Reject Bicycle Tax in Seattle

Target: Judy Clibborn, Washington State Transportation Chair

Goal: Reject a proposed tax on bicycles sold in Seattle, Washington

Though a new transportation revenue plan for Seattle, Washington focuses on car traffic improvements rather than pedestrian and bicycle access, it suggests a special tax on bicycle sales to help pay for road development. As a carbon friendly, money saving and future-proof activity, bicycling should not be discouraged to make way for more cars. Demand that Washington state find an alternative source of revenue for its highway development plans.

In response to this proposal, the question many people are asking is this: In a world struggling with the catastrophes and unfathomable economic costs of climate change, why tax a forward-thinking method of transportation like bicycling?

One reason cited for levying a tax on bicycle purchases is that cyclists are using the same roads as cars while providing none of the money to pay for them. That notion is false—in Seattle, gas taxes only paid 4 percent of the transportation budget in 2009, and most of the roads bicyclists use are paid for by counties and municipalities. Another bogus perspective is that bicycles create a negative net effect for economies. According to current research, bicycling actually saves the government money. In bike-crazy Copenhagen, Denmark, it is estimated that one mile ridden on a bike results in a $.42 economic gain for the government. And a recent Oregon study revealed that health improvements concurrent with bike riding will save Portland—a city much like Seattle—$388 to $594 million in health care costs by the year 2040.

If this tax goes through as proposed, it could be also be detrimental to the bicycle scene in Seattle. The current plan includes an extra $25 tax on the sale of bicycles costing $500 or more. Big name retailers like Wal-Mart can easily make a profit on bikes under $500, but not local shops that have slim margins even on more expensive rides. As told by a writer for the Seattle Bike Blog, “It’s hard enough to pay a small staff and keep the doors open without forking out $25 on every bike sale.”

Looking at the big picture, it doesn’t make sense to discourage bicycling anywhere, let alone in a city with a healthy population of bikers like Seattle. Untold millions are spent on research and development of electric cars. More is being spent on weather-proof coastal cities for climate induced storms. Controversial climate change bills are laboriously proposed and dismissed in the Senate. Bicycles are a low-cost, direct way to combat climate change while saving federal dollars. Urge Judy Clibborn to reconsider the tax on bicycle sales.


Dear Rep. Clibborn,

The newly proposed Washington state transportation revenue package bears a critical flaw. Although many of the revenue sources are well though-out, the suggested tax on bicycle sales does not make sense. Virtually all reasons to include the tax are easily broken down.

Not only will the tax generate comparatively little revenue to the program, it is controversial, detrimental to small and local businesses, and discourages the mentally and physically healthy act of bicycling. From an economical standpoint, bicycling is valuable to the government. A recent Oregon study revealed that health improvements concurrent with bike riding will save the city of Portland $388 to $594 million in health care costs by the year 2040. And from an environmental standpoint, bicycling is a cheap and direct way to combat climate change while saving government money and promoting physical health.

It has been stated that the tax is “included largely for symbolic reasons,” but symbolism supporting carbon emissions and short-sighted, narrow perspectives on environmental and economic responsibility is not something Washington should support. I urge you to revisit the revenue package and omit the additional tax on bicycles.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Ian Britton via

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  1. vicki ginoli says:

    Tax for bicycles – are you kidding – that is insane!!

    • Brandon Taylor Brandon Taylor says:

      Ridiculous, no? Seems like it was put in place to appease grumpy drivers, but that kind of narrow-mindedness shouldn’t be encouraged.

  2. J Davidson says:

    This tax is one that accomplishes nothing and has a negative effect.

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