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State Senate Transportation Chair wants to toll people biking across 520 Bridge. Yes, really.

Sen. King. Screenshot from King 5 (click to watch)
Sen. King. Screenshot from King 5 (click to watch)

Usually when people throw out ideas this bad, we just ignore them. But this one comes from the Washington State Senate’s Transportation Committee Chair, so I guess we need to respond.

No, tolling people biking on the new 520 Bridge is not in any way a good idea.

It’s true, Senator Curtis King (R-Yakima) told King 5 that he wants to toll people biking across the still-underfunded 520 Bridge to “help us pay for it.” Sigh…

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In a rational world, there are two good reasons to toll a bridge or road:

  1. To help pay for repairs or replacement.
  2. To reduce traffic congestion.

Tolling people on bikes would accomplish neither.

But, since this idea clearly comes from some other realm with no relation to reason, let’s break down some of King’s concerns.

The old 520 Bridge on the left has no space for biking and walking. The new bridge is much wider and will have a trail.
The old 520 Bridge on the left has no space for biking and walking. The new bridge is much wider to accommodate more lanes and will have a trail.

“Fair is fair,” Sen. King continued, “Somebody had to pay for (the bike lane).”

Fair? He has got to be kidding. You know what is actually not fair? Banning people from biking or walking across the 520 Bridge for the past 52 years and counting. Providing a space so people can choose to cross the bridge without owning a car or taking a bus is correcting a wrong, not giving some kind of hand out to people biking.

People choosing to bike is actually one good way to help reduce congestion, though perhaps the Senator has not noticed that the state’s biggest economic engine has something of a traffic problem.

And why single out bikes? Why not also toll people walking across the bridge in the new trail (there is no “bike lane” in the 520 design, only a trail shared by people biking, walking, skateboarding, in wheelchairs, etc). Or why not have toll enforcers hop on buses and collect additional tolls from riders who already paid their standard fare? And how come carpoolers and children get free rides in the passenger seats of cars?  **Shut up, Tom, don’t give him any ideas!**

But, ok, I’ll bite. So how would a trail toll work? Would it be proportionally based on vehicle axle weight (so $1.75 car toll would be 1 and 3/10 cents for a bike)? Or would it be proportional to the miniscule percentage of the $4.65 billion project budget that went specifically to the trail (not sure it’s possible to tease this from the budget, but I assure you it’s a very small percentage)? In either case, the state better invent a coin worth fractions of pennies, because people are gonna need some to pay these tolls. The new collection bureaucracy alone would certainly cost more than the tolls would bring in, though staffing toll booths to collect actual pennies from people biking by could provide some jobs in the area.

In all seriousness, the 520 Bridge project is by no stretch of the imagination a biking project. It is a giant highway expansion project. The trail is being built largely because people want it and because it would be completely insane in in 21st Century to invest this much money and not allow people to have basic walking and biking access.

The fact that Senator King has somehow convinced himself that he is some kind of victim of people years in the future unfairly riding their bikes across Lake Washington for free is truly bizarre, and it’s especially troubling that this is the guy in charge of the Senate’s Transportation Committee.

Washington needs transportation solutions that work for everyone everywhere. Seattle is the state’s biggest economic center, and the city needs to find solutions to the city’s chronic transportation congestion. That means some tolls for personal cars, but it also means encouraging people to choose transit, biking and walking when they can. If Senator King can’t see this, how is he supposed to lead our state to a stronger economic future?

Here’s the King 5 report:

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46 responses to “State Senate Transportation Chair wants to toll people biking across 520 Bridge. Yes, really.”

  1. Marge Evans

    “Fair is fair.” How ironic coming from a Senator from Yakima. This is just part of his whole bicycle hating agenda.

    1. Taylor

      Fair is fair cars pay 9000x the bike toll. Can’t find it now but saw a study that’s how much more dammage a car is doing.

      1. Guy de Gouville

        There it is:

        Cars do between 38,500 and 625,000 times more damage to the roads than cars, and that doesn’t count trucks or buses.

    2. Southeasterner

      To be fair I think Curtis is fair in his hatred for everything related to Seattle, not just the biking.

      1. Cheif

        Except for our tax money subsidizing his constituents, he’s apparently a fan of that.

  2. Chuck Ayers

    I’m trying to reconcile this with the last post regarding Cascade thinking about dropping its endorsement and electoral advocacy program. I guess we’ll just reason with Sen. King and others likely to endorse this idea and they will see the error of their ways.

    1. Bellinghammer


    2. Allan

      Cascade should definitely work against this guy. With people like him in charge the future will be like the “Hunger Games.”

  3. Peri Hartman

    Time for Critical Mass to move to Yakima.

  4. DB

    Saying “fair is fair” is a complete joke and implies that the bike/ped portion of this project cost the same as the car portion. That trail was likely less than 5% of the overall budget of this project.

    I’ll pay a toll when the money spent on bike/ped facilities is equal to that spent on car lanes. Until then it isn’t even a discussion.

  5. Brad

    This from the representative from Yakima County, which receives $2.24 in benefits for every $1.00 the county contributes in State taxes. What’s fair about that?

  6. Steve Campbell

    Bikes used to have to pay a toll to cross a bridge in my hometown. This would have been early 80s. I think it was a quarter.

    1. Zach S

      Interesting, any link?

      A quick google search reveals the same issue is being debated for the

      1. jay

        Here’s one: http://portofcascadelocks.org/bridge-of-the-gods/ I don’t that Steve’s hometown was Cascade locks, but there is a bridge there with bike tolls.

  7. kpt

    Senator, this property and sales tax payer already is paying for it. I vote for a bike trail, as far as my portion of the funds goes.

  8. bill

    Hey I’m cool with proportionate, rational tolling. Pavement damage is bloody complicated (google “pavement damage factors”). To keep the math simple for the senator, just assume damage is proportional to speed and weight. Taking car{speed=60 mph, weight=4000 lbs} vs bike{speed=15 mph, weight = 200 lbs} gives a factor of 80 times greater damage from a car vs a bike. Motor vehicles get 68′ of travel lane width, bikes and others get 14′ (http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Projects/SR520Bridge/questions.htm#laneconfig), a ratio of 5 in favor of cars (remember I’m keeping the math simple for the senator from Yakima). The cars get a huge break here because I’m not counting the shoulders, nor the heavier construction needed to support the weight of motor vehicles. Overall we have a factor of 400 times more damage from a car than a bike, with favorable biases for the cars as is our culture’s custom.

    So charge me a $1 to cross on my bike, and charge each car $400. I’ll vote for those tolls. Fair is fair.

    1. SashaBikes

      Yes! That would be fair!

    2. RJD

      This formula would actually overcharge bicyclists by a huge amount – see above.

      Relative pavement damage from two vehicles is equal to the ratio of axle weight to the fourth power.

      1. bill

        Like I said, I was keeping the math simple for the senator from Yakima. I also wanted to continue giving drivers the subsidies they are accustomed to.

  9. Guy de Gouville

    Look! That’s me riding my bike in the rain across I-90 at :25! I’m the first rider of the two.

    1. daihard

      Nice! :)

    2. biliruben

      They had been trying to determine who that was, but the camera somehow was unable to capture your vehicle license.

      Your Good-to-Go bill is in the mail.

  10. Jen

    Metro’s program to give cyclists a free ride across the bridge will become incredibly popular if this passes.

  11. Jeff Dubrule

    Trolls gonna troll.

  12. jay

    You may remember the governor wants to exempt people driving 4600lb, 300+hp, $80,000+ Teslas from tolls, somebody has to make up the difference!
    Well, ok, he also wants to exempt the Leaf et al, but the Leaf is only about 3200 lb, so the comparison is not as graphic. Put a 200lb driver in the Leaf, and a 200lb rider on a 50lb bike and the ratio is only about 14:1, put a 100lb rider on a 20lb bike and compare that to the Tesla and it’s about 38:1, a Cadillac Escalade, 50:1, wait, what? 50:1 ! how can that even be allowed? well, ok the Escalade does have 3 rows of seating, put 8 people in there (and toll all of them) and then the ratio compared to the big guy on the cargo bike is an actually quite respectable ~3:1 (but anyone driving an Escalade alone should be arrested for crimes against humanity.)

    As far as: **Shut up, Tom, don’t give him any ideas!** Not such a hard idea to come up with, the very first thing I though of on reading the headline was those free loading bus passengers, at least for bus passengers, the toll could be subtracted from their Orca card. Though, ironically, while transit riders are not nearly as small of minority as bicyclists, more of them are “minorities” (but maybe not so much heading to Medina) so tolling them might not be P.C.
    Obviously they won’t be building cash toll booths, any bicycles who want to cross will have to have a license plate or transponder.
    Which reminds me of something I read about a “constituent bill” (AKA DOA) in Oregon, for licensing bicycles; there would be a $10 registration fee; I know, “won’t even cover costs” but, wait there’s more, in addition; “a license fee to cover the costs of the program”

    “Or would it be proportional to the miniscule percentage of the $4.65 billion project budget that went specifically to the trail (not sure it’s possible to tease this from the budget, but I assure you it’s a very small percentage)?”
    You probably don’t want to go there, since the percentage of people crossing on bikes is also low you are treading on a slippery slope. I’d stick with the congestion and especially the environmental aspect, after all, why does the governor want to exempt that 4600lb Tesla from tolls? ( a cynic might suspect that someone who sells or buys $80K cars probably has some spare money to donate to political campaigns, but that is just being negative)

  13. […] State Senate Transportation Chair wants to toll people biking across 520 Bridge. Yes, really. Seattle Bike Blog January 28, 2015 […]

  14. […] State Senate Transportation Chair wants to toll people biking across 520 Bridge. Yes, really. […]

  15. I would be happy to pay my 1.3 cents toll. Tom, you say,”the state better invent a coin worth fractions of pennies, because people are gonna need some to pay these tolls.” But the state actually has a 0ne-tenth cent (one mil) tax token ready to revive. I’ve got a couple around somewhere. It’s “shovel ready”, just like the good Senator’s BS.


  16. Jim

    My wife said they should collect the toll the same way they collect from cars. Take a photo of the rear end of the vehicle and send the bill to the registered owner. Can’t wait for the database of registered rear ends.

    1. Capitol Hillian

      BREAKING NEWS: WSDOT confirms my ass looks great in these jeans.

      1. Jeff Dubrule


  17. Southeasterner

    I’m in full agreement that we need an equitable way to pay for transportation infrastructure…and beyond!

    In addition to tolling bikes $0.013 to cross SR 520 bridge we should toll cars using local roads outside of the neighborhoods where the vehicle is registered. After all local roads are paid for out of sales tax and property tax and there is no sales tax on gasoline.

    So any vehicle coming into Seattle and registered in say Yakima would have to pay a set toll rate per mile of travel. If they decide to walk around Seattle they will be charged a per foot fee for using our sidewalks (fitbits will be required to track usage). Of course any sales tax they pay while in Seattle can be used to offset their sidewalk user fees.

    In addition lets address the explosion in the homeless population and mentally ill, most of whom originate from outside of Seattle who don’t pay property tax yet use public parks and sidewalks. They will be registered by their place of origin, let’s say Yakima, and the tax payers of Yakima who failed to provide their own social services, will be expected to cover their cost burden on the tax payers of Seattle.

    1. Embarrassed in Yakima

      I am a member of Yakima Bikes and Walks, a new advocacy group here promoting safe user friendly biking and walking. We have an uphill battle, but we are energized and determined to help Yakima solve our local challenges and be responsible citizens of Washington. I think that Senator King is just posturing, placating his base and he will be more then willing to “trade off” this idea during legislative negotiations over the transportation bill. Sure I could be wrong, but I bet this doesn’t end up a reality. By the way, he is a sponsor of SB5438 which would allow bicyclists to legally proceed through faulty traffic signals, just the same as motorcycles.

  18. Matthew

    For some reason, this clip from Monty Python comes to mind. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pzr6wk7FVXE).
    Rather than trying to argue why the toll is a dumb idea, let Curtis King explain in detail how he plans to collect the toll, how much the toll should be and his reasoning for the amount of the toll. I expect Rep. King will end up looking a lot like Mr. Gumby. I don’t think the toll is a serious proposal, just a way for Rep. King to let everyone know that he doesn’t like bicycles.

  19. Jim

    If the rationale for charging people to use a public roadway is to compensate for the amount of damage caused by a particular vehicle, then by far the biggest freeloaders are car drivers with studded snow tires. Next time you are driving a highway in the rain and realize that that there are two parallel troughs filled with water that is trapped there, causing you to hydroplane, just remember: This is mostly caused by people with studded snow tires.

    And when you see that a roadway has had the surface milled flat by one of those giant milling machines, you should realize that costly work was made necessary mostly by studded snow tires.

    Users of studded snow tires are getting a free ride, and the fix is easy: either ban studded snow tires, or tax each one sold for an amount that compensates for the amount of road damage it will cause over the life of that tire.

  20. Sean

    I guess my biggest question is how the hell is the chair of the transportation subcommittee from frikin Yakima? I mean, you would think that position would go to a Senator from a county with a population larger than 240,00. Hell, 200,000 people seem to DRIVE across the 520 every day.

  21. In Washington we don’t really toll things to fund maintenance because we pretty much don’t bother to maintain anything. We toll roads to fund new construction and rebuilds — to make roads exist. If tolls fund the existence of roads, then it makes sense to toll based on benefit rather than damage.

    The typical calculation is that urban freeways, even with adjacent bike paths, are big negatives for pedestrians and cyclists, largely because of dangerous interchanges and destruction of the urban fabric (and general sprawling of the region). 520 is sort of interesing in that it put the northern eastside on the map as a potentially regionally important job center, and the northern eastside ran with that. Usually having employment centers distributed similarly to population decreases commute distances in aggregate, and that’s probably true of having lots of jobs in Redmond and Bellevue and not just lots of housing. And 520 was key to that. Imagine if the large population of northern Seattle had to either go down to I-90 or north around the lake to get to Bellevue or Redmond by car or bus, the way we do by bike. Would so many companies have chosen Bellevue? So it’s possible that cyclists are harmed less than usual by the bridge because the broad land use patterns it cultivated may support shorter mean commute distances than if it hadn’t been built. Obviously it’s hard to even speculate where companies like Microsoft would have set up shop, but it’s not hard to imagine there would have been lots of people living in that area either way, and this way those people are living within a moderate bike ride of a lot of jobs — maybe even their own — instead of a very long ride from Seattle.

    Of course, the closer-in details of land use around 520 are less rosy. They’re the sort of wide-grain local land use patterns, parking-enforced sparseness, and interchange/intersection dangers that predominate around urban freeways everywhere. The bridge necessitated the large overland freeway, and with that comes land use and infrastructure patterns that make it harder to have a very short, comfortable self-powered commute for people that value that highly. And people living a moderate bike ride from those jobs are likely not living in places where running errands without a car is convenient, and that has a lot to do with the particular kinds of retail consolidation mass car-usage and freeways encourage. Overland 520 ain’t half as bad as 405 or most of I-5, but it’s clearly a negative for cyclists.

    At this point, not rebuilding the bridge would cause enough general regional economic disruption that we mostly ought to pay for it together. And that’s largely what’s happening, with lots of state funding coming in (shame all our tax sources are so lousy). I’m not really a believer in the ultimate consequences of the idea of tying the funding of freeways entirely to user fees if that means tying the justification of a freeway to its ability to fund itself. It’s bad enough around here, where drivers think paying the gas tax buys them a privileged place on the road and in road planning. Thinking about the E-470 in Colorado, a project the state and federal governments didn’t want, but various groups made it happen themselves because they had a plausible plan to fund it. Say we had a group not subject to external control that could fund land acquisition and construction costs for freeway expansion, largely on the back of user fees. Would we say, “Well, that’s great, it’s your money, knock yourselves out!”? No! Because major infrastructure has collective benefits and costs; freeways and driving have particularly large external costs. They’re collective goods and collective ills. We should mostly plan them, build them, and maintain them together, and fund them at least largely together. Even drivers that appear to benefit disproportionately may actually wish they didn’t have to be cross the bridge, but are stuck doing it. Charging congestion fees is fine and charging for pollution generally would be better, but a fee for the existence of the bridge on the presumption the overall effects of 50 years of development were good for people using it as a group… doesn’t strike me as the right way to go about it.

  22. William C

    Idea: Even supposing we cyclists should pay something for the bridge, let’s keep in mind all the delays the current bridge has imposed on cyclists above any other group. If we tally up the tolls we’ve paid in time spent waiting for buses to cross the current bridge, and convert it to cash at $15/hour, I’m sure that would come well over whatever toll rates Sen. King wants to impose.

  23. […] Trolling bicyclists: A proposal to toll bicyclists crossing SR-520. […]

  24. […] the revenues generated would likely not even cover the cost of the administration of the scheme. State Senate Transportation Chair wants to toll people biking across 520 Bridge. Yes, really. | Seat… […]

  25. Nullbull

    “Fair is fair” said the man who represents the county that takes more in state tax dollars than it puts in every single year (to the tune of $2.24 back for every $1.00 in 2008).

    You want fair – make your district pay their share, and if they can’t, cut spending until you’re “living within your means.” You should remember that line from every single lecture you’ve ever given the Western half of the state.


  26. […] Join Pronto! on Thursday for a celebration of everything bike-related in Pioneer Square. The event is a great moment to socialize with other cyclists, talk about bike culture, and argue about the proposal to toll bikes on SR-520. […]

  27. […] the Transportation Committee chaired by Sen. Curtis King (R-14,Yakima), who recently proposed tolling bicyclists across […]

  28. […] support. It was co-sponsored by Senate Transportation Chair Curtis King (you may remember him from this unfortunate news story earlier this year) and passed the Republican-controlled Senate 45–3 in early March. It is now […]

  29. […] fact, remember how Senate Transportation Committee Chair Curtis King (R-Yakima) wanted to toll people biking on the 520 Trail earlier this year? Well he’s singing a very different tune today, even adding walking and […]

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