Bob Huckaby moves forward on statewide bike registration, licensing measures

“Everybody has to be on the same playing field…I’ll share the road, but let’s share the laws too.”
— Bob Huckaby

Buoyed by support from across the state, Portlander Bob Huckaby is going full-steam ahead on a statewide ballot measure that would require all bicycles to have license plates and would mandate a bicycle law test for all adults who don’t already have a driver’s license.

We first reported on Huckaby last month, when he shared concerns over the City’s decision to partially close N. Wheeler Avenue at Broadway. Huckaby owns First Inc., a business just a few blocks away from the intersection. “Instead of making people obey the laws,” Huckaby shared with me on August 19th, “they’re penalizing everyone else, and that’s not right.” A few days after the closure, Huckaby told a local TV news station that he planned to take the bicycle license requirement to voters via a ballot measure.

Yesterday I sat down with Huckaby to discuss the issues and see where he stood on the ballot measure.

So far, Huckaby remains 100% dedicated to this effort. He’s building a coalition of support from around the state and he has hired a lawyer who is currently writing up the ballot language. While precise details are still being worked out, Huckaby says the measure (or measures, he might end up splitting them into two) would seek to create a new “bicycle endorsement” education program for people who have not taken the Oregon driver’s test. It would also mandate more police enforcement of traffic laws. To pay for the new bicycle-specific testing and the enforcement, Huckaby’s measure would require a fee for the endorsement test and would require registration via a license plate on all bicycles in Oregon.

At this point, Huckaby says the bicycle endorsement on your ID card would run about $10-12 every four years and the license plate would be $40 for every four years (or in my case, since my family has about 12 bikes, it would cost us $480 every four years).

The goal for Huckaby is simple: He feels there’s a big traffic safety problem brewing due to the growing number of people riding bikes in Portland (and across the state) who have never passed a test on how to ride safely and follow existing traffic laws. He sees his effort, not as being anti-bike, but as a way to “level the playing field” and make the interactions between road users more “compatible.” (Note: Huckaby says that while the Wheeler closure is a symbol of the problem, it’s not the main reason he’s doing this.)

“If you’re really going to talk about ‘share the roads’, and this is what it’s all about,” Huckaby said today, “everybody has to be on the same playing field…I’ll share the road, but let’s share the laws too… Let’s all operate the same way. And that goes both ways, I’m not after just bikes, I just think it needs to be a fair playing field. and that’s the only way you’re going to get it is to just register them.”

When Huckaby looks out at the roads, he sees a vast increase in bicycle traffic onto a system that isn’t ready for it. During our chat, he expressed frustration that the City of Portland has done so much promotion of bicycling, yet hasn’t built a complementary system of infrastructure to handle it (this is a point he and I agree on!).

“The problem our city has is it puts the cart before the horse.. when we go out say we’re bicycle friendly we better have our roads up to speed before we do that.” Absent infrastructure where bicycles can exist separate from cars, Huckaby feels working to improve education of the laws is necessary.

In his mind, bicycle licenses will increase compliance and therefore increase safety. “To me, it’s all about the safety. If everybody followed the law, you wouldn’t have the safety problem.” He added, “It’s going to educate people that don’t have a license… If knowledge of the laws will help bring the safety up — even if only 15% of the people learn the laws — we’d be better off.”

Huckaby believes that mandatory testing will educate more people and that having license plates on bikes will lead to more responsible behaviors and will make it easier for the police (and the public at large) to hold bicycle riders accountable for their actions.

Key to Huckaby’s perspective is the belief that a large percentage of people riding bikes in Oregon don’t already have a driver’s license (and the education, insurance, and accountability that goes along with it). However, according to a 2009 survey by the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), 89% of the over 2,000 respondents said they own a car and have a driver’s license. Without significant revenue derived from people without a driver’s license obtaining the bicycle endorsement, even more pressure would be put onto the registration and license plate aspect of his plans (because without a stable funding stream, this measure isn’t likely to go very far).

As for fee-based bicycle registration schemes, history shows us that they do not work.

Just last year, the city of Long Beach, California scrapped its mandatory bicycle registration law in favor of a voluntary one. One Long Beach city council member told the LA Times, “Our mandatory system was antiquated and inefficient.” The city of Medford, Oregon scrapped their bike licensing ordinance back in 2010, with their police chief saying, “It really doesn’t work in the best interest of our community.”

Politically mandatory bicycle registration and/or licensing schemes have proven very unpopular. In March 2009, several members of the Oregon State House supported a $27 per year mandatory bicycle registration fee. The bill spurred outrage and died a quiet death without ever making it out of committee. Just last year, a bill was introduced that would have directed ODOT to study bicycle licensing. That bill never made it out of committee either.

Would a vote of the people lead to a different result?

Huckaby told me yesterday that since his plans went public last month, he’s had to take his name and contact information off his company’s website due to many rude and angry messages he’s received. But Huckaby seems undeterred by the potential controversy, the financial investment, and the hard road ahead to bring his ideas to a vote. In fact, he is quite confident his measures will get the 87,000 required signatures needed to make it onto the ballot in 2014 (if not sooner). He shared with me that he’s gotten eager calls of support from cities throughout Oregon.

“Hood River, The Dalles, Medford, Eugene and Salem — everyone’s like ‘God yes!’ There’s big support for this,” he said.

But despite these early signs of support, Huckaby realizes he’ll face a backlash. “Some people may be upset about it; but that’s what our laws are made from. If you feel there should be a law, you go out and get it.” And despite naysayers, he thinks it will work. “I think it’s going to help a lot. It’s going to help everybody think about it before they break the law.”

Whether you agree with his motives and ideas or not, Huckaby is ready to take the temperature of the state on this issue. “Let’s get it to a vote and see where it goes,” says Huckaby, “Whether it passes or not, it gave everybody their chance to have their say.”

— I’ll be joining Huckaby to talk about this issue on KATU TV’s “Your Voice, Your Vote” program later this week. I’ll share the video and other details once it airs.

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