CITY HALL — A South Side alderman wants to charge bike riders a $25 license fee as a way to minimize the effects of an increased tax on cable television.
"I haven't really thought it through completely," said Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) Wednesday, after Mayor Rahm Emanuel released his 2014 budget proposal. "But my rationale is that we have an increase in bike ridership in the city, have provided bike lanes for bike riders, and they utilize the road, just like the people who drive cars and trucks.
"If we have to register our cars, bikes ought to be registered as well," Dowell said.
She sees it as a way to increase revenue and potentially minimize an increase in the amusement tax on cable TV.
"Let's say 200,000 bikes are in the city — and I don't know how many bikes are in the city — that's $5 million," Dowell said. She plans to introduce that concept into the budget process to replace Emanuel's proposal to raise $9 million to be raised by increasing the city tax on cable TV from 4 to 6 percent.
Dowell said it is intended to provide relief to "people who depend on cable TV as their form of entertainment," those who can't afford to go out to movies, music or plays.
"I plan to speak with some of my colleagues about this as we go forward with the budget process," she added.
"I'm a bike owner, and I would not be opposed to paying a registration fee," Dowell said.
Ron Burke, executive director of the Action Transportation Alliance, believes such a requirement would be unprecedented in the United States.
"The licensing of bicycles and bicyclists is so costly and complicated to implement that we're not aware of any other cities in the United States that do it," Burke said. "The cost to implement it would actually exceed the revenue generated."
Dowell also suggested a one-hour bicycle safety class as part of the licensing process.
"That just makes it even more complicated and expensive," Burke said. While expressing support for education in any form regarding public safety and transportation, Burke said that, too, would be a hard sell for cyclists.
The benefits of registering a bike with the police were negligible, Burke added, as a cyclist can already register a bike's serial number with police at no cost. In fact, it's technically required in the city, noted mayoral spokesman Tom Alexander.
"As bike use continues to grow rapidly in Chicago, the administration has been looking at various ways to ensure bicyclists are held accountable, just as drivers are," he said. "This particular proposal reflects the bike-registration law that is already city law. That law is difficult to enforce because of the police resources needed.
"The mayor believes our officers should be focused on the most serious crimes, as shown by his recent push to make low-level marijuana possession a ticketable offense," he added.
Still, Alexander said "we will be reaching out to the alderman to discuss her proposal."
Burke, too, said his group would reach out to Dowell, who has been a "really strong supporter of cycling" in the past. But he said the proposal was "certainly not something we would support.
"This is a time when we want to encourage bicycling, not discourage it," Burke said. "Bicycling has many benefits that I think the alderman is aware of."
Burke said that, if safety is the main concern, police should ticket both motorists and cyclists on any violations of current traffic laws.
"We think that's the best way to help encourage safety on our streets," he said.