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Friday Opinion: The bills I wish we were working on this session


Bicycle riders should be included in Oregon’s “Move Over Law.”
(Photo: Jonathan Maus/BikePortland)

There are plenty of important bills down in Salem this session, but as you might have noticed in the list of bills we’re tracking — and despite a supermajority for Democrats — bicycling doesn’t seem like much a priority. (Not that bicycling is a partisan issue, but in general Democrats tend to be more receptive to it than Republicans.)

When arguably the biggest bike bill in the mix is one that merely clarifies an existing law that bike lanes don’t disappear in intersections, you know it’s another down year for cycling in Salem.

I can think of several reasons why the issue has lost urgency with lawmakers; but instead of lamenting the state of cycling in our politics, I want to share a few legal ideas I wish we were working on.

Bike tax repeal: The $15 tax on new bicycles that passed in the 2017 session is an embarrassment for our state. It was created as a tool to help make increases in automobile fees and taxes more politically palatable. It was also the product of lawmakers seeking to quiet constituents who constantly berate them with the tired “bicyclists don’t pay!” mantra. It makes no sense, it doesn’t raise a significant amount of revenue ($610,000 for the entire year, about half what was expected, while costing taxpayers $115,000 to administer), it discourages a behavior that should be promoted, and — newsflash! — it won’t shut up the haters. I heard there was some organizing from an independent lobbyist to work on a repeal, but I don’t think that effort got off the ground.

Idaho Stop: Allowing bicycle users to treat stop signs as yields is a sensible way to improve cycling. As we reported in January, the circus of enforcement at stop signs has been a perennial problem in Portland. We very nearly passed Idaho Stop in 2009 and it deserves another chance.

Move over for bike riders: Oregon should trash its existing bicycle passing law (which is ineffective, unknown, and therefore relatively pointless) and amend our much stronger Move Over Law to include bicycle riders, similar to a bill currently being discussed in Washington. The legislature recently expanded the Move Over Law to include drivers on the side of the road. Bicycle riders deserve the same respect.

Studded tire tax: This should be a no-brainer. Studded tires cause millions in damage to our roads each year and they’re not necessary for the vast majority of people who choose to use them. Washington’s legislature has taken up a $100 fee and eventual ban. Oregon should do the same.

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E-bike incentives: Oregon has rebate programs for electric cars and motorcycles. Those programs should include electric bikes.

Big truck tax: There’s growing awareness that the alarming rise in fatal collisions involving walkers can be partly attributed to the increased popularity of large personal trucks (like the obscene one above). These huge trucks with massive front ends are largely a product of automakers’ greed and selfish consumerism — not a need for cargo and utility. If a person doesn’t have a commercial/business license, we should tax the purchase of large trucks and SUVs and put the revenue in a Vision Zero Safety project fund.

Bicycle Safety Corridors: ODOT already has a “Safety Corridor” program. We should expand it and create “Bicycle Safety Corridors.” In more rural areas with popular bike routes, these stretches of road could come with increased fines for violations, more “Bikes on Roadway” signage, bicycle pullouts, more frequent sweeping/maintenance intervals, wider shoulders, and so on.

I love dreaming up new legislation. That’s the easy part! I know it takes a lot of work to turn them into laws.

Hopefully by the 2021 session cycling will be ready to emerge from the shadows and flex its muscles again as an issue worth fighting for at the State Capitol.

What do you think of my wish list? Any of these worth pursuing? What new cycling-related laws do you dream about?

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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