On the errant notion of bicycle licenses.


“I’ll be working on the assumption that policy-making is a rational tool to create a better society, not a punishment for perceived irritants. This isn’t always the case but it’s a necessary premise: if you simply have a gut feeling that cyclists should be taught some sort of lesson and you’re not interested in the evidence then there’s no point even starting.”

I used to take great joy in referring to these environs as the Open Air Museum of Ignorance, Superstition and Backwardness, but then I got ticketed for exceeding the syllable limit.

Yesterday during a discussion of sharrow symbols now adorning Vincennes Street — admittedly a wretched, Rosenbargerian idea, and one revealing the ineptitude of officials unwilling to risk the installation of genuine bicycling infrastructure, either from timidity, stupidity or both — it was suggested that bicyclists be licensed.

Let’s quickly refute this car-centric twaddle. Perhaps the Aussie vantage point is best (just keep blaming the usual victims, drivers), but there’ll be two others.

18 reasons why registering bicycles is a bad idea, by Michael O’Reilly (Executive Style)

Right, that’s it. Enough already. I’m so tired of hearing the same contention being trotted out every time bicycles are mentioned.

I refer, of course, to the ongoing clamour that cyclists need to be registered.

Show me a news report to do with bicycles, and I’ll show you someone on social media or a comments thread carrying on about bicycle registration as if it’s the most urgent thing in road safety.

A bike-riding man killed in a “dooring” incident in Melbourne? “Cyclists should be registered.” A cycling young woman crushed by a truck in Brisbane’s CBD? “They should pay rego.”

This week, news about a bill to legislate a safe minimum passing distance when cars overtake bikes drew comments such as “I’ll give them space when they pay to be on the roads”. Charming.

The problem with such misguided contentions is that they become a form of groupthink. If people hear such things repeatedly, it becomes acceptable to them.

It can also breed animosity – which can spill onto our roads, creating dangerous hostility and intolerance.

In truth, the angry voices are in the minority. Most Australians accept and even support cycling – after all, more bicycles are sold than cars every year. Even among people who don’t ride for transport, a survey showed 60 per cent would like to do so – but many say they are too scared.

And Chicago:

Why Bicycle Licensing (Almost) Never Works, by Whet Moser (Chicago)

I’ve said it over and over again: if you really, truly want to improve cyclist compliance with the law, there are countries that do it well—especially the Netherlands—and they do it in part through a comprehensive educational system for cyclists and drivers alike that begins in elementary school. (Their form of driver’s education is also more comprehensive, and traffic fatalities have fallen faster there than in the United States in recent decades.) The Active Transportation Alliance’s Ron Burke gave Biasco some similar suggestions. You get what you put in. Contrary to the beliefs of most newspaper columnists, merely intoning the words “fixie” and “hipster” like a curse is just an exercise in filling copy quotas.

On the other hand, bike licenses have been tried throughout North America, and what you usually get is a bureaucratic facepalm.

Finally the United Kingdom (the lead quote comes from this article):

Why regulating cyclists is unnecessary and harmful, by Peter Walker (The Guardian)

Why don’t cyclists have compulsory licencing, training and insurance? Because it would be utterly pointless

Cycling and cyclists are good for society; good for everyone, in fact. You might not like our funny, Lycra-wearing ways, but it’s an undeniable truth. If 50% of a hypothetical city’s car drivers abandoned their vehicles overnight for bikes it would slash pollution and congestion (for the remaining drivers, too), also bringing less wear to the roads and better health for the new cyclists. It would additionally, at a stroke, dramatically cut the numbers of people killed or badly hurt on the roads, saving millions of pounds and – more importantly – reducing the number of lives lost or devastated through grief or grave injury.

We have lots to discuss in New Albany, and bicycle licensing isn’t one of those topics.