Esplanade closure begins February 1st

Gandhi, bike licensing, and a 100 year-old debate

Posted by on December 10th, 2008 at 3:07 pm

Gandhi protested against bike
licenses 100 years ago.
(Photo: Wikidpedia)

The topic of bicycle licensing has been growing into more than a buzz lately. It’s often brought up around watercoolers and on web forums, and at this year’s Oregon Bike Summit, one of the keynote speakers (Oregon Transportation Commission Chair Gail Achterman) suggested that licensing bicycles is a “conversation” we need to have, and soon.

If she’s right, we’ll be right there in the thick of it. In the meantime, I’ve come across two interesting articles in the past few days that offer a chance to start that conversation a bit early.

The first is a story in the Times of India about legendary historical figure Mahatma Gandhi, who in his younger days as a lawyer in South Africa (from 1903 to 1905) wrote and protested against a bike licensing law aimed at African natives in Johannesburg. The law required one sector of the population to acquire a bicycle license and to display a numbered badge on the left arm when riding in the city.

“Bicyclers across the region are known as accommodating and uncomplaining — as long as they get their way. Now is the time for them to show it by contributing to the public trough.”
— Seattle Times’ editorial page editor James Vesely

According to the article, Gandhi — who was a bicycle commuter during his time in South Africa (6 miles a day), and used bicycles frequently in subsequent years in India — thought this was “an obnoxious idea and fought it hard.”

The second piece is an editorial published on Sunday by Seattle Times columnist (and editorial page editor) James Vesely that’s bluntly titled Impose License Fee on King County Cyclists.

Vesely, who frequently writes editorials opposing new taxes, says he is looking for a solution to the current economic crisis, and hits upon bicyclists, “known for their community spirit and exalted senses of self.” He goes on to refer to bicyclists as “the most green of our population,” and to detail several multi-use trails and bike lane projects in the works in the Seattle area.

Vesely suggests charging a $25 bicycle license fee, which he calls a “bargain” for all the civic good it could do (he doesn’t go into detail about how much it would cost to initiate and administer such a fee), adding that.

“Bicyclers across the region are known as accommodating and uncomplaining — as long as they get their way. Now is the time for them to show it by contributing to the public trough.”

Story continues below

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And here’s Vesely’s idea about how to enforce the bike license fee (emphasis mine):

“In the same sense, Critical Mass, the earnest congregation of cyclists who sometimes take over our streets, would be beneficial to law and order. A Critical Mass accumulation of cyclists would allow Seattle police to quickly spot those who have a bike license and those who do not, with appropriate fees and penalties.”

The idea that people who ride bicycles don’t pay their own way on the roads has been shown again and again to have no merit (this paper (PDF) by Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute sums up the case).

Vesely’s editorial purportedly makes a reasonable economic proposal, but clearly it’s not about the economy — the man holds a grudge, whether against a mythical separate class of “bicyclists” who enjoy special rights that aren’t paid for or deserved, or against Critical Mass, or against the young and liberal — it’s hard to say.

Gandhi’s South African example shows that bicycle licensing has been used punitively against certain segments of the population. There’s no reason that couldn’t happen again. When the discussion on bicycle licensing happens, I hope we are able to separate out the prejudices from the economic realities better than Mr. Vesely and the Johannesburg Town Council of 100 years ago.

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  • m8adam December 10, 2008 at 3:36 pm

    Wow. That’s a really amazing piece of journalism.

    I know that you guys aren’t into being antagonistic or particularly partisan, but I’d love to see a counter-article written to explain just HOW cyclists pay for the facilities they use and why there are so many better ideas for funding infrastructure than cycling-licenses. (and maybe some numbers supporting the assumption that licensing would be a logistical nightmare).

    It just seems that this issue has been getting trotted out for a while now, with anti-bike sentiments being tossed around without opposition.

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  • m8adam December 10, 2008 at 3:38 pm

    And I do realize the paper you reference addresses the points I was talking about, but people read bikeportland; not so much lengthy research papers.

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  • Dennis December 10, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    Absolutely, not a chance.

    You know, this week, there is an event called “Day without a gay”. It’s a formal protest regarding discrimination.

    I think there needs to be a “Day without a bike”, where all of us drive to work, shopping, and such. Once the streets are clogged with cars, parking spaces are unavailable, and traffic is at a standstill, perhaps drivers will realize, we are already paying our fair share.

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  • Austin Ramsland December 10, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    Fantastic article Elly.

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  • peejay December 10, 2008 at 3:55 pm

    I make a point to challenge everybody who brings up the bike license argument every time I hear it at work, and most of the time, the person who suggested it had never thought about the other side at all. I’ve convinced about 75% of the people to change their minds about licensing, once they heard the opposing arguments. So, this is a winnable debate. It’s just that a lot of these people never encounter an informed cyclist face-to-face in their daily lives.

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  • Cruizer December 10, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    I’m concerned that, since car licenses need to be renewed every two years, bike licenses might end up being renewable also. Something to advocate for if a renewable bike license looks like it’s becoming inevitable: Since most avid cyclists own multiple bikes, any renewable license should be for the cyclist, not the bike, as an individual can only ride one bike at a time, regardless of how many bikes he or she owns.

    If it’s going to be a one-time fee, then it makes sense to license each bike IF the license involves some type of registry to help identify and retrieve stolen bikes.

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  • Duncan Watson December 10, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    Roads are paid for mostly out of property tax and sales tax in King County. It would be somewhat difficult to avoid those two taxes by a cyclist.

    Every bicycle on the street is one less car. The wear and tear a bike has is nearly inconsequential compared to that of a car or SUV. Additionally cyclists notice wear on roads earlier than cars and report it. This has a side effect of making road maintenance CHEAPER since by the time auto users report issues the road has to be rebuilt (removed and repaved) vs the much cheaper maintenance that can be performed at the cyclist threshold for reporting issues.

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  • Dave December 10, 2008 at 4:02 pm

    There’s a really good article regarding bicycle licenses here on

    There are a million reasons why cyclists already “pay their way” (including the fact that most of them are also motorists), but probably the biggest argument against a bicycle license from an administrative point of view, is just that it has been shown to almost certainly cost more to administer than the revenue it generates.

    Let’s hope we can avoid this particular type of legislation in Oregon.

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  • velo December 10, 2008 at 4:05 pm

    Bitter, crazy old man. His snide tone and flippant disregard for equal access is offensive. The fact that he is the editor of an editorial page is absurd.

    As cyclists we are providing a public good rather then taking from it, we must demand that we are treated as positive influences on society.

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  • glenzedrine December 10, 2008 at 4:09 pm

    I don’t agree with a bike tax by any means, but feel it necessary to point out that using Gandhi’s position is an argument from authority. A logical fallacy. Although he was a very inspirational person, the argument just doesn’t hold up.

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  • anna December 10, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    Gandhi’s objection seemed to be to the continued singling out of “natives”, who were brutalized in many ways the colonial system which was in place in SA. This is just my initial reaction to that comparison, but I admit that I am having a little bit of trouble making parallels between a tax which was imposed upon a specific demographic which was defined by their ethnic origins, not their practice of bicycling.

    Having said that, I am not sure how to prove that I pay for the utilities which I use. These are community investments, just like schools are a community investment but I do not have children but wholly accept that funds from my paycheck go to administer schools I never use.

    I also know that I do not tear up roads with my tires, I do not speed so much that I need a camera to gauge my speed on the road and snap a picture if I’m going to fast, but I pay for those utilities as well with tax funds. I contribute to the jails and “drunk tanks” which we use to address the issue of people who are in no shape to drive until the morning.

    no easy answer here. so the “solutions” posed will not be easy, either.

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  • Jonathan Maus (Editor) December 10, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    “but people read bikeportland; not so much lengthy research papers.


    i completely agree with you and I’ve been cobbling together sources for a story like that on BikePortland for years now! I will add it to the list and hopefully publish it soon.


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  • Dave December 10, 2008 at 4:18 pm

    Scotland just did a study on the economic effects of raising the level of cyclists to that found in the Netherlands and Denmark, and determined the Scottish economy could benefit on the order of 4 billion pounds per year by increasing the percentage of people cycling by that much. That seems to make the upfront investment in infrastructure pretty well worth it to me.

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  • Dave December 10, 2008 at 4:21 pm

    Not to mention adding some good numbers to the argument that cyclists pay their way in society…

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  • Icarus Falling December 10, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    Absolutely no way!

    I must admit Jonathan, that I have wondered and worried about which side of this fence you are on.

    Many do not know, but licensing of cyclists has been tried and failed in Portland before. I believe more than once.

    Particularly the attempts directed towards bicycle messengers…………..

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  • anna December 10, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    p.s.: pls forgive this spam-post, but am I the only one trippin’ on his choice of words? I suppose the most diplomatic guess at his intent is the “low point in a business cycle”.

    \ˈtrȯf, ˈtrȯth, by bakers often ˈtrō\

    1 a: a long shallow often V-shaped receptacle for the drinking water or feed of domestic animals b: any of various domestic or industrial containers 2 a: a conduit, drain, or channel for water ; especially : a gutter along the eaves of a building b: a long and narrow or shallow channel or depression (as between waves or hills) ; especially : a long but shallow depression in the bed of the sea — compare trench 3: the minimum point of a complete cycle of a periodic function: as a: an elongated area of low barometric pressure b: the low point in a business cycle

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  • Ahron December 10, 2008 at 4:27 pm

    I’ll pay for a bike license when the infastructure has bicycles in mind. Paying a fee to “share the road,” get yelled at, and side swiped by two ton eco-destroying-vehicles? I don’t think so.

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  • PdxMark December 10, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    Alot of the comments on this topic have been directed to how cyclists already pay their way in other tax formats. It would be good to track down just where PDOT, for example, gets its funding. Maybe Roger Geller could get us that information pretty readily.

    It seems like a second part of the discussion would be the cost-benefit of a bike being on the road rather than a car. This seems to me to be the stronger argument against licensing fees for bikes. Everyone pays those other taxes & fees, but hard numbers on the transportation system savings from bicycling should put an end to the “free-ride” argument.

    It seems like there was a PDOT survey that determined that 80% of bike commuters would drive (versus take the bus) if they weren’t biking. With the Hawthorne Bridge as a simple example, that would mean an increase of 14% of cars crossing the bridge each day. (80% of 20%). At peak times that would add a minute or two (or more) to car commute times each way — increasing time and fuel costs of maybe 10-20 cents (?) for each car driver, each day. With 220 commute days a year, people biking save each current driver $22-$44 a year just to cross the Hawthorne Bridge…

    Bike are MORE than paying their way — we’re making transportation cheaper for everyone else too.

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  • wsbob December 10, 2008 at 4:39 pm

    Obviously not everyone will, but some of you may be interested in browsing through the comments in a thread I started in the forums some time back. The thread was started relative to a column that the Tribune’s cranky columnist Phil Stanford wrote in response to readers complaints to him, essentially to the effect that people using bikes for transportation get a free ride on the backs of motor vehicle owners.

    License Bikes? or Riders? a workable plan?

    I don’t think that’s true, and neither do a lot of other people. Despite certain practical and fairly obvious reasons why bike related licensing isn’t such a good idea, the call for such licensing continues to appeal to some people.

    Rather than having to do with establishing a more fair distribution of the burden of funding transportation infrastructure, I’d say the source of that appeal to these people is related to general dissatisfaction with poor design and function of road infrastructure. For these people, those that ride bikes for transportation provide a convenient place to lay blame for poor function of the road infrastructure.

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  • peejay December 10, 2008 at 5:12 pm


    Agreed. And of course the infrastructure is poor, even when it’s designed specifically for cars at the expense of every other transit mode or use of public space.

    My conclusion is that personal automobile use is incompatible with civilized society, and with itself.

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  • vincentpaul December 10, 2008 at 5:24 pm

    I’m in the minority, I know, but I continue to favor licensing of cyclists. There is merit to the idea that the licensure of users of a shared public resource can produce positive benefits to the community. So often members of the cycling community want to simply slur other road users as mere “cagers” who should shoulder all the burden of safe cyclist/motorist interaction. It’s particularly demeaning to simply state that “despite certain practical and fairly obvious reasons why bike related licensing isn’t such a good idea, the call for such licensing continues to appeal to some people.” Well, there are also some “fairly practical and obvious reasons” that cyclist licensure is a good idea as well. Society certainly has an interest in promoting the efficient and orderly use of the commons. It’s fairly obvious to anyone who has taken a driving test that licensure can impose a certain minimal level of awareness of the rules of the road before a license is granted. Its certainly obvious that Oregon law contains provisions related to the operation of bicycles that are inapplicable to motorists. Licensure can have many purposes. Whether licensure should be used as a scheme to recover the expense of maintaining the commons is a seperate argument. The problem I have with the gentleman from Washington’s argument is that he’s really just making a snide slur at a group of “others” that offend him. My offense at his motivation doesn’t detract from my belief that licensure would lead to a common good.

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  • SkidMark December 10, 2008 at 5:39 pm

    I’ll ask the same questions I always ask…
    At what age can you be licensed?
    Can you ride a bike if you are younger than the age at which you can get a license?
    If the age is close to the age at which you could get a car license, why would you bother getting a bike license?

    Nothing would discourage kids from riding bikes more than bike rider licensing.

    If you are indigent, how do you pay for a bike license? The best thing about cycling is that once you have a bike, cycling is free. This is especially beneficial to the working poor. Those who could afford a license would have yet another thing for the police to harass them about.

    As far as law enforcement goes, the Police can and do pull us over. And when we get ticketed, it costs the same as if we were driving a car. The Critical Mass arguement doesn’t work for me either, because if a motorcycle or car club used the same tactics (corking aka blocking intersections, and yes, some do) and the Police showed up they would scatter and not everyone would get caught.

    As far as paying your way goes, I thought the streets were PUBLIC. Should all pedestrians be licensed as well? I really can’t imagine that a bike causes any more wear and tear to the roads than a pair of shoes.

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  • Anonymous December 10, 2008 at 5:43 pm

    As a motorist but primarily a pedestrian I care less about Bike “Licenses” and more about Bike “License Plates”. I would read the close call section here to see where I need to look out for dangerous areas, and many times people would write in and put in the license place of the offending car. I have been told in the past that the BTA will often send letters to these people asking them to be more careful based from their license plate number. I don’t know if that is true or not.

    I don’t like the fact that I don’t have a similiar way to identify cyclists that are potentially dangerous to me. I have been hit by a cyclist before, who rode off, and as I was on foot and injured, I didn’t have any way to identify that person. I don’t have anyway to ask the BTA to send out a letter.

    This really is the bigger part of it for me – not cyclists not paying for roads or whatever – I understand that you already do.

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  • Coyote December 10, 2008 at 6:15 pm

    glenzedrine #10 wrote: “…Gandhi’s position is an argument from authority. A logical fallacy.”

    You are going to have to explain that one.

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  • Joe December 10, 2008 at 6:27 pm

    That guy is nuts!

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  • Eileen December 10, 2008 at 6:39 pm

    I’m not a fan of the bicycle licensing idea. Am I going to have to get one for my kids? What about people who occasionally ride? Will they forgo the license to save money and then decide not to ever bike because they don’t want to risk a ticket? Will people be denied bicycle licenses if they have unpaid child support?

    BUT, I don’t think the Ghandi example is a good one to use because he was talking about discrimination and racism. Of course that was LEGAL in South Africa in those days and is not legal in this country.

    I do think that licenses could make bicycling a classist thing which would be terribly and horribly ironic because it SHOULD be the transportation for the masses and something available to anyone with $50 bucks and a little bit of know-how.

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  • Matthew Denton December 10, 2008 at 6:48 pm

    PDOT budget (sorry, couple years old but it was the first hit on Google.)”

    Look at page 2: Gas taxes make up 25% of the budget. Another 10% is made up from parking revenue, which people might be tempted to say isn’t paid for by bicycles, but is: You can, (and many people do,) buy bicycle locker space in the smart park garages, but most of that is car related money…

    The rest of the budget is made up of non-vehicle use related revenue. For instance, 4% came from the general fund, (so property taxes&business tax revenue,) 2% came from fees on new construction, (cost of buying/renting a place to live,) 7% came from grants, (some of which are specifically bicycle related, but from general fund money at the state and federal level,) 3% came from sewage bills, (The average homeowners in this city pay more money in sewer bills for dealing with rainfall that falls on public streets, than they pay in state gas taxes to drive on those same streets, but you need to look at the BES budget to see the rest of that money.) 5% comes from drivers licenses and such, (and since almost all bicycle riders do have drivers licenses, that covers everyone.) Directly from property taxes directly: 5% and etc…

    The only people that don’t contribute to the cost of the streets are the poor: People that are homeless, for instance, don’t pay property taxes, (or rent to a landlord that pays property taxes,) and they don’t buy very much, so they don’t contribute to businesses that pay business taxes.

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  • jeff s December 10, 2008 at 7:50 pm

    well, since you mention the Mahatma, i think he said “first they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they attack you, then you win.”

    not sure exactly how this applies to the bike licensing question (a passive-aggressive attack, perhaps?) but i do know that we’re not too far from winning.

    Time, and peak oil, is on our side.

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  • jeff s December 10, 2008 at 8:01 pm

    more precisely, Wikipedia says the quote is: “First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you”

    does the Zoobomb pile qualify as a monument?

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  • Aaron December 10, 2008 at 8:07 pm

    Mat Denton;
    Very good argument. It’s been proven over and over that, like schools, community centers, and parks, everyone pays for roads .
    Here is the graphic from pdot

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  • paul December 10, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    Glenzedrine pointed out that the reference to the Gandhi article appeared, in context, to be a subtle citation to authority with which to prove the errency of the second article. I’m not sure that was the OP’s intent. I perceived the two article references as just two chance articles on licensing that the OP had come across.

    The article on Ghandi just points out that he found race-based licensing schemes obnoxious for their discriminatory intent. It wasn’t the licensing that Ghandi found abhorrent, it was the discrimination. The article doesn’t say anything about Ghandi’s view on bike licensing generally.

    I didn’t interpret the OP as saying, “Hey, a really great guy, Ghandi, thought this bike licensing scheme was obnoxious, therefore, a licensing scheme must be obnoxious). If that was the OP’s intent, it would indeed be a logical fallacy by appeal to authority.

    By the by, I posted a comment earlier that doesn’t seem to have passed moderation. I pointed out that there are a lot of perfectly sane people who support licensing for “practical and fairly obvious reasons” to use another posters turn of phrase.

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  • PdxMark December 10, 2008 at 8:15 pm

    Matthew: Thanks for that budget information. That’s great.

    As for the economic benefit of cyclists on the Hawthorne bridge, another way to think of it is the benefit of each cyclist, as opposed to the benefit for each motorist. With 4 times as many motor vehicles as bikes, the $22-$44 annual benefit to each driver corresponds to a benefit of $44-&176 being provided BY each cyclist.

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  • Zaphod December 10, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    I find this whole topic mildly disturbing. The idea of paying a bike tax is perennially being brought up by anti-bike groups and, on the whole, their arguments are weak at best, completely disingenuous misleading fiction at worst.

    Lets consider motorized traffic for a moment. The equipment is heavy, fast and dangerous. It requires vast amounts of infrastructure that costs large amounts of money to maintain. Stand where you can see the tangle of interstate structures near the Fremont bridge and consider the magnitude of it all. I’m not going to even begin on the larger societal impacts of motorized traffic.

    Now consider people…. people walking in the Pearl. Then consider the volume of pedestrians around the city blocks in downtown Manhattan in New York City, NY, walkers on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, then the Esplanade here in Portland.

    With cars on one end and pedestrians on the other, where do bikes fit in? Is the mobility of walking a right? Is driving a right? What about cycling? Is cycling a right?

    I submit that cycling should be as free of complexity as walking. Until we tax sidewalks and parks, libraries, public art, and the air we breath, we should not be taxing or otherwise impeding the cyclist.

    The rational motorist realizes that taking commuters out of cars and onto bikes speeds their commute. The rational motorist sees a bike corral with half a dozen bikes in it is grateful that he/she’s parking only a block away instead of two. I do not understand the mentality where the very best deal for the motorist (i.e. taking cars off the road) is fought as an “us vs. them” battle. It’s foolish and creating burden through tax or other legislation for cyclists only wrecks automotive traffic while removing choices for those willing/wanting to ride their bikes.

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  • Crom December 10, 2008 at 8:43 pm

    Im sure itd cost 10 times the amount of money brought in by licensing just to enforce the law. What a GREAT IDEA!

    James Vesely wrote “We license dogs, our cars, our boats, our motorcycles, our pleasures in hunting and fishing, as well as many other outdoor activities.” Does he really not realize everything he listed requires licensing because of the immense ecological impact they can do if un-monitored?

    Actually, after looking up other articles hes written, he really doesnt have a clue.

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  • Ethan December 10, 2008 at 8:44 pm

    I am not opposed to added costs that directly translate into infrastructure, education etc. HOWEVER, many many non-cyclists seem to think that the entire world of roads, highways, bridges, parking and all the rest are paid for with their gasoline taxes.

    I fear that a bike surcharge or registration fees would reinforce the false notion that bikes do not pay their own way, when in fact anyone who pays taxes and does not drive a car is basically subsidizing motorists, as things stand now.

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  • mike m December 10, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    I am of two minds on this one. On one side I think it is total BS and I just finished an email James about it. Like has been said bikes save wear and tear on the roads and most the roads/sidewalks I ride on suck. I can’t ride on the good ones because the people in cars.

    On the other side Jesus said something about giving to Ceasar what is Ceasar’s. So I’ll pay my taxes and hope they go to the common good. Because I do whatever Jesus said.

    On the third hand lets tax people who write articles just to get people mad at each other (and include talk show hosts).

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  • Beefa December 10, 2008 at 9:15 pm

    Its interesting that you posted this article. I had a guy scream @ me yesterday for.. well basically doing my job, so when i asked him if he would rather me be in my truck, he seemed to have thought about it for a second, rolled up his window, and drove away. Moral of the story: Be careful what you wish for drivers. 🙂

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  • jim December 10, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    Is the license for the bicycle or the rider?
    In the 60’s in Cottage Grove we bought an annual license for our bike, it was a little sticker with a number that went on the frame. It was mostly for the police so they could call you in to get your stolen bike back. (that same era they taught us to ride in the lane facing traffic)
    Personally I believe they are looking for revenue for pet projects and they may end up using it for things other than bikes (Portland is sneaky that way)
    I think they have enough money allready and nead to get their priorities straight on how to spend it, and be accountable for it when it is all gone.
    What’s next? a sidewalk toll? walkers need to pay their share? a nickle to cross the street?
    Govt. gone wild


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  • Rich Wilson December 10, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    This came up on my local bike coalition email list, and someone pointed out that LA has a bike license requirement (bike, not rider). The license is only a few dollars, but it’s hard to get one. You have to go during a few specific hours of the week, and they treat it like a big hassle. However, it does give the cops something extra to ticket you for if they feel like harassing you. The fine is $161.

    I don’t think I’d mind requiring anyone who is going to be on a public road be required to have a license. That applies to bikes, segways, electric scooters, golf carts, and anything else. And getting the “which side of the road to ride on” question wrong is an automatic fail.

    I know, that would reduce the number of people riding their bikes, and be a hardship to the poor. Not good. I just wish people would use a frickin’ light at night and ride on the right side of the road, fer cryin’ out loud.

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  • wsbob December 10, 2008 at 11:13 pm

    I recognize validity in the point Vincent raises (comment #21) about promoting efficient and orderly use of the commons as well as efforts to arrive at a fair means of building and sustaining the infrastructure that’s part of the commons.

    As a means of accomplishing this, it’s far easier to say, ‘license bikes/bike riders’, than it is to devise a realistic way in which to put such an idea that will actually do what people have in mind for it to do, in place.

    From bike/rider licensing, for which the expectations of people making that call cover the bases ranging from greater enforcement of traffic regulations in regards to riders, and making transport mode specific payments towards the roads they ride on, suggestions about how to put a workable licensing program together for that purpose do not seem to have appeared.

    In the area of bikes used for transportation, if the commons were designed and built to actually meet the needs of people that use bikes for transportation, the users would likely be glad to contribute funds in a transportation mode specific way, knowing that construction of this kind of infrastructure could be depended on.

    As it is, most bikes as transportation infrastructure in the Portland Metro area seems to be an enhancement of motor vehicle infrastructure. Bike lanes and bike paths don’t get built so much to allow the movement of great numbers of people commuting by bike as they do to relieve streets and roads they adjoin, of cars.

    This conveys the message to the public that current bike infrastructure is designed primarily to serve motor vehicle transport, rather than bike transport. What logic confronted by this message would reasonably persuade bike users to further subsidize this type of infrastructure through the licensing of their bikes or themselves to ride them on public roads?

    Maybe a sea change is at hand. The Big Three are, at least for now, effectively screwed, and the era of the big honkin urban assault vehicle may at last be going by the wayside. Hopefully, this might bring about a new era of smaller, shorter range vehicles, and with that, better land use planning: land use planning that would locate communities within a 15-20 minute, safe, bike ride from each other rather than a 15-20 minute car ride from each other.

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  • joe December 11, 2008 at 12:31 am

    I think that the inclusion of Mr. Vesely’s editorial in this article demonstrates how difficult it must be to find a coherent argument for this license/tax. Any proposed tax for riding a bike should have an analagous proposal for pedestrians(egads, most places I see a road, I also see a sidewalk)

    Government should be encouraging ideas that help our society(riding a bike) and discouraging ideas that cause harm.

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  • tom Miller (identity not verified) December 11, 2008 at 6:29 am

    Dave @13:

    Please post a link (or a source) for the Scotland analysis.

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  • Critter's Keeper December 11, 2008 at 6:52 am

    If there is a bike or cyclist permit/registration I will wear it with honor and pride. However it sure pisses me off to know that our Society Pisses away my tax dollars on Political / Economic stupidity and then says that I as a Cyclist does not pay my fair share.
    BS lets put those SO#@@/! on bikes full time (7) days a week and then taunt them with increasing their taxes

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  • Tony Fuentes December 11, 2008 at 6:59 am

    Let’s be clear about this, Mr. Vesely presumptions are off-base but he isn’t proposing to license only black riders or only brown riders and so on.

    And Gandhi’s struggle wasn’t against taxes.

    I don’t foresee people being lynched, denied employment or housing, or disenfranchised from the political process because they ride a bike.

    Equating the political and social standing of bicyclists with the struggle for basic human and civil rights is the flip side of calling bicyclists whiny and elitist. Both sides are specious.

    In other words, it is possible to address infrastructure financing and tax policy without having to claim entitlement or co-opting a movement to end government sanctioned violence and discrimination against non-whites; a struggle in which thousands of people lost their lives.

    So let’s do that. Please.


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  • TonyH December 11, 2008 at 7:39 am

    I say NO to licensing bicycles. Reason? It is thinking too small. Why stop there? Why not require a shoe license? Rollerblade license? Stroller license?

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  • bikieboy December 11, 2008 at 8:11 am

    and “…if you try to sit I’ll tax your seat”

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  • StevenJ December 11, 2008 at 8:17 am

    Cyclists own cars. It is not as if all, or even a majority, of riders ONLY ride bikes and in no way contribute to costs of road maintenance. Most riders own cars and pay for associated fees. I happen to commute every day by bike, but I continue to pay for my driver’s license, registration fees, DEQ checks, etc.

    James Vesely sounds like the (too) many people who for some reason despise riders.

    I, for one, plan to fight this tax. Bike riders contribute to the overall health of a city by eliminating bad air, noise, traffic, and increase riders’ health, which leads to lower healthcare costs.

    Someone needs to do a comprehensive economic study of the benefits of NOT taxing bikes.

    Taxing bike riders is regressive.

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  • Bent Bloke December 11, 2008 at 8:21 am

    I would be in favor of a registration system for bicycles, but not licensing.

    What is the purpose of a driver’s license? Revenue? No, it is meant to ensure that only people who have demonstrated they know the rules of the road are allowed to drive. I already have a driver’s license, a bicycle license seems unnecessary and redundant.

    Registering, however, makes sense. It would be a revenue stream (provided it doesn’t cost more to administer than it collects), and would also improve theft recovery. And maybe, just maybe, it would shut up those critics who claim bikes don’t pay their way.

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  • Vance December 11, 2008 at 9:04 am

    There is no state in the United states that requires motor-vehicles to have licenses. It’s not a meaningless distinction. Registration, and licensing are two very different things. Vehicle registration is just exactly that, and came about as a means of enforcing alcohol prohibition. A license is a means of proving the existence of the underlying credential which it represents. At issue is the process of registration.

    Registering bicycles is an intolerable intrusion upon personal freedom. When articles such as the one we’re discussing are written they uniformly smack of punitive, petty, class-based resentment. After all only the poor, and/or environmentally conscious troglodytes ride bikes, right? While I consider bicycle registration to be a significant encroachment upon personal freedom, I am of the opinion the time may be upon us that licensing cyclists should be considered.

    I agree with a few other comments that have been made. Cyclists should not be singled out. Anything, and anyone who are in traffic should be able to prove they are capable of reading, and understanding, traffic signals, road marking, and the, “Rules of the road.”, as it were.

    Bicycle registration has proved unfeasible time and again. That’s a dead horse. On the other hand it is just as unfeasible to load a Huffy down with a 250 lb. rider, a 100 lb. trailer and head off into rush-hour traffic. Some rules aren’t punitive. Some are there for the greater public safety.

    It’s simple. No one without a class-C Oregon Driver License on the road. Do away with the stupid, and punitive, motorcycle endorsement as well. One’s mode should never be an issue. “What about my kids on their bikes?” Well, it ain’t 1955 anymore and I, for one, question just how prudent letting children ride around in traffic really is. After-all, I got away with driving all over Oregon while heavily intoxicated, in my own youth. I got away with it primarily because it was over two decades ago and there was a fraction of the traffic there is now. Legally, ethically, even morally, it’s outrageous to consider engaging in such behavior these days.

    Lastly, registration rarely even recovers the cost of issuing it in the first place. This is not even a source of revenue from motorists who cause exponentially more wear and tear on the infrastructure. The source of funding is mostly the General Fund, which we all pay into, and the gasoline tax applied to the demographic doing the most damage.

    Registration=bad. Licensing=good.

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  • a.O December 11, 2008 at 9:18 am

    I think we should require pedestrian licenses. Have you seen the way they jaywalk?

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  • Steven J. December 11, 2008 at 9:19 am

    Just challenge the fool to show how many cents out of a dollar he wants to charge WILL go, towards the actual improvements….Vs. the administrative costs to implement and maintain the system.

    Should shut him up.

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  • PdxMark December 11, 2008 at 9:53 am

    In addition to the time/cost savings that cyclists impart to motorists by reducing car traffic, it also seems that there should be reduced road and bridge maintenance costs.

    It seems that maintenance costs would correspond to the amount of motor vehicle traffic. Big trucks probably do more than their share of wear and tear, but I’d think that car traffic also matters. If inner east Portland has 10% of vehicle trips by bike that would otherwise be by car, it seems that maintenance costs (in terms of frequency of road or bridge surfacing) would decrease by something up to 10%, but let’s just say 5% to be conservative.

    If gas taxes cover 25% of road maintenance, the motorist contribution of 100% of drivers covers just 25% of maintaining an inner east Portland street. If 10% of those folks become cyclists, 5% of maintaining that road is covered (saved) by that 10% of users. As a result, drivers cover 1/4 their share of the cost of using roads while in comparison cyclists cover (save) 1/2 their share of the cost.

    My math or logic here might be shakey, but it sure looks like the maintenance savings of biking saves about twice as much as drivers actually contribute to road maintenance.

    If I have this straight, licensing or registration for revenue generation make no sense at all when the cost benefits of cycling are actually considered.

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  • Elly Blue December 11, 2008 at 9:53 am

    Tony Fuentes (#44), I appreciate your feedback, however it seems like you’re responding to the story I could easily have written but didn’t.

    This is not a comparison between the racial oppression of colonialism in Africa and the plight of cyclists on Portland and Seattle streets.

    The point I tried hard to make is that in this historical instance bicycles were used as a touchpoint and excuse for an oppressive regime to crack down on a (large) part of the population, to fine them and set them apart based on their primary mode of transportation.

    We don’t have this system of discrimination against people who ride bikes, but there are plenty of folks out there who, like James Vesely, see themselves as culture warriors and who see bicycles as a tool and symbol of a dangerous young, liberal, “alternative,” class (and/or of homeless people, poor people, racial minorities, people who never grow up and don’t want to contribute to society, etc). Maybe you aren’t in the right demographic to have been on the receiving end of this prejudice, but trust me it ain’t pretty, especially when it comes from people in positions of power.

    That’s why I’m so concerned when I hear people talking about bicycle taxes and fees and licenses and registrations — it’s so clearly punitive, and so clearly not aimed at people riding bikes so much as at whatever broad group “bicyclists” represents in the mind of the speaker. In this case, it’s a code, not a way to get around.

    Another example I could point to is Portland’s own talk show host Victoria Taft, who often spouts homophobic vitriol in the same exact breath as ranting about those bicyclists. Do a search on her blog — I’m not exaggerating.

    The public discourse about bicycle infrastructure would be a lot different if the idea of “bicyclists” or a “bike community” wasn’t so culturally loaded.

    I do believe that bicycling is a civil rights issue, and as such does need to be compared with other civil rights issues even if they are not the same. So I really appreciate hearing the critique — and would like to hear more, either here or privately — I’ll be writing more on topics like this and want to be as lucid as possible in conveying complex (and loaded…) ideas and issues.

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  • resident December 11, 2008 at 10:02 am

    I seem to hear from a lot of motorists that “Cyclists do not obey the rules of the road”. I counter that arguement with a reminder that the auto collision repair business in this country collects over $30 billion in revenue annually. Seems they tend not to obey the rules of the road either…just sayin

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  • JP December 11, 2008 at 10:07 am

    This is an obnoxious idea, and I will fight it all the way.

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  • Dave December 11, 2008 at 10:08 am

    @tom miller: here is the link to the article I saw regarding the Scotland Analysis –

    On that note, wsbob’s comment (#40) got me thinking about how this whole issue of licensing would essentially be a moot point if we had infrastructure such that it sufficiently accommodated cars, bicycles and pedestrians. The Scotland study, not to mention loads of other such research, gives a lot of good reasons why it is beneficial and economically viable to invest in doing just that – making the roads sufficiently accommodating to cars and bicycles, and separating both from pedestrian sidewalks whenever possible. If that were the case, you wouldn’t have cars having to dodge cyclists on busy roads, hitting bikes on right hooks, you wouldn’t have cycle commuters feeling scared and doing dangerous things to (as they perceive) stay out of the way of cars, and you wouldn’t have pedestrians getting hit by cyclists riding on the sidewalks to stay out of traffic. It just makes so much sense to me to invest in infrastructure changes that would decrease the amount we currently pay for regular upkeep (thus saving money in the long run), and would relieve the vast majority of all this tension between different modes of transportation.

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  • IanO December 11, 2008 at 10:22 am

    I already have a bicycle license: my driver’s license. Anyone who bikes regularly in traffic *is* a driver and should get a driver’s license. Any additional license fee would be double taxation, in my opinion.

    Bicycle registration is already voluntarily available, right? You can register your bicycle’s serial number with the police department to aid in theft recovery.

    The real issue is that gas tax revenue is falling and governments are grasping at straws to come up with new revenue streams. One solution is to make like Europe and hike gas taxes up a few dollars a gallon. Another is to have an automobile tax/credit on purchase which scales based on carbon usage or emission (which in turn is proportional to weight which is proportional to road wear).

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  • Kt December 11, 2008 at 10:29 am

    Mr Vesely isn’t thinking very clearly.

    What is his thought on making sure cycling visitors to King County and Seattle are “properly licensed”?

    A $25 fee for owning a bike? Is this a one-time thing? How is it assessed, collected? Is per bike, or per rider– if it’s per bike, then he’s proposing penalizing people who own more than one bike. You only need one license to drive, no matter how many vehicles you own (unless a commercial license is required, then you get to have two licenses).

    Is it a “registration” fee or a “licensing” fee? His article conflates and confuses the two ideas, so it’s hard to tell what his proposed plan is supposed to be about.

    Since when are cyclist “free riders on the tax rolls”?

    Now, one idea of his that seems okay is to have cyclists pay tolls on bridges the same as motorized traffic does. That’s reasonable.

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  • Lenny Anderson December 11, 2008 at 10:39 am

    Motor vehicles are licensed because they are deadly; drivers of same are licensed because they are operating a deadly device in public. Last time I checked horses are not licensed, unless for public health reasons. Bikes and people riding bikes are essentially harmless; indeed are much more likely to be the victims than perps. Licensing bicyclists is about the most absurd idea to float around, so absurd that it is clear that those to keep the subject afloat have an axe to grind.
    Bicycists should be PAID to ride…indeed the new federal law provides a bike commute benefit.
    I love the idea of a NO BIKE DAY…we would bring this town to a halt.

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  • mabsf December 11, 2008 at 10:58 am

    Just to clarify: Is it license as in taking a test or license as in paying an operating fee?
    I am not against the idea of having a bike riding test like there is a driving test. Germany has those test for kids in the 70′ in the frame work of traffic training — I felt it gave us all a better understanding of the rules. After you took the test, you got a sticker on your bike.
    License as in operating fee: I feel that our tax systems is laid out to favor car owners, so I feel that I am already paying a fee!

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  • Elly Blue December 11, 2008 at 11:29 am

    A few people have pointed out that Vesely doesn’t say whether his suggested fee is for the bike or for the rider — whether it’s registration or licensing. That’s because he’s not really making a serious proposal.

    I think that the point here isn’t about bike fees — the explicit gist of his op-ed is more along the lines of “if those liberals love (gas) taxes so much, let them pay it” — which is very revealing, and bears comparison to many of the arguments we see (and will see much more of) about bike licensing and registration.

    This is an anti-government activist using a stereotype about biking to make his point. Other people will propose fees and licenses more seriously but we’d do well to keep this guy in mind, since he’s showed his hand so clearly…

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  • mike December 11, 2008 at 11:49 am

    Whoever made the point that this gives cops a reason to harass people(homeless, minorities, poor, me, etc.) that probably scares me the most. Lets not criminalize more people.

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  • Coyote December 11, 2008 at 11:52 am

    Licensing is an element of social control. Under a licensing scheme, if a citizen does not pay the fee, he is unable to participate in society as an equal to the car driver. I believe much of the resistance to the reassertion of self-propelled transport relates to a perceived injustice. A short sighted driver sees the cyclist transporting himself around town at comparable speed, the rider is able to work, shop, and educate his kids, and not make the same financial sacrifice he has. The rider is essentially in the class as he is without paying for the privilege.

    What this driver fails to see is the cost we all have to pay for his privilege to drive. This driver does not acknowledge the polluted air we all breathe, the polluted water we all use, the wars we all fight for oil, the taxes we all pay in some form or another, and refuses to acknowledge the epidemic of road death. This driver does not wish to see the monopoly of the car broken up. His sense of entitlement helps him justify this monopoly and enforces class structure.

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  • Tony Fuentes December 11, 2008 at 12:05 pm

    Ms. Blue,

    With all due respect, I commented on the story you did write.

    Jon has my cell phone number, you are welcome to call me and we can meet and discuss this further as you requested.

    All the best,

    Tony Fuentes

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  • AndresM December 11, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    I know that we cyclists bear a heavier and unequal share of the costs for roads. However, I’d be all for paying a bike license or tax IF and as long as all that money went to building bike-only infrastructure, (physically separated bike lanes, trails, bike blvds, bike lockers and shower facilities, etc.)
    I would be happy to pay the equivalent of my vehicle registration fee (nearly 150/yr soon) if in exchange I have safety from motorists not paying attention (or worse); be issued a key card to access locker/shower facilities spread accross the city; and access to secure bike lockers/garages.
    If the idea for licensing is to help balance the budget, then charge additional taxes on fuel and hand out biking brochures at the gas stations.

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  • atbman December 11, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    Same old, same old. For total refutation, please see

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  • jim December 11, 2008 at 2:53 pm

    What if they made a voluntary bike license? People who buy it would benifit by having the police call them when they retrieve their bike, if you don’t think it is a good idea then just don’t do it.
    What if you have a lot of bikes? Do you have to pay for all those bikes?

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  • beth h December 11, 2008 at 3:23 pm

    I will simply refuse to license my bikes. The fees collected will not be used to improve bike safety on the roads in a meaningful way, nor will they be used to create meaningful bicycle infrastructure. It’s still landscape designed by the auto and petroleum industries FOR cars, and until that changes I will not pay one red cent to ride my bike in that dysfunctional landscape.

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  • zilfondel December 11, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Huh. I used to ride my bike when I was six years old, on the public highways in Oregon. If the police caught me, what would they do? Arrest me? Impound my $50 bicycle? Give me a fine, and I have to show up in court?

    I’d love to see a 6-year old try to defend himself in traffic court for riding a bicycle without a license.

    “but your honor, I can only read first grade level books!”

    Dr. Seuss bicycling manuals, anyone?

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  • Gene in Tacoma December 11, 2008 at 3:57 pm

    Right on, beth h.

    We’ve been discussing in our bike club but a thought just occurred to me while reading these comments, could the editorial actually be satire to provoke discussion? Once all this feedback gets out to the public, he will write a follow up article to express his true beliefs?

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  • anna December 11, 2008 at 4:00 pm

    in response to #57: the irony is that, despite being a very skilled driver for much of my early life, when my driver’s license expired and I was not aware (because of those stupid #%#ER^! change-of-address labels DMV sends to cover up your original expire date, &c) — it had expired for over a year at which point oregon DMV requires that all applicants take a written AND driving test.

    There is no way, not owning a car, that I can take that driver’s test to get a new license. I cannot rent a car. I cannot impose upon my friends to loan me their car for a test and they would have to accompany me to the DMV for the test.

    Bottom line, if you are not a 16 year old with access to your parent’s car, you are incredibly hindered in replacing a driver’s license if it has (accidentally) expired over one year.

    So I know that while Ian O is not suggesting that all bicyclists get a driver’s license, um, I think that DMV will need to change its rules to at least allow that I take the test using a bike to demonstrate my knowledge of driving law.

    what’s even “funnier” is that I hide the fact that I do not have a driver’s license from many people. Even people who do not own a car seem to think that people who do not have driver’s licenses are just plain idgits. Now this: whatever!

    It’s really a very interesting stigma. So…When will the license to live freely be up for sale?

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  • peejay December 11, 2008 at 4:33 pm


    Nobody thinks Elly is equating the struggle for bike fairness to the civil rights struggles. Except you, that is. Try to tone down the sensitivity, please, and you’ll find you can follow the thread better.

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  • Sara December 11, 2008 at 6:59 pm

    My bike is my primary mode of transportation to work. I also drive my car for longer trips, like to the coast or the mountain, but I consider myself primarily a cyclist.

    I am in favor of there being Road User Licenses, as opposed to driver’s licenses and cyclists licenses. I think all Road Users need to be educated on the rules of the road. I also think children and adult cyclists who only stay on neighborhood roads (25 mph and under) and multi-use paths wouldn’t have need for a Road User License.

    I also think the current licensing needs to be stricter: it amazes me how many motor vehicle drivers don’t know (or maybe just don’t care about!) the rules of the road. And I’m frankly sick of the cyclists who blatantly disregard it as well. I was run into the other day by a cyclist who didn’t recognize the hand signal for stopping. Just one more reason why licensing would help.

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  • a.O December 11, 2008 at 7:30 pm

    Seriously, to use shoes on public sidewalks you would have to have a license issued by the Government. You’d pay a Fee. Demonstrate your knowledge of the relevant pedestrian Laws. Otherwise, you know, it’s just chaos. Damn scofflaw pedestrians. Same goes for the skateboarders, wheelchair riders, etc. More regulation is obviously better, even when there is no demonstrable safety risk.

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  • jim December 12, 2008 at 12:15 am

    Don’t forget the proposed leaf tax

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  • jim December 12, 2008 at 12:18 am

    so as long as you don’t actually go on the road (stay on the gravel) you don’t need a license??

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  • Joe Rowe December 12, 2008 at 12:34 am

    Licensing is for regulation of risk and liability when significant damage is proven to be reduced with regulation. Cars, guns and tobacco all need more regulation. Right wing nuts want to restrain all the things it is easy to hate: schools, teachers, abortion, cyclists, gays, migrants, civil rights, etc.
    There is very little damage caused by cyclists and more regulation would not be able to reduce that. Licensing of cyclists will damage society by wasting a lot of taxpayer money and giving a few bad cops yet another excuse to justify brutality.
    Let’s compile the arguments against cyclist licenses so that every time a nut or journalist brings this up we can snuff it out faster than “intelligent design”. I’m tired of “news” reporters giving air time to an issue with as much logic as “the earth is flat”.

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  • JR December 12, 2008 at 1:04 am

    Some day we may need licensing of bicycles.. I’m not sure why, but someday, there may be a reason. Until then, I’m open to the idea, but until I’m convinced, I see right through the conservative angst over sharing public space with progressive types who might slow them down every so slightly and cause them to actually be careful while driving – this is what bicyclists do to automobile drivers. Sure, they might get cut off every now and then, but it’s not something that doesn’t happen just as often by other automobile drivers. This is pure angst.. Get over it and call me back when there’s a real issue to discuss..

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  • Opus the Poet December 12, 2008 at 1:06 am

    Actually I posted a similar idea on my blog, but for a different reason. In TX when a bike is stolen even if recovered by LEO it is forever lost to the owner because there is no way to identify and return it. There is no government record that can be consulted that identifies the bicycle so that it may be returned. Also in TX we are not collecting enough in taxes to repair the roads we have, much less build new ones. What I suggested was a way to kill two birds with one stone as it were. Leave the gas tax to build new roads, along with other sources of revenue both car-and non car-centric, as the situation is now, except require that all new facilities be built with bicycle accommodations, and then raise registration fees to reflect the damage done by motor vehicles by finding the fleet GVW, finding the budget to repair the roads for a year, divide the budget by the fleet GVW, and then charge by the pound of GVW for registration plus the same fee as paid for by the bicycles. give bikes a little tag to hang from the top bar or back of the seat, and also record the serial number and manufacturer so that if stolen the bike can be returned, and if a stolen bike is recovered and not returned to the registered owner the recovering agency would face a huge fine, like $5000- $10000. This would take care of the stolen bike problem, and also take care of the crumbling roads problem. In 5 years under this plan the costs of keeping the roads in good shape would actually decline as agencies would be able to do preventative maintenance to the roads so that annoying stop gaps like chip seals would not be required as often, and could be done with a smaller aggregate that would be more bike friendly. There are some roads in my local area with chip seal aggregate so large as to cause blurring of vision when I ride on my LWB recumbent, the one I call Cadillac because it rides so smooth, which would not be a problem if this program was in place. These were roads where bicyclsts used to ride frequently before the chip sealing was done.

    As for the roads knowledge question, when i was a child back in the 1960s and ’70s we used to have this thing called health and physical education, and part of that program was a section on how to walk and ride a bike on the roads. That could be done again, and tested for as part of the high-stakes testing done to determine grade advancement.

    This post is long enough so even though I have more to share on the subject…

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  • vincentpaul December 12, 2008 at 8:53 am

    “The point I tried hard to make is that in this historical instance bicycles were used as a touchpoint and excuse for an oppressive regime to crack down on a (large) part of the population, to fine them and set them apart based on their primary mode of transportation.”

    Well, I went back and looked at the article again and it doesn’t say that cyclists were targeted as a group, it explicitly says that it was the ethnic group that was targeted. If you were a white cyclist you didn’t have to participate in the regulation. It was not the form of transportation that was attacked, it was the ethnicity of the rider. So, I stand corrected. I guess the writer really was making an appeal to authority (i.e., if Ghandi opposed a cycling regulation, then cycling regulation must be bad).

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  • Elly Blue December 12, 2008 at 9:30 am

    Vincent Paul, thanks for your comment. The “appeal to authority” terminology is new to me too, and interesting, but like most academic jargon it seems to be getting in the way of actual interpretation. I’ve never said that cycling regulation is necessarily bad. The analogy here is between the misguidedness of the motives behind the regulation 100 years ago and the one being discussed now.

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  • anna December 12, 2008 at 9:43 am

    I suppose my post was not sensational “enough” like tony’s impassioned plea to warrant any responses. that’s hilarious.

    While I’m not trying to ride Elly’s ass about her writings, I disagree in this case about bringing this particular segment of history into this issue. I think it’s fair to be able to disagree without becoming hypercritical, which I could not anyway because Elly and Jonathan both do a great job.

    I do know that one of the very subtle tactics to make life as miserable as possible for brown people and the very poor is to tax as much out of our lives as possible. This was the very foundation of Jim Crow laws, in order to force millions of african american citizens into indentured servitude.

    I am no expert of Gandhi’s work, but it seems quite clear that only “natives” were required to pay the license fee under the proposal which Gandhi fought. The very foundation of that tax proposal was based upon discrimination only against “natives”.

    in this neo-colonial world the phrase still stands: “same game, different name”. Millions of brown people are still being taxed basically to live or to breathe air….

    it is important to keep in mind also that bicycles, being the great equalizer that they are, provided freedom of mobility, which is a basic freedom often denied to the very poor and/or communities of color. This could not be tolerated by the colonial powers, but the thing about these fools who believe in the myth of the “white man’s burden” is that they have to SEEM reasonable – I mean, cmon people nobody is going to put it down on paper that they are taxing you specifically because you are not white or rich.

    just some thoughts….

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  • Elly Blue December 12, 2008 at 10:59 am

    Thanks for the thought provoking comments, Anna, and for not being sensational. 🙂

    You make some really interesting points, I found myself nodding as I read. We may still disagree about the relevance of the story about Gandhi, but you’ve got me interested in the backstory now. Who exactly did ride bikes in colonial South Africa, and what were the local politics of that? I suspect that would also make an interesting comparison to modern race dynamics.

    I’d add that outside of Portland, riding a bike for transportation often carries class and race connotations and the biases and discrimination that go hand in hand with that. Same name different game holds true in postcolonial America too.

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  • glenzedrine December 12, 2008 at 12:38 pm

    @Coyote (24):

    Not sure if I can make links, so here’s the address for the Wikipedia article on the fallacy. The writer seems to be using Gandhi as an authority, saying “Gandhi was against a bicycle tax, therefore a bicycle tax is bad.”

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  • Tony Fuentes December 12, 2008 at 4:17 pm

    peejay @72,

    I have been called any number of things over the years but this a first for “over sensitive.”

    Still, I did take the time to reread Ms. Blue’s post, Mr. Vesely’s editorial, the piece on Gandhi, and my own comment. It seems that you and I must agree to disagree on this.

    I still find the invocation of Gandhi’s opposition to a policy that was discriminating on the basis of race in the rebuttal to Mr. Vesely’s editorial to be off base. It implies that folks who ride bikes experience a level of victimization on par with the institutionalized racism in colonial South Africa. The piece also directly quates Mr. Vesely with a government body that engaged in systematic oppression of people based on their racial and ethnic background and commonly did so through violent means.

    Ultimately, I feel that the information from Mr. Litman’s paper and other similar sources are a better centerpiece when rebutting assertions and claims like those made by Mr. Vesely. Unfortunately, in this case, that information is merely offered up in passing. Hopefully it will have a broader presentation in the future.

    I don’t have much to add to the on-line “conversation” beyond this. However, Ms. Blue was gracious enough to offer to meet with me and chat about her post off-line. I remain very open to that, so hopefully she will give me a call at some point.

    All the best,


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  • Elly Blue December 12, 2008 at 4:23 pm

    Hi Tony,
    Thanks for keeping up the dialogue. I’ll be back in town in mid-January and am very much looking forward to having a beer with you.

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  • jim December 13, 2008 at 12:01 am

    if you had plates on your bike would the red light camera get that, and mail you a ticket?

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  • todd December 13, 2008 at 2:28 pm
  • wsbob December 13, 2008 at 10:46 pm

    Good article indeed, written by David Hiller, advocacy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club. It’s good how he’s able to describe who actually is benefiting from and paying for road infrastructure that has tended to overwhelmingly favor of motor vehicle users over other transport modes, such as walking and biking. I think I hear Seattle Times’ editorial page editor James Vesely choking on his bitter tea.

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  • Joe Rowe December 23, 2008 at 8:29 pm

    here is a well written opinion on why cars are the problem and why bikes should not be taxed or licensed.

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  • Lee December 29, 2008 at 5:28 am

    Licensing bike riders has never worked anywhere in the world, ever in history, period. First of all it’s never realistically enforceable. Plus is will be seen as a jim-crow law, especially in the USA. In any case the argument against licensing bike riders is strong enough it win new supporters for bicycle infrastructure and planning in general. Gail Achterman is on to something here. This is a conversation we want to start more often!

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  • […] cyclically, and I won’t go into the details, because it’s been well covered here, here, here, etc. But it was kinda fun to see a relic of the past on this bicycle that somehow migrated 40 […]

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