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Should Chicago Implement a Bike Tax? Lincoln Park Candidates Consider It

By Paul Biasco | March 23, 2015 5:57am

LINCOLN PARK — Should Chicago's bikes be taxed with an annual licensing fee similar to the one on cars?

Both candidates in the 43rd Ward aldermanic race said they would consider such a measure during a debate ahead of April's runoff election.

The moderator of the debate last week, Kenneth Dotson, president of the Lincoln Central Association, asked, "Do you support a requirement where bicycles [would] be licensed? 

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said licensing could be the answer to making biking safer in the city.

"Implementing safe bicycling is something we have toiled on in our ward with some success, but there is more that needs to be done," Smith said.

Smith's opponent, Caroline Vickrey, also said she thought licensing could be a good idea.

"I know people who have been hit by bikes in a sort of hit-and-run situation," Vickrey said. "I think it's a good idea as long as it would be a reasonable process.

"We don't want to add another layer of bureaucracy," she said.

Paul Biasco says it was an idea floated in 2013:

This is not the first time the ideas of a bike tax has come up in the city.

In 2013 Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) floated the idea of a $25 license fee on bikes.

"If we have to register our cars, bikes ought to be registered as well," Dowell said at the time.

The executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance said any sort of licensing or bike registration plan that is mandatory and involved a fee or fine would be detrimental to the city.

"We should really be looking for ways to encourage cycling, not discouraging," said Ron Burke, executive director of the alliance. "Bikes get people around with no air pollution. They minimize traffic congestion. They cause very little wear and tear on the roads, unlike cars."

Burke said a number of U.S. cities have attempted to implement bike registration programs and have found that the program actually costs more money to implement than it raises.

"On the surface it sounds like a good idea," he said. "'We license cars, why not license bikes?' Often you will hear this recommendation in the context of 'Those crazy cyclists, they are being reckless and dangerous.'"

Burke instead suggested that the city implement biking and walking education programs built into the school system.

Such a program could be layered into gym or health classes.

Both candidates in the debate agreed that the ward needs better bike infrastructure.

The 43rd Ward, which includes Lincoln Park and parts of Old Town and the Gold Coast, does not have any protected bike lanes.

Smith said it's hard for the ward to add such bike safety measures as protected bike lanes because many of the streets are too narrow.

There have been discussions over the last two years of creating "greenways" running east and west, which could involve turning a two-way street into a one-way street and turning the rest of the street into a bikeway.

Smith said she has been working with the transportation alliance to address cycling safety issues.

One issue that she has worked with the group on, as well as the city's Transportation Department, is separating the bike and pedestrian paths along the lakeshore in the Fullerton revetment project near the Theater on the Lake.

As part of the Children's Memorial Hospital redevelopment, Smith worked with the developer to include improvements at the intersection of Fullerton, Lincoln and Halsted, which is one of the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians and cyclists in the city, according to city data.

There will be striped bike lanes that continue through the intersection on Lincoln Avenue and Halsted Street.

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