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UES Community Board Members Want Cyclists to be Licensed

By Amy Zimmer | October 6, 2011 7:16am
A delivery cyclist in TriBeCa, where many businesses have signed onto the 5 to Ride pledge.
A delivery cyclist in TriBeCa, where many businesses have signed onto the 5 to Ride pledge.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

UPPER EAST SIDE — An effort to curb rogue cyclists by forcing them to have licenses and registration is being put forward by members of an Upper East Side community board.

CB8’s transportation committee passed a resolution Wednesday night urging city and state officials to require bicycles have “clear and visible” identification on them — like a license plate — and that cyclists have some sort of license.

They also want to require that commercial bicyclists — like the food delivery workers that pervade the Upper East Side streets — have insurance. 

“Many cyclists have the sense that they are not under the obligation to follow the rules of the road,” CB8’s transportation committee co-chair Jonathan Horn said.

Betty Dewing, a longtime Upper East Side resident, told the board members that she was “scared to death” at night because of bikes —  which she called “fast moving silent machines” — whizzing by without lights or going through stop lights.

Some cities, including Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., have required licensing or registration of cyclists, but most have repealed these laws in recent years because of problems with cost or enforcement, Horn noted.

In New York, state Assemblyman Michael DenDekker of Queens had introduced one bill to require a $50 bike registration and another to require registration, inspection and insurance for commercial bicycles. But those bills were dead, a DenDekker representative at the meeting said, because it was too much of a “local issue” for other legislators to get behind.

Yet, it’s the state that regulates licenses, not the city — which is why legistation for license plates introduced this year by City Councilman David Greenfield is likely to flounder, Horn said.

Mike Dillon, a resident of East 63rd Street, told the board he’s not “crazy” enough to ride a bike in the city, but if he wanted to test out the bike share that’s in the works, “I’m never going to wait in line for two hours to get a license to try my hand at it.”

CB8 member A. Scott Falk didn’t think licensing was the answer. “That just doesn’t solve the problem,” he said, noting that both Jason King and Laurence Renard were fatally struck crossing Upper East Side streets by unlicensed dump truck drivers.

Caroline Samponaro, from the pro-bike advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, said that the key to improving cyclist behavior was  enforcement and that adding more rules would likely not work, as evidenced by the several rules passed in recent years to regulate commercial cyclists.

Her group, she added, was working with some police precincts, such as the ninth in the East Village, to reach out to cyclists at problem intersections and educate them about following traffic rules.

“Requiring licenses would decrease the number of riders everywhere,” said David Dartley, a cyclist who lives on First Avenue and said his sister was killed by a car while crossing the street. “And contrary to what people believe, that would not improve pedestrian safety.”

But CB 8 member Michele Birnbaum thought that issuing licenses would bring “dignity” and “respect” to cyclists and make riders “more serious” about what they’re doing.

She said with the addition of bike lanes, bike racks and the narrowing of roadways, that riders should be willing to do their part.

“What are you doing?” she asked of cyclists. “You can’t have it all.”

Board members pointed out that licenses are required for dog owners, to fish and for other things.

The committee's decision will go to the full board on Oct. 19.