Environment | Sustainability | Ecotrope

Portland City Club Report Recommends Taxing Bike Sales

Ecotrope | May 29, 2013 1:06 p.m. | Updated: May 29, 2013 3:46 p.m.

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A  digital bike counter counts cyclists crossing Portland's Hawthorne Bridge.

A  digital bike counter counts cyclists crossing Portland's Hawthorne Bridge.

Amanda Peacher / OPB

A new Portland City Club report on bicycle transportation recommends a 4 percent tax on bicycle sales to pay for bike safety programs and automatic bicycle counters. It’s one of many ways the report found the city could improve bike ridership citywide.

Other recommendations include creating more separate tracks and paths for cyclists rather than shoulder lanes on roads, turning more low-traffic streets into bike boulevards, adding more bike-friendly routes between neighborhoods, stepping up enforcement, and making bicycles a bigger part of the city’s overall transportation plan.

The report, “No Turning Back: A City Club Report on Bicycle Transportation In Portland,” was written by a committee within City Club based on a year of research on the current and future role of bicycling within Portland’s transportation system. It incorporates interviews with former Portland mayor Sam Adams, Mayor Charlie Hales and Congressman Earl Blumenauer, as well as many other community leaders and academic researchers. City Club members will vote on the report next week.

Committee member Craig Beebe said the idea of a tax on bike sales to fund cycling projects has been floated in the past, first in a transportation package under former Gov. Ted Kulongoski and again recently in a working group formed by Gov. John Kitzhaber.

“It’s not the first time an idea like this has come up on a state level,” said Beebe. “We look at this excise tax proposal as one way to raise some decent funds for safety and education programs as well as better tracking of bicycling in the city and statewide. We look at this as a reasonable, fair, equitable and pretty affordable tax. It’s well less than sales taxes in our neighboring states. It’s $20 on a $500 bike.”

Casey Negreiff bikes in commuter challenge. (file)

Casey Negreiff bikes in commuter challenge. (file)

Alex Johnson / OPB

Overall, committee members concluded, bicycling is integral to the city’s transportation system and valuable in promoting health, livability and economic activity. But, their report concludes, future growth in bicycle transportation will require more planning, safety education, and better communication with the public about bicycle projects.

“There is little organized opposition to bicycle use in Portland,” the report states. “However, there is latent, but pervasive uneasiness among some residents that expanding bicycling opportunities will come at the expense of other modes of transportation. There is also widespread fear among many motorists of traffic collisions with bicycles.”

The report found bike infrastructure is underfunded in Portland relative to increases in ridership, and that improving bike routes is cheaper than other transportation improvements. All but two members of the 12-person committee concluded that mandatory bicycle licensing, though it could be a funding source, is unenforceable and unnecessary.

“It’s striking how many cities that have mandatory registration programs have been repealing and dismantling them, often at the request of local police and fire departments,” said Beebe. 

The committee also recommended improvements in driver’s education on cycling rules through the Department of Motor Vehicles and considering transportation services general obligation bonds or street maintenance fees as funding sources for bicycle infrastructure improvements.

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