Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Is licensing bicyclists the answer?

This letter appears in today's SF Chronicle:

Scofflaws on bikes

Re: "Bicyclists ignore sidewalk sign" (Chronicle Watch, Aug. 24): Scofflaw bicyclists routinely ignore traffic laws, which they are obligated to follow. The California Vehicle Code forbids riding on sidewalks unless the bicyclists are 12 or younger. Sidewalk riding is not a legal option for adult bicyclists. San Francisco does not require registration and licensing of bicyclists. However, Berkeley, Santa Monica, Davis, Alameda and other California cities do. California law needs to be changed to require registration/licensing of bicycles and bicyclists so the pedestrian public can be protected. Let's start a state campaign to require bicycles and bicyclists to be tested, registered, insured and licensed and pay appropriate fees for this regulatory service.

The free ride is over.

FIONA McGREGOR
San Francisco

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21 Comments:

At 10:16 PM, Blogger Michael Baehr said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

 
At 10:38 PM, Blogger Michael Baehr said...

Wow, scratch that. Certain cities actually have it in their code that you need a license to operate a bicycle. It is apparently an anti-theft measure designed to ease recovery of a stolen bicycle, and the license is not exactly mounted in some frame for someone to see; it's supposed to be pasted on the top tube so a cop can inspect it in case you're stopped (or the bicycle is recovered).

It is still ludicrous that someone thinks such a thing would be a deterrent to bad behavior. What if I call in that I saw a bicycle run a red light? Are they just going to go to that person's house and ticket them, based on my hearsay? They have a hard enough time as it is collecting on red light cameras due to all the court challenges, but somehow calling in a license that a driver can't even see will deliver Great Justice.

I've been hit by a car whose plates I got, and they didn't even bother issuing a citation.

 
At 9:23 AM, Blogger robert said...

I agree both bikes and cyclists should be licensed. They should have to sit a test (like the driving test) before they are allowed on the street and be required to have insurance plus they should pay a regular license renewal fee (by person) and an annual license fee for each bike they ride. It should also be possible to ban people from using a bike if they habitually continue to do so in an unsafe way for the rest of the population.

Whilst I do not think this will improve the behavior of some cyclists the money from these licenses would help provide acceptance and a base of legitimacy for some of the ongoing bike/cyclist related improvement requests.

 
At 10:10 AM, Blogger Lex said...

What Robert said.

The only thing I'd add is that i think licensing *would* improve behavior because repeated violations of traffic laws would be grounds for revoking a license. If they want to stay on the road they'll be forced to obey the law.

 
At 11:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And who, pray tell, do you expect to enforce all these brilliant ideas, Robert? Get a grip on reality. There are much bigger fish to fry.

 
At 11:23 AM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

The majority of people seen on a bike also posess a driver's license. In theory this should be sufficient in order to teach the rules of the road, given we allow anyone who passes the test to drive a car. People without the capability to balance a bike will self select themselves from actually trying.

Said test to get a driver's license in the US is fairly trivial given the responsibility.

http://features.csmonitor.com/environment/2009/08/25/can-bikes-and-cars-share-the-road/

"Part of the blame falls on bad drivers (it’s much harder to get licenses in Germany and the Netherlands)."

Certainly our current licensing hasn't stopped the 41,000 deaths per year attributed to Motor vehicles.

Frankly, you don't need a license nor registration nor insurance to operate a motor vehicle. You need a car and a set of keys. Drivers with repeat DUI's have their licenses revoked, but the fines and punishments for driving on a suspended license are no deterrent from recidivism, certainly the fines are only a fraction of the cost of owning a car in the first place, or paying insurance (another requirement that is ignored with surprising frequency).

If you doubt that assertion, look at the results from DUI and pedestrian crossing stings - the majority of people cited in these stings are cited for not having a valid license.

Given that bikes are stolen with much more frequency than cars, it would stand to reason that licensing of bikes would be universally ignored - the likelihood of punishment is low and the availability of a replacement is high. Trying to enforce said registration would be a waste of resources - even Rob might agree that on a practical level we would be better served rousting poorly behaved homeless people than impounding a bike that can be replaced for less than the cost of a license.

The net effect of licensing cyclists would be a few people would pay for licenses, a few would pay fines for no license, the cost of overseeing the program would be more than the amount collected, and the regulations would be ignored with even more frequency that motorists ignore their own requirements.

 
At 12:33 PM, Blogger Michael Baehr said...

The desire to license bicyclists stems from two main objections:

#1: Bicyclists aren't subjected to the same onerous crap that poor me Mr. Motorist is. Why do they get a free ride? Wah, wah

#2: Bicyclists break the law sometimes and I want to be able to report them like the little snitch I was in Kindergarten. Wah, wah, boo-hoo

In response to:

#1: Bicyclists aren't subjected to the same licensing and fee structure because a) we're not operating heavy vehicles capable of taking out dozens of people, b) it barely costs anything to accomodate our roadway use, and c) getting around on your own power in a public right-of-way is considered a common-law right, just like it is for pedestrians

#2: Licensing for bicycles won't do a damn thing to cut down on scofflaw behavior. California bicycle licenses (which the lady in the editorial notes are required in several cities) are a little sticker attached to the top tube; the rationale is to prevent bicycle theft and aid in recovery. Of course, even this fails, given that most stolen bikes are chopped up and sold for parts (and it's not particularly difficult to remove a sticker). Regardless, the fact that somebody has a sticker on their bicycle is not going to deter them from running a stop sign. And no police department is going to devote their resources to pursuing the bicyclist who somebody called in a complaint about, given that they already take a rather lukewarm approach to tracking down motorists who have committed much more serious violations. The hit-and-run driver who rear-ended me in broad daylight in a bike lane in San Francisco was never so much as issued a ticket even though I had his full plates and a description of his car, yet people assume that if a bicycle had a license and they reported a violation, the SFPD would drop everything until they'd cracked the case!

You're dreaming.

Licensing bicylists (as opposed to bicycles) would have a few effects, none of them positive:

#1: It would vastly cut down on the number of people riding bicycles, which would make things substantially less safe for those who continue to ride... of every safety improvement, including helmets and bike lanes, the improvement with the most statistically significant impact is more cyclists on the street. I hope you like people getting hurt.
#2: It would be a legal nightmare. Are some cities going to license them but not others? What if I ride my bike in from Oregon? Do we need a nationwide licensing regimen just to keep laws in sync? Why should someone lose their right to ride a bicycle just because they've entered a particular town?
#3: It would seriously impinge freedom of movement. Riding a bicycle, like I said earlier, is a common-law right, just like walking. It is also the lowest common denominator of transportation for people who are unable to drive, either due to physical impairments, age, bad behavior (DUI) or immigration status. Making it possible to revoke this right would pose an unfair burden on marginal groups.

But that's OK. Everyone who wants to license bicyclists really just wants us off the street, no matter who gets hurt. I hope you enjoy getting to that red light 10 seconds faster!

 
At 12:39 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"Everyone who wants to license bicyclists really just wants us off the street, no matter who gets hurt."

I don't really think licensing cyclists is going to happen. But the fact that people are starting to think about it just shows how fed up people are with the way many of you assholes behave on the streets. Speaking of assholes, don't forget that Critical Mass is tomorrow night.

 
At 12:51 PM, Blogger Michael Baehr said...

"I don't really think licensing cyclists is going to happen."

I agree, and every time it comes up I can hear the tired sighs of a dead horse as it gets another thwack.

"But the fact that people are starting to think about it just shows how fed up people are with the way many of you assholes behave on the streets."

People have wanted bicycles off the roads ever since they were invented, and for some odd reason the bad behavior of one seems to always be an indictment of the entire group. If I took the behavior of individual motorists as representative of drivers as a whole, I'd be calling for their wholesale removal from the streets.

Keep in mind that the editorial in question was in response to an article about scofflaw cyclists on sidewalks near Aquatic Park, nearly all of whom are tourists (many of whom come from places where it would be suicidal to bicycle in the street). Those tourists sure are representative of your typical cyclist in SF...

"Speaking of assholes, don't forget that Critical Mass is tomorrow night."

Rob, thanks for the reminder; I'll skip it like I always do. Hope I don't get delayed by any art students on my way home from work!

 
At 1:18 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

"Speaking of assholes, don't forget that Critical Mass is tomorrow night."

Thanks for the reminder. I'll go to the front and run the route straight past your house so we can say Howdy Doo!

 
At 2:17 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

No one is talking about removing cyclists from the streets; people are just frustrated with how many of you behave. In fact, it's the SFBC that's talking about getting cars off our streets. A substantial percentage of you bike assholes behave like, well, assholes on our streets, and eventually it's going to present you with a political problem. If the Bicycle Plan was on the ballot, it would be rejected by city voters just because a lot of people are so sick of your shit, including Critical Mass. But of course the Bicycle Coalition and their many stooges at City Hall will make sure people don't ever get a chance to vote on it.

Your next PR problem will be when the city begins implementing the Bicycle Plan next year.

 
At 2:45 PM, Blogger Michael Baehr said...

"No one is talking about removing cyclists from the streets; people are just frustrated with how many of you behave."

People find cyclist misbehavior particularly bothersome primarily because they feel powerless over it and/or think it's unfair that they can't get away with it too; this is the cause of perennial calls for licensing and registration of bicyclists. It's definitely not because we're causing more than our share of injury, death, and property damage.

"In fact, it's the SFBC that's talking about getting cars off our streets."

The SFBC is actually talking about reducing the speed of some streets, and taking some space away from cars. This does not equate to getting cars off of our streets. You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone deluded enough to think we could do away with cars entirely, even in the smug ranks of the SFBC!

"A substantial percentage of you bike assholes behave like, well, assholes on our streets, and eventually it's going to present you with a political problem."

So far, it's presented us with a bunch of angry comments on any newspaper article where a cyclist is involved, and asinine letters to the editor like the one you quoted. I'm not losing any sleep over either. This idea that if only all cyclists behaved everyone would like us is grounded in Stockholm-syndrome-like thinking. There will always be people who see red at the sight of a bicyclist, no matter how well we're behaving. Experience especially outside of the progressive bubble of the Bay Area proves this.

"If the Bicycle Plan was on the ballot, it would be rejected by city voters just because a lot of people are so sick of your shit, including Critical Mass."

I believe that your opinion is solidly in the minority, and that the bike plan would do much better if it were put to a vote than you're willing to give credit. FYI, plenty of cyclists are sick of Critical Mass, too. You're painting with a pretty wide brush there...

"But of course the Bicycle Coalition and their many stooges at City Hall will make sure people don't ever get a chance to vote on it."

Given the bang-up job our self-appointed stooges have done complying with CEQA the first time around, followed by their stellar and speedy job completing the EIR (*cough*), I'm firmly convinced that they will not only snowball the city with the bicycle plan, but get full universal health care (with mandatory death panels), legalize marijuana, and end the war in Iraq within a week.

"Your next PR problem will be when the city begins implementing the Bicycle Plan next year."

Except for the kerfluffle over CEQA and grumbling from the Rob Andersons of the world, I'm confident the whole thing will blow over and most San Franciscans will neither notice, nor care, that a tiny fraction of street space has been allotted to bicycles. We could pass and implement a much more ambitious plan like they have in other cities (Chicago, Portland, and NYC come to mind), and it still wouldn't make waves. The supposed impact of the bicycle plan is wildly exaggerated by the standards (ALOS) that are required to measure it; I am convinced it will be minimal when actually implemented.

 
At 2:35 PM, Blogger murphstahoe said...

http://www.detnews.com/article/20090826/METRO/908260430/1409/METRO/Detroit-woman-with-no-license-driving-with-45-suspensions

 
At 6:46 PM, Blogger bikefridaywalter said...

We all seem to have lost sight of the impetus: riding on the sidewalk is dumb. It is. It unnerves me to the nth degree to see cyclists riding the wrong way or on the sidewalk. No motorist is looking for them. It's dangerous and dumb. Licensing ain't going to fix that but I'm sure writing tickets would. From another law-abiding cyclist,

 
At 11:02 PM, Blogger Aaron said...

Rob you keep bleating about people being fed up with the scofflaw behavior of asshole bikers. I'm sure some people are and I've seen enough bikers breaking traffic rules to keep track of. But it doesn't nearly approach the dangerous behavior and law breaking I see from drivers, and the numbers of people who are outraged about it are high. At any moment, at any intersection or street, you can watch the traffic and see drivers not obeying the traffic laws and endangering pedestrians, bikers and other drivers. The scale of auto lawlessness is massive.

 
At 8:42 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Okay, but you're simply changing the subject. The problem the great, planet-saving bike movement has is that it was born out of the rebel ethos of bike messengers, who are still regarded as being pretty cool by many wannabe rebels. The way that ethos is expressed on city streets by, say, a recently arrived punk from downstate Illinois is by acting like a jerk. When you get a whole bunch of punks like that together, you have Critical Mass. When you have a bunch of punks like that operating in the political arena, you get the failed attempt by the city to rush the Bicycle Plan illegally through the process. Punk behavior on an individual level leads to punk behavior on the collective, political level.

 
At 9:02 AM, Blogger Michael Baehr said...

Damn it Rob, I'm from Chicago, not Carbondale!

 
At 1:07 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Some of us grew up near Carbondale... and dislike Critical Mass immensely. Like me!

 
At 10:19 PM, Blogger John G. Spragge said...

I love the way so many people will happily take a giant step toward a "papers please!" society just to express their displeasure with cyclists. Ben Franklin said that people who would give up freedom for safety didn't deserve either; I can imagine what he would say about people willing to give up freedom to gratify a trivial resentment.

 
At 11:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd like to see more bicycle education, personally.

Even though bicycle licenses have failed in most places they've been tried, SF could have a chance to do it right.

I also think that a Driver's License should cover bicycling and that we should teach safe bicycling and how to drive around cyclists in driver's education courses.

 
At 5:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suggest we also start licensing pedestrians and expand CEQA to include childbirth. Do we really want to allow people to have children without first understanding the full environmental impact?

 

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