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Opinion about

Should cyclists be licensed like motorists?

Opinion ...


Cycling vs. Driving

Bike Lanes

HOV Lanes


Motorist Liability

New Legislation

Registering Bicyclists

Running Red Lights


Kenneth Marsh, 12-99

I know this question will raise many a biker's hackles, but please answer it seriously: wouldn't training, testing, licensing, and registering road cyclists go a long way towards legitimizing us on the road in the eyes of the antagonistic auto drivers?

Mike Dahmus, 12-99

My opinion on this is that it's a diversionary tactic. The only necessary answer to those who think we're getting a free ride on the roadway is that we pay property taxes and sales taxes, and all City of Austin roadways are built using those funds. Most transportation cycling does not occur on facilities paid for out of gas taxes. The true freeloaders are drivers from Round Rock who use city streets ;+)

(Of course, a more astute carhead might eventually point out that the enhancement projects which pay for some of the bike _lanes_ are gas-tax-funded; but you can argue that bike lanes are there for the convenience of motorists, not cyclists, if you follow that view).

Essentially, the balance of payments is tilted so far in favor of automobile drivers that you'd have to spend tens of millions of dollars every year from gas taxes on bike/ped projects just to even the slate on construction, maintenance, and ROW. For instance, your COA property taxes are going to purchase the right-of-way for SH 130...

Stuart Werbner, 12-99

I think the problem bikers and auto drivers have with each other doesn't have a lick to do with bikers/bicycles not being licensed. It is quite simply an unequal power relationship, with bikers being on the short end of the stick. Auto drivers know that they are in a faster and much heavier road machine than the bicyclists. And, they know they have nothing to fear from bicycles, and also realize that the reverse is not true.

We can already demand our rights as honest tax paying citizens of this state -- we pay sales taxes, property taxes, and for those of us who also drive, gas taxes, auto registration fees, etc...We're not just a bunch of irreverent grade school kids slowing down traffic, anymore. A lot of us are now mature adults who pay taxes and vote. We can continue to demand that public money goes to bicycle projects (which is already the case, albeit not enough).

Perhaps as the area gets more crowded and polluted, more people will start to figure out that encouraging more transportation via bicycles and other alternate means may be a good thing. If people don't figure this out, then we have nothing to worry about except choking on our own pollution and stressing out in our own congestion. And, subjecting bicyclists to more taxes and regulations won't do anything except help further swell the size and power of governmentt. This in turn, will drive down the ranks of bicyclists.

Why should I have to register my bicycle? Am I a threat to mow people down if not properly trained? Am I a threat to cause major property destruction? As a bicyclist am I the driving force behind expensive and environmentally destructive road building projects? If I sneak up to Oklahoma to buy a bicycle am I depriving the state of a major revenue source? Is my bicycle a cause of major road wear? Is the operation of a bicycle a major cause of air or non-point-source water pollution? Are bicycles involved in lots of crimes? Why should I have to register my bicycle?

Making cyclists register would remove one (of many) motorists' complaints about us, but I'm not willing to give the gubmint more of my money and more power over my day to day existence.

Michael Bluejay, 12-99

Will forcing cyclists register make motorists respect us more? No. You have to understand that the lack of bike registration isn't an actual objection, it's just whining. Motorists, who already hate cyclists, are simply scanning their brains to find ANY complaint they can make against us. (This is also why they get upset when cyclists carefully cruise Stop signs when there's absolutely no cross traffic.) If cyclists had to be registered, then all we'd be doing is removing one of the things that motorists whine about, but we would NOT be removing their objection to us. The lack of registration is just a distraction; it's not a "REAL" concern of motorists.

Does this make sense? They're only complaining about the lack of registration because they CAN, not because it really matters to them.

Stuart Werbner, 12-99

[The point made on the email discussion list] that bikers who want bicycle projects should be willing to demonstrate a commitment is well taken. The point that bikers shouldn't always feel that they are doing the world a favor by riding a bike (even though in many respects they are) is also well taken.
However, forcing bikers to register and pay a registration fee will fail to raise a significant or even noticeable amount of money for bicycle projects.
If you take an honest look at the auto vehicle registration fee, you will realize that this money accounts for very little (if anything) of what is actually used for automobile infrastructure projects. The vast majority of the money used for automobile infrastructure projects in Texas is derived from sales taxes, property taxes, and federal income taxes. Likewise, this will continue to be the case for bicycle projects.
It is my understanding that most of the automobile registration fee goes to operating and maintaining the automobile registration system itself, and most of the remainder goes to paying for the enforcement of the mandatory registration system and driver/vehicle laws and regulations. If this is true, then if we institute a similar system for bicycles, we will succeed in driving up the cost of owning and using a bicycle without significantly improving the bicycle infrastructure. Driving up this cost without returning any tangible benefits would certainly drive down the number of bicyclists.
Quite simply, I fail to see the reason for registering bicycles. Paying a bribe to gov't to make bicycles/bicyclists "legitimate" seems itself to be an illegitimate reason. If the argument is to have statistics on bicycle ownership, this information is already available from bicycle shops and bicycle manufacturers. Neither of these reasons provides an analogy for why autos are registered. As I understand it, autos are registered for the following reasons (and perhaps others):
  • 1) State and local gov'ts don't want to be deprived of the sales tax revenues generated from car sales, since cars are the 2nd most expensive items purchased by most individuals.

  • 2) Drivers are required by law to carry insurance or "financial responsibility" (could be considered part of item 3 below). Mandatory vehicle registration helps the adherence to and enforcement of this law.

  • 3) Registering autos is essential in law enforcement efforts since many crimes and infractions are committed by drivers. In addition, automobile theft is widely considered a major segment of crime.
So, one may conclude that cars are registered because they need to be. When the time comes that bicycles NEED to be registered, then I will support this effort as well.
If it is true, as I believe it to be, that most funding for bicycle projects will have to come from sales, property, and federal income taxes, then the adult bicyclers among us simply need to become more politically active -- as others including Ken Marsh have stated. We already are "legitimate" -- we pay taxes and vote -- what else do we need to be "legitimate"?
We, as bicyclers, need to become more active and vocal and work more closely with enlightened non-bikers who realize the necessity of increasing our reliance on alternate means of transportation, including bicycles, in order to maintain or improve our quality of life. Since it can be argued that these aims are in the collective best interest, registering bicylers/bicyles in particular would be ineffective. Consider the very important issue of improved pedestrian access (again, something that is rightly argued to be in the collective best interest) -- does that imply that we should also have mandatory pedestrian registration?!?! No, what we really need to do is work to further redirect current transportation spending away from autocentric solutions.
Patrick Goetz, 12-99
Let me state that I am unequivocally opposed to bicyclists being required to register with the government in order to ride on the road legally; basically, for all the reasons already mentioned.
However, I can think of one REALLY good reason for requiring that all bicycles be registered: helping to prevent bicycle theft. According the recent Chronicle article cited by Bluejay in his newsletter, Austin is now in the top ten nationwide for bicycle theft. I personally know several low income students who are now devoid of transportation because someone stole their bicycle and they can't afford to buy another one (yes, the bicycles were locked up, but not with U-locks).
If all bicycles were registered, it would be a lot harder for thieves to sell them to pawn shops and the like. Of course they could always send them to Mexico, or whatever, but every time you raise the bar, you make the act of stealing a bike a little less desirable and hence help to deter further thefts.

Michael Bluejay, 12-99
I agree with what Patrick said about bike theft, but in case this wasn't clear, let's make the distinction between LICENSING BICYCLISTS and REGISTERING BICYCLES. It's certainly possible, and easy, to register bikes without requiring cyclists to be licensed (and pay fees).
But for that matter, when the UT police "register" a bike, all they do is stamp the owner's driver's license number under the bottom bracket, and put a sticker on the down tube (so that thieves will know the license number has been stamped onto the bottom bracket). With a $10 engraver from the hardware store, you can engrave your ID # number onto your bike yourself.
I think the UT police will register your bike even if you're not a student. They register bikes for free at Gregory Gym (NE corner of Speedway & 21st) every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Note though, as I mentioned in the Chronicle article, having your bike registered gives the police a positive way to identify you if you're not carrying ID.