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.)
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.