a little riled about the Joe Lieberman thing.)

    If nothing else, opening the door to the notion that this is the way we should pay for cycling infrastructure – and for cycling alone among all other forms of transportation, including walking – opens us up to all sorts of trouble down the (literal and figurative) road.

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  • N.I.K. November 19, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    Well said, Graham! You just gave us concise talking points to oppose the basis of this tax:

    [A]cting like this will prove we’re paying our way presupposes we’re not already paying our way.

    Yes, actually, we *are* already paying our way.

    Yes, cycling *is* a net win for the whole community.

    Yes, if anything, we should be talking about *subsidies* for cycling!

    Folks, start contacting the BTA. Now.

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  • zilfondel November 19, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    This is ridiculous. It is a classic example of a solution in search of a problem.

    At the same time, doesn’t the State of Oregon offer tax breaks to hybrid vehicles? Bikes are infinitely lower pollution in operation than a hybrid.

    oh wait, they do:

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  • Randy November 19, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    Imagine a city where happy people bike to work. Image a city that taxes the cause of all these cars – automobile advertising.

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  • Brad November 19, 2008 at 6:41 pm

    This is essentially about fighting a battle of perception both in Salem and the larger public. Perception is reality.

    I’ll state that again, perception is reality.

    Quiz the average Oregonian about cyclists and what you will get is a wonderful mix of scofflaw, hippy, unemployed, angry, spandex wearing homos, punk kids, weirdo, loser, and douchebag. Are those labels true? Not really. But, look at most news coverage and public attitudes regarding cycling and that plays into their “reality” about cyclists.

    So, like it or not, BTA is trying to alter that reality via the lost art of…compromise. Hell, they are getting some support from Bruce Starr who is easily one of the most righteous of right wingers in the legislature! If that guy can convince like minded collegues and their constituents that bicyclists are not the bad guys then we will get somewhere.

    But by all means, rather than attempting to convert the powerful with compromise, let’s continue to sway the millions of Oregonians that don’t visit this site with pious wonky fact laden diatribes that will hopefully bore everyone into submission (assuming they even stumble across these while searching for porn, football scores or pictures of cute animals). After all, Americans have always preferred long winded discourse over snappy, easy to digest soundbites and slogans when it comes to the issues of the day. Look how smoking was eradicated four decades ago when all those health studies were published in the scientific journals. That put RJ Reynolds out of business inside of a week because Americans love their methodical reasoning and logical conclusions and act swiftly upon it!

    In fact, many of you have inspired me to donate to the BTA since they seem to be the only level headed and realistic adults advocating for cycling in our state.

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  • Feh November 19, 2008 at 6:56 pm

    They’re proposing to spend a half million a year (assuming the bureaucratic costs haven’t increased) in order to squeeze 2 million out of people who purchase bikes in Oregon?

    Am I the only person who thinks that’s absurd?? To heck with all the pollution and green living arguments – that’s a huge amount of overhead for one piddly-squat tax!

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  • N.I.K. November 19, 2008 at 7:26 pm

    I’ll state that again, perception is reality.

    To be consistent with your logic, Brad: if perception is reality, and the perception popularized by anti-bike interests is that cyclists currently *pay nothing* for bike infrastructure and related programs, the perception which will be pushed by a tax with such a basis as this will be that they’ve been right this whole time -a lie becomes a bigger lie courtesy of a body which should be squashing it. Anti-bike interests *then* have the leverage to shift the popular perception to be such that, since there is at last some payment coming from the cyclists by way of this tax, there is now no need to continue any funding of bike infrastructure, programs, etc. as there is a tax which accounts for it. They were already “right” once, so if they’re trusted again, that funding runs risk of being taken away. If that’s taken away, the options become either a) increase the bike tax drastically, because it generates little revenue or b) discontinue serious investment in bicycle infrastructure and programs.

    If you can explain why this would be beneficial, I’m all ears.

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  • GlowBoy November 19, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    Wal-Mart and Target oppose the tax precisely because of the demand elasticity that Velo Vanguard (#1) mentioned. As the price of something goes up, the level of demand for it goes down incrementally. Not by much, but by a measurable amount, and enough to partly offset the price increase.

    Realistically, a $5 bike tax would effectively increase the price by $3 in effect, so only $3 of it would be paid by the consumer. Where does the other $2 come from? Out of the retailer’s and supplier’s pocket, in the form of reduced profit margin. And that’s why the big boxes oppose it.

    The actual reduction in demand of the $3 price increase would be very small, and as we’ve seen lately there are far bigger factors driving demand for bikes right now.

    I support the tax, precisely for the “declawing” reason cited by Ray Thomas, in post #8 and elsewhere.

    I agree that cyclists are already funding road infrastructure through their income and (in most cases) gas and registration taxes, but I have to explain that to average Joes over and over and over and over again. It would be nice to just take the wind out of the “bikes don’t pay taxes” argument right from the get-go.

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  • RWL1776 November 19, 2008 at 8:20 pm

    If they tax my mountainbike, will the money go towards bulding singletrack, (natural surface) trails? Or towards TRANSPORTATION TRAILS made from asphalt, and 8 feet wide, and constructed using fossil powered machines? No way I’m giving up MORE of my paycheck to fund what others think I SHOULD want.

    Tired of feeling like a Serf.

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  • Velo Vanguard November 19, 2008 at 8:31 pm

    The problem with Ray’s and the BTA’s “declawing” argument is that it presupposes that the people who argue that bicyclists don’t pay their way are rational, or that they are making a rational argument. But we know that they are not. And we know that such a small amount of revenue, only some of which would go to improving “their” roads, would never placate such ideologues. To think otherwise is to ignore the “political reality” we are told we can’t understand.

    If BTA supports this tax, it will shoot itself in the foot, both by playing an unwinable political game and by *pissing off* the majority of its members.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) November 19, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    this issue illustrates how the BTA’s legislative style mimics their advocacy style. that is, they are increasingly headed toward the middle.

    maybe the BTA’s position on this simply doesn’t align with the bulk of their current constituency.

    hear me out…

    With a major focus on bike boulevards and with the majority of their budget coming from Safe Routes to School, the BTA is clearly all about families and the “interested but concerned” riders that wonks estimate at being about 60% of our population.

    PDOT, the BTA, everyone in the game right now are drooling over the segment of Portlanders who are just waiting to hope on a bike once conditions are safe enough.

    the current 6-8% that ride are expected to keep riding no matter what.

    the issue here is that I think the BTA’s support of a bike tax would be more widely supported among the “interested but concerned,” folks who don’t really identify as much as being “cyclists” and who don’t really care about the “who pays for what” issues.

    the trouble is, the BTA’s members are the 6-8% that are already riding and who — judging from these comments — do not support this tax.

    maybe this is simply a case of the BTA’s legislative position being ahead of where their base currently is.

    does this make sense to anyone besides me?

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  • Scott November 19, 2008 at 8:51 pm

    Thermodynamics??? Ok…I’ll try to conceal my laughter at this ignorance. Well, lets say it’s true that carbon leads in some way to the lowering of the earths temperature. I would be cool (no pun intended for you sensitive enviro whackos out there) with all of this but for one thing. What exactly caused the cooling of the earth during the past ice ages? Was that the carbon from the reptiles driving SUV’s? We have ALWAYS had climate changes my friends, it’s all part of this wonderful world God has given to us. The earth has an amazing ability to heal itself, which it has done over thousands of years. Of course, you won’t hear any drug crazed college profs, politicos or radical eco terrorists saying anything like that. This victim mentality that the U.S. or mankind as a whole is responsible for the worlds troubles is getting old. Look at the devastation left by Mt. Saint Helens…now it’s coming back again…amazing. Are any of us above God? Can we re create any part of the earth he made? I think not. Ok, time for my bike ride.

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  • Icarus Falling November 19, 2008 at 8:54 pm

    First of all, Safe Routes to Schools should be funded by those who make routes to school unsafe!

    That would be the drivers and or corporate owners of motorized vehicles.
    Safe Routes to Schools should be fully and increasingly funded by gasoline tax and vehicle registration cost increases.

    I am a driver, owner of more than one car, generally fine German Sports models, and I have no problem with penalizing the owners of autos with increases, especially if the funds are going to safety on roads.

    Bicyclists do not make routes to schools unsafe!

    I actually help to make them safer, for in school zones I take the lane entirely on my bike, which inevitably forces motorized vehicles to drive the 25 MPH required (or slower is preferred) in a school zone, which most don’t….

    Also, it is becoming increasingly more obvious to many what has been obvious to me. Especially with this idea of a added tax to prove that we already pay for road usage?
    (a big oxymoron in my book)

    The BTA is actually a LOBBYIST group people.

    Their concerns, as expressed above, are that if a bike tax does not go through, it will not appease those that they need to approach when lobbying for other things.

    They are concerned with funding their own programs, and about future leveraging.

    Perhaps it is time for the BTA to become more of a community group than a lobbyist group.

    I am not trying to be too harsh here really, just pointing out the obvious.

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  • Drewid November 19, 2008 at 9:02 pm

    I understand that I can get a tax break next year for using my bike to ride to work. Now I wonder: maybe I should pay an extra tax for the privilege? Heck, maybe I should just drive. My car spends too much time sitting in the driveway.

    This argument that bikes need to pay their way makes as much sense as the one that bikes always blow stop signs.
    Cars slow down to bike speed before blowing stop signs. Bikes slow down to pedestrian speed before blowing them. Pedestrians generally don’t even slow down at all.

    It may be more productive in educating the public in the real cost of driving, and how it is a huge subsidy today. I have a feeling a bike tax thing could really backfire.

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  • Ash...Housewares November 19, 2008 at 9:11 pm

    Wow, everybody’s comments have finally broken me down. No bike tax! Those pesky drivers should be paying so much more that they already are! I am a much better person that them for riding a bike! Drivers suck! Paying for public areas, like roads, is something I shouldn’t have to do. I don’t make potholes! If the BTA supports it in any way I’m not going to play in their clubhouse anymore!

    Come on folks. Anyone who thinks their better than someon else because they ride a bike is a few fries short of a happy meal. Great, you only go by bike, so….

    You bought a locally made frame and components so they weren’t shipped by a truck right?
    Your bike clothing is locally made and not transported to your favorite store by a gas driven engine is it?
    That bananna you had before your morning ride wasn’t shipped from South America on a boat was it?

    To get bent outta shape and flat out saying NO, is no better than the arguments drivers make about us. If your that passionate, belly up to the table in Salem and make your case. Don’t be childish and say you wont support a good org like BTA because of one thing you don’t agree with.

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  • N.I.K. November 19, 2008 at 9:12 pm

    maybe this is simply a case of the BTA’s legislative position being ahead of where their base currently is.

    does this make sense to anyone besides me?

    I think the observations about the BTA’s approach are probably pretty accurate. And I think you’re right about them not being in the same place with their base. Maybe even getting ahead of themselves in more ways than one. If getting the folks on the fence riding is one of the big goals, they need to account for the effects of increased ridership as well. Once you get those IBCs riding, you’re looking at more “freeloaders”, from the perspective of the anti-bike interests. The proposed tax is not going to generate much usable revenue even with a several percentage point increase in ridership, while “bike congestion” goes up along with increased demand for bike-specific infrastructure. The argument is then more easily shifted to “they’re not paying enough and now there’s even MORE of them leeching off us!”, and thanks to willful perpetuation of the freeloader myth induced *by* the tax’s basis, this gets further credence.

    The BTA is at serious risk of digging a hole here. What I genuinely don’t understand is why they can’t even change the basis of such a tax. Say something like, “It’s to supplement the money that cyclists are already contributing to by X, Y, and Z by means of exploiting increasing ridership,” but you know, sexed up considerably. ‘course, for that to work, the tax would have to generate a worthwhile amount of revenue compared to implementation and administrative costs, and they’ve already sort of sullied any bike tax by initially holding the “skin in the game” position, but still…

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  • N.I.K. November 19, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Paying for public areas, like roads, is something I shouldn’t have to do.

    No! No! It’s something I *already* do! And I don’t mind, ’cause I can’t get everything local. And people who provide me with goods and services use it to get where they’re going, which means that it’s a means to get something to me, so of course I should pay towards it.

    The notion that I should have to pay *more* for my own direct use of said infrastructure, though, is crazy. Get me some really amazing go-anywhere infrastructure just for me and my bikey-bike pals, and make sure it’s implemented efficiently and without wasteful overhead, and then I’m on board.

    **clicks off the reducto-ray**

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  • Brad November 19, 2008 at 9:41 pm

    Read the BTA statements again. This is about gaining a place at the table in Salem by showing a willingness to address concerns held by legislators and other transportation lobbyists. The old, “You attract more flies with honey than manure.” approach. In doing so, they will be taken more seriously and appear to be more reasonable to their adversaries and possibly gain some allies.

    A good move in my opinion since the state is looking at a $575 million budget shortfall and this new attitude may help save bike funding in the upcoming legislative session. With tightening fiscal times, do you really want to create animosity or prod someone into taking “our” 1% and funneling it towards other needs? Why do most here labor under the assumption that the 1971 Bicycle Bill couldn’t or wouldn’t be scrapped if elected officials thought that 1% more prisons, cops, teachers, welfare, or better roads for cars wouldn’t garner more votes in 2010? We do not have the numbers or influence to seriously effect any election outside of Multnomah County and I doubt even the most uber-liberal green legislator in the county would dare anger the car driving constituents in their district and go “all in” with the bike crowd. At only 6-8% of commuters in Portland, we have no prayer in a political fight standing alone.

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  • wsbob November 19, 2008 at 10:37 pm

    As various individuals and groups move to consider and possibly implement some form of tax on bikes, I’m moved to remember something that, at least to me, seems to be a fundamental reality of the role of bikes in today’s transportation complex: bikes have for some time, been and are today, the remedy used to counter the problem created by an excessive dependence on motor vehicles for transportation.

    I understand Rhode’s explanation of the need for a willingness to talk about less than desirable legislative moves in order to get more desired ones accomplished. That’s politics…it often isn’t pretty, but this seems to be the way things are done…in DC as well as Salem. Understood….but Rhode and everyone else inclined to work for and support a bike tax should not allow to be forgotten, the service bikes on the road are providing the public.

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  • jim November 19, 2008 at 10:52 pm

    even with a bike tax bikes are still not paying enough to cover the cost of bicycle infrustructure

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  • cyclist November 19, 2008 at 11:29 pm


    even with a bike tax bikes are still not paying enough to cover the cost of bicycle infrustructure

    And there you have it, Jim’s the first one out of the box to prove that this tax will in no way, shape, or form serve to “declaw” the arguments of those opposed to funding bike infrastructure and programs. Either the tax needs to be meaningful (on the order of 40 million a year or so) or it should be discarded. The BTA’s position on this is flat-out wrong, and I hope everybody out here has the will to let them know it.

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  • jim November 20, 2008 at 12:00 am

    I think the govt. has enough money allready. They just need to get their priorities straight on how to spend my money. A couple less public art projects would go a long way for some bicycle pavement. The silly tram we made so the rich doctors can ride from their condo to work without dealing with traffic. What percent of Portland is ever going to ride on that thing. Billions on light rail that only a small fraction of a percent of people use. We had a really good bus system before that… And we voted down Intersae light rail twice and they still built it. They don’t listen to their constituents (sp?), A new hotel for the convention center maybe? I didn’t hire city govt. to be in the hotel business. They take gas tax money that is suposed to fix roads and spend it on other things and then ask for more money to fix roads. If you don’t seal roads it will cost an awful lot more money to repair them later, keep postponing it and you have to rip up and replace whole roads. Govt. gone wild. No end in sight. More bike lanes will probably come, they will probably take it away from disabled people or something

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  • matt picio November 20, 2008 at 1:19 am

    With all due respect to Ray Thomas, who has more than earned the respect of the biking community, the “fail to stop at stop signs” argument is really weak. How many cars fail to come to a complete stop? How many stop at stop lines and before crosswalks? How many stop short of the sidewalk and look for bikes and peds before pulling across the sidewalk to prepare to enter the street? A car at 2mph does a LOT more damage than a bike at 10mph if it hits someone, yet the majority of those who oppose equal rights for bikes seem to ignore or dismiss that fact.

    The plain fact of the matter is that there are cyclists and motorists who don’t want to be inconvenienced – either they’re in a hurry, don’t want to lose momentum, mad at the world, whatever – they’re not complying with the law and since we have no effective means of enforcement and they’re not self-policing, there is no practical way to stop it. I believe that this is why the BTA and Ray Thomas support a bike excise tax – because it’s a bargaining chip in Salem and Washington which CAN be implemented.

    I think it’s a bad idea. I think it undermines our position, that this nation has spent 50 years building car infrastructure, paid for by ALL the citizens, yet which services the dominant user group (autos) in many cases to the exclusion of other modes. These are PUBLIC roads, built to serve all the people, and bicyclists and pedestrians have paid disproportionately into the system. That’s not right, it’s not fair, and what we really need are about 50-100 cyclists to continually testify before the state legislature until they get tired of us and give in.

    Cars are contributing to many of society’s ills, and especially to global warming. The evidence grows every day, month and year. Bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades, walking – these are all modes of propulsion that are much less carbon-intensive. We should be subsidizing the modes we want to promote, and taxing the ones we don’t. A bicycle excise tax is a step backward, and I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the community, city, state, or nation.

    The BTA has worked hard to become the voice of reason when dealing with state government – that’s great, some organization has to fill that role, and the BTA does a great job at being the mainstream organization that does this. What we need now are the UNREASONABLE organizations, the “we’re not going to take it anymore” people who won’t go away until our voices are heard. Equal Access for All Modes – and until we get equal access to this giant infrastructure that we’ve already paid for, we’re not going to pay more.

    This IS a social justice issue, and we ARE a transportation minority who are discriminated against. There is a place for negotiation, and there is a place for civil disobedience, marches/rides, and respectful agitation. The place and time for both are now.

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  • Coyote November 20, 2008 at 1:45 am

    Jonathon (#65), saying that the BTA’s position is “a case of the BTA’s legislative position being ahead of where their base currently is” implies that the rest of us are somehow lagging. It implies that once we get our slow stupid brains around the idea we will realize how much better the BTA understands what is good for us. (Interesting, that is the same tone that I took from Rhodes’ comments.)

    It could be that the BTA is not ahead of us at all. It could be that the BTA is wrong and they don’t really understand something fundamental about sales taxes. Taxing bicycle purchases to make it easier for people to get out of their cars, is like taxing chewing gum to fund stop smoking programs.

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  • matt picio November 20, 2008 at 2:19 am

    Graham (#55) – Ray Thomas is right, we don’t pay tax dollars AS CYCLISTS for roads – we pay them as citizens, as property owners, as job-holders, as employers. Motorists pay tax dollars as motorists through the gas tax.

    The problem I see is two-fold. First, the complaining motorists will only stop complaining if cyclists are taxed and that money goes for road repair or new road construction. They won’t be satisfied unless the funding source goes entirely to something that they can also benefit from directly and use directly. They don’t see the benefits of bike lanes / paths or anything else they can’t drive their personal car on.

    Second, the cyclists who partially oppose or support a tax want it to go specifically to bicycle infrastructure or purposes, and nothing that will benefit motorists, who are rightly perceived as having better access to the current system.

    I think what we really need to ask ourselves (and it’s obvious from your post that you have, Graham) whether it’s equitable that active motorists pay a use-based tax for the roads and cyclists don’t. I belive it is, because the lion’s share of road maintenance is due to automobiles and commercial trucks. Bicycles cause no noticeable wear on road surfaces nor bridges – they are ridiculously over-engineered for bikes (since they were engineered for cars). Also, cars produce a host of pollution problems, health costs, noise, require ridiculous amounts of space to store and resources to build, and are responsible for 40,000+ deaths per year in the US. Cars are the leading cause of death for ages 1-34. So yes, it is equitable for them to pay more, and to pay taxes that cyclists, pedestrians, skaters, etc do not.

    GlowBoy (#62) – I would say “fully offset”, not “partly”. Amplifying on what you said, if Wal-Mart sells 100,000 bikes in Oregon at $200 each, that’s $20 million worth of bikes. Slap a $5 excise tax on there, and it’s still $20 million worth of bikes, only now it’s 97,560 bikes and Wal-Mart has lost half a million dollars in sales. (Actually, it hurts them more than that, because the cost to them per unit goes up when they order fewer bikes)

    Granted, Wal-Mart isn’t going to sell 100,000 bikes, they’ll probably sell 1/10th of that. But they can’t afford to let stuff like that slide by, or it keeps eating at their profit margin.

    Icarus Falling (#67) – kudos for forcing people to slow down in school zones, keep up the great work!

    The BTA is not a lobbyist group, however. The BTA is a 501(c)(3), and as such is mandated by law to spend less than 1/3 of their money on lobbying/politics. The other 2/3 (or more) has to go towards their exempt purpose – as a public charity, that means their regular programs, like Safe Routes.

    So, sure, they do a lot of lobbying to advance causes related to their mission, but it’s hard to call them a “lobbyist group” when that represents less than 1/3 of their activities and expenses.

    Ash…Housewares (#69) – first off, great Evil Dead reference.

    It has nothing to do with being “better” and everything to do with the fact that a single car has the same impact as thousands of bikes when it comes to wear and tear on the roads, not to mention knocking over/ripping out road signs that have been struck, noise, air and water pollution, etc.

    Just looking at road repair and sign replacement – since this is a very large portion of the expenses being paid for by taxes, is it appropriate for the majority of the burden to fall on those who are doing the most damage? And if not, if you believe that we should all pay an equal share for this infrastructure, then shouldn’t we all have equal access to it? Equal treatment on the roads? An expectation of safety?

    You commerce argument lacks weight. One truck delivers goods that will be sold to hundreds of people. One car generally delivers one person to a destination (the average, IIRC is 1.2 people per car trip).

    Jim (#75) – “they will probably take it away from disabled people or something” – you mean like they do with roads and bridges? The city spends less than 1% of bike infrastructure to service 5% of the population. That’s a pretty good deal. At the same time, the city state and feds are going to spend a ludicrous amount of money to build the CRC.

    Take the beam out of your own eye so you can better remove the speck from mine.

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  • brettoo November 20, 2008 at 2:57 am

    Jonathan, it’s an interesting speculation you make, and I’m definitely with you that we need to make bike riding go way beyond the hardcore cyclists who inhabit this blog. But I’m not convinced that the IBCs and people who don’t understand that bikes contribute far more to the public good than they cost are the same crowd. You’re conflating a transportation preference with a political understanding. Sure, there must be plenty of overlap, but judging by the comments here, even plenty of regular bikers don’t understand the economics of investing in bike infrastructure, while there are plenty of people who bike only casually, if at all, who do appreciate the public good that bike spending represents. In any case, you’d have to ask BTA about their motivations and assumptions in proposing to support this tax.

    As usual, I agree with Matt P above and also the commenter who noted that we’re already subsidizing hybrid cars and (soon) plug in electric cars, and bikes are even greener and more cost-effective than they are. If the public will accept that, why not also accept a subsidy for bike investment.

    I see from another thread today that at least one important person, soon to be moving into the White House, gets it that investing in bikes is a public good –that everyone benefits when more people bike, not just those on two wheels. And rather than capitulate to the ignorance and deliberate misrepresentation of the anti-bike crowd, Mr. Obama is doing what got him elected, and what visionary leaders have always done: clearly explaining the truth, even though it’s not necessarily obvious. (Al Gore has done the same on global warming — should we “compromise” with the climate change deniers who are equally ignorant as the bike naysayers?) As Stephen Colbert has noted, reality has a well-known liberal bias.

    The BTA’s stance here reminds me of the Clinton approach to issues like welfare reform and gay Americans who wanted to serve their country in the military. That administration frequently sacrificed principle (don’t ask, don’t tell; the welfare reform bill; the telecom bill; later supporting Bush’s Iraq war resolution, etc etc.) to defang the misinformed opposition. I guess it’s a plausible approach that did prove politically effective in the short run, and maybe prevented far worse outcomes, but it didn’t make for wise or sustainable policy. I know Obama’s a politician, and compromise is necessary, but so far, in the campaign at least, he seems to be more willing to stick to his values (and trust his persuasive powers and Americans’ intelligence) than Clinton did, which admittedly isn’t saying much. Can we ask the BTA to do the same?

    I’ll ask again: BTA leaders, will you present us and the politicians in Salem with a concise, statistically supported (i.e. cite real numbers) argument about how bike riders pay more than their fair share, and how investing in bikes provides a greater economic and environmental return than it costs? If you make that case vigorously and concisely and it still doesn’t work, then let’s talk about compromise.

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  • Anonymous November 20, 2008 at 6:42 am


    BINGO….BTA should be educating the masses on the benefits, both economically (taxes) and environmentally of bicycle use.

    The jump to imposing a tax on bicycles to appease those who are uneducated has been too quick.

    BTA needs to get back to what it was meant to do, promote cycling and educate the population on the same.

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  • Kris November 20, 2008 at 6:50 am

    While I understand the reasons why the BTA is open to discuss a bike tax (buy political goodwill in Salem, potential funding boost for Safe Routes to School), I agree with previous commenters that this type of tax doesn’t make much sense on principle alone.

    Both the arguments that a) bikes are part of the solution for our transportation/environmental/health problems (and that bike infrastructure should be considered a public good), and b) that most people who ride bikes already contribute their fair share to the funding of our roads through other taxes, are compelling ones, which I would expect the BTA to consider sufficient ground to reject the idea of a bike tax.

    I am all for an exponential increase of the funding of Safe Routes to School programs, but I think the BTA should resist the temptation of looking at a bike tax as an easy way to achieve that goal.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) November 20, 2008 at 8:09 am

    “Jonathon (#65), saying that the BTA’s position is “a case of the BTA’s legislative position being ahead of where their base currently is” implies that the rest of us are somehow lagging. It implies that once we get our slow stupid brains around the idea we will realize how much better the BTA understands what is good for us”

    my intention was not that “ahead” meant better than or smarter than. by “ahead” i meant that perhaps the bike tax idea appeals to a crowd of potential cyclists that aren’t quite in the fold yet. i was merely sharing a theory…don’t take it for anything more than that.

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  • casey November 20, 2008 at 8:12 am

    I’d support the bike tax, would be nice to take away one of the major arguments about bikes on roads. Pretty cheap, too…how often do we actually buy a new bike?

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  • Drewid November 20, 2008 at 8:13 am

    A positive way to look at this is to point out all the benefits property owners get when bike/ped trails are nearby. Their house is worth more money! Traffic calming and better transit make the areas more desirable to live in. Any car-centric person who could understand this would want to have bikepaths nearby.

    All these frustrated cagers just need to wake up to the reality that they want the same things that we want. I’d be crazy to oppose a bike trail near my neighborhood, even if I never used it. My property equity would only increase.

    There is a University of Florida webpage that lists a lot of the positive things we all benefit from:,%20Quieter%20Neighborhoods

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  • k. November 20, 2008 at 9:04 am

    So many of the responses here demonstrate narrow thinking in many regards; taxing bikes will drive sales down, cyclists already pay transportation taxes, I don’t cause damage so I shouldn’t have to pay for roads, etc. Come on people, look at the bigger picture here. In many ways this proposal represents the maturation of the bike movement. We’re finally big enough to get noticed! That’s not all a bad thing. Getting taxed buys us representation in government. We all have dreams of a future cycling utopia as a part of a greener more sustainable world. As that happens, tax burdens are going to have to shift. This may be an early part of that process.

    Modest taxes don’t hold back the economy, the help it, by enabling government to fund and provide us with the services and infrastructure that a modern society is built on. We can quibble about the details of what items should be but the basic premise is hard to debate. The whole trend in recent years has been for the populace to demand more and more from the government while demanding less and less taxes. Figure it out people. I think the BTA is taking the proper position in advocating for this tax while making sure it is administered in a fair and responsible way to benefit cyclists and society to the maximum extant practicable.

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  • Velo Vanguard November 20, 2008 at 9:46 am

    Actually k, I think you should look at the bigger picture. What guarantee do you have that you will get some concession for bike-related infrastructure or safety just because you pay a tax? None. BTA alienates its membership, causes bikes sales to dip, and the small but vocal anti-bike crowd rages on. Is that a step forward?

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  • Peter November 20, 2008 at 9:50 am

    I would not oppose it, but it would need to increase money going to bikes and bike safety.

    I do think paying 1/4 of the money to administrate it is too much. How can those cost be brought down?

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  • El Biciclero November 20, 2008 at 10:22 am

    matt picio said,
    “Bicycles cause no noticeable wear on road surfaces nor bridges – they are ridiculously over-engineered for bikes (since they were engineered for cars).”

    This is an interesting point in that roads and bridges are vastly more expensive to create due to the fact that they have to support the weight of cars and trucks. If roads/bridges were built to bicycle/ped standards only, how much additional “gas tax” revenue would be needed to build and maintain them?

    It seems to me that a pretty big chunk of change is added to the cost of creating and maintaining roads only because they have to support motor vehicles. So why shouldn’t those who drive motor vehicles (as I do often) pay a surcharge for the additional engineering and maintenance needed to keep roads/bridges suitable for auto use?

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  • Pete November 20, 2008 at 11:04 am

    Scott (#66): nice emotional response. I’m just telling you what I’ve read about global warming, not what I believe. I didn’t say a thing about carbon.

    Mankind’s responsible for his own troubles, not just Earth’s. She’ll go own in some form or another long after we’re gone. Global warming aside, you don’t honestly believe cutting down an entire rain forest in Sao Paulo, for instance, doesn’t have even a near-term impact on that region’s ability to balance soil PH and sustain crops, do you?

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  • JV November 20, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Guiding principles:
    1. it’s not about the money.
    2. it’s about devising a fair schema to ask society’s individuals to fund the needs of society at large.
    3. it’s about incentivizing “good” behavior and disincentivizing maladaptive behavior.
    4. factual misconceptions should be corrected, not stipulated.

    If people generally agree with those principles, then a bike tax becomes a silly idea. I pay my taxes, and I’m happy to do so; I fully appreciate the infrastructure and services that I get for my contribution. Tax my gas, my beer, my studded tires, and any other acts that adversely affect society at large. My cycling does not, in my opinion, fall into that category.

    Thanks, Jonathan, for your coverage of this and other issues of importance to all of us.

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  • Pete November 20, 2008 at 11:12 am

    El Biciclero (#50): Dead on.

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  • Kevin November 20, 2008 at 11:18 am

    “We already pay our fair share!” I agree with that statement, but what do we get for it? Bike lanes strewn with gravel, poorly designed intersections and unfair policing. As many commenters have stated, the “opposition” does not think clearly and follow logic, therefore it becomes impossible for the cycling contingent to get what they pay for. I think implementing a bike tax gives cyclists more leverage as a whole. It somewhat de-claws the anti-bike crowd, at the same time giving cyclists a bigger voice. A tax says, “I care enough about getting more people to ride that I will pay more for it.”

    That being said, y’all need to look to the future. What happens if we get a 5% increase in ridership? Less people buying gas and paying the gas tax. Uh-oh all of a sudden there is less money to pay for infrastructure. Didn’t that already happen to some extent this summer?

    I agree with a tax on bicycle goods, but I think its a little fishy that the BTA’s proposed tax mainly funds one of their existing programs. I support that the BTA is thinking ahead and trying to give all of us a bigger voice, however they need to think long and hard about how to go through with it.

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  • Duncan November 20, 2008 at 11:30 am

    I think that a fairer way is a tax assesd by mile based on weight for all vehicles. I bet my 4500lb car would cost me alot more than my 18lb bike!

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  • SkidMark November 20, 2008 at 12:03 pm

    So what if non-cyclists don’t want to pay for bike infrastructure? I don’t want to pay for a war for oil, but I still do. You don’t get to pick and choose where your tax dollars go.

    I’d be willing to bet that most new bike buyers are new to cycling as well. Making them pay more is going to be a deterrent, maybe to them even getting a bike at all.

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  • Donna November 20, 2008 at 12:50 pm

    I do think paying 1/4 of the money to administrate it is too much. How can those cost be brought down?

    I don’t think they could make it any less expensive. The problem is that Oregon does not have a state sales tax so they would be creating the point-of-sale infrastructure from scratch for the sale of just one consumer item


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  • SkidMark November 20, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Can we tax unhealthy foods and put the proceeds towards healthcare? I could get behind that tax.

    What about off-road bikes? If those are taxed will the money go towards maintaining trails? Oh yeah it can’t, most of the trails in Portland are “No Bicycles”.

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  • Glen Bolen November 20, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    Portland is seeing a 6% mode-split for bike use. Nowhere near 6% of transportation funding goes toward biking. In fact, by Oregon law there is 1% for bike (although that’s the minimum, but it’s not often exceeded to be the best of my knowledge).

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  • BURR November 20, 2008 at 1:28 pm

    nope, still not buying the argument.

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  • Glen Bolen November 20, 2008 at 1:54 pm

    You have to admit that the residents of Portland, and the region, get a HUGE benefit from the small investment made in bike/walk. Heck, the Transit system in all of LA acheives about the same percentage of users.

    We would have to spend a lot of money to get a 6% mode split through further investment in Tri-met or through land use planning

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  • Mike November 20, 2008 at 1:58 pm

    I worry most about this being a gateway to increased bicycle regulation. Next we might see mandatory license plates for bicycles, or a Bicyclist License.

    Should skateboards, scooters, and roller blades also be assessed a tax? What about the motorized chairs disabled people use on bicycle lanes?

    The result of a bicycle tax might make bicycle lobbyist’s jobs easier, but do the ends justify the means?

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  • El Biciclero November 20, 2008 at 2:07 pm

    Kevin said,
    “A tax says, ‘I care enough about getting more people to ride that I will pay more for it.'”

    This is a great sentiment, but the problem is that this particular kind of tax also says, “we admit we’re not paying for roads, so I guess we don’t have a right to be there after all.”

    Paying a tax like this is a form of appeasement that will not serve its intended purpose: blunting the ire of those who falsely believe cyclists don’t pay for enough of the road. I think there is a strong possibility that it would even further de-legitimize cyclists’ right to the road because, as I posted earlier (#12) it could foster an “ours vs. theirs” mentality (as if “us vs. them” wasn’t bad enough). If motorists feel that cyclists are contributing to their own cause, and have new money available for “bike paths”, they will feel even more resentful toward bikes on the roads. “Why aren’t they off on a path somewhere? Isn’t that what they paid for? We don’t drive on ‘their’ paths; they shouldn’t ride on ‘our’ roads!”

    What really says, “I care enough about getting more people to ride that I will pay more for it”, are donations to organizations that educate cyclists and potential cyclists, and encourage more folks to adopt cycling as an appropriate mode of transport. The “Safe Routes” initiative is a great one, which is apparently funded by private donations now. “Safe Routes” is also one of the potential beneficiaries of any new bike tax revenue. If what we want is more money for “Safe Routes”, why not just donate to that cause?

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  • El Biciclero November 20, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    “So what if non-cyclists don’t want to pay for bike infrastructure? I don’t want to pay for a war for oil, but I still do. You don’t get to pick and choose where your tax dollars go.”

    No frickin’ kiddin’. I don’t want my tax dollars going to bail out rich bankers and failed auto companies, but there they go…bye-bye tax dollars! Have fun in the pockets of the incompetent CEOs! Say ‘hey’ if you run into any of the money I’ve already paid in credit card or mortgage interest! Sheesh.

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  • David November 20, 2008 at 2:59 pm

    Pure silliness — or worse. BTA has spent too long in Salem. Understandable, but unfortunate. Doing the wrong thing, taxing cyclists, to silence criticism just concedes the point. Short term agreement comes at the price of long term loss. Cyclists save road users money. And we should get taxed for the privilege? No. I want safer intersections, better roads, and public education, rather than more bike lanes. This tax, and perhaps the BTA, offers no help.

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  • Graham November 20, 2008 at 3:30 pm

    Donna #96

    I don’t think they could make it any less expensive. The problem is that Oregon does not have a state sales tax so they would be creating the point-of-sale infrastructure from scratch for the sale of just one consumer item


    Brilliant point, I hadn’t thought of that.

    So I guess that blows my next suggestion out of the water. I was thinking that, since drivers pay for (some) highway improvements with a tax on their fuel, cyclists might do the same. But I guess a burrito tax would be even harder to administer.

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  • Hank Sheppard November 20, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    Taxing bicycles is like charging a surcharge on home insulation. It makes no sense. Bike trips replace motor vehicle trips, frees up lane space for the latter, reduces energy consumption. Bicyclists should get a rebate or a tax credit. Sorry to see the BTA surrender on this just like on the Big Bridge…short term political gain at a huge cost in credibility.

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  • Velo Vanguard November 20, 2008 at 4:32 pm

    Scott Bricker is the Neville Chamberlain of the fight for bike rights.

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  • Mike November 20, 2008 at 4:59 pm

    Instate a 5% sales tax.
    Skip the token little bike tax and tax everyone. Homeowners and non-homeowners alike.
    Instead of $2M, how about $100M? Bike lanes for everyone, and more importantly schools that are not falling apart, jails that are actually staffed and operating, decrease in property taxes resulting in a decrease of foreclosures. Social programs for everyone, investment into the future.

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  • N.I.K. November 20, 2008 at 5:01 pm

    Velo Vanguard:

    Aw, that’s just cheap. I’m less and less a BTA fan these days, but you were doing so well with your remarks. I get the point about appeasement (and agree), but did you really have to take it one step removed from invoking Godwin?

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  • Randy November 20, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    “That bicyclists don’t pay their share”. This is a rather weak rhetorical statement vs. a statement of fact. Bicycles by design add value to the quality of life of an area: no horns, happy/healthy riders, zero pollution, low impact, promote physical health. I’d pay for a tax in a heartbeat that taxed car use of the Hawthorne Bridge. Maybe one day soon the Hawthorne bridge will be a bicycle only bridge.

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  • noname November 20, 2008 at 6:42 pm

    So the BTA should make sure that this tax does not apply to bike commuters that have a driver’s license and or all ready have a BTA member’s card right; or that would be like triple taxing on toes bike commuters.

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  • Velo Vanguard November 20, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    Lighten up, NIK. People who want to get around the city safely by bike need some leadership, not BTA’s self-admitted appeasement of the anti-bike lunatic fringe.

    It’s time for an organization that says bikes deserve to be respected and encouraged on our roadways for all the great reasons people have spent time explaining in these comments. Won’t you join the Portland Bicyclists’ Union?

    The PBU won’t advocate for taxes on bikes. It *will* explain clearly and forcefully to the powers that be (and anyone else who listen) how bikes provide a great social benefit, and how, if the roads were safer, we could get more people to ride. It will stand up for bicyclists’ rights on the roads. And it won’t concern itself with political games to perpetuate its own funding streams. In sum, it will be a *real* bike advocacy organization.

    BTA has become The Man. Join the PBU!!

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  • N.I.K. November 20, 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Velo Vanguard, the PBU sounds ideal. I’d just advise staying away from the sort of sensationalism that gets within ten feet of comparing the opposition to Hitler. It’s the sort of hyperbole that people tend to take and use as the basis for suggesting you’re over-stating your cause and the danger it’s in.

    But again: PBU? Sounds great!

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  • CS November 20, 2008 at 10:31 pm

    Jonathan- I am having a hard time with your speculation about the BTA being “ahead of their core constituency”. I don’t see any reason to believe that “people who don’t identify as cyclists” will become BTA members. If new people get on bikes they may eventually become supporters of the BTA but at that point probably will identify as cyclists and will have beliefs that align more closely with the core constituency. Therefore, the core constituency would never really change.

    I am pretty sure this is not what you are suggesting but I’ll say it anyway. The BTA would not do itself any favors by speculating about what some future supporters might think. I think the BTA would do much better to listen to its core supporters who currently identify as cyclists and definitely have the cyclists best interest in mind. I think the people who are opposing this idea really believe that it is bad for bikes (myself included, for the myriad of reasons listed above) and we should be heard.

    We are not just being stubborn radicals.

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  • Natty November 21, 2008 at 3:59 am

    Why not pay have all vehicles, bicycles included, pay “road tax” proportional to the amount of “wear” they inflict upon the roads.

    I bet the truckers associations and Joe motorist will still think that ‘unfair’.

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  • El Biciclero November 21, 2008 at 9:19 am

    “Why not pay have all vehicles, bicycles included, pay “road tax” proportional to the amount of “wear” they inflict upon the roads.”

    In the UK, they pay road tax based partly on the carbon emissions from…Oh, rats–that still leaves bikes out. I guess if someone could point out any inherent harm that bikes do (“inconveniencing” motorists doesn’t count) to the roads, we should tax that.

    I wouldn’t mind a tax on all tires, auto and bike. Or even on brake pads for all vehicles, including bikes (then we’d have to complain that the brakeless fixie riders don’t pay their share…). Make it 5% on pads and tires. 40% on studded tires. Of course, that would create an incentive to drive/ride around in unsafe vehicles, so they would have to enact some legal wear limit on tires and brakes, then if you got pulled over, the cops could decide your tires were too worn and give you an extra fine, which, if you were in tight financial straits, would make it even harder to replace needed parts…oh, never mind.

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  • Muriel Creer November 21, 2008 at 10:15 am

    Wrong–it IS giving in to whiners who insist that “bikes don’t pay their way on the road.” It’s a simply horrible idea, and I’m now happy that my friends who are members haven’t managed to guilt-trip me into joining BTA. I’m an old gal who remembers the early 1960’s–this is as if the NAACP had agreed to by dog food for the Selma PD’s German Shepherd’s!

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  • Opus the Poet November 21, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    In my blog I have proposed a vehicle registration and tax for all vehicles based on weight and damage to the roads, including bicycles. Now when I was studying basic engineering back in the 1970s we were taught that you can determine the damage a vehicle creates on the roads by multiplying its speed times its weight, meaning a semi tractor trailer weighing 80,000 pounds doing 60 MPH has a damage index of 4800000 and a 200 pound bicycle/rider combination doing 20 MPH has a damage index of 4000 or a relative damage of 1200 times for the semi. So a semi truck owner would have to pay 1200 times the registration fees of a bicycle owner per vehicle. I don’t know how well this would go over but the way we pay for road repair now is not enough to keep the roads from crumbling into rubble, and the methods used to prevent that are detrimental to bicycle traffic (chip seal with aggregate the size of small boulders).

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  • Zaphod November 21, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    We’ve already paid. I agree that pandering to those that feel we don’t pay our share simply reinforces their argument.

    I think the animosity that exists and the “us/them” mentality will fade based on very recent trends. As we all know, bikes are gaining mode share. But perhaps more importantly, they types of bikes are changing. Five years ago, the cargo bike was a rare and strange creature. Now they’re truly catching fire. Sure, we’re the early adopters of this stuff but there will soon be a tipping point where they will be everywhere.

    How many new cargo and cool urban bikes have hit the streets this year alone?

    When everybody knows someone who rides in a utilitarian way, the “them” will dissolve. I tell stories all the time about the volume of cargo and passengers I carry on my Xtracycle. I am one small piece of the collective consciousness of PDX. I talk to friends who do not ride over a beer. They shake their heads thinking I’m crazy. But then they see all the people on the road and then they’re asking about what bike would be good for them.

    When I load up the Xtra at Fred Meyer’s with a huge volume of supplies, I’ll work efficiently and deliberately. Then I push off and spin away smoothly. I make a point to execute well on this because I usually have an audience so I’m putting on a show. Maybe this does nothing but I’ve caught people smiling as I pile the stuff then pile on the kids and roll like it aint nuthin’ but a thing. I trust not only is this creating more of us, but turning the angry them into sympathetic them. I’m just a guy running errands with my kids not some alien culture.

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  • brettoo November 22, 2008 at 1:28 am

    Instead of going along with a bike tax, I’d love to see the BTA devote some of its legislative resources to joining a coalition of groups that advocates for a cabon tax.

    With the Republican recession devastating Oregon’s tax income and provoking massive budget cuts in necessary programs, there’s been talk again about how Oregon needs a third leg to balance its tax structure and avoid the ups and downs of sole reliance on an income tax. This usually winds up being a prelude to a sales tax proposal, which I and most Oregonians oppose. But some are suggesting the Legislature institute a carbon tax to provide that third leg, redress the big budget cuts, and also move us toward a sustainable economy that reduces our contribution to climate change. Under that scheme, we’d tax what we don’t want (especially petroleum fueled cars), which would both reduce greenhouse gas producing activities AND provide funds for investing in the things we do want — like bike infrastructure and other incentives to switch from cars to bikes when possible. IN other words, the exact opposite of a bike tax.

    I think most of us here aren’t reflexively anti tax or knee jerk opponents of political realism and compromise. I support taxes when they’re fair and progressive and compromise when it leads to good things that wouldn’t happen otherwise. If BTA gets behind a carbon tax, it would demonstrate that bike advocates are willing to support smart and necessary taxes without undermining the convincing argument that bike investment is a public good that should be supported by all, not taxed.

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  • Velo Vanguard November 22, 2008 at 11:03 am

    Excellent points all, Zaphod and brettoo!

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  • Me 2 November 22, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    bretto #120,

    The legislature will be debating a GHG cap and trade system in 2011 that will cover automobile emissions. Under this system the regulators can decide to auction a portion of the emissions allowance and use the proceeds to incentive low and no carbon measures such as EVs, energy efficiency, recycling and bicycling. I too would like to see the BTA look for auction proceeds to fund some of their programs that result in increased riding.

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  • Commuter November 24, 2008 at 8:19 pm

    I’m a bike commuter who sees some merit in the motorist assertion that bikers don’t pay for the share of the roadway that they insist upon; while motor vehicles pay fairly steep taxes on fuel and registration. I’m certain that if we summed the bike infrastructure improvements that we’d all like to see, the cost would substantially exceed the $1.5 in net revenue that this proposal would generate.

    It’s all too easy to tax someone else (a frequent refrain of bike blogs), but then we have a fit at the proposal of a $5 tax on a new bike. Given the lifespan of a commuting bike, I bet that isn’t even $1 per year. Don’t you think that your personal share of Portland biking infrastructure is a lousy dollar year? I expect that a fair share of motorists pay more than that on a typical roundtrip commute. Yes, their infrastructure is more costly and there are externalities associated with their commute, but they rightly assert that they pay for their roads. I think that this very nominal tax is a reasonable price to pay for the infrastructure that has been (and, hopefully, will be) built for cyclists.

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  • Joe November 25, 2008 at 2:41 am

    i’m not sure if a bike tax will actually earn bikes legitimacy among other road users. it’s already a better mode of travel as far as benefit to society and cost effectiveness… it would be nice if it was legitimized by certain road users, but that may be asking too much.. even current drivers sometimes feel unwelcome on the same road as other car drivers because of the innate competition for space. there may be no way to feel welcome except to gradually reduce autos and gradually increase the openness to bikes.

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  • El Biciclero November 25, 2008 at 9:31 am


    As someone once said, “it’s the principle of the thing.” I don’t think most folks here would object to donating $5-$5000 for the improvement of roads to make them more bike-friendly. The problem is that the proposed bike tax would be a response to those who say cyclists don’t pay for roads, which is a misconception. What people don’t want to do is reinforce that misconception–especially by paying a tax that would, as you note, not buy a whole lot.


    I like the carbon tax idea–would we pay it based strictly on user production of carbon, or would there also be an up-front for the manufacturing/shipping carbon footprint? Wait, I guess the manufacturing/shipping would be paid by the manufacturers/shippers, and the consumer would just pay higher retail. Would this give an advantage to local businesses with small operations?

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  • brettoo November 25, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    El B, there’ve been so many permutations of carbon taxes proposed that it’s hard to answer your question, and I’ve followed them only casually anyway.

    Although local businesses would still have to pay for shipping of parts, it does seem like not having to pay for shipping finished products would give them a bit of an edge, maybe enough to offset the economies of scale (which of course don’t account for the true enviro cost of such operations) enjoyed by the multinationals. Sure, much of the cost of any sales tax will be passed through to the ultimate consumer, and that’s what we want, because we want consumer (as well as manufacturer and retailer) behavior to change from buying environmentally costly things to less harmful alternatives. All the tax does is make more tangible the actual costs imposed on the environment — costs that aren’t accounted for in our current short sighted economic model.

    But really, I have no expertise in this area — you might refer to the excellent analysts over at the sightline institute for more details about carbon taxes. I think bikes would come out ahead in a carbon tax regime but what’s more important is that the planet would.

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  • Eileen November 25, 2008 at 10:21 pm

    PR is not about reality, it’s about perception.

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  • N.I.K. November 27, 2008 at 2:37 am

    PR is not about reality, it’s about perception.

    PR is a shoddy, stupid basis for a tax.

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  • jim November 28, 2008 at 2:05 pm

    November 22nd, 2008 01:28 120Instead of going along with a bike tax, I’d love to see the BTA devote some of its legislative resources to joining a coalition of groups that advocates for a cabon tax.)

    They have a carbon tax in the works. They are calling it a “leaf tax”

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  • Antonio Gramsci November 28, 2008 at 10:13 pm

    Indiscriminate and incoherent tax schemes are the reason that Americans hate taxes. Why propose yet another? Bad idea.

    Sound fiscal policies should be designed to redistribute resources from parts of the economy that are overfunded to parts that are underfunded. Tax things that you want less of, and redistribute the revenues towards things you want more of. Does BTA want LESS bikes??!

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