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Monday, December 8, 2008

Vesely: You Bikers Get Off My Roads!

Posted by Erica C. Barnett on Mon, Dec 8 at 11:04 AM

Seattle Times editorial page editor Jim Vesely, a resident of Mercer Island, thinks it would be a dandy idea to tax cyclists in Seattle for the privilege of using streets they already pay for.

A $25 annual fee for owning a bike is a natural outgrowth of the enormous amounts of trails, lanes and accommodations the region has made to cyclists. Those funds would be useful for local cities and King County. It would also make cyclists true members of the world of transportation, rather than free riders on the tax rolls.

That's pretty rich coming from a guy whose editorial page has made a decadeslong crusade of fighting against taxes on the very wealthy—and, as EFFin' Unsound points out, whose industry is exempt from Washington State's sales tax (which people purchasing bikes and cycling gear have to pay.)

Moving on!

Special licenses are not new. We license dogs, our cars, our boats, our motorcycles, our pleasures in hunting and fishing, as well as many other outdoor activities. Cyclists, known for their community spirit and exalted senses of self, should welcome this opportunity to help government support their activities.

Driving—unlike, say, owning a dog, or a motorcycle—is one of the most heavily subsidized activities humans do. Every year, the US government spends more than $100 billion to subsidize driving above and beyond driver expenditures on gas taxes, vehicle purchases, and license plates. Those expenses come out of all of our pockets—including those of us who don't own a car. As a cyclist, I'm subsidizing Jim Vesely, not the other way around.

And that's not even counting the externalities like pollution, the increased cost of health care due to auto accidents, under-market-rate parking provided by cities, and military spending to protect our access to cheap oil. (Not to mention the fact that one cyclist on the Burke-Gilman is one fewer car on the road—something auto-bound dinosaurs like Vesely ought to appreciate but don't.) We cyclists don't need another "opportunity to help government support" things like striping bike lanes and building cycling paths—we're already paying for all those things, and then some.

And on that point:

A simple exploration of current and future bike trails shows a remarkable generosity on the part of Puget Sound taxpayers. Whenever new transportation projects are studied, bike lanes are as automatic as white striping.

Reading that, you might think that the "Puget Sound taxpayers" paying for all those bike lanes with their "remarkable generosity" were all drivers, funding cyclists' expensive hobby out of the goodness of their hearts. In fact, the Complete Streets program Vesely is referring to is funded by the Bridging the Gap property tax increase adopted by voters in 2006. Every single resident of Seattle pays this tax, either directly (property owners) or indirectly (renters). You don't get an exemption if you don't own a car. And striping bike lanes, I shouldn't have to add, is a hell of a lot cheaper than filling potholes and building sidewalks. I don't hear Vesely complaining that pedestrians should have to pay an extra tax for the sidewalks they use for "free."

Fundamentally, Vesely's view—that a few new bike lanes and sharrows constitute "enormous accommodations" for cyclists—assumes that drivers own the roads, and cyclists are lucky if they deign to "accommodate" us. Fortunately, Seattle's City Council—that group that Vesely says don't have the "guts" to make cyclists pay an extra tax—understands that the more cyclists there are on the road, the better the roads work for everyone, not just those of us on two wheels.

Comments (35) RSS

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1 Generic user icon

As a cyclist who is not benefiting from subsidized roads, you should not be riding your bicycle in the streets. And, as a walker, if I see somebody riding on a bicycle on the sidewalk, I will push you.

Posted by TheMisanthrope on December 8, 2008 at 11:28 AM
2 Generic user icon

He fails.

Trails are whole items, they do not come in "amounts". They come in numbers.

Posted by STJA on December 8, 2008 at 11:30 AM
3 Generic user icon

@1- you suck. Sometimes bikers have to use the sidewalk or else they will DIE FROM RIDING IN THE NARROWLY LANED STREET!
Thanks, ECB for a great post.

Posted by exalted sense of self on December 8, 2008 at 11:30 AM
4 Generic user icon

thanks ECB. Veseley's piece deserves such a rebuttal.

Posted by onion on December 8, 2008 at 11:32 AM
5 Generic user icon

@3 'Tis better to get mowed down by the biker on the sidewalk, than to be pushed by the WALKer on the sideWALK.

Duly noted.

Posted by TheMisanthrope on December 8, 2008 at 11:34 AM
6 Generic user icon

What an asshole.

Posted by laterite on December 8, 2008 at 11:35 AM
7 Generic user icon

It's legal in Seattle for bikes to use the sidewalks. And, frankly, it's the safest place for everyone in many instances.

Posted by Simac on December 8, 2008 at 11:45 AM
8 Generic user icon

The argument about who subsidizes who seems beside the point to me. Bike trails and lanes exist for the benefit and safety of motorists AND bicyclists alike, and we need more of them.

The idea of taxing bicyclists when we're trying to reduce congestion and pollution is insane.

And by the way, when I drive to and from work in my car, it's the BICYLISTS I encounter who, by and large, have a much better sense of rules of the road and overall situational awareness than most other drivers. One exception would be those bikers who are riding in the crosswalk.

Posted by Joe M on December 8, 2008 at 11:47 AM
9 Generic user icon

I want license fees AND license plates on each one of the damned bicyclists who use city streets; cyclists should have unique identifiers just like cars, so that they can no longer break every street law with anonymous impunity as they do now.

Posted by drewvsea on December 8, 2008 at 11:50 AM
10 Generic user icon

#9 - Pedestrians are even worse. The amount of jaywalking is out of control. Every pedestrian needs to be implanted with microchip ASAP so they can no longer break the law with impunity as they do now.

Posted by 7e on December 8, 2008 at 11:55 AM
11 Generic user icon

@7 Tell that to the various people whom I've seen knocked down by cyclers. They may not have felt endangered, but they sure were pissed off.

I've seen cyclers on the sidewalks of Broadway. They need to be lynched.

Posted by TheMisanthrope on December 8, 2008 at 11:56 AM
12 Generic user icon

For everyone who thinks it's okay to ride on the sidewalk can we just agree on ONE thing?

Ride in the direction of traffic!

I saw some dude get taken out as he was crossing the intersection by a car turning right. Never would've happened if he were on the other side of the street.

Posted by candice. on December 8, 2008 at 11:58 AM
13 Generic user icon

good point.
maybe the sidewalks are the safest place for the bicyclists but it makes the sidewalks more dangerous for the pedestrians. Ever been hit by a bicycle on the sidewalk? I have.

Posted by jamesb on December 8, 2008 at 12:00 PM
14 Generic user icon

There are only two reasons why Jim Vesely would write such an ill-informed opinion piece: he's either trying to gain eyeballs by riling people up or he's an utter dolt. Unfortunately I'm guessing it's the latter.

Posted by DOUG. on December 8, 2008 at 12:08 PM
15 Generic user icon

@9 Agreed. I don't see the problem with this. Maybe bicycles are the last vestige of anarchy?

@12 IF the biker is riding on the sidewalk, Shouldn't they bike counter to the direction of traffic, so that they can be seen as they enter the intersection, and have more time to react, rather than come right out of the intersection as the car is turning right?

Posted by TheMisanthrope on December 8, 2008 at 12:10 PM
16 Generic user icon

all this over 25.00 a year --- my, my, such a big time fucking deal

and it will never go anywhere -- I think the Times is giving you all the needle

and it is working - all over 25.00 a year - which is not going to happen

conlin rides a bike to city hall, I think, and increasing parking fees raises more money and requires no added infrastructure - better NET NET proceeds, less whining

Posted by HE PRICKED YOU ALL on December 8, 2008 at 12:14 PM
17 Generic user icon

It is legal to ride a bike on the sidewalk in Seattle. Bicyclists must yield to pedestrians and if they don't they are liable for the consequences.

If I'm on a sidewalk and encounter a pedestrian, I slow down to a rate equal to or less than they're moving until we clear each other. Extra caution for children, less agile and disabled people is especially important.

Posted by room for everyone on December 8, 2008 at 12:32 PM
18 Generic user icon

Good post, Erica.

I don't think Vesley understands the rationale behind making cities better places to live, and what value that can bring to all its residents. "Livability" will always translate to property value, I'm surprised his stingey ass can't figure that out.

I'd also like to note that where I live, the only people that ride bikes on the sidewalk are dealers pedaling 1 mph on ill fitting mountain bikes.

Posted by Dougsf on December 8, 2008 at 12:32 PM
19 Generic user icon


Posted by elenchos on December 8, 2008 at 12:36 PM
20 Generic user icon


Under the Seattle Municipal Code bicyclists are permitted to use the crosswalks:

SMC 11.44.100

Right-of-way in crosswalk.

A person operating a bicycle across a roadway upon and along a crosswalk shall have all the rights and duties applicable to a pedestrian under the same circumstances, but shall yield to pedestrians upon and along a crosswalk. No person operating a bicycle shall suddenly enter a crosswalk into the path of a vehicle which is so close that the driver cannot yield safely.

(Ord. 108200 Section 2(11.44.100), 1979.)

Posted by room for everyone on December 8, 2008 at 12:39 PM
21 Generic user icon

Please provide a cite for the $100B number. Is that some Sierra Club calculation that counts emergency medical costs and the wage value of time-in-traffic?

Posted by David Wright on December 8, 2008 at 12:55 PM
22 Generic user icon

Pesky cyclists confuse dimwitted doddering fogeys -- too many random variables to keep track of whilst driving and listening to some distracting phone call. I'm sooo tired of Vesely's brand of armchair empiricism - attitudes masquerading as facts and reason.... Let's chip everyone and install nannycams at every intersection!!!

Posted by jackseattle on December 8, 2008 at 2:11 PM
23 Generic user icon

I think a GVW license fee on all vehicles using the roads is a great idea.

Now, let me do the math - cyclist plus bike $3 a year - SUV driver $200 a year, 18 wheeler OMFG.

Woo Hoo!


Posted by Will in Seattle on December 8, 2008 at 2:23 PM
24 Generic user icon

I could get behind this, the only problem is that you're going to have to either justify the tax with specific things you're doing to make bikers and drivers live in better harmony on EVERY SINGLE STREET or let them use the interstates.

We should also start thinking about taxing those sidewalk users, fucking asshole tax evaders.

Posted by watchout5 on December 8, 2008 at 2:34 PM
25 Generic user icon

ECB is all for taxes when it doesn't affect her. How many times has she stated, "its only xxx amount of dollars, if you can't afford it or don't want to pay more, you're a loser,hick, redneck, anti tax zealot, whatever" , in relation to other issues. But now that the tax man cometh for her and her main mode of transportation , she cries foul. Somehow if this idea ever got traction, something tells me you wouldn't have very many sympathizers for your side of the issue.

Posted by Brian in Seattle on December 8, 2008 at 3:01 PM
26 Generic user icon

Does that fee include training wheels?

Posted by erly on December 8, 2008 at 3:11 PM
27 Generic user icon

@ #10 - the amount of cars that have hit me/turned into me while I was in the crosswalk with the right of way is ridiculous. Perhaps drivers should be tested every few years to keep their license to operate a potentially deadly piece of machinery - especially when they ignore bright yellow crosswalk signs, giant stop signs, or red lights and run into pedestrians wearing bright yellow snowboarding jackets on the other side of the stop line.

Posted by erly on December 8, 2008 at 3:19 PM
28 Generic user icon

@13: Ever been hit by a car on the sidewalk?

Much more unpleasant.

@25: I don't think parents would want an extra $25 tax on all bikes they buy for their kids (for one).

Also, to generalize ALL bikers and ALL drivers and ALL walkers is really dumb.

Excellent post, ECB.

Posted by Atlas on December 8, 2008 at 4:01 PM
29 Generic user icon

I ride a bike on Seattle streets all the time, and a $25 annual tax doesn't seem unreasonable to me. Of course I'd rather spend the money on beer but I don't see a massive injustice in having to pay for my special interest.

Posted by CG on December 8, 2008 at 4:28 PM
30 Generic user icon

Karma should take care of this when a 16 year old driving Lincoln Navigator hits Vesely on his commute from Mercer Island.

I also second the GVW license fee.

Posted by freebeezy on December 8, 2008 at 6:04 PM
31 Generic user icon

i guess i would pay a tax or something. i think those who argue for a license on bicyclists for the sake of public safety are missing something: it won't work.

drivers are licensed: i see them breaking laws all the fucking time riding my bike around town.

i think I see about ten cars a day violating the red right turn arrow turning onto 10th from Roanoke. Hey, assholes, that red arrow means you are not allowed to turn! Gosh, what a bunch of scofflaws.

Or how about that extremely deadly and yet massively popular pastime, Operating Your Vehicle at Excessive Speeds. Good thing those jackasses got driver education!

Or all the assholes who cut me off, park illegally, run into and kill people, and generally make our streets dangerous. Good thing they all have driver's licenses.

I think i'm being excessive here. What I mean is -- bicycles are not the deadly threat of the roads. They are not the frightening scourge.

They are basically harmless diversions in the grand scheme of our blood-drenched roadways.

Posted by what on December 9, 2008 at 12:25 AM
32 Generic user icon

when did seattle start to turn into spokane

Posted by raisedbywolves on December 9, 2008 at 5:30 AM
33 Generic user icon

Maybe pedestrians ought to have a license to walk as well. how else are we going to pay for those expensive sidewalks, crosswalk striping, and signals.

Posted by Michael on December 9, 2008 at 8:04 AM
34 Generic user icon


Riding counter to traffic puts you at risk of collision with a right-turning vehicle (coming from the street you're crossing, rather than the one you're on as is the case if you ride with traffic). The person is not looking for high-speed traffic coming from the right. That's why so many are saying that if you insist on riding in the sidewalk only walking speed is appropriate.

Of course, similar considerations apply to any right-turning car. Passing on the right is never a good idea.

Posted by Another asshat cyclist on December 11, 2008 at 12:48 PM
35 Generic user icon

Research study on where money for local roads comes from (not mainly 'user taxes' like gas tax):

Posted by Bryan McLellan on December 16, 2008 at 6:10 PM

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