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A license to ride?

Posted by on October 3rd, 2007 at 9:19 am

Skanner publisher
Bernie Foster
thinks bikes should
be more highly
regulated.
(Photo: Skanner)

As bicycling continues to push its way into the mainstream here in Portland, the refrain over increased regulation — usually in the form of licensing — grows.

A few weeks back, Bernie Foster, the publisher of The Skanner, (a small weekly newspaper that “advanced the cause of the Black Press in the North Western United States”) wrote an editorial calling for cyclists to be regulated more like motor vehicle drivers.

On his long list of ideas — which included “bikeway tolls” and more separation between cars and bikes — was the always popular idea of licensing bicyclists.

Up in Seattle, one activist organization has started issuing “undrivers” licenses. Bicycle Alliance of Washington staffer (and long-distance riding legend) Kent Peterson showed his off on his blog

Given the number of daily cyclists we have here in Portland, I wonder if something like this would take off here.

As for some sort of official, city-run licensing program, what I’ve heard from bike insiders is that regardless of whether or not licensing bicyclists is a good move, the idea just doesn’t “pencil out”. They say the administrative costs and logistics are a much larger headache than any “problem” the licensing would solve.

What do you think?

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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bikieboy
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bikieboy

i love the Undriver License! Great fundraising idea for any of the various & sundry bikey orgs. in PDX.

As for the editorial, some of the ideas make a certain amount of sense. Others are plain baffling, and clearly spawned by a non-cycling mind. Liability insurance to ride a bike? Registering cyclists? Let\’s just ban bicycling altogether and be done with it…

tonyt
Guest
tonyt

I think that this is ridiculous. That\’s what I think.

Cycling is the last fast, efficient, free, unregulated form of transportation. It\’s been that way for over a hundred years and I\’m not sure why all of the sudden we need the license now.

Once drivers AND cyclists have licenses, how much harder will it be for some War on Terror™ zealot to advocate that we all have to carry IDs around all the time. The proverbial foot in the door.

Here\’s my question. Is this really a problem?? What will it solve? How?

Funding bike infrastructure? Not a chance. They\’d have to be prohibitively expensive to do that.

It seems to me that it\’s a way for people to channel their anti-bike feelings, giving them some particular thing to aim for. And at the end of the day there won\’t be any additional police on the street to enforce it, and like oh-so-successful war on drugs, we\’ll only be packing the courts and jails with people who are disproportionally poor and disadvantaged.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

One odd thing about his article is that it appears one of his biggest issues with bicycles is that cyclists follow too closely behind him? Is tailgating by cyclists really a problem? I\’ve never heard that complaint before…

As far as toll bikeways go, we don\’t have a single toll road in this whole state for automobiles so it seems illogical that he wants to create a separate road system for bikes and finance it with tolls rather than road money.

I think he may be from washington because he also talks about bikes not being allowed on freeways. Other than a few stretches in the portland area bikes are allowed on oregon freeways. I\’ve ridden the 5 from eugene to Ashland, not the nicest route but the wide shoulders make it pretty safe and effective really.

Bjorn

Spanky
Guest
Spanky

I agree it would be a headache. I\’ve always had a concern about the anonymity that goes along with riding a bike. One of my kids was very, very nearly run down by a bicyclist at an intersection, while crossing the street with me. The rider went buzzing by, at high speed within inches of a five year old. I saw it happen as he crossed the street, following my wife, as I brought up the rear., I yelled at the bicyclist \”nice stop\” (there was a stop sign) and got the finger in return, as he/she carried on. Had my kid been hurt, the bicyclist could just as easily have run off. Had the bike been a car, I would have had make model and plate number. Make and model are very difficult to get with a bike leaving a scene, and plate number is impossible.

But affixing a plate and number to a bike, in a way that would do any good at all, is impossible to imagine.

It is an interesting issue.

\”Undrivers Licenses\” might be a start. But the whole thing seems way too cumbersom to ever work, to me.

I think we may just have to continue to hope folks will be kind and courteous to one another, and stop if the worst does happen.

Jason
Guest
Jason

Oneof the proposals in the Skanner editorial aren\’t so extreme. In particular, I would really welcome law enforcement paying more attention to bicycles, as long as it included car-bicycle interactions as well. It seems like bikes just aren\’t a priority for traffic enforcement, regardless of whether it\’s the motorist or cyclist that acts dangerously.

Many of the Skanner\’s proposals IMHO go against the fundamental common-law right for people to have access to the roads. And the user-fee approach just doesn\’t wash; it\’s bad for business as well as public interest.

toddistic
Guest
toddistic

I will never carry a license to ride a bike. It\’s a moronic idea.

Christopher Cotrell
Guest
Christopher Cotrell

I\’d imagine bicycle liability insurance would cost about somewhere $10 a year—about $9.75 for administrative costs and about $0.25 to fund payouts from the system.

Mmann
Guest
Mmann

I agree – bad idea. Where this type of thinking frequently originates ( I have not read the article) is with drivers resenting cyclist using the roads \”for free\” – after all, drivers have to pay motor vehicle registration fees plus individual drivers license fees. It\’s always about the money. Be prepared for the battle to come – the more cyclist there are, the more likely someone is going to see them as a source of taxable revenue.

SKiDmark
Guest
SKiDmark

The best as aspect of cycling is that once you have a bike it is FREE, and therefore available to every person no matter what level of income they have. Licensing and insuring bikes will take bikes out of the hands of the people who need free transportation the most.

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

from the editorial:
Last year saw the suggestion that bicyclists ought to be able to use freeways. Surely that was about the dumbest idea to date.

\”Dumbest idea to date\”? Message to Bernie Foster: ***deleted by moderator*** 😛 Really, what a load of codswollop. Everybody stand back, I\’m about to prepare my six-paragraph \”editorial\” on why children must be kept on leashes in public at all times, and why users of public libraries must start paying for special page-turning mits lest a papercut leads to the untimely death of an as-yet-unknown hemophiliac…

Evan
Guest
Evan

It could be worse. Here in Baker City I was disciplined for locking my bike to a pole in front of City Hall. When they found out they could not cite me for doing so, they removed the pole! Then they fired me, citing bike parking as a \”performance problem.\” They also threatened to cite a City Councilor for parking her bike in front of City Hall (not even locked!) in support.

Kristen
Guest
Kristen

I would rather that everyone have to re-take the written test when they renew their driver\’s license or Oregon ID card.

This isn\’t just a problem with bikes. Everyone seems to have forgotten that driving isn\’t a right, it\’s a privilege. Same thing applies to riding a bike. If you use the roads, you\’ve got a responsibility to ride or drive in a safe manner. It doesn\’t happen.

Peds and skateboarders and (and, and, and…) all the other road users also seem to have forgotten that they are sharing the road with others.

We get on here and complain about how the other road users are oblivious to anything outside their little box (or head, or i-pod), but we\’re just as guilty of it. No amount of licensing is going to fix that, folks.

Andy
Guest
Andy

He wants cyclists to ride on the left?

Here\’s my counter-proposal. All would-be motorists must put in 100 miles cycling on the roads before receiving a driver\’s licenses.

Mike Perrault
Guest
Mike Perrault

I agree with Kristen. I see so many fellow cyclists who ride the wrong way down the street(often on a street with no bike lane) or who try and pummel through ped traffic on a sidewalk that I think if people knew what was expected of them, maybe they would behave differently.

Also, if bicyclists need licences then lets take the time to fix the current licensing program. There are so many drivers who have no clue what is expected/required of them, if they had to retake their test every 5 years that would thin some out as well as educating the rest. Also, it could serve as a huge financial addition to actually pay for roads and all the other services motorists use but don\’t pay for.

Also, if cyclists were licensed users of the road, it seems to me that we would have a more legitimate claim to it in the eyes of motorists. We could use this as a means to increase bicycle infrastructure, instead of viewing it as way to limit cyclists.

Dave
Guest

Idiocy.

There are much better transportation issues to focus energy on than this.

License to Bike? Asinine.

janis
Guest
janis

Kristen makes some good points. What I hear from drivers is that they are more upset that cyclists don\’t follow the laws – going through red lights, weaving in between cars, blowing through stop signs. I have been told by some drivers that their frustration comes from fear of hitting us. Some cyclists can be very unpredictable which can cause frustration not just with drivers but other cyclists.

And then let\’s not forget the lovely one finger salute that some cyclists tend to give to drivers – makes we want to scream – it is so unnecessary and only hurts the cycling community.

Enough of my rant. Janis

Mmann
Guest
Mmann

# 12, 14, 16 above.

Yea, some cyclist act like numbskulls – that bugs me too. But do they need a license to show they can ride a bike? c\’mon. There\’s plenty of (auto) evidence on the road everyday to prove that idea doesn\’t work. Cyclist, like drivers, are free to do what they know is wrong because people make bad choices. The solution – already in place, is ticket bad cyclist who break the law just like motorist. We do not need a new beauracracy to regulate bike jerks.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

Licensing bicycles provides some benefits to cyclists in enhanced protection from theft. Bicycles are licensed in China, so it can be done. It would also obviously eliminate the anonymity that asshole cyclists thrive on when they violate the rights of their fellow citizens. I don\’t think there\’s any violation of the cyclist\’s rights in requiring bicycles to be licensed.

Licensing cyclists is a different matter. It creates all sorts of problems that proponents of licensing haven\’t thought out. For example, are all cyclists required to carry a license? Even 5 year olds? Or is there some age at which a cyclist must become licensed? Any such age demarcation would of course be entirely arbitrary. Suppose, for example, that all cyclists over the age of 10 must be licensed. Why would a 9 year old not require a license, but a 10 year old would? Of even greater concern is the transformation of cycling from a constitutionally protected form of transportation to a permissive form of transportation that can be revoked by the state. The right to travel is a fundamental liberty that will be truncated to the right to walk if the states decide to require cyclists to be licensed.

Of course, we wouldn\’t even be talking about these issues if there weren\’t so many self-righteous assholes on bikes to begin with (see Post 4).

JT
Guest
JT

Janis-
I got the finger yesterday from some two wheeled genious who decided to blow through a loaded four way stop without a hint of brake…no helmet…HANDS IN POCKETS (yes, he was riding no handed through the intersection)…when I almost hit him and honked, he pulled out his middle finger…
my passenger had to show IMMENSE restraint from confronting him and his blatant idiocy..

naess
Guest
naess

even though many of his ideas seem silly, i do like this one:

\”• Close some streets to cars.\”

of course he follows that with: \”• Close some heavily used car routes to bikes.\”

G-reg
Guest
G-reg

\”They say the administrative costs and logistics are a much larger headache than any “problem” the licensing would solve.\”

Yippee for bureaucracy !!!!!

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

Andy, Post 13 wrote:
Here\’s my counter-proposal. All would-be motorists must put in 100 miles cycling on the roads before receiving a driver\’s licenses.

Requiring bicycling as a means of learning the rules of the road, prior to being granted a license to operate a motor vehicle, would be a very safe way to transition young people into the responsibility of driving. It would also create greater awareness of cyclists, and our needs on the road.

Of course, I\’d require far more than 100 miles. More like one year of cycling (probably measured in hours, as they do with pilots) before being eligible for a driver\’s license.

Brian E
Guest
Brian E

I agree with some of Bernie Foster\’s ideas and the spirit of his editorial. Overall, I don\’t think his suggested changes are very practical. If he adjusted some of his ideas he could be a little closer to a real solution.

I\’d ask him to consider that \”a high percentage\” of all cyclist over the age of 18 have a drivers license, liability insurance, follow the rules of the road, and pay road taxes.

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

I don\’t think there\’s any violation of the cyclist\’s rights in requiring bicycles to be licensed.

But there is plenty of room to do such licensing the wrong way. Plates, for instance, which would be required if we\’re talking about removing anonymity: How do I mount the thing and make sure it doesn\’t get ripped off when I park my bike outside somewhere for use by someone who doesn\’t have a license for a particular bike of theirs? Or do I take it with me? But wait, it\’s a license for the *bike*, so how are they sure I\’m not swapping it between my bikes, or sharing it with my friends – random stop-and-check scenarios with cops?

Here\’s the thing: not a lot happens when some random citizen reports a particular car\’s plate number for a non-ticketed traffic violation; rather, the penalty-dealing is typically left to instances where an officer observes the violation. Which is exactly how it already works with bikes. Now I know that there are a couple of cranks in this town who might go as far as going around with a notepad and writing down the plate number of every bike blowing through a stop sign they can see, but otherwise…really, what\’s the real benefit of licensing the bike? It doesn\’t actually solve anything. It\’s a waste. You\’d likely see more progress if we\’d call the scofflaws names.

Brian E
Guest
Brian E

Rixter #18

Maybe we should change the name from Drivers License to Roadway Users License and be done with it.

Kids under the age of 16 would need to be under some type of restriction. I haven\’t thought this out to far…

Suburban
Guest
Suburban

In a diffrent context president G.W.Bush once said something like,\’They hate us for our fredoms\’

Surely this is an April Fools style joke. I almost believed it. Lars Larson, a local talk show host, believes a tax on bicycle tyres would help cyclists pay for the roads they use. This point of view betrays what mysery habitual car drivers must be in.

pushkin
Guest
pushkin

JT –

Your passenger had to show \”immense restraint\” because someone gave \’em a little bird? LOL. What kind of hair-trigger people do you hang out with?

More importantly, all this talk of licenses has overlooked the most important license of all: the license to ill. Will I need one to continue to rock the mic while I bike?

Weigh in on that one.

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

Hey Jonathan, what\’s the big deal? You allow JT to call somebody a name and you don\’t allow for send-up of Bernie Foster\’s unsubstantiated and unsupported claim of something to be a \”dumb idea\”? \”Dumb\” is a word people use when they\’re trying to be cruel and willfully disrespectful of an opposing point of view, often without reason.

My point was to stress the fact that the whole piece is precious little other than grabbing a recent headline and pushing generic, largely unreasoned rhetoric that vaguely ties back to it. Bernie Foster\’s editorial suggests little real understanding of cycling as a valid means of transportation, period, and yet pretends to speak authoritatively. It\’s ridiculous filler.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

N.I.K., a friend and I witnessed a drunk driver plow into a parked car, get out, and start running. We followed him home, called the cops, and the cops arrested him based on our I.D. of the guy. Sure, they\’re not going to do that for a minor traffic violation, but they will do it if the situation warrants it. A guy on a bike (I won\’t dignify him with the term \”cyclist\”) who runs somebody down, severely injures the person, and then proceeds to flee would be one of those instances where the cops would be interested in identifying the miscreant.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

Brian, post 25:

Licensing all users of the roadway means that the right to travel has been abolished.

Clutch Cable
Guest
Clutch Cable

This is an idea that has been brought up off and on for many, many years. It is impractical, implausible, and riles people up every time it is brought up again.

Have no fear. As has been pointed out, the logistics of it are nightmarish enough to keep it from ever happening.

Have a cup of tea and relax.

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

A guy on a bike (I won\’t dignify him with the term \”cyclist\”) who runs somebody down, severely injures the person, and then proceeds to flee would be one of those instances where the cops would be interested in identifying the miscreant.

Okay rixtir, I follow you. But that\’s *one* scenario, and in this case, applicable if and only if the guy (or gal -plenty of law-breakin\’ ladies out there, let\’s not forget \’em!) is in a condition to successfully flee after colliding with another human being. All else that comes to mind which would warrant follow-up action following positive ID would be if someone fled a robbery or physical attack on a bike, and while those are certainly possible, they just don\’t seem particularly likely.

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

Oops, submitted early. To conclude my previous post: Any ID that\’s going to happen in these latter two scenarios that might lead to apprehension is likely to be based on physical description because someone\’s actually paid witness to the suspect leaving the scene at a lower velocity than a speeding getaway car.

Clutch Cable
Guest
Clutch Cable

\”All else that comes to mind which would warrant follow-up action following positive ID would be if someone fled a robbery or physical attack on a bike, and while those are certainly possible, they just don\’t seem particularly likely.\”

Actually I hear a lot about how a bike was used as a get away vehicle in a robbery or such.

Happens more than you would imagine.

Shana
Guest
Shana

I think a better place to start would be to enforce existing laws and increase education to drivers and cyclists. I\’ve found that a number of drivers don\’t even know that cyclists can get ticketed. There are lots of drivers that don\’t ride and riders that don\’t drive. If we had a better understanding of each other, I think there would be a little more respect between us.

Brian E
Guest
Brian E

Rixtir #30,

A motor vehicle and a bike are the same thing, no? They both use the road. It seems the same rules could apply.

I\’m suggesting that if you want to operate a vehicle on a public roadway would need an operators license.

You would not loose your right to travel any differntly than you do now, in regards to operatinig motor vehicle.

Geoff
Guest
Geoff

It won\’t be long before they put RFID chips in our tires and associate them to our credit cards. Then with a reader at strategic intersections, they can track everywhere we go anyway…

JT
Guest
JT

pushkin-
no hair trigger…my friend was having a bad day and the response from an overtly rude and idiotic rider was a bit more than he could handle at the time…he races too and just couldn\’t believe the stupidity.
I talked him off the ledge (drove the other way).
I agree with him though, the guy on the bike could use a good quarter panel to the face to smarten him up…

sorry, I\’ve got no response to your Beastie Boy..

as for licensing…drivers licenses don\’t remove careless drivers from the road, bike licensing would have the same lack of effect unfortunately.

N.I.K.
Guest
N.I.K.

as for licensing…drivers licenses don\’t remove careless drivers from the road, bike licensing would have the same lack of effect unfortunately.

Well-said. Everybody, remember this line. 🙂

BURR
Guest
BURR

link to Skanner editorial not currently working

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

Brian E, Post 36:

Actually, there is no right to drive. It\’s a privilege, and can be revoked. There is a right to travel, but what happens to that right if it becomes a licensed activity, subject to revocation? I would argue that the right is lost.

Geoff, Post 37:

They\’re already putting chips in passports, I think driver\’s licenses will be next with the REAL ID Act. Scans of everybody will be in place within your lifetime, my friend. They\’re already recording everybody in Manhattan, RFID chips will just be the next level.

JT, Post 38:

The last time somebody flipped me off, I issued an invitation to repeat it to my face. If they can\’t back it up– and most can\’t– they should keep their fingers in their pockets, where they can\’t get broken. So I sympathize with your friend\’s desire to \”discuss\” it with the lad. I also agree, that sadly, it\’s going to take a few fatal collisions before everybody else wakes up.

Donna
Guest
Donna

A dollar a pound. I would be more than happy to support a \”road user fee\” if everyone were charged a dollar a pound per year for their vehicles. Even then, I believe bicycles would be overcharged based on their impact to the roadways, but I\’d be willing to make that hard compromise for the greater good.

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

Donna, shouldn\’t a road user fee also include a carbon tax? Maybe the base fee is a dollar a pound, with additional fees based on carbon emissions?

Caroline
Guest
Caroline

Oh, yeah, and driver licensing has definitely made drivers and driving more safe in Oregon, and we all know that ALL vehicle operators carry valid licenses and insurance at all times…

Bernie, give me a brake.

geezer
Guest
geezer

One problem with bikes is most people learn to ride them when they\’re about 6, and no one ever teaches them anything more. If there were a safety class like the one you take when you learn to ride a motorcycle, with some publicly displayed notice of completion, then other users of the road could distinguish riders who are trying to ride responsibly from the bozos. Hopefully, negative attention would be focused on the bozos instead of on all bikers, and social pressure would persuade most people to particpate, whereas the threat of legal coercion makes us want to resist.

Brian E
Guest
Brian E

Rixtir,

Sorry friend, I should leave this alone but…

I believe that bicycles and motor vehicles should be considered the same on our roadways. So this is how I would like to paraphrase your reply.

\”Actually, there is no right to drive (or operate a bicycle). It\’s a privilege, and can be revoked.\”

rixtir
Guest
rixtir

I agree that they should be considered the same, and I agree that they should be subject to (more or less) the same rules. And I think that dangerous drivers should be removed from the roads.

Should dangerous cyclists also be removed from the roads? That\’s where this is going. Maybe it\’s not a bad thing– maybe some people just shouldn\’t be operating vehicles, period, regardless of their vehicle of choice.

But we\’re still talking about truncating, if not losing altogether, a fundamental liberty. And \”all users of the roadway\” includes pedestrians, so if we license them as well (and I can\’t imagine why we would, except to further grease the skids as we slide down that slippery slope towards a police state), then there is no longer a right to travel.

steph . routh
Guest

i would consider thinking about registering bicyclists when the state and federal government starts reimbursing me for oil subsidies based on percentage of petrol used by passenger vehicles. i would HAPPILY register as a dedicated bike commuter then.

ujelang
Guest
ujelang

I went to school at UC Davis, CA. All student\’s bikes are required to be licensed. Davis is ahead of Portland as far as being a bike friendly city. Is there a correlation there?! Take a look at the information on the city\’s bike map.
http://www.taps.ucdavis.edu/bicycle/general/bikemap.pdf

pushkin
Guest
pushkin

JT –
Got it. No hair trigger, but maybe he has SRAM leap frog?

For the rest of the bikeportland readers –

I have ruminated further on this complicated matter and now have some questions that need to be answered by the licensing cognoscenti:

Will cargo bikes need to be licensed with the equivelant of a CDL?

Will a trailer need a separate plate like a U-Haul trailer?

Will hipsters need learner\’s permits for their new fixed-gears?

If I\’m carrying bacardi 151 in my bag, will I need a flammable materials on board sign like trucks have?

And the most burning question of all: Will tarted up fixed-gears with [insert your color here] Velocity deep-Vs need a parade float license and permit?