Note: this article was originally published on February 19, 2013 for Mismanaging Perception.
The list of bias and hostility that many motorists project towards the cycling community seems to never end. If it weren’t bad enough that those who choose to commute via bicycle have to contend with risking our lives amid a sea of boat-sized SUVs, we also have to tolerate a tsunami if ignorance from auto-centric minds about the ways our road infrastructure is funded.
Case in point – at last week’s Columbia River Crossing hearing in Salem, Oregon, two concerned citizen cyclists made the over 100 mile round trip journey from Portland, OR by bike to testify against the nightmare 12 lane freeway expansion. They did so not only to show that our transportation times are a’ changin’, but that commuting on a bike isn’t something restricted to inner cities. While their testimony was well received and admired by many, afterwards an aging gentleman yelled angrily into the microphone, accusing “bikers” of being “freeloaders” who should “pay their fair share of the CRC” so that motorists could avoid tolls. Apparently he’d forgot what mode the 12 lanes were for, or maybe he’d simply forgotten to take his meds.
At the conclusion of the hearing, it was announced that a second public proceeding would take place the following Monday, during which more testimony would be heard. I was so inspired by the two who pedaled to Salem that I contacted one of them, my friend Michael Hernandez, to ask if we could organize a larger group to ride the 100 mile trip together. He accepted. Monday, February 18th, 2013 at 9:00AM in a tiny coffee shop in Southeast Portland, six determined men gathered with gear and signs to ride into battle against the Columbia River Crossing.
While the weather remained dry, we faced a brutal headwind the entire way down, forcing us to ride close to utilize as much drafting as we could. It took all our energy to maintain a modest 13 mph, while cars, trucks, and semis of all sizes rushed past us. Not the best riding conditions, but with knowledge of the importance and meaning of our action, we pressed on. We stopped every ten miles or so to snack, rest, and rehydrate. Despite refueling, the last few miles to the capitol were a true test of endurance.
Arriving at a cafe in Salem near the capitol, we happened to run into a group of friends and colleagues that had driven down for the hearing, including Reverend Phil Sano, Jonathan Maus, and Bike Walk Vote board member Lisa Marie White, who later would go on to give by far the most moving, emotional testimony of the day.
While the prior week’s testimony focused on using logic and fact to undermine CRC proponent’s lies and myths, this weeks’ hearing saw those opposed to the freeway expansion delivering compelling moral and ethical appeals. Almost all were citizens representing themselves, as opposed to the testimony of freeway supporters – who in all cases represented those who will profit from the project.
Included in the day’s hearing were the thoughtful, passionate words of two of our group, which we have since somewhat humorously termed CRC Bike Bloc. I was personally too tired from the ride down to feel confident speaking, and Michael Hernandez had already testified during the proceeding week. Both of our testifiers noted that they were inspired to ride down by the previous week’s riders, and both mentioned that our total group of six were currently present at the hearing. Testimony continued for approximately 3 hours, at the end of which a co-chair ajorned the public testimony and moved to the working portion of the hearing.
No sooner had the co-chair gaveled to order than somebody began shouting from the audience, demanding that he be allowed to speak. Incredibly, it was the same aging gentleman from the previous week who had gone on his rambling, anti-cyclist rant. The co-chair reluctantly re-opened the public hearing, and the old man proceeded to repeat the same cringe-worthy testimony virtually verbatim; again accusing cyclists of not paying taxes for roads, and being “freeloaders” for not being included in tolling on the proposed freeway. His was the final word of CRC support heard from the public this day, and he unintentionally induced the most laughter from the audience.
As the committee began it’s work session, CRC Bike Bloc gathered our belongings and departed for our 50 mile journey back to Portland. This time the going was much darker and a bit more pleasant – a tailwind propelled us swiftly across vast stretches of Willamette valley farmland. Though we rode the entire route on the shoulder of the road, we remained well lit, – passing cars now gave us a wider berth. The weather remained fair despite reports of rain. Keeping our energy up towards the end was difficult, muscles were beginning to stiffen, but by 10:30 we were back home in Portland.
Settling in for the night, it was saddening but predictable to learn that CRC HB 2800 had been voted out of committee for a house floor vote in the near future, despite have absolutely no source of actual funding for the mega-project. Our elected representatives had basically thrown our earnest testimony in the garbage and moved forward with their predetermined agenda.
But it was with even more head-scratching dismay that I stumbled upon the following Tweet from BikePortland apparently made during the post-testimony work session:
Where to begin?
First, there’s the sheer rudeness of an elected ‘leader’ failing to make his remark during the testimony, and to then criticize us after we’d left the room as to what he believed testifying cyclists should have said. Second, there’s his evident cognitive dissonance of where the money from the ‘gas tax’ actually goes. Then there’s Cameron’s seemingly willful ignorance of the fact that cyclists obviously pay taxes, and in fact pay a far greater share for their mode use than motorists do – driving is subsidized at about 30 pennies per car per mile, cycling is subsidized about 0.7 cents per road mile. Finally, there’s his apparent lack of knowledge that choosing a low/no car life style allows us to spend more money locally at places like that cafe next to the capitol, just blocks from Cameron’s own district, generating taxed economic revenue that goes towards paying for the roads that got us there.
But let’s pretend that everything Representative Kevin Cameron (R.) HD19 Salem was in fact true. Let’s pretend, for sake of trying to understand his twisted logic, that ‘bikers’ somehow don’t pay taxes, or at least don’t pay for the roads they ride upon. Aren’t republicans and Tea Partiers always high-fiving each other over ways to skip out on paying their fair share of taxation? Considering Cameron’s own record of supporting tax dodgers, I’m frankly amazed he didn’t commend us for our mode of transportation in spite of his incorrect tax assumptions.
In the fantasy land of Rep. Cameron and the elderly repeat-testifier berating ‘freeloading bikers’, it is people on bikes, not people in cars, who are deteriorating the public road ways by incentivizing wasteful spending on the kinds of infrastructure that somehow prevent the filling of potholes. Yes, that’s right, it is not $10 billion dollar freeway boondoggles that are draining road maintenance funds, it’s actually us: six guys riding their bikes.
Let’s take this delusional logic one step further. If I were a motorist, each mile I drive improves the roads because of the gas taxes I pay, but since I ride a bike, I’m actually destroying the roads by not paying the gas tax. Right.
Well, Mr. Cameron, I hate to shatter your illusion, but as you can see below, even if any of the nonsense you believe were somehow true, the entire 100 mile trip we made to and from the capitol was on the dirt/debris/broken glass covered shoulder – not in the actual road itself.
So the day that we’re allowed to safely ride our bikes in the road without being harassed by horns and without fear of being run down and killed, then you can start making asinine comments about my comrades and I paying our fair share. Until then, please remain silent and go back to focusing on your doomed freeway funding.
The reality is that cyclists do far more than lessen wear and tear on roads and spend a greater share of disposable income locally. Riding bikes increases property value, for good or ill. Riding bikes reduces health care costs, saving individuals and governments millions upon millions of dollars each year. Riding bikes is good for our lived environment, it improves air quality and traffic congestion. And riding bikes is just damn fun – it is an activity that enriches our social connections and builds stronger paths of empathy with one another. Add all these collective benefits up and put a dollar sign on it and tell me with a straight face, Mr. Cameron, that cyclists don’t in fact deserve a TAX BREAK for the service we provide.
Mr. Cameron, you endanger our health and the well-being of our state by endorsing a 12 lane freeway expansion, but you embarrass yourself with the kind of ignorant, disrespectful remarks you didn’t have the courage to speak aloud in our presence. As cyclists, and as Oregonians, we deserve better.
UPDATE Feb. 22: In a move of utter absurdism, Rep. Kevin Cameron has doubled down on idiocy and has now proposed HB 3152 that would actually toll cyclists crossing the Columbia River Crossing.
HB 3152 is co-sponsored by Rep. Tim Freeman (R-Roseburg), Rep. Vic Gilliam (R-Mollala/Silverton), Rep. Julie Parrish (R-Tualatin/West Linn), Rep. Gene Whisnant (R-Sunriver), and Rep. Tobias Read, a Democrat from Beaverton and a Bicycle Transportation Alliance member who has worked on bike safety bills in the past.
This is distractive nonsense. Cameron, Read, and the rest are trying to force the cycling community to say ‘We shouldn’t have to be tolled to cross the CRC’ to move the conversation away from ‘We shouldn’t build the CRC’. It’s one more move of desperation from the house to make this nightmare freeway project look like a done deal. We should demand that bikes and bikes alone be tolled immediately on the current I-5 bridge, and only when this source of revenue has reached $3.5 billion may construction on the freeway expansion begin.
One marvels how these failed elected leaders plan to hold on to their seats in 2014. Contact your state reps and let them know a vote for the CRC is a vote to end their career: leg.state.or.us/findlegsltr/