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UES Community Board Reverses Gears on Bike Licensing Plan

By Amy Zimmer | October 20, 2011 12:21pm | Updated on October 20, 2011 12:26pm
Cyclists in Central Park. Some Upper East Siders have criticized the opening of pedestrian paths to cyclists in the park.
Cyclists in Central Park. Some Upper East Siders have criticized the opening of pedestrian paths to cyclists in the park.
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Spencer Platt/Getty Images

UPPER EAST SIDE — There's a problem with scofflaw cyclists on their streets and sidewalks, many members of the Upper East Side’s Community Board 8 agreed at a meeting Wednesday night. But they couldn’t agree on a whether forcing bicycle riders to have licenses and registration was the solution.

CB8’s transportation committee passed a resolution earlier this month 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.

The proposal, however, was stopped in its tracks and voted down during Wednesday’s full board meeting.

Jonathan Horn, the transportation committee’s co-chair, said he believed that licensing would create a “sense of responsibility among bike riders to follow the rules.”

Many of his colleagues agreed, noting, for example, that if dogs need to be licensed, people operating two-wheeled vehicles should also have to file such paperwork.

But his co-chair Chuck Warren didn’t think adding another rule to the books would necessarily result in safer streets.

“Doing something like this would not have a practical effect because people who violate the law would violate the law whether they have a license or not,” he said.

Requiring licensing or registration of cyclists hasn’t worked in other cities such as Los Angeles or Washington, D.C., he noted. Most of these types of rules have been repealed in recent years because of problems with cost and enforcement.

“I view it as a step backwards if we do something like this,” Warren said. “I know people feel put upon by cyclists, but I don’t think this is a reasonable solution to the problem.”

Some board members wondered, for instance, what would happen when people from out of town came here and rode bikes. One member worried that a black market for “clean” licenses could develop. And others thought licensing could discourage riders at the same time the community board was trying to promote cycling with new bike lanes.

“The bottom line is a lack of enforcement,” said board member George Fuchs. “I think [licensing] is going to create unnecessary cost and more red tape.”

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

Some board members thought they should remain focused on delivery cyclists and will rehash the debate next month on whether to require licensing and registration for commercial cyclists.

But while board members said that the deliverymen were the biggest offenders, often riding on sidewalks at night without lights, others said they have noticed that the increasing popularity of cycling has brought out more traffic-violating recreational cyclists.

Horn invited board members to discuss a possible resolution aimed at the delivery cyclists at next month’s transportation committee meeting (date TBD), which he called “Bikeapolooza” because of the many bike-related agenda items. There will be presentations from  Department of Transportation on the city’s bike share, from the “5 to Ride Campaign" regarding getting businesses to sign onto a safety pledge, and one on the legality of electric bikes.