At a recent Chicago City Council meeting, a city councilwoman floated the idea of a tax on the city’s growing number of bicyclists, Associated Press reports.
The councilwoman, who was unidentified by the article, proposed a $25 tax, to be paid annually, to help curb the cost of constructing and maintaining bike lanes. The proposal, as could be expected, was met with conflicting responses. While motorists lauded the idea, the vocal bike enthusiast community also weighed in. “There’d be special bike cops pulling people over? Or cameras? What do you do (to enforce this)?” Mike Salvatore, owner of café/bike repair shop Heritage Bikes, is quoted as saying at the meeting.
While the proposal may have stalled presently, Chicago is not the first city to propose such a scheme. The state legislature of Oregon proposed a bike tax last year. Home to Portland, a city famous nationally for its dedication to bicycle transit (even inspiring a comedy sketch), Oregon may have made a considerable income had the proposal passed. The AP article also pointed out that bike taxes are not a recent idea, pointing to the Netherlands pre-WWII.
Chicago is becoming increasingly bike friendly, with Mayor Rahm Emmanuel vocally supporting bicycle’s cleanliness and positive health impact. This is in addition to the popularity of the recent Divvy bike-share service. But whether bicyclists will be taxed for the right to ride, traffic dangers and accidents are very real consequences of riding a bike in the city. For both bicyclists and motorists within Chicago, it is important to understand the risks inherent in travel on the roads.
Bicyclists in Chicago have a reputation (whether earned or exaggerated) for flouting the rules of the road. Whether it is ignoring traffic lights and stop signs, changing lanes or turning without signaling, or riding the wrong way on one-way streets, this sort of behavior would result in tickets and likely criminal endangerment charges if perpetrated by a driver of a car or motorcycle. For whatever reason, bicyclists are not often stopped and ticketed for violation of these statutes, but a bicyclist who engages in this kind of behavior is violating the law.
People tend to remember the bicyclist who is careless or cavalier, and not remember the careful, lawful bicyclist observing traffic laws and staying in bike lanes. However, bicyclists are at risk for dangers that cars are not. One risk is that of “dooring.” Dooring occurs when a careless motorist fails to look behind them before opening their door, and a bike collides with the open door. While people are apt to look for oncoming car traffic when opening doors, they may not be as used to checking for bicycle traffic. As a result, potentially devastating accidents occur, and they are generally the fault of the person who opened the door if the bicyclist had the right of way.
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