By Jack Rubinger
Those of us who ride bicycles in and around SE Portland, are not alone. There are approximately 29 retail bike stores in the area. This writer was amazed at the number of cyclists who showed up for the World Naked Bike Ride in June.
According to the US Census, Portland added 40,354 new commuters between 2000 and 2013. Of that number, 34 percent commuted by bicycle, 26 percent worked at home, 16 percent drove alone, 12 percent walked and 9 percent used transit.
During this period, bicycle commuting contributed the most to minimizing congestion from the increase in Portland commuters.
It would be difficult to not notice that with the increase of cyclists, new residents and drivers that traffic congestion has also increased. So while there’s more people enjoying life here in Portland driving and riding bicycles, there’s more stress on our roads to accommodate all those people, bodies and vehicles.
To help support and provide better roads, a number of approaches have been suggested over the years. One bright spot is the Tilikum Crossing which cyclists, pedestrians, and public transportation all share peacefully. Beautiful views of the city, easy access and no cars.
Many are puzzled by the imminent signing by Governor Brown of a state-wide bicycle tax which puts a $15 tax on all bicycles selling for $200 or more – all designed to help fund and restore the state’s infrastructure.
Some think that the state’s new bicycle tax is inefficient and ineffective and is based on the false premise that bicyclists “don’t pay their fair share” for the state’s infrastructure.
“A flat $15 tax whether for a $300 or $3000 bicycle, is regressive, disproportionately affecting the poor, and effectively promoting the sale of very low quality bicycles sold cheaply at big-box stores,” said Todd Fahrner from Clever Cycles.
“The revenue generated will be quite low compared to the administrative burden of collecting the tax. It’s a symbolic gesture letting politicians appear to motor-dependent constituents to be pushing back against freeloading bicyclists.
“In reality anything that promotes bicycling for transportation relieves urban motor vehicle congestion and parking woes, as bicycles are vastly more space efficient,” he said.
Ironically, Clever Cycles’ best-selling adult bicycles are exempt because their wheels are smaller than the 26” specified in the bill.
Others are cautiously optimistic about the bicycle tax.
“The Oregon bike tax is a good idea. More and more of the road work I see within the City of Portland is used to separate vehicles and bikes, making bicycle usage more realistic. So it makes sense that bikes begin to pay for these costs as cars always have through gas taxes and the new vehicle fees,” said Doug Garnett, from Atomic Direct.
“Fundamentally, this looks to be a good step forward in managing our community’s need for all types of vehicles to share the road,” he continued.
Some bicyclists believe they enjoy far fewer public subsidies or privileges than motorists. Motor vehicle accommodation and promotion is deeply ingrained into Oregon laws, codes, culture, while bicycle accommodation at a similar level is regarded as something hippie, novel, optional, or revocable.
“I don’t like this law,” Shireen Hussein said. “Why would you tax people who are promoting a healthy mode of transportation, [it] seems counterproductive? Tax SUVs instead of bikes.
“I bike all over Portland, but on weekdays, mainly in SE. I don’t like the increased traffic in SE which makes it more congested and scarier to ride on the streets, especially if people aren’t used to driving on roads with cyclists. I’m concerned about some of the poorly maintained roads that I bike on (rough roads, pot holes) which makes for a bumpy/unenjoyable ride in some areas.”
Joshua Cohen from Fat Pencil Studio in SE imagined the new bike tax might have a chilling effect on sales at local bike shops, and he suggested this change could present an interesting promotional opportunity.
“Suppose there was a fund that could help retailers pay some or all of the these quarterly taxes. Instead of passing costs to consumers on the receipt, local shops could advertise “no bike taxes here”.
“Now suppose I was offered this option at time of purchase. Instead of ranting about state fees, store clerks could talk about the option to register bikes (a great idea) and also pay it forward on bike fees (including the bike I’m buying plus two more),” said Cohen.
“This could be a great opportunity to turn what could be negative publicity into a benefit for local shops.”
Will this new tax decrease the number of cyclist on the road or encourage current cyclists to drive instead of their bikes because of all the traffic? More importantly, will we see improvements to our infrastructure that aid safety, congestion and traffic flow? Stay tuned and drive carefully.