Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Dim Bulbs & Bright Ideas

The warm feeling I get whenever I’m yet again reminded that morons still occupy—and exert undue influence in—the higher levels of government hierarchy is not, in reality, related to the warm fuzzies, but is more akin to “heat of anger” of the kind that has a high probability of ending in homicidal violence. Are you following this, Representatives Krieger, Esquivel, Garrard and Schaufler?

What these geniuses want to do is register the bikes of Oregonians who are over 18 years old. Using the same fee schedule as applied to cars—$54 every two years. Making bikes more expensive to register than motorcycles. Killing incentives for people to ride bikes. Hindering efforts to clean up the environment, get a handle on global climate change, and achieve energy independence. Leaving the originators of this ill-conceived plan open to the criticism they so richly deserve.

The problems with H.B. 3008 are varied and many. Not only does this bill suck like a Dyson on steroids, if it becomes law the potential for unintended consequences is huge. What if, on your morning commute across the Hawthorne Bridge, you found your way impeded by hundreds of horses and riders? And think of the parking problems that would ensue once all those horses and riders reach their downtown destinations. Okay, not too likely a scenario, I admit, but hey, anyone twisted enough to zoo bomb on a fixie at midnight is probably twisted enough to swap out a bike for a horse just to prove a point.

Might not bicyclists, forced to pay the same rate as automobile drivers for the right of access to the state’s network of streets, roads and highways, begin to insist on their right to unrestricted lane use? If you thought that following some oblivious twit traveling at 55 mph in the passing lane was slow, how are you gonna feel when you find yourself following an obstinate cyclist, who’s only trying to make a point, at 20 mph? Can you say “road rage”? Can you say “murder”? Can you say “guilty, your honor”? Can you say “how do I get this shit out of my grill”?

Are all of the possible unintended consequences of the negative kind? Not necessarily. There’s a slim possibility that we’ll see a decline in identity theft as professional identity thieves rush to fill the burgeoning market for identity forgers. Picture, if you will, the senior citizen bike rider who’s just been detained by an overzealous traffic cop. “Honest, officer, I’m only 15-and-a-half. Says so right there on my learner’s permit.”

There’s a better, more equitable way to fund the public thoroughfares we all depend on. Rather than dump a disproportionate amount of the burden on bicycles that cause relatively little damage to road surfaces—compared to their four-wheeled counterparts—and which, unlike their four-wheeled counterparts, put exactly zero carbon emissions into the atmosphere, legislators should rethink the whole concept of vehicle registration.

A “one size fits all” vehicle registration fee schedule is not the ideal method for raising money for roadway maintenance; it has a tendency to punish frugal people and reward extravagant ones. A far better method would base its fee schedule on vehicle weight, which is the primary causative factor in road surface destruction; the higher the weight, the higher the fee.

All vehicles, including motorcycles, bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades—in effect, anything with wheels—should be weighed “light,” i.e., without operator, passengers or cargo, to arrive at the appropriate fee for each specific vehicle. A progressive fee schedule would be determined by weight brackets, say in 100 lb. or 500 lb. increments, and fees assessed accordingly.

And, as a concession to all vehicle owners, the State of Oregon could make an allowance for each vehicle—say the first 100 lbs. for free.

Sounds fair to me.