State Representative Ed Orcutt (R-Kalama) found himself in the media – and all over the bike blogs, including ours – more than he wanted to be last week.
A national tempest resulted from comments he wrote to a bike shop owner about how “bicyclists are actually polluting when they ride” because “the act of riding a bike results in greater emissions of carbon dioxide from the rider.” It was the talk of the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C.
As Cascade Bicycle Club’s Legislative Affairs Manager, this seemed like a good opportunity for me to check in with Rep. Orcutt – and I’m glad I did! Yesterday, we had a great conversation about bikes, people who bike and transportation in general.
First, as he had subsequently written, he apologized for what he called his “over the top” comments about bikes and pollution.
Rep. Orcutt said he had received many calls and emails in the past few days that made him think, especially about the social benefits gained when more people choose to, and are able to, bike. Also, he recognized the negative impacts a bike tax could have on the owners of small bike shops, especially when those shops compete with Walmart or with shops just across the state line. And he pointed out that bikes don’t create the need for expensive road maintenance (he’s much more concerned about studded tires).
We talked a lot about transportation funding. Many people think the gas tax pays for all transportation infrastructure, but actually the gas tax, car tabs and license fees related to cars together pay for only about one-half of the road system. The other half comes from sales tax, property tax, and federal income tax paid by everyone, including people who bike. State legislators most often deal with the gas tax, so that’s the part they tend to focus on; in contrast, local governments mostly rely on sales and property taxes for transportation. In addition, most bike commuters also own cars, so they pay the same car tabs even if they drive less.
Add to that the social benefits of bike infrastructure that Rep. Orcutt mentioned – from improved health and less air pollution to taking cars off the road and improving road safety for everyone.
We still have areas of disagreement, most notably when we take different approaches to the question of funding for bike infrastructure. Rep. Orcutt asks the question, how can bicyclists pay their share for the transportation infrastructure they are using? We think the right way to ask the question is, how can we all pay to build a transportation network makes it safe, convenient, and affordable to move people and goods?
Our transportation network should support the safety and choices of everyone who needs to get around, whether by car, bus, ferry, train, foot or bike. The whole network needs further investment, but bicycle infrastructure has been perhaps the most neglected. In every survey we’ve seen, 60% or more of respondents say they would like to bike more often for commuting, running errand and recreation, but it is not safe or convenient for them to do so.
Despite any differences, Rep. Orcutt and I both think that we agree more than we disagree. Earlier this legislative session, he voted in favor of our highest priority bill (relating to speed limits on neighborhood streets), and he expressed his support for another bill on our list (relating to safe passing distance with motorcycles overtake bicycles). Orcutt has also been a leader in making our Department of Transportation accountable and responsive on cost overruns.
One final note: Some of the calls and emails to Rep. Orcutt were insulting and rude, and some even full of personal attacks. This is unacceptable and counter-productive. I apologized to Rep. Orcutt and to his legislative assistant, Amber York, who fielded many of those calls and emails. Cascade Bicycle Club encourages our members, and everyone, to share their thoughts with their elected officials with civility and respect.
I thank Rep. Orcutt for his service and look forward to working with him on bike issues in the future.