By the time you read this, the Washington Legislature should have completed its session. It was scheduled to end on April 26th. But as I write this on the day after tax day and after having just spent the morning on a wonderful 100 mile ride through the desert, it’s not clear if they will get done or not. I’m going to bet not.
And it’s not like anything good will come out of this session for motorcyclists at all. ABATE’s efforts to push through a very modest lane-splitting bill brought about a good discussion in and out of the legislature and was picked up by news media all over the world. It was a great start to what will most likely be a multi year effort that eventually may pass and could culminate in something good.
But the bigger long-term issues still haunt us, and they are far from being resolved. How do we address road quality and funding? How do we solve the falling revenue provided by the gas tax when folks buy less and less gas, but we still have major infrastructure concerns? How will we pay for it in the future?
Right now the proposed transportation funding package that the legislature is debating puts a pretty heavy burden on riders, relative to any direct benefit to us. I’ve talked about this time and time again, but to me it seems inherently unfair to slap the same fee on a car as it does on a motorcycle. Yet here we are with proposals to once again increase vehicle license fees on top of the amounts already paid. In Seattle the non-driving populace managed to impose a $60 per vehicle license feel on all vehicles last fall. No nuance here, nothing to put a proportional burden on the type of vehicle, weight, potential to damage the road, or gas used -- just a flat $60 for the Bentley and the Vespa. And it won’t go for roads – it’s for transit! And the legislature is looking to perpetuate that with more license fees and giving local governments the ability to impose additional fees as well, and primarily for transit funding.
And despite the fact we have one of the highest gas-taxes in the nation, the legislature is hell bent on adding an additional 11.5 cents per gallon tax, which if passed will move us from sixth place to second place and put us ahead of California when it comes to high gas tax, and only a few cents behind Pennsylvania. And will this go to fix roads or build new roads? Or will it get used to build bike lanes, freeway art, and transit?
And now Seattle itself seems determined to make it so difficult to drive that people will somehow magically abandon their vehicles and all will be well and good in this fairy tale scenario. They are imposing everything from “road diets” on major arterials which remove vehicle lanes, to reducing the speed limit to 30mph or less on city streets, to increasing parking taxes and giving developers permission to build multi unit apartment buildings with no parking for the residents.
But at least Seattle has learned that you can’t have it all on one road. The Mayor has announced that the notion of the “complete street” is a failed concept. So they won’t be repeating the disaster that is Broadway Avenue in Seattle, where you try to squeeze in a separated bike lane, parking, pedestrian access, a street car line, and oh yes, least we forget, a place to drive and park a car. You just can’t cram it all onto one street and expect it to work. However the solution seems to be “remove the cars” – at least on Eastlake Avenue in South Lake Union. Apparently the street car isn’t being used because it moves as slow as traffic – so lets remove the traffic so the street car can move. That makes sense doesn’t it! Who needs cars in the city? Yes, that’s what’s being proposed.
And then the new toll express lanes on I-405, which are to be photo enforced like the 520 bridge, will, believe it or not, require motorcycles to get toll readers even though we won’t have to pay the toll! Federal law allows motorcycles to travel free in express lanes. But the photo system the state uses (I’m not making this up now) apparently can’t tell the difference between a motorcycle and a car! So if you want to ride in them you will have to purchase a pass. Other states like California who have photo toll HOV lanes don’t require this and can apparently tell the difference between a car and a bike. My three-year old nephew can too. Maybe the DOT can hire him!
So yes, I think it’s time to take away the title of the “fruits and nuts” capital from California, which seems relatively sane these days, and bestow it upon Washington. Where we pay more to be able to drive less. Where we spend millions on “art” for freeway off-ramps and nothing to fix the potholes. Where the rider of a motorcycle pays the same fee to license his vehicle as the driver of a big-rig, and where bureaucratic toll photo readers can’t tell a motorcycle from a Prius. Yep, California, it’s time to pass that crown up the coast to Washington. Just give it to me, I’ll ride it back up and present it myself.
Gary can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.grgardner.com, and you can read his blog at http://grgardner.livejournal.com