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Why House Rep. Tobias Read signed onto the bike toll bill

Tobias Read

HB 3152, a bill to toll people riding bikes across a new I-5/Columbia River bridge has reared its head in the state legislature. Surprising as the bill itself was to anyone with a reasonable understanding of transportation policy, what was even more surprising to us was that House Rep. Tobias Read (D-Beaverton) was listed as a co-sponsor.

Rep. Read’s unabashed and full-fledged support of the Columbia River Crossing project is worthy of our attention in and of itself; but why would he go even further and sign onto a bill that has even more dubious policy underpinnings than the freeway expansion project that inspired it?

Rep. Read reached out to me via telephone this morning to explain the context of his support for HB 3152.

“It’s important that the cycling community is not left out of these conversations.”
— Rep. Tobias Read

“I want to be very clear on this,” he said, before dashing off to the House floor to debate the big tuition equity bill, “The bulk of the reason I’m on this bill is to be a productive influencer on this concept.”

Read acknowledged what everyone should know — that this bill is very unlikely to move very far in the legislative process. But even so, Read said he feels it’s important to have “someone who’s a cyclist in the conversation.”

“My sense is that there are a lot of conversations [around this issue] where people have already made up their minds and that’s the end of the conversation. That’s not very productive.”

Read said when the bill’s author, Rep. Kevin Cameron, approach him for support, he immediately asked, “How would you even make this work that doesn’t cost a lot of money [to administer]?” While the bill is only a few lines long today, there has been some discussion of details and if it moves forward at all, it will have to be amended.

One of the details Read said they’ve discussed is that the bike toll would be voluntary. “It would be an ‘on-your-honor’ system, people could buy an RFID [radio frequency infrared device] for the bike, or maybe flip a quarter into a jar they wanted to.”

When I expressed my deep misgivings about his involvement with this type of legislative maneuver and that lending his name to it lends credibility to the false notion that “bikes don’t pay”, Read said he feels, “It’s important that the cycling community is not left out of these conversations,” and added, “I think it’s important that we combat the perception cyclists and people who care about cycling don’t want to be part of a conversation or a solution. Yes, I know a lot of that stuff [the bikes don’t pay rhetoric] is bogus; but perception is often reality.”

“I want to fight that perception and at least send a signal that I’m willing to be part of a conversation.”

I suggested to Rep. Read that perhaps these conversations would be more productive if hashed out between colleagues and interested parties in private and public via town halls or other meetings. Trying to “start a conversation” by first launching a piece of legislation that is perceived by some as punitive and unfair is like trying to have a meaningful dialogue with a teenager after you’ve just yelled at her and told her she’s grounded.

In response to that, Read suggested I make a trip to Salem to meet for lunch with him and Rep. Cameron. I just might take him up on the offer, but right now I think we’ve got bigger fish to fry (and bigger vehicles to toll).

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