August 12th, 2014


August QuickThrottle Column

I love living in Seattle, really I do.   However lately the political scene has careened off the far left edge of the page and it's becoming increasingly frustrating.  It's always been a little "weird" here, but lately its gone beyond that.  Plus maybe I'm becoming a grumpy old retired codger -- living on savings makes you look at things like tax increases even more strictly.  So this month's column was in the form of a letter to the Mayor and City Council.  I did send it to them after it was published.  No response.  I'm not holding my breath.
Dear Mr. Mayor and Seattle City Council Members:

I have lived in Seattle since 1988, and I truly love this city. It has been home for almost twenty-five years. I am also a motorcyclist – a “biker” if you will. And to that end I drive on our roads, and I pay taxes for the privilege to do so. But let me tell you how bad it is out there on the roads in this city.

I have friends who have gone down on their motorcycles and hurt themselves and caused damage to their bikes because of the condition of the roads in this city. I have had friends nearly get killed because of malfunctioning traffic signals. There are roads in this city that many of us avoid at all costs – both on our motorcycles and in our vehicles – because of the condition they are in. It’s not only uncomfortable to ride down a road swerving to avoid ruts and potholes, or going over them when we can’t, it’s dangerous.

By recent rankings, the roads in Washington are the 7th worst in the nation, with some 22% of our roads listed as being in poor condition. Yet we have one of the highest gasoline taxes in the country. But we here in the PNW are pretty good about reducing our gas consumption, what with all the Prius’, and Leaf’s, and all, and so it makes sense that the state’s gas tax revenue is declining to the point that it’s impacting our roads. We understand that. There has to be a new way to raise revenue.

We also understand that in tight economic times we can’t afford really to pay much more in taxes. We have to make wise choices on what we spend our hard earned dollars on. What I don’t understand, and many of my fellow riders don’t understand, is how you, our elected officials seem to think that we are an endless source of untapped revenue. And rather than fix the roads we all ride and drive on, you allocate some of that precious revenue that we give you for the right to drive on roads, and spend it on things like metal sculptures of salmon to decorate roadways, or bike paths, and “green boxes” and “pedestrian improvements” and not on making the roads more drivable. 

This past spring you came to us – the voters  -- the riders and drivers of the area -- and asked us to add an additional $60 to our license plate fee to help fund both road repairs and to keep funding the bus system. That vote failed – partly I think because voters don’t think you’ll actually spend it on making the roads better and safer to drive on, or on improving the bus system. And I think it failed because it was so inherently unfair -- $60 per license plate regardless of the type of vehicle. The utility trailer used a few times a year would have paid $60, as would the Vespa Scooter and the junker Honda Civic, and the Bently driver and every motorcycle rider. Everyone paid $60. My cheapest bike would have gone up from $119 to $179 a year. But at least it would have gone to both roads and transit.

But the voters said no – well on the whole they said no. Apparently folks in Seattle itself didn’t say no, and now you want to “revote” in Seattle only. And as it turns out, the sales tax revenue that funds transit has actually come in higher than expected and the transit system can function without a tax increase if some basic cost-cutting steps are implemented. The County Council found a way to do it, and even passed a budget to do so, but it was vetoed by our County Executive.  Why?  But that’s the county, and you wouldn’t know right?

I voted yes, although to be honest I was torn. In the end because it went to both roads and transit, I colored in the “yes” circle – I wanted my roads fixed and nice to ride and drive on.  I also didn’t want to lose funding on the bus route in my neighborhood that I use from time to time. 

And now you want to ask us again for another $60 for those of us who live in Seattle.  This time however, it appears that the $60 is for transit only. Nothing for roads? Not a dime? When our roads are falling apart and are among the worst in the country?  And you want every single operator of anything requiring a license plate to pay an additional $60 for each plate and not give us anything for the roads we drive on?  And only if we live in the city limits of Seattle? And after it was shown that the bus system doesn’t need it in the County’s vetoed budget?

Please tell me you aren’t serious. Don’t you don’t see the inherent unfairness of asking those of us who use the roads to pay more for using those roads while not making those same roads fit to be used? It’s like imposing a tax on airplane tickets to be used to fund Amtrak, rather than the airport the plane is leaving from.

But I do sympathize with your dilemma. After all it’s my dilemma too. We are both in a damned if we do damned if we don’t box. But I can’t support this latest request. Not until you implement some basic rational cost cutting at Metro transit, and not until you start spending wisely on our road system and stop buying metal salmon sculptures and start filling in a few potholes, and especially not if nothing in this proposal goes towards road repair.

Sincerely, your biker friend and resident,


Gary can be reached at and you can read his blog at or 
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