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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

December 8, 2008 at 3:54 PM

Bicycle fees

Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times

A bicyclist riding along the Burke-Gilman Trail near Gas Works Park in Seattle is reflected in standing water left after Sunday night’s rainstorm.

They do their part

Editor, The Times:

A simple ledger exercise is all that is needed to disprove [James F. Vesely’s] bike-fee theory [“Impose license fee on King County cyclists,” Times, editorial column, Dec. 7]. Fees related to the other “pleasure” activities mentioned serve to provide some means to either offset enforcement and regulation costs or to control the number of participants in the activity.

At best, activities such as hunting and fishing offer society a break-even deal. In exchange for the privilege to conduct their sport, they provide society with a means to control wildlife population. Though, by limiting seasons or harvest quantities, licenses provide a means to prevent any damage through overuse.

Bicycling, however, offers society a much more lucrative proposition without the same hazards of overuse. More bikes on the road means fewer cars, less crowded transit, less carbon emissions and a healthier population.

While there are costs associated with additional bike traffic, every bike on the road represents a net gain for the citizens of the region. So, the last thing we need is to impose a fee that would discourage the casual cyclist from getting on the road for the first time.

If anything, we should be paying people to ride more. Actually, by investing in more trails and bike facilities, we already are. So the status quo is just fine, thank you.

— Rob Mathewson, Seattle

Count me in

Thanks for the column. As a daily cycle commuter from Mercer Island to lower Queen Anne, I would be more than happy to pay a bicycle fee.

If it means more respect from drivers and better trails, count me in.

— Dawson Stoops, Mercer Island

Saving lives one ride at a time

The idea that bicyclists should be “contributing to the public trough” with a $25 annual fee in King County is ridiculous.

As a daily bicycle commuter, undeterred by rain, sleet, snow, darkness and, more recently, floods, this is how I already contribute to the public trough: first, through the 12 fewer tons of carbon dioxide emitted because I biked to work every day for the past 12 years; second, through the maybe 200 fewer pounds of carcinogenic hydrocarbons and particulate matter that I didn’t emit, possibly reducing the cancer rates along my route; third, by helping to make my block less car-choked because my family has no need for more than one car.

The county’s precious few bike paths are about the only public incentives to get people out of cars. Indeed, I had to pay a premium to live near the Burke-Gilman Trail. When my employer decides to grant me the same work force commute subsidy that it provides to those who still burn fossil fuel in a car pool or on a bus or ferry, I might favor donating $25 for a bicycle license.

— John Incardona, Seattle

It only makes sense

I applaud your suggestion regarding bicyclists paying for the improvements to facilitate their travel. I’m not sure where your $25 fee came from, but I suspect it is not nearly high enough to pay for the life-cycle costs of the facilities constructed for the bikers.

In Bellevue, probably not more than 1 to 2 percent of the vehicle trips are via bicycle. And, for example, current Bellevue city staff proposals call for $15.5 million to be spent (acquisition costs only) on one north/south or one east/west bike corridor. Clearly, such improvements are very expensive.

Undoubtedly, the Bellevue City Council will levy these costs on all Bellevue taxpayers.

A better approach to determining the fees to be imposed on bikers would be to determine the levelized cost (cost per rider) to provide improvements; such levelized costs would be based on the life-cycle costs for the improvements, and normalized to expected (say, annual) usage on the facilities. Thus, riders would pay for the “privilege” of using bicycles as their preferred mode of transportation.

But, as you noted, the probability of any elected government officials proposing such an approach is zero, as they are much more comfortable with levying general taxes to subsidize special-interest groups; this is totally consistent with their normal modus operandi.

— David Plummer, Bellevue

Just better informed

I ride my bike to work almost daily, and yet, contrary to your view, I am still a “true member of the world of transportation.” I am there not due to your good graces, but as a legal user of our public roads and paths. I pay all the same taxes that you do. The only “free ride” I’m getting is possibly in the form of lower fuel costs and less time and money spent at the gym.

Perhaps the elected officials whose “guts” you question are simply better informed as to what a public good is, and how it’s paid for.

— Kevin Henderson, Seattle

Make them pay

We tax everything. We have real expenses related to sharing the road with cyclists, so why should they be exempt?

I spoke with a cyclist and mentioned this a few weeks back and he was all for it.

I share Lake Washington Boulevard with cyclists daily, most of whom are courteous. We all share the road, although one of my greatest fears is bumping one while I am in a 4,000-pound truck and they are hurt or killed.

Some of the cyclists will not use the two or three feet on the side of the road or they insist on riding side by side at 18 to 22 mph on a road with a 30 mph speed limit. This leads to daily backups and lots of frustration.

Cyclists will pass a person walking 4 mph on Seward Park’s loop road at 22 mph and come very close.

Some of them want to have their cake and eat it too.

Let’s license them, make them pay some of their own way and make clear the rules of the road for all.

Thanks for the brave column.

–Brad Easton, Seattle

Keep the Sound green

There are two simple facts to consider: The idea is to get people out of cars and using alternate forms of transport; enacting a tax on bicycles works contrary to that goal.

Perhaps more importantly, since money seems to be at the root of this, is that somewhere between 95 and 99.9 percent of all bicyclists also own a car or otherwise pay taxes in their myriad forms that support our roads.

Those who don’t already support roads or pay taxes are so poor or so young that they have no business doing so. Perhaps kids could start riding a Wii bike — Lord knows they’re getting too much of the outdoors as it is.

Bicycles meet the transportation needs of many with minimal impact, while also providing some measure of personal freedom, personal fitness and an effort for cleaner air and no oily runoff from streets and lots.

— Thomas Hammond, Seattle

We need to spend less, not more

I am a cyclist and I pay taxes for the roads on which I ride; I am not getting a “free ride.” This year, I paid over $200 in property taxes and a $25 employee tax for the Bridging the Gap levy, which is what is funding those improvements for safer cycling in Seattle.

None of it comes from vehicle license fees.

The road and trail improvements for cyclists are not a “contribution to the cycling community.” They are the most cost-effective transportation-improvement opportunity available to the whole community. Cyclists pay their share.

Cyclists are reducing road congestion by sharing the road using less roadway width, and at lower cost in roadway wear and tear. The bike lanes are shared with bus stops, all-vehicle turn lanes, breakdown lanes and often with general-traffic lanes.

It is not bicycles that caused the rutted pavement that the Bridging the Gap levy is repaving. The Spokane Street Viaduct and Lander Street overpass are not being rebuilt by this levy for bicycle traffic.

Bicycling improvements are under 10 percent of the BTG levy expenses. So, although I commute by bicycle, 90 percent of my levy-tax contribution is paying for motor vehicle and pedestrian improvements. I also pay sales and property tax to the general fund, which pays for road building and maintenance, but almost none of that goes to cycling-specific improvements.

When I use a bike to get to work or shop, in addition to reducing air pollution and congestion, I am subsidizing pedestrian, motor vehicle and rail transportation.

I would not mind paying a toll for a bike lane on the 520 bridge, as long as it is proportional, and applied to pedestrians as well. But why call for a license fee on bikes (and pedestrians) at a time when encouraging cycling and walking for transportation has so many benefits, including far lower cost to taxpayers than other choices?

— Don Brubeck, Seattle

Would never fly

James F. Vesely’s column regarding bicyclists paying their fair share by paying a $25 annual fee has one flaw: Bicyclists do pay taxes.

I commute every day to work on a bike but I, like most other bikers, also own a car. Every time I ride my bike I am keeping 3,000 pounds of erosional force off the roads. If I had a nickel for every road-raging driver who yelled at me for not paying taxes, I could afford the $25.

The purpose of the new bike and pedestrian paths are to provide a safer means to get around town and encourage more people to get out of their cars. Double-taxing bicyclists won’t achieve this.

And let’s assume there were such a tax. Do we tax those “first Christmas bikes?” Are we going to tax pedestrians for the new sidewalks being added in north Seattle? There is one thing both Vesely and I can agree on: Any politician willing to propose this will soon be looking for a new job.

— Jon Connolly, Seattle

Wake up

James F. Vesely’s comments are simplistic and shortsighted. I would argue that this is the worst time to propose such a tax.

Climate change is serious and we need to respond immediately. Carbon-free transportation options need to be as easy as possible. How much will it cost to respond to rising sea levels and shifting climates?

Cycle commuting reduces gridlock. How much does traffic congestion cost the region?

Our society is getting fatter. Obesity drains the economy by lowering worker productivity. Cyclists are also drivers of automobiles. We’re already paying taxes.

Wake up and smell the greenhouse gases, Vesely.

— Scott Nicolai, Ellensburg

Already paying too much

It reflects poorly upon The Seattle Times that its editorial page editor is entirely ignorant of Seattle’s transportation tax policy.

If James F. Vesely had done a little homework he might have discovered that Seattle’s bicyclists are anything but “free riders.” A large majority of our city’s roadways are paid for via sales taxes and property taxes, which every resident pays.

Furthermore, unlike cars, the physical impact upon these roadways made by bicycles is practically negligible, meaning that Seattle bicyclists actually subsidize their city roads at a greater rate than Vesely does.

— Doug Nellis, Seattle

Comments | More in Taxes

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