Suburban Highway
Massive Spokane Highway Expansion

Now that House Transportation chair Judy Clibborn has proposed a statewide transportation package, much of the local reporting has been focused on the fact that it includes a tax on bicycle sales. And yes, a bicycle tax is a stupid idea. It would create a disincentive to use a transportation mode that does almost no damage to streets or our climate, and improves public health, for a measly million dollars in revenue in a ten billion dollar package.

It’s also a genius move – put something so incredibly stupid in a package that we talk about that instead of the real reason the package is insane.

At a time when the state needs money for maintenance across the state, we’re trying to address climate change, and we desperately need money for transit, this package spends $3.9 billion to start – and not finish – shiny new highway projects. It widens 405, 5, 167, and 90. It doesn’t solve the 520 or 99 funding problems the state has already started. And it puts hundreds of millions into the Columbia River Crossing project – throwing money into a boondoggle that our new transportation secretary has opposed for years.

There is a little bit for transit – but it wouldn’t come close to solving Metro’s shortfall, and it does nothing to build toward Sound Transit 3.

This would be a terrible place to start a debate. Urban legislators would be left fighting a bicycle tax, trying to fund I-5 preservation through downtown, and finishing 520 and 99, instead of asking for transit. While I can’t speak to Clibborn’s motivations, it would make sense for this to be intentional, to keep the debate focused on highway projects. Transit advocates would be left fighting it entirely or trying to get what they can (which wouldn’t be much).

In the short term, we don’t have much to worry about. House leadership isn’t interested in the bill. It was yanked from getting a hearing in today’s meeting, and I’ve heard from sources in Olympia that the House doesn’t want to deal with transportation at all until education is solved.

Unfortunately, this is what we’re going to have to look forward to. Without strong leadership from our representatives, we’ll end up starting the transportation debate with a package that would drive sprawl, accelerate climate change, and screw transit users all over Puget Sound. Remember – the legislature created our transit mess.

If we start with a package like this, we’d do best to kill it at the ballot box, and force the legislature to actually fund transit if they want our votes.

143 Replies to “It’s Not Just The Bicycle Tax That’s Terrible”

  1. Are there any urban representatives on the Transportation Committee? Could one of them introduce a completely different, competing bill, an urbanist’s dream that’s equally unlikely to even make it out of committee unscathed, just to prove a point/make sure the final bill meets both sides halfway and isn’t quite so much of a disaster?

    1. Gael Tarleton is on the Transportation Committee. Not sure how much boat-rocking you could expect from a freshman legislator, though.

      1. There are a number of anti-highway expansion, pro-transit representatives in House Transportation, which is part of why this isn’t getting a hearing.

      1. No, I mean, it’s dead. It’s not getting a hearing. If it did get a hearing, and then pass the House and Senate, it would then also go to voters.

      2. I suppose I’ll never see a good Roads-only package, that supporters will have to defend, get a good public hearing.

        Silence speaks volumes.

      3. Polling recently showed that a roads-only package won’t even get *close* to passing at the ballot box.

      4. I think Jim’s point is that roads packages don’t have to go to the ballot box. Yet transit packages do.

      5. That’s only because road proponents are good at organizing petition drives to force transit bills to the voters, but transit proponents have not successfully done the same with the massive highway bills. Perhaps it’s time for that to change.

      6. The primary benefit of a Roads-only ballot measure would be the dissemination of all the technical data these decisions are being made with, and then having the supporters of that solution explain how the benefits would be justified by the costs.

        In a language we could all easily understand.

  2. I’ll urge a no vote from my representatives on any proposal that adds general purpose lanes to highways in the state. Expansion to help HOVs and transit is acceptable in most cases, but it’s time to stop building new freeway lanes and inducing demand.

    1. Thank you! That’s exactly what we have to do to keep the pressure on. You might even want to email your reps about this to say it should not come back.

    2. There are a few spots in this state where there needs to be some additional GP lanes, On I-5 through JBLM and South of Centralia. However, any GP work in the urban areas should also be accompanied with HOV lanes as well. Any other freeway work should either be in maintenance and preservation, or reasonably rebuilding bottlenecks to keep traffic flowing. Of course, having Tolls to pay for this is important as well, and in the case of JBLM getting some federal money to clean up the mess they have caused in our community.

      1. Adding GP lanes won’t help I-5 through JBLM. It’ll just allow more houses to be built out there, and move the congestion around. If you want I-5 to flow, it needs to be tolled.

      2. I-5 does need the capacity there, as JBLM is the only 3-lane section between Everett and Olympia. But I completely agree that it needs to be HOV/HOT only. We also need to extend HOV/HOT from Port of Tacoma Rd all the way through Tacoma and Lakewood.

      3. That stretch of I-5 also needs to be rebuilt in a way that doesn’t preclude eventually double-tracking the Point Defiance Bypass. That would probably mean getting rid of the median, adding left-lane HOV/HOT, building new HOV/transit interchanges, and grade separating the tracks at Thorne, Berkeley, 41st Division, and Dupont-Steilacoom Road. Probably upwards of $1B. :(

      4. Ben that is absurd. You can relieve congestion by adding capacity and restricting building through zoning.

      5. @Possibly ignorant

        You can relieve congestion by adding capacity…

        Could you explain how that works?

      6. Adding capacity causes people to lobby for less restrictive zoning, allowing more growth… and more congestion.

      7. @Zach I would advocate for one GP and HOT/HOV through there, along with fixing deficient interchanges. And I agree with using Tolling to both manage demand, plus pay for the project. This may be difficult though on an established Interstate freeway. It needs to be Tolled as the Gas Tax, Etc. will not be enough to pay for the required investment. Although I will admit that without more transit investments in the corridor any improvements made will simply go to waste. This is another reason that Thurston County needs to join Sound Transit. With IT joining ST this will allow ORCA, Sounder, and ST Express to go to Olympia, which desperately needs and wants the service (judging by ridership of Olympia Express, and IT vanpools to Olympia).

      8. @ MrZ
        ” I would advocate for one GP and HOT/HOV through there,.. ”

        I’m curious, it seems transit ridership numbers are readily availabe and posted often, but adding lanes for congestion relief is a given. I have yet to see someone post the data that proves that.

    3. Horse Crap!

      Where is the development going to take place? Lacey Gateway has been zoned commercial for years, Hawks Prairie has been a strip mall for near a decade, and Olympia is chocked full of housing developments from the housing boom. There is no where else to go! Are you suggesting Nisqually River Delta?

      I lived in the are 20 years ago and watched Lacey go from a burb of Olympia to a city rivalling Olympia but a sloppy bedroom community to JBLM full of cookie cutter homes and bad development practices that we all can agree on. That aside, i do think that I-5 needs widening. Screw HOV. Military doesn’t use it, and you aren’t going to socially engineer these guys and gals to do so.

      1. If you gave the military at JBLM access to a train station, they actually might use it. To do this efficiently would require a pedestrian overpass from the Lakewood station, a suitable gate for the base, and a circulator bus on the base.

        Military people are really the easiest to socially engineer because *they’re used to obeying orders*.

  3. I am totally in favor of a $25 one time tax payment on bikes costing over $500. Given how much money has and will be spent on bike routes throughout the state, this is a great idea. I hope Oregon does the same.

    1. Good point. The state has and will be investing literally billions of dollars into new bike infrastructure. Everybody knows that the gas tax more than covers the cost of auto-centric infrastructure. Those scofflaw cyclists need to start paying their fair share!

      1. The problem with that logic is that most cyclists in Washington state DON’T have the privilege of using “bike infrastructure” because it is so pathetic. Sure, maybe in the Seattle area we have a few bike paths and some bike lanes, but that is not par for the course for the entire state of Washington, where this flat tax would be applied. Furthermore, a tax on bikes would include almost all mountain bikes (hard to find a real mountain bike for less than $500) which are almost never ridden on roads. That is just crazy! It’s all crazy. Cycling is good for the environment and good for people, and there are already enough barriers keeping people from riding in this state.

      2. Ahem, I ride mountain bikes on roads. I don’t feel safe on road bikes with their skinny tires and high-above-the-ground seating.

      3. Mike, have you looked a performance hybrid? Should be able to find something with fatter tires than a road bike but a more “stable” feeling ride. Should be a much more efficient vehicle for on-road travel.

    2. A flat fee on bicycles is disproportionately punitive to those buying middle-range bikes; and it will only push people into buying terrible WalMart bikes. As a cyclist I’m fine with taxing bikes in a scalable way, or even extending the MVET to bikes as long as bike-sourced revenue goes to Complete Streets projects. 0.7% is $3.50 on a $500 bike, or $14 on a $2,000 bike. I’d take that deal.

      But Ben is right, the bike tax is red meat small ball compared to $10B in irresponsible highway money that neither maintains what we have nor finishes what we’ve started.

      1. I’m fine with taxing bikes in a scalable way, or even extending the MVET to bikes as long as bike-sourced revenue goes to Complete Streets projects

        Complete streets funding is $60 million. The projected $1 million in revenue is less than 2% of that. I have to wonder though if this won’t be a net loss to State income. How many $500+ bikes are going to be ordered from places like JensonUSA because the 10% sales tax plus $25 hate tax makes out of state internet retailers more competitive than the Local Bicycle Shop. I also find it ironic that the majority of the hate tax collected will be on mountain bikes.

    3. It doesn’t generate any useful revenue. A million dollars is pocket change in the transportation bucket – this is the smallest revenue source by TWO ORDERS OF MAGNITUDE. It’s just there to make us fight about it. Ignore it.

      1. Since people are complaining about why have the tax since it is so small, why not increase the tax to $100?

      2. It’s likely enough that it just would kill the bike shops in Washington and lower revenue if you did that – people would buy bikes online to avoid the tax, reducing not only the revenue from the new tax, but ALSO the sales tax revenue we’d otherwise get.

      3. $25 is small enough not to have much affect on purchasing decisions. $100 is a different story. Look at how drivers react differently to $30 vs $100 car tabs.

    4. The bike tax really is a total aside. Lets focus on the real issues at hand like billions of dollars for highway expansion and insufficient new revenue for current and future transit needs.

    5. $1 million over 10 years means $100,000 per year.

      What would the state’s administrative collection cost alone deduct from that? A brand new excise tax, targeting only one product class, of a sort sold through a variety of different retail SIC codes (bicycle shops, sporting-goods stores, big-box retail, some hardware stores, etc.), in an industry subject to deep discounting and seasonal sales that could push the retail price of any particular model above or below the $500 threshold…

      Not to mention the ease of evasion… $499 for the bike, plus one $100 water bottle, one $100 water bottle cage, one pair of $250 pedals, etc.

      Can you really see implementing this new tax with less than one FTE in Olympia? Just one employee, with State benefits, would eat up essentially all of the projected revenue.


    6. The small amount of money being spent on bike infrastructure just makes up for the many decades when transportation money was being spent almost solely on automobile-oriented projects, even though bicyclists have been paying into the pot of money for transportation projects with their sales taxes the whole time.

    7. The tricky bit would be ensuring that it was actually spent on bike routes and didn’t disappear into the gaping maw of the general budget….

  4. In addition to public transit, the really pressing need is for infrastructure maintenance. I have no problem with a 10-cent increase in the gasoline tax, as long as 95% (or so…) of it goes to maintaining the transportation system (yes, mostly highways in most parts of the state).

      1. New Projects & Next Steps is 37% not 90%. However, I don’t know how anyone can take the legislature seriously when this budget ignores the funding gap for the Deep Debt Tunnel and the 520 bridge to nowhere without the west side landing. And why do we need to take out $3 billion in bonds when the identified projects total $7 billion and the “sources” adds up to $9 billion?

      2. Bernie, most of “transportation system investments” is also highway expansion projects. But *of money for road expansion*, it’s mostly new stuff.

        And yes, I agree that it’s insane to ignore those other things. That’s why I pointed out in the piece that there’s likely a specific reason to ignore those – to make the urban legislators spend their political capital fighting for highway projects.

      1. Only transit taxes for roads.

        I wonder if he will make any public statement regarding this bill, or any subsequent manifestation.

  5. I’m not a fan of flat rate taxes in this case, either. I think the bike tax should be set up like the vehicle tax. You paid this much for the bike, you pay that much in taxes. However it’s set up, the bike lane are expensive to put in, and I firmly believe that the bike riders need to be paying for them. I don’t see why I should. They’re not doing anything for me.

    What kind of bike people buy is up to them, whether it’s a Wal-mart %50 crap-thing, or some gawd-awful expensive bike that has—two magnesium wheels.

    Gas taxes are high enough. This tax-happy state gets enough money from us. It’s time for the legislature to act responsibly, and spend wisely, and stop gooing out impulse shopping.
    As far as the highways go, enough already. Finish what’s already underway before you go dreaming up new pork. Work on mass transit. In the cityies there is a clear need for some sort of transit. The streets are full.

    1. I think it’d be impractical to collect, frankly. The only reason vehicle taxes are reasonably easy to collect is vehicles are titled assets, so the state gets notified every time one changes hands. There are no titles for bikes.

    2. Mark, the bike riders are already paying for the bike lanes. Most bike owners own cars, and most streets are paid for by property taxes we all pay for. It’s the same fallacy that makes people think car owners “pay for roads”. They pay for part of the roads, but we’re subsidizing half of it with other taxes.

      In fact, because bicycle riders who don’t own cars are taking up way less than half of the road space and still paying for most of the taxes, they’re actually subsidizing the car drivers.

    3. “As far as the highways go, enough already. Finish what’s already underway before you go dreaming up new pork.”

      These projects were dreamt up a long time ago. Analyzed, designed. Except for the sticky problem of how to fund it.

      1. I can dream up a full subway system for Seattle. That’s more cost effective than expanding suburban highways, so we should fund it first.

      2. If you can dream up a way for Seattle to pay for it then by all means, bore baby bore! FWIW, I think there should also be a much larger percentage of local funding for State highway projects. Basicly we should go back to the paradigm where if tolls couldn’t substantially fund a new mega project then people really don’t think it’s worth building.

      3. I can think of lots of ways for Seattle to pay for transit – the legislature just doesn’t want us to have them. :)

      4. I’m going to remember that when we have a transit ballot measure. I look forward to your contribution! :)

    4. Bikes cause basically no wear and tear on roads, while motorized vehicles quickly rip them up. So the small capital investment in creating bike lanes really results in the government saving money in the long-term.

      1. Agreed, which basically suggests that wear and tear is proportional to vehicle weight. I’m totally cool with a $25 tax on road bike that weights 25 pounds costing more than $500, as long as we also tax a new car weighing 4000 pounds the equivalent $4000 tax as well. Seems like a good revenue source, and it actually encourages the purchasing of lighter vehicles.

        And, obviously there should be an exclusion for mountain bikes. There’s no way you’ll catch me riding my knobby tires on some annoying asphalt, so no way am I gonna pay some stupid road fee for that.

      2. But if you don’t “ride” on asphalt then I presume you “drive” to the trail head? So mountain bikes may be responsible for more road wear than road bikes. Although a lot of people drive around with road bikes in their rack. So I guess the answer is to extend the $25 to skis, snowboards, golf clubs and guns. Once we get to guns I’m pretty sure the fee is DOA :=

      3. Bernie — that’s definitely a “second order” problem. By taxing the car that I use to drive there (or its gas, or VMT), we’ve already covered the costs. You don’t then have to tax all the toys that are in the car.

      4. Wear and tear is actually proportional to the fourth power of axle load, if I remember correctly.

        So, if you’re really into the Pigovian taxes, you want a yearly tax based on
        – axle load
        – times miles driven per year (I suggest just doing this with odometer readings to avoid privacy concerns)

        Most of the tax would fall on heavy trucks. Which is just fine because that will encourage freight to go back on the railroads. :-)

    5. Gas taxes are nowhere near high enough. They aren’t high enough until the price of gasoline reflects the costs of burning it, including all the externalities. Studies suggest the correct level of gas taxation is higher than it is anywhere in the world.

      1. @Al Dimond. I agree that gas taxes are nowhere near high enough. Stop with the nickel or dime increase nonsense. Make it a dollar!! We have so many underfunded projects.

      2. When the money goes to oil companies in the form of increased gas prices, no one complains to them. Increasing gas taxes by as much as the price of gas has gone down since it peaked last year to fund meaningful projects (e.g., long deferred maintenance and complete streets) shouldn’t hurt anyone, and might make the price of gas somewhat less elastic, to the benefit of everyone. Other than oil companies.

      3. Gas taxes in WA are among the highest in the nation, yet somehow they aren’t high enough? Please, [ad hom]

        Gas taxes rake in plenty of revenue for this state. The real problem is that the funds are mismanaged and spread far too thin. Stop squeezing the middle class for ever possible dime.

      4. Ignorant, how *exactly* would you reallocate gas tax spending to fix your “mismanagement” issue?

  6. Thanks for finally covering this. I am still shaking my head from this all–nearly a week later.

    1. I wanted to wait to see whether it had legs. There are currently FIVE local options bills, for instance.

  7. What is it exactly that makes the Columbia River Crossing a boondoggle? It appears to be a settled question around here, but I haven’t heard any of it before, and I don’t see anything on the face of the project which looks unreasonable – the idea of building a light rail bridge across the Columbia seems pretty cool.

    1. Oh, it’s terrible. As Lynn Peterson (head of DOT now) said, all it does is spend billions to move the bottleneck from the bridge into downtown Portland. It’s only a “settled question” because nobody knows it’s happening except us wonks. I need to write about it here. Also, hi! :)

    2. It’s $2 billion dollars in freeway lane capacity and interchange expansions, $1 billion in light rail that most people in Clark County do not want, and $1 billion to replace 2 functioning bridges that are not even close to the most seismically unsound in the region. The tolling projections (much like with the DBT) are deeply flawed, expected federal funding is tenuous, and both states have many other projects competing for an increasingly small pot of highway funds. Shall I go on?

      1. Phil, that would be too progressive for Washington. TDM???? Plus, you have to create a partially funded project first, piss off people, but promise their lives will get better by new, empty lanes! You can’t make their lives better now and just spend money on maintenance. There’s nothing new there–well, except hours of reduced delay, but so what!!!

    3. Why so much complaining about the Columbia River Crossing project when it provides light rail? One of the things we advocate for here!

  8. does nothing to build toward Sound Transit 3

    Why should the State transportation package “build” toward a potential future vote on something for which Sound Transit hasn’t provided any plans or timeline?

    1. If ST were to get significantly more authority now, it would reduce the uncertainty about being able to go to the ballot again in 2016.

    2. The RTA enabling legislation was put in place years before Sound Move finally passed, what’s wrong with thinking ahead?

      1. I’m all for thinking ahead. I’m thinking ahead to 2023-2030 and if there are 50,000 daily riders on Lynnwood Link then there would be a good case to extend the current bonding authority. Just like WSDOT should “Finish what’s already underway before … dreaming up new pork.”

      2. What a crock. “We’ve never said we will reduce congestion,” Joni Earl. Sound Transit’s regional agenda is driving growth out to the suburbs where for every new transit rider there will be at 20 times as many people driving. Puget Sound Transit Mode Share In 2040: 5 Percent

        Even with the most aggressive level of investment, transit’s mode share would grow to no more than 5.2 percent by 2040. Walking and biking combined would rise from 10.4 percent of daily trips in 2006 to between 11.5 and 13.3 percent in 2040.

        Puget Sound Regional Council’s “Transportation 2040” Draft Environmental Impact Statement.

      3. Bernie, transit doesn’t reduce congestion directly. Transit gives us the transportation capacity that we can do other things to reduce congestion, like tax carbon.

      4. But what really happens is more roads in the boonies. WSF is the number one sprawl enabler. Sounder is a distant second. But light rail to a network of P&R lots in Lynnwood and Federal Way will dwarf the capacity of the ferry system. If your concern is saving the whales then you don’t want a get out of congestion free card. Sprawl is self limiting once you hit peoples tolerance for time wasted. And yes, you have to stop just adding lanes too. And tolls are a “curb” to induced demand.

      5. Fair enough. I should have qualified that as WSF is the #1 transit sprawl enabler. Link to Lynnwood, Federal Way and Redmond however leverages the sprawl capabilities of I-5 and I-405.

      6. It might be easier for Sound Transit to get authority passed if they had more of a plan in hand (with rough cost estimates). Giving authority this early may unreasonably restrict what ST can do in phase III which may not produce a palatable plan.

      7. They can’t make a plan until the legislature gives them an option. They know (and have communicated to the legislature) how much it would cost for a package that can get from Lynnwood to Everett, for instance. The leg just isn’t moving on it.

      8. Ben that kind of climate change fear mongering is absurd. It really detracts from any arguments you make. There is literally no proven science that supports the notion that our climate will be completely out of control in 20-30 years.

      9. “waiting that long means we lose our chance to stabilize our climate”

        It also means everyone reading this now will be dead, retired, or have spent most of their working life wasting time on slow, infrequent buses if they live in Ballard, Lake City, or anywhere else not near Central Link or East Link. It’s nice to build a great transit system for our children but I’d like to use it too.

        “But light rail to a network of P&R lots in Lynnwood and Federal Way will dwarf the capacity of the ferry system.”

        Lynnwood and Federal Way are well within the most-developed part of Pugetopolis. You sound like we’re building the Bailo Line to Marysville and DuPont and Maple Valley. Link will probably not transform Lynnwood to Federal Way to a walker’s paradise, but it will make it easier for non-drivers to get around and for people to move toward TOD without having to move to a different city. We can’t just build rapid transit in Seattle and leave everything else to automobilia and ST Express: that would just perpetuate the auto-dominant sprawly mess we have now.

      10. “It might be easier for Sound Transit to get authority passed if they had more of a plan in hand (with rough cost estimates). ”

        That’s also why it’s accelerating the expansion studies. Then it can put more specific lines in its long-term plan.

  9. we’d do best to kill it at the ballot box

    Thanks to Tim Eyman you’ll have that chance. I doubt any new tax package, especially one that increases the gas tax would get the required two thirds super majority.

      1. Can they rule on this now!?!? They’ve delayed for months. The election is over. What are they waiting for? Oh…maybe they’re just trying to prevent Eyman from filing a follow-up initiative. Clever?

  10. Bike commuters should be getting an incentive for using no energy, creating no pollution and freeing up the roads for motorized commuters. They should not be slapped with an exise tax which exists to offset the cost of negative actions such as health care for smoking related diseases. Electric cars are incentivized with rebates. How about a tire tax or a tax based on the weight of your vehicle instead?

    1. You mean like a rebate?! Yes.

      Also, electric cars should receive no rebates. What a waste. Their only benefit should be that they don’t get charged for a gas tax or carbon tax–unless their electric source is from carbon….Why are treating them special? They wear the roads, create traffic, and induce sprawl. Their only marginal positive is that they aren’t piping CO2 and NOx out.

      1. I pretty much agree with you about electric car rebates. I think there should be an R&D / setup credit for the initial design and startup costs of electric car factories, just as there should be one for electric train factories… so that they can overcome the fact that the gasoline engine people have already built their factories. But once the upfront capital costs are dealt with, and once carbon emissions are taxed, electric cars will successfully compete on their own.

        Sadly, our governments are not very good at thinking through exactly how they set up taxes. Everything is the result of political agreements among many people who didn’t think things through. If you were good at thinking things through, you’d have either a wealth tax or an income tax on the superrich (>$1 million/year income) in Washington State, in order to alleviate the dangerous and corrosive effects of having superrich people.

  11. Interesting, they posted this on Cascade Bicycle Club’s Facebook page. Cascade was against it, but I’d say 70% of those responding were favorable to paying some form of fee. One person even agreed because he said it’d shut up those bike haters who claim that bikes are using the roads for free.

    1. My understanding is that is the entire reason the bike fee is in the bill. As a token fee to shut up the haters.

      Judy Clibborn, when questioned about it by Dominic Holden, says she inserted it to stop Republican lawmakers from bitching about “free” bicycle infrastructure.

  12. Ben,

    Take a deep breath and ask yourself — honestly, not as a rhetorical question — “If I were seriously considering commuting to work by bicycle, even once in a while, would I let an increase in the cost of the bicycle of $25 give me pause, much less stop me from it?”

    Since $2.50 is just ten bus rides I’d bet not.

    You are falling into the same stupidity that Repugnants do when they scream about minor tax or fee increases. Oh, I’m sure that the Bicycle Alliance can find one or two people who will not buy a bike if this passes. The R’s find such sock puppets all the time when they bloviate about taxes, too.

    But basically homo economicus does not let small differences in price deter him from consuming some good he or she really wants. It might drive h e into the arms of the Warrior Lady, but it won’t stop the purchase.

    If it were $250 or even $25/year, yes, there would be supply-demand curve drop in the consumption of bicycles. But it’s not; it’s $25 one time, and most bicycles last until the rider/owner gets magnesium wheel envy after having seen the umpty-umth Spandex-girdled, Alien-helmeted billboard whiz past him or her.

    And then the bike gets passed down to the teen-ager.

    1. The bike tax is a targeted sales tax up to 5% (and down, reasonably, to around 1%) over the standard sales tax rates. Targeted higher tax rates on consumption are justified for things we want to discourage, things that have large external costs, things that are expensive to support. Biking? None of those. Biking only requires much infrastructure investment now because of years of neglect and auto-exclusive planning — asking cyclists to cover the costs of infrastructure necessary only because of an insanely overbuilt highway network is like hitting someone with a chair and charging them when it breaks.

      And a bike tax, of course, doesn’t matter nearly as much as highway expansion — it’s more of a psychic wound, a slap in the face from legislators that would punish us in order to pander to trolls. It’s highway expansion that subsidizes the sprawl that keeps us auto-dependent, the sprawl that makes transit, cycling, and walking impractical for so many. That’s why Ben wrote this post. To get us to look past the psychic wound and see what’s really going on. More highways, and that’s what really hurts. That’s what we should put our energy into killing.

      Also, “Repugnants”? Grow up.

      1. My biggest pet peeve about taxes is the punitive 17.5% tax on car sharing. When people say they have to own a car because car sharing is too expensive, a large part of the reason why is taxes imposed by the state. This is in addition to all the regular taxes on car ownership, which are already factored into the pre-tax price of a carshare.

      2. My biggest pet peeve about taxes is the punitive 17.5% tax on car sharing.

        Sorry for being slow, please explain?

      3. Bernie: I’m not terribly familiar with the 17.5% tax, but I know that for car2go there’s a tax of about that amount every time you use it. Effectively the 38 cents/min rate becomes 44-45 cents/min.

        I’ve heard, but don’t know for sure, that there is the same tax on ZipCar use. My understanding is that it’s from a car rental tax being applied to car sharing.

      4. The rental car tax adds 6.7%. That’s on top of the 10% State and local sales tax which gets you to 16.7. I don’t see why car sharing should be treated any different than other rentals. Note that of the total tax 2.6% is going to fund public transit.

    2. The difference here isn’t between buying a bike and not buying a bike. It’s between buying a bike in Washington and buying it online from somewhere else. Another $25, as a separate line item, on a bike where you’re already paying $45+ in sales tax, will make people consider buying online. And then you don’t just lose the $25, you lose the sales tax, which could be a lot more.

      Just from consumers having to consider a new line item, it’s entirely possible that this tax would cause enough bike sales to be nonlocal to actually cause a negative impact on revenue. People buying $500+ bikes are the same people who buy stuff online.

      So Anandakos, instead of telling me I’m stupid, please consider that I might have thought it through more than you give me credit for. And past that, I feel like you missed the point of my article. A bike tax isn’t worth spending one sentence on – the highways are the elephant in the room. Don’t fall into the trap set for you.

      1. Agree, debating the bicycle tax at all is a huge distraction from all of the roads in the bill and the utter lack of transit.

        On the other hand I don’t know that small bike shops need yet another strike against them. The internet has really hurt bicycle, part, and accessory sales. Many long-established shops are having to downsize as well.

      2. $25, as a separate line item, on a bike where you’re already paying $45+ in sales tax, will make people consider buying online.

        I wish I’d said that but then “It’s Not About the Bike” tax ;-) If the legislature wants to raise taxes revenue they already have the perfect model in the form of the Washington State Boaters License. Why shouldn’t cyclists be required to pass a proof of competency test to operate a vehicle on public roads? There are plenty of cyclists out there pulling stunts that would warrant yanking their license and those that obey the rules of the road would benefit from their removal.

      3. Your argument just goes to show why we need to tax internet sales at the same rate as local sales to give local businesses a better advantage, plus raise needed revenue for local governments (transit included) that are starving for funding right now.

      4. MrZ
        The problem is collecting, particularly in cases of businesses who have absolutely no presence in WA. Past that you have the problem of thousands of local tax districts all across the country. Not all internet companies are large or could deal with such a thing easily.

      5. I would never buy a bike that wasn’t assembled by a good mechanic (i.e., bike shop) and not shipped after assembly. Unless it was a cheap old bike from somebody who was getting rid of it.

      6. OK, Ben, sorry if I sounded like I think you’re stupid. I don’t and you’re not.

        It seems to be the consensus here that people will buy a bike online unseen and untested if they can save $60 on it. But since the Warrior Lady is headquartered just north of Westlake Center, don’t Washington State residents have to pay her sales tax? I remember having paid tax to her before, but I honestly can’t remember if I always pay tax on every purchase. I may pay only when I buy directly from WL herself and not when the object is from one of the people in other states who rent space from her.

  13. I must be the only one salivating over the expansion of 167 and 405. Those are my main commutes and it can take up to 2 hours in traffic (40 min with no traffic). So an expanded HOT lane into Pierce County and a HOT lane along 405 will DEFINITELY HELP. I want to move closer to work but it’s so much cheaper down south!

    1. You’re hardly the only person in this state that wants freeways expanded.

      Around here we mostly think we’d be better off building more granular use mixture and more housing where it’s in high demand so fewer people choose 30-mile commutes.

    2. I’m not salivating over 405. However, fixing the mess that I-5 is through JBLM and to a lesser extent 167, are both important projects in my mind. Not only could they add HOV capacity which will benefit transit and vanpools, it will help ease bottlenecks which help transit (what little there is on both corridors) move more quickly and become more attractive to riders.

      1. You’d just be moving the bottlenecks around. None of these projects would actually save you time.

      2. You are correct to a point, There will be a time where the volume of traffic through a given point will cause it to fail. However, the interchanges from Lakewood south to DuPont were not designed for even half the traffic going through them today, and all traffic would benefit by even reconstruction of those interchanges, even if they did get overwhelmed (which they would be able to absorb a higher level of traffic than they currently do). I still have all too vivid and painful memories of commuting through the I5/JBLM corridor for 5 and a half years (in a vanpool, since taking fixed route transit was not practical for where I worked.) which is why I feel this corridor needs a LOT more attention than its getting.

    3. Have you calculated how much additional money you spend commuting that could be spent on housing? How much is your time worth? What about the stress, inactivity, and other negative health effects of a long commute? What’s more important: an extra 500 sq ft of living space, or a short commute?

      1. Living close to your office adds years to your life…at least it feels that way. I lived at my parents’ house in Federal Way for a few years to save money for a place in the city. That commute was often like a punch in the gut…now, I live about 1.5 miles from work. It feels incredibly liberating, and my vehicle rarely leaves its parking stall. I basically have an extra 1.5 – 2 hours a day, and rarely have to buy gas.

      2. I don’t know exactly where this dude is commuting to, but for a lot of workplaces on the eastside it isn’t just “an extra 500 sq ft of living space” — there may be no affordable housing that meets his needs anywhere near his office, and there’s probably little enough that even if general preferences shift toward strongly toward shorter commutes there still will be a lot of people commuting rather long distances.

        To keep this grounded in a discussion of policy, rather than personal choices, there are a couple different ways to approach this problem. First, make long commutes easier, mostly by expanding freeways. Second, make short commutes easier by allowing more housing where there’s lots of demand, close use mixtures, etc. Often these things run at cross purposes. It’s clear, however, that it is a problem.

      3. Have YOU done a cost/benefit analysis of living in the city next to your work versus the suburbs?

        And if you think the only difference is 500 square feet, well, then you need to get out more.

    4. I can’t blame you for choosing to live far from work for cheaper housing, although that’s a trade off I refuse to make. I’d rather bike 30-minutes stress free instead of being stuck in traffic on a highway. I don’t mind living in a small space, so that helps.

      I am curious what your rent / mortgage is where you live vs. what it would be closer to work. I’m very interested in knowing what trade offs others are willing to make.

  14. Are there ever any real traffic hassles on I-82 between Yakima and Union Gap? One of the projects on the linked PDF was the widening of this corridor…which I guess means an extra lane? Anyway, the times I have driven through there, traffic never seemed like a very big deal.

    1. I’m not too familiar with that route. Is it on a steep grade that would benefit from a truck lane?

    2. Nothing we would recognize over here as a traffic hassle. Occasional slowdowns as one semi moving 40 mph passes another one moving 35 mph… it’s quite a hilly corridor. To put it mildly, 99 and 520 (and 509 for that matter) should be higher priorities even among highway projects.

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