A Portland company called Webtrends has paid for ads on Trimet MAX trains, with the question "Should cyclists pay road tax?" in an effort to generate traffic to their site and clearly intending to start up the "cyclists" vs. "drivers" thing that was really burning hot last year.
I hate to dignify this with a response, but if we don't put some logic out on the internet, their results are going to show "Portlanders think cyclists should pay road tax" - and who knows where that will lead.
So, here's the actual story. First of all, the terms "cyclist" and driver" are divisive and imply a false dichotomy between people. In Portland, most people who would be termed "cyclists" in this discussion own and operate cars, with which they pay gas tax for the gas they use. You might as well say that pedestrians should pay an extra road tax for the sidewalks they use. Drivers don't use them, so why should they have to pay to subsidize the sidewalks? It's a ridiculous argument, how can you categorize pedestrians and drivers? They're the same people. Same deal here.
Secondly, the reason there is a gas tax, is because it is a limited resource that is going to run out one day. We want to limit the amount people use it, so it will be around longer. When people use it less, that's a good thing.
Thirdly, according to the Federal Highway Administration, 92% of the funds that pay for local roads come from property, income and sales taxes. Not surprisingly, none of those have anything to do with what form of transportation you use. Everyone pays those.
Fourthly, more people cycling means less traffic congestion, which means better for people driving, less gas used, less pollution.
Fifthly, cars tear up roads quickly. It's been shown over and over that the highways in America are hugely subsidized by taxes, which means that I pay for highways and roads all over the country - and that a huge amount of money and effort go in to maintaining those. Bicycles do almost no damage. So, if I mostly ride a bike, I'm paying from my income and property taxes for damage other people are doing to the roads. If I'm driving, I'm paying for the damage I'm doing. How is that not fair?
Sixthly, more people riding bicycles make conditions better in the city for everyone - calmer streets, safer streets, quieter streets, better air quality, fewer health problems, better work performance, the list goes on and on.
Ok, so in case this is sounding like a tirade against cars, that's not my intention. I simply want to make the point that it's ridiculous to say that "cyclists" - whatever that even means - should pay an extra road tax. Everyone pays the same taxes everyone else pays for the services that are provided to society. The question "should cyclists pay a road tax?" is just an invalid question on all levels. Cyclists are not a definable group, or if they are, they are very very small group, and even still, they already pay road tax.
*edit* - based on comments that have been left on news media sites (KATU, Oregonlive, etc), it is clear that this question is giving people the opportunity to blast their opinions without listening to anyone else, it is having an inflammatory effect, and I don't think the comments people have left saying "this could make it more dangerous for bikes to be on the road" are entirely un-truthful. Based on some of the comments, I wouldn't be surprised if some of the people commenting decided to buzz some people on bicycles a little closer, make life more difficult for them, scare them a little, until they decide to "pay up." Thanks, webtrends.