Dear Jessica Lee,
I read your recent article in the Seattle Times. I would like to apologize in advance: at first I thought this was an opinion piece, so didn't pay much mind to it. While there are some solid opinion writers for the Seattle Times, there's also a lot of editorial page drivel.
Then I realized that this is in the scope of the journalism section of the Seattle Times. And in this, we have a problem.
Over the weekend, I saw your colleague Mike Rosenberg engaged in a Twitter discussion, justifying the expense of a subscription to protect reporter jobs at the Seattle Times. I've had similar conversations with Daniel Beekman. The fact is that a lot of the reporting staff at the Seattle Times is pretty solid (and Jim Brunner's weekend night-Tweeting is legendary).
So imagine my dismay when I read a series of non-factual statements throughout your piece. I could go on and on about how these fictions do nothing but harm the progress on safe bike infrastructure, or encourage the notion that cars are our future, and the environmental impacts of such claims. But I just want to start with some facts.
Right at the beginning you allow someone to spout a myth without fact checking. Last I checked, not a single downtown car lane has been set-aside for bikes only. Rather, when the 2nd Ave cycletrack was installed, at the insistence of drivers, a car lane was removed to make on-street parking. We could get into the efficacy of storage of personal property on public right of way, or whether public right of way is best reserved for moving people and goods, but that's a different conversation for a different day. And, if we're talking about facts, fact check one: False.
What is troubling - you didn't even take the time to just stop right there and point out the falsehood of the statement. Instead, as a "TrafficLab" reporter, you took the statement of a random person as the gospel, and didn't take the time to actually see if that statement was true. I understand that the Seattle Times is cutting reporters left and right, but I would have thought that a simple trek along 2nd Ave would prove the point.
Then, you go on to state that cyclists "don't pay gas taxes that fund a lion's share of road budgets."
Where do I even begin? First - cyclists do pay gas taxes. Most cyclists own and use cars. While there are some die-hard bike-everywhere people, they are the minority of the cycling community. While we are making the best of it in a hostile environment, that environment remains car-centric, and we still have to take our kids to events, get groceries, or (God-forbid) leave the city to enjoy the region. So statement one (from you): False.
Then there's how taxes are used. Ask around your newsroom (in fact - if you ever have a question on taxes or how taxes are spent, ask Brunner). Gas taxes, by constitutional amendment, are limited to state highways (and ferries - which are considered highways. Fun fact). Gas taxes don't go to city roads because they are constitutionally barred from doing so (of course, some city roads double as State highways, and there's an argument that some gas taxes may trickle to city roads, but far from the "lion's share"). Now, I would like to believe that the State could fund bike highways with gas taxes, but they don't. That you would even publish this as fact, and that no editor caught this, shows an anti-bike bias that is troubling. Statement two (from you): False.
Your article goes on to both lend credence to and dispel the notion of bike licensing. As you rightfully note: the cost of administering such a program would be significant. And what bikes would we license? Does my 14-year-old's bike get licensed? What about 4th graders? Or the people who don't ride regularly?
Do we license pedestrians for the right to walk on sidewalks? Or if we're really talking about the cost of infrastructure, maybe we need to start licensing vehicles based on weight and tire size - factors that are much more determinative of road-wear. My fat-ass on my bike isn't what's causing the potholes, after all. That would be reserved to the cars and trucks and semis and buses.
Property taxes and sales taxes pay for our infrastructure in Seattle, and the fact remains that cyclists pay for both, and regularly do so in the city. By continuing to spread the myth that cyclists somehow don't pay for infrastructure that (a) improves bicycle safety; (b) improves traffic flow for buses and cars; (c) indirectly improves pedestrian safety; and (d) encourages more cycling and less driving, doing a solid for our environment and kids' future, I fear you're doing more harm than good.
But what's worse: spouting out statements that are 100% false as if they were factual, and doing so as a purported expert who is explaining things, is bad for journalism. I hope you will consider doing some basic fact checks in the future. The collective intelligence of our region does depend on it.
All of my Best,