Greg Stump

An argument from www.thestranger.com that you might have missed.

Editorial page editor James Vesely, a resident of Mercer Island, argued in the Seattle Times on Sunday, December 7, that the City of Seattle ought to tax cyclists 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," Vesely wrote. "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 estate taxes on the very wealthy—and whose own industry is exempt from Washington State's sales tax (which, incidentally, people who buy bikes and cycling gear have to pay).

Vesely continues: "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."

That's the kind of sentence that can only be written by someone who's disingenuous or ill informed or both. Driving—unlike owning a dog or a fishing rod—is one of the most heavily subsidized activities humans do. Every year, the U.S. government spends more than $100 billion to subsidize driving above and beyond what drivers spend on gas taxes, cars, sales tax, and license plates. Those expenses come out of all of our pockets—including those of us who never get behind the wheel of a car. As a cyclist, I'm subsidizing 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, sub-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 Trail is one fewer car on the road. That's 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.

But Vesely turns this logic inside out, arguing that the presence of a few bike lanes indicates "a remarkable generosity on the part of Puget Sound taxpayers"—by which, of course, he means drivers. "Whenever new transportation projects are studied, bike lanes are as automatic as white striping."

Road projects in Seattle do often include new bike lanes. You know why? In 2006, voters here decided to pay for a property-tax increase that includes the requirement that, wherever possible, road projects include new bike and pedestrian facilities. 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. By Vesely's logic, pedestrians should have to pay a special tax to use the sidewalks—after all, why should we let walkers cadge that part of the public right-of-way for "free"?

Fundamentally, Vesely's view—that a few 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, the Seattle City Council—that group that Vesely says doesn'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. recommended