Should Free-Wheeling be Free? One Oregon Lawmaker Says No.

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Oregonians love their bikes – and for good reason. Portland and Eugene are among the most progressive cities in the nation when it comes to biking infrastructure (bike lanes, bike racks, etc.). But Oregon representative Wayne Krieger has introduced a bill that would mean this infrastructure would no longer be freely available to two-wheeling citizens. They’d have to pay to ride.
Krieger’s bill, HB 3008, would require cyclists to register and license their bikes for about $27 a year. The bill doesn’t have much chance of advancing, since his fellow Congressmen haven’t granted it a committee work session. But the proposal raises some important questions. Should cyclists help pay for cycling infrastructure? Should cyclists be required to register and license their rides, just like motorists?
Krieger argues that if motorists and cyclists are to share the same roads, cyclists should pay licensing and registration fees, as motorists do. This way, he says, they’ll financially support the road systems and bike lanes from which they benefit. Plus, authorities will have a better way to nail fines on cyclist who disobey traffic laws.


On this GOOD mag blog, editor-in-chief Zach Frechette posits that this notion of taxing cyclists is dumb. Instead of taxing an activity that is good for us and the natural world (or at least, less bad for us and the natural world than driving), we should tax things that are bad for us and the natural world. Like, for instance, polluting, which is a byproduct of driving. Motorist, therefore, should keep right on paying for our cycling spaces. (Frechette credits the New Yorker‘s Hendrik Hertzberg with this notion of taxing the bad stuff rather than the good stuff.)
But over at the New York Times, the Freakonomics folks say the measure is fair and that the fees that Krieger proposes – $54 every two years – are so low that “even a tax-hating bicyclist” should support it.
Indeed, some of the 28 (and counting) comments to Frechette’s blog say, essentially, “go ahead, tax me.” But along with that tax, these riders want bike lanes and sharrows (those quasi bike line markers that indicate to motorists that bikes and cars must share lanes) to be ubiquitous, and they want riding a bike to be a safer pursuit, with greater buffer zones between vehicles and bikes.
GOOD deputy editor Morgan Clendaniel says registering bikes might be the way to deal with increasing bike traffic. “If we want a large number of people to be biking, bikes will no longer be able to be the freewheeling mode of transportation they are now. Bikers will have to stop at lights, signal turns, etc. etc. And the police will have to stop and ticket those who don’t,” she writes.
But the field of opposing readers is much larger. Writes Staven: “A bike tax should only be considered if the majority of the city’s transportation is going to be using that method (to provide services such as bike racks, lanes, etc) – otherwise it’s a horrible idea. I drive or walk, and I say tax cars for supporting bike lanes.”
More people on bikes, and therefore fewer in cars, would make roads last longer, argues another. Cyclists, therefore, should be rewarded, not taxed for riding. And aren’t most – or at least, many – adult cyclists also motorists and therefore already paying for the roads and bike lanes on which they ride?
Perhaps the most centrist view comes from reader “masbury,” who takes the middle lane: “There’s a precedent that could suggest another effective route. Many vehicles are taxed by weight – heavy trucks, for instance. The logic behind that mode is simple: heavy vehicles cause more road deterioration, thus more taxpayer expense. So why not extend weight-based taxation to all vehicles? For indeed, not only do we want bikes on the road, we also want to prefer lighter vehicles of all types; they cause more road and environmental damage…”
A much easier financial pill to shallow would be an excise tax on all new bike sales. That’s the route that Colorado Springs chose, way back in 1988. It levies a $4 fee on each bike sold in the city, but then uses that money specifically for improving the biking infrastructure. This means that only those buying new bikes pay the fee, which seems fair, and it avoids the huge program fees that would come with charging ongoing licensing and registration fees.
(Want more on the topic? Here’s the full bill, and an interview with Krieger on BikePortland.org.)

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to www.mcoconnor.com.