A handful of Tacoma bicycle enthusiasts intends to crash a pay-to-ride bike event being held next month as part of the opening celebration of the new state Route 520 floating bridge, which connects Seattle to Bellevue.
Darrell Eslinger, president of the Tacoma Wheelmen’s Bicycle Club, contends bicyclists shouldn’t have to pay, even for one day, to ride on the bridge, a state-owned span scheduled to open to traffic later this spring.
He fired off a letter to the governor’s office saying as much.
“The issue is that’s a public bridge,” Eslinger told The News Tribune last week. “You paid for it. I paid for it. It will be paid back by tolls, but we paid for it up front.”
He said he and five or six others plan to drive to Seattle with their bikes April 3 and be prepared to ride across the bridge, even though the Seattle-based Cascade Bicycle Club is the official sponsor of the day’s biking event and is requiring registration and payment of a fee.
“All we want to do is ride across the bridge,” Eslinger said. “We don’t want to participate in their event. Will we be arrested for going across? I wonder who’s going to stop us?”
Will we be arrested for going across? I wonder who’s going to stop us. Darrell Eslinger, Tacoma Wheelmen’s Bicycle Club
State transportation officials and Elizabeth Kiker, the executive director of the Cascade Bicycle Club, seemed surprised by the controversy.
Department of Transportation spokesman Steve Peer said there would be no bicycle event at all had Cascade not stepped forward to sponsor one.
“As an official sponsor for the opening event, Cascade offered to pay WSDOT $20,000 to help offset some of WSDOT’s expenses for the grand opening weekend,” Peer said. “No other bicycle groups contacted WSDOT.”
Cascade is covering the costs of “traffic control, uniformed officers, marketing and the support staff necessary to stage a ride of this magnitude across the city,” Peer said
Kiker said her club is excited to sponsor the ride and willing to work with people who can’t afford entry fees.
“Nobody’s approached us about this,” Kiker said. “We’d loved to get more people from Tacoma involved.”
Eslinger said he’s not interested in a subsidized ride.
“DOT is saying this is a celebration for the whole state, and then they’re saying, ‘Yeah, you can’t ride there unless you pay Cascade,’ ” he said.
Eslinger went on in his letter to Gov. Jay Inslee.
“I find it inappropriate to taxpayers, and bicycle riders in particular,” he wrote. “Charging $40 to $50 to ride over the bridge that taxpayers paid for is an excessive toll. I understand that it is a Cascade ride and there will be things happening in connection with their ride beyond the bridge.
“Yet it is a toll to a private nongovernmental group if you just want to ride on the bridge. It is wrong.”
Inslee spokeswoman Tara Lee said the governor’s office has received Eslinger’s letter, but she referred questions on the matter to the Transportation Department.
“The governor, a bicyclist himself, encourages all riders to register and participate in the ride,” Lee said.
Peer said Cascade approached the Transportation Department a year ago or so with an “unsolicited proposal to create, sponsor and completely manage a city-wide bike ride in conjunction with the grand opening.”
The ride would include a trip across the new bridge.
“Cascade demonstrated the experience and staff to host a ride of this magnitude, has a history of organizing successful biking events and satisfied WSDOT’s regional traffic operations concerns,” Peer said.
“… WSDOT felt confident they could administer a bike ride and allowed them access to SR 520 and I-5 to stage the ride.”
We’re charging a fee to cover our costs and support our work. The costs of this ride are not insubstantial. Elizabeth Kiker, Cascade Bicycle Club
The ride is part of a two-day celebration of the new bridge.
On April 2, the public is invited to tour the 1.5-mile span. Food trucks will be parked on the bridge, and organizations and business are sponsoring a host of activities, including interactive activities focused on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) concepts.
“The planned activities will be fun and engaging for the whole family,” Peer said.
Total budget for the celebration is $600,000 to $700,000. About 75 percent of the costs are being paid by private sponsors, Peer said. Big-ticket items include shuttles to get people to and from the bridge, security, traffic control and planning, he said.
Kiker told The News Tribune that Cascade saw sponsoring the grand opening ride as a way to excite people about bicycling and give them what could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The ride will take place on the bridge deck, not the pedestrian-bike path. That path will be an out-and-back route from the Bellevue side until it’s completed in 2017, Peer said.
“There’s this excitement about riding places normally reserved for cars,” Kiker said.
The ride will cost $15 to $50 depending on a rider’s age and the distance he or she chooses to go. There’s a 20-mile ride and an eight-mile one.
Registered riders will get a commemorative T-shirt, route support and a supported rest stop on the longer route, according to the Cascade website.
“We’re charging a fee to cover our costs and support our work,” Kiker said. “The costs of this ride are not insubstantial.”
5,300 People registered to take part in the Emerald City Bike Ride
Nearly 5,300 riders had registered by the middle of last week, she added.
Riders without a registered bib “are strongly discouraged from riding,” Peer said.
“Riders with bibs are contributing to the cost of the event,” he said, “and, more importantly, have signed a waiver of liability in case of any incidents on the ride.
“Cascade Bicycle Club is controlling security at the event and may respectfully question or stop riders who do not have a race bib.”
Eslinger said he and his group don’t want to take part in the Cascade event. They just want to ride across the bridge.
“That first day, it is quiet. There are no cars,” he said. “We just want to see it when it’s quiet.”
And without paying.
“We’ll let the rush go by, and then we’re just going to go,” Eslinger said of his plans for April 3.
“If we’re stopped, we’re stopped. We’ll find out.”