A proposed bicycle tax by Colorado Sen. Scott sparked heated social media debate, but was always meant to raise awareness for bicycle safety.

Colorado Lawmaker Deletes Promise but Idea Endures

Freedom — even the pure joy of pedaling your bike down a street or nature path — comes with a price. That is at least if you live in Oregon, Colorado Springs or, potentially, the full state of Colorado.

This summer, Oregon lawmakers passed a statewide tax on bike sales. Its governor is expected to sign it into law soon. Colorado Springs has had a bicycle tax in effect since 1988.

A Colorado lawmaker floated the idea of a statewide tax on bike purchases in July. That thought went flat, but the idea is still out there, and the Centennial State critically needs cash for its transportation budget.

State Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, wrote on his Facebook page in mid-July that he would introduce the measure in the state Senate. It would impose a $15 excise tax on bike purchases of $200 or more.

“They (bicyclists) use roads as well,” Denver’s KUSA TV news quoted him. But Scott took the post down days later after fierce anti-taxers and bicycling proponents took turns rolling over him.

“I’m getting both support for a concept like that and a lot of opposition,” Scott said. “And I don’t mind saying probably more opposition than support.”

Changing the Conversation

Scott has since told the media that he had no actual plans to write a bike tax bill, he was just trying to start a conversation about a hypothetical bike tax and get the constituents’ views. And he’s using the attention to focus on a more-pressing issue: Colorado bicycle safety. He cited the constant struggle between bikes and cars for space in traffic as an ongoing issue that needs to be addressed.

According to statistics kept by the Colorado Department of Transportation, 16 people died in bicycle accidents in Colorado in 2016, and another six had died in the first quarter of 2017. Although there haven’t been many, the bicycle death tolls have kept pace with the state’s increasing population and the surging number of all traffic fatalities. More than 600 people died from auto accidents on Colorado roads, streets, and highways in 2016.

KUSA cited statistics from the Denver government showing more than 1,300 accidents between bikes and motor vehicles there between 2008 and 2012. More than half involved injuries. In a KUSA interview, Scott stated:

“Does it require some new law? At this point it’s way too early to tell. It would be a great idea for the cycling community to come together with motorists and maybe have some type of discussions about additional safety measures because we don’t want anyone getting hurt out there.”

City’s Bicycle Tax Improves Conditions for Bikers

Colorado Springs’ bicycle tax didn’t grab headlines 29 years after it went into effect. It barely served as a footnote in 2015 in the Colorado Springs Independent news column. And that was the most salient reference found in a recent Google search, proof that the tax has been well-accepted and, moreover, used well. The city expected to use the projected $97,550 revenue to improve bicycle infrastructure, creating new bike lanes and signs. The spending was part of the city’s overall plan to advance bicycle transportation there and drew on other tax resources and federal grants.

Fulfilling a Promise for Colorado Bicycle Safety

In September 2015, Gov. John Hickenlooper announced a $100 million, four-year commitment to improving Colorado bicycling conditions and safety by expanding and improving the state’s more than 5,000 miles of bike paths and lanes.

The promise, equal to 2.5 percent of the state’s road construction budget, came before state budget constraints severely limited CDOT’s 2017-2018 budget to about $1.9 billion, one-tenth of what the agency’s director requires to address Colorado’s transportation needs.

The state lottery money that Hickenlooper pledged for paths and lanes is protected under the Great Outdoors Colorado law and can’t be used to fill other budget potholes, so Colorado bikers and pedestrians can rest assured.

With more revenue, stemming from a bicycle tax, for instance, the state could fund additional infrastructure programs even after Hickenlooper’s four-year term ends.

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