As talk about bike licensing and registration heats up at the Legislature, it might be worth remembering that the bike licensing and path building laws of 1899 and 1901 failed pretty badly, and after about a decade's worth of dormancy on the books, the laws were finally repealed in 1913, just a month before the State Highway Commission was created.
|Watt Shipp (l) & Paul Hauser (r), circa 1900|
(Image Courtesy of Sarah Hauser)
|Mehama to Turner Bike Path Original Survey, June 6, 1899|
|Statement and Receipt, June & July 1899|
for work on Stayton-Mehama bike path
In early 1901 the bike tax was declared unconstitutional, and a new law passed to replace it. Folks in Marion County just simply ignored the new law. The county sheriff didn't enforce it, didn't collect it, and riders didn't pay it. (John Calhoun, it was nullified! The across-the-board non-compliance is a somewhat uncomfortable fact in this history of transportation, but it testifies to the inadequacy of the law.)
In Multnomah County and around Portland, where they had undertaken a much more ambitious program of path building, things petered out more slowly, but by 1905 the paths that were built were in poor condition and were not being maintained. No new ones were being built.
Still, the law remained on the books, and was ostensibly in force in 1909 and 1910 when William Lord, former governor and father of Elizabeth Lord, compiled Oregon Statutes into Lord's Oregon Laws.
|Bike Paths and Licenses in Lords Laws, 1910|
|Jan 31st, 1913|
HB 200 Repealed Bike Path and License Law
|Gas Tax used for maintenance and operation only|
from the Salem Capital Improvement Plan
|Property Taxes fund Road Construction!|
from the Salem Capital Improvement Plan
More than this, bikes create negligible wear-and-tear on the roads, as a policy goal we want more people riding and fewer car trips, and auto user fees (in licensing and gas taxes) fail badly to cover the costs of road repair and construction (more here).
If anything, it's the gas tax that needs to be raised, since it doesn't cover costs.
As one Oregon economist has said
Perhaps the stupidest public policy idea I have ever heard of is the proposed bike tax. It is not worth talking about the proposal itself as it is not going anywhere and is, as I think I mentioned, stupid. But what is interesting to me is that, in fact, the appropriate public policy is to subsidize bikes, not tax them.And in fact, people on bike subsidize people in cars! Car use benefits from an enormous network of subsidy.
So why do we keep having this conversation? According to the Oregonian, the latest registration bill, introduced by Senator Larry George, is because those damn bicyclists are so annoying!
George tells me he introduced the bill -- SB 769 -- at the request of a constituent -- a Yamhill farmer who says she has trouble moving her equipment because of all the cycling tourists on the narrow- or no-shoulder roads in the heart of wine country.Class, outsiderness, and the optics of "wine", it seems likely, lurk somewhere in the background here. Could this be a farmer who resents the new-fangled wineries, the parvenus who fund them, and the city slickers who like to visit them by bike? It's hard to see this as other than punitive, designed to reduce the numbers of those annoying people on bike - never mind the economic benefits of tourism for rural communities.
The optics of bicycling are one of the fascinating things about the bike. Can collectors, the semi-homeless, and the rascal on the one hand, and the leisured professional on an expensive bike out in the playground of wine country on the other. Bikes are the domain of the rich or the poor - but not the middle. In the public imagination, normal, everyday people don't bike. Too often, the bike is not regarded as a useful tool for transportation, one especially useful because cars are expensive. And it is true that out in wine and farm country they may not be so useful for transportation because of greater distances and lower density. Bike transport is an urban thing, really.
The Portland BTA seems inclined not to oppose a tax or registration bill outright, but to use it as a way to talk about road funding. If we could trade a tax on bikes collected at the point of sale for a significant increase in the gax tax, well that might be something to talk about. Maybe there are other trade-offs that would also yield something meaningful and useful. So not opposing one out of hand might potentially be a fruitful gesture.
But on its own merits, bike licensing was a bad idea in 1913 and it's still a bad idea in 2013.