Reader Chris S. came across a story in The Oregonian yesterday that made him do a double-take. In a report about the ‘State of the County’ event held by the Clackamas County commissioners, the topic of bicycles came up. The event allowed citizens to ask commissioners any question they’d like. The Oregonian reporter shared a few of the questions and summarized the answers.
Here’s the first question in the story — and the one that Chris said he “had to read a few times to make sure I read it correctly.”
Q: Bicyclists and studded tire users cause considerable road damage. Why shouldn’t bicyclists and studded tire users be required to pay an annual fee to the county for wear and tear?
And the answer?
Commissioner Jamie Damon: We are currently working on our transportation system plan. As a part of that, we are looking at the funding structure for necessary maintenance and capital improvements. While our bicyclists do add a different element to our transportation system, most of them also own vehicles and they are paying fees through their vehicle use. Looking at a bicycle fee of some sort is something we can explore. As part of our survey for the Canby Ferry, we are looking at a fee for bicyclists.
Commissioner Paul Savas: We’re asking people, “How do we deliver transportation projects or address our problems? What is a fair and equitable way of doing that?”
I’m not sure exactly what Commissioner Damon meant by “bicyclists do add a different element to our transportation system,” but at least she mentioned they pay for the roads just like everyone else. I’m also curious if Clackamas County would really “explore” a bike fee, especially since that county is working very hard to cash in on bicycle tourism.
Elected officials throughout our region have a long history of bungling responses to similar questions from constituents. Back in November 2010, Metro President Tom Hughes responded to a citizen’s question about tolling by saying people who ride bikes should pay some sort of “token registration fee” and added that riders, “need to pay a share of the cost of providing those facilities.”
And who can forget Oregon State Rep. Wayne Krieger’s attempt to pass a mandatory bike registration bill in 2009?
With budgets tighter than ever in counties and cities across the country, you can bet we’ll continue to hear ideas and schemes about getting more money out of us “free-loading bicyclists.” Heck, even people who get it have supported for a bike-related excise tax.
In Clackamas County, citizen activists funded by anti-tax groups like Americans for Prosperity are fired up. They’re out to stop TriMet’s Milwaukie light rail project and they’re the ones behind the county’s inability to pass a $5 vehicle fee to help pay for the Sellwood Bridge project.
Clackamas County is definitely a place to watch closely as this debate heats up.