Finally, a bike funding bill worthy of a conversation

Finally, a bike funding bill worthy of a conversation

Oregon Active Trans Summit-14

Bike advocate Jerry Norquist (L) and
Senators Dingfelder and Prozanski at the Oregon
Active Transportation Summit in 2011.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

State legislators in Salem have tried time and time again to “start a conversation” about making Oregonians who ride bicycles pay for the pleasure of doing so. In recent memory we’ve had a draconian and ill-advised mandatory registration bill and just last week Senator Larry George (R-Sherwood) introduced yet another “bike tax.” Unfortunately, those bills only made people angry, and rightfully so, since they were punitive, discriminatory and not well thought out.

If legislators really want to start a conversation about bike-specific transportation funding (instead of simply throwing red meat to anti-bike constituents or serving their personal feelings of bicycling disrespect), they’d be better off 1) thinking up a policy idea that would actually work and 2) working with bike advocates before introducing the bill.

Senate Bill 756, introduced late last month by Senators Floyd Prozanski (D-Eugene) and Jackie Dingfelder (D-Portland), is an example of that approach.

In a nutshell, the bill would allow a registered owner of a motor vehicle to make a voluntary donation to the state for the specific purpose of “improving bicycle and pedestrian facilities.” The donation would be made when the car owner renews their registration. So as not to incur new administrative costs, the donations would go to the State Parks and Recreation Department Fund, an existing pot of money already set up to accept donations. When someone receives their auto registration renewal they’d simply tick a new box and the donations would be pegged for the Oregon Scenic Bikeways program.

The idea for SB 756 came from veteran bike advocate Jerry Norquist, a central Oregon resident and former ride director for Cycle Oregon*. Norquist knows his way around the State Capitol. In 2007 he spearheaded the successful effort to create Oregon’s Share the Road license plate.

“Let’s show we’re willing to be part of conversation, but it’s a collaborative conversation.”
— Sen. Jackie Dingfelder

Sen. Dingfelder said work on the idea hastened in the past few months because she, along with her constituents and other legislators, were, “Getting tired of these punitive bike registration bills.” “Let’s show we’re willing to be part of conversation,” she said during a phone call last week, “but it’s a collaborative conversation.”

Dingfelder sees the bill as a way to score a win-win: It would raise money for the Scenic Bikeways program (which has been a big success since being established in 2008), and it would be a politically “symbolic” gesture to show people that ride bikes have some skin in the game. (Of course, the fact remains that people who bike already pay for the roads; but let’s accept the fact (for now at least) that most people in Capitol don’t think they do.)

Since the Scenic Bikeways programs is run out of the State Parks department, SB 756 would sidestep ODOT completely (something Dingfelder is likely keen to do given her courageous vote against ODOT’s top priority, the CRC project, last week) and by using the existing Parks’ fund, the bill has no fiscal impact attached to it.

Also, unlike Senator George’s bike tax bill — which predictably whipped up lots of attention from The Oregonian even though George has no intention of pushing it forward because he introduced only at the behest of a vocal constituent — SB 756 is actually moving. There’s a public hearing on the bill on March 25th and 3:00 pm in front of the Senate Committee on Business and Transportation.

Let the conversation begin.

(*Disclaimer: I was shown an early concept of this bill and offered my opinion and insights about it to Norquist.)

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