Sunday, 17 February 2013

So you want to license my child: The insanity of bicycle licensing

Our kids don't need a license to ride, just
passion and a bit of common sense
Being an advocate for increased bicycle ridership, better infrastructure, and reigniting the number of children who ride bikes, I tend to read quite a few articles and posts on the subject. I will admit, from time to time, I venture into the comments, just to see what others are saying, and also to see if perhaps, finally, the general population has given up on this whole "war on cars" nonsense. One suggestion I frequently see from those commenters, who feel people who ride bikes are being pandered to, is that bicyclists should have to get a license. The belief is that if they are using the roads, then they should have to be licensed. I'm still a bit perplexed as to why there is such a push for bicycle licenses, mainly because I have a six-year-old who does ride on the road and a four-year-old soon to follow. So to understand it a bit better I looked into it. Here's what I found out.






Many motorists believe that by licensing people on bikes, it will turn them into better road users. From obeying traffic laws to respecting other road users' space. It is true that there are some pretty aggressive cyclists out there who run through stops signs, blaze through intersections without looking for traffic, and even disrespect pedestrians at crosswalks. I have to point out, though, that licensing these people will not change their behaviour, just as requiring people to pass a driving test and obtain a license to drive a car has not stopped some motorists from speeding, rolling through intersections instead of coming to a complete stop, not yielding to pedestrians, or worse still, crashing into each other. Not licensing because it won't change behaviour does seems a little fatalistic, but I would argue that there are many reasons motorists must be licensed - you have to be 16 to drive a car, driving is a very complicated task with many regulations and rules, and most importantly: cars are 2-tonne metal machine capable of causing death and destruction. A bicycle can be ridden by anyone, any age, weighs about 20-40 lbs, and cannot kill someone, if by chance they are hit by a bicycle.

Another argument I hear frequently is that people on bicycles need to share the cost of road usage and wear and tear. The fact is that all adults living in a city pay taxes, whether through income, purchases, property taxes, etc, regardless of their mode of transportation, be it car, bus, rapid transit, bicycle or plain old walking. Those taxes go to various expenses, not the least of which include road repair and upkeep. But ok, let's look at it from the monies earned through licensing point-of-view. Copenhagenize summed it up quite succinctly in a related post written in March of 2010 (Source). Essentially, if you compare the average weight of a car, around, let's say, 3500 lbs, to the average weight of a bicycle, around 30 lbs, a bicycle weighs about 0.9% of that of a car. Here in BC, the cost of a driver's licence is $75. If you based the cost of a bicycle license as 0.9% of that, then a bicycle license would cost $0.68. Mathematically, that just doesn't make sense, and the government would actually lose money in setting up a system like this, not to mention the administrative costs lost over time. So, to sum up, licensing bicyclists would cost tax payers more money, leaving even less from an already strained budget for repair and upkeep of our shared roads. 

There is also the negative impact of licensing bicycles to consider. The biggest would be a large reduction in cycling numbers. Riding a bicycle is cheap, easy, and can be done by anyone. Requiring people on bikes to get licensed will turn a lot of people away, who would opt for other modes of transport instead of dealing with the hassle of getting a license. I think it's pretty apparent that riding a bike is a form of exercise, whether your racing or just using a bike to get around town at a leisurely pace. If a large number of people decreased their level of frequent exercise, and opted for a more sedentary way of travel, so increases their health risks due to inactivity and weight gain, and thus increases the strain on our health care system, costing tax payers more money. 

Outside of the cost to both the government and its taxpayers and to individual health, and whether or not it will make cyclists behave better, I have a question I blurt out every time I hear about licensing cyclists; What about the kids?! Many children start learning to ride a bike when they are between two- and three-years-old. Usually by the time they are school aged, those same children are riding on their own bike confidently, many on roads with their parents. What governing body, in their right minds, is going to require that toddlers pass a test and ask their parents to pay to licence their 16" one speed BMX? It's a ridiculous idea, and would only cause less and less children to learn the freedom of riding a bike, which, once again, would decrease physical activity in our young people. But again, I ask, do you really want to license my four- and six-year-old?

When all the facts are laid out, requiring licensing for cyclists would be a massive drain on time and money with little to no reward. Having a license doesn't necessarily mean people will behave better. Understanding the rules of the road, and respecting other road users is common sense, and believe me, those of us who ride bikes are instilling that respect in our children, not so much for the benefit of the motorists, but more for their own safety. So, next time you're frustrated with a bad cyclist, or the proposal of a new bike lane, take a breathe and really think about how this really impacts you before going on a rant in a comments section about licensing cyclists. We're not out to get you, we have not declared a war on cars, and nothing makes you look more like a jerk then suggesting a small child should get a license to be able to feel the joy of riding on two wheels.

18 comments:

  1. At both the recent Grandview Woodlands Transportation Workshops for the ongoing Community Plan, and at this months GW Area Council meeting, one of the clearest calls from the vast majority of attendees was that, as pedestrians, they felt most danger not from cars but from cyclists. I'm not at all sure that licensing is the answer to that problem, but what do you think might be?

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    Replies
    1. My best suggestion is to provide proper infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians. Separated lanes like hornby and dunsmuir provide cyclists with their own space so they're not battling with cars for space. This would, hopefully, create a less aggressive tendency, while also providing a barrier between pedestrians and fast moving cars.

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    2. This also essentially eliminates sidewalk cycling, which is what I'm assuming these pedestrians are concerned about. Don't waste money on licensing and instead put it towards better infrastructure for bicycles and pedestrians.

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    3. It's helpful to observe pedestrian-cyclist and pedestrian-motorist interactions when you hear these kinds of complaints about the perceived danger from cyclists.

      Dollars to donuts that there are many more near hits from cars than from cyclists. The car interactions, though, are just background noise and ignored because they're so routine. When we do jump back because we're surprised by a car, we're likely to put the blame on ourselves because we've been heavily indoctrinated with the idea that cars are dangerous, and we're responsible for our own safety when we're on foot.

      When the rare cyclist races by and scares the bejeezus out of a pedestrian, however, *that* is a notable occurrence and something to gripe about in a letter to the editor.

      I suspect pedestrian deaths and injuries in your part of Vancouver are almost universally from motor vehicles, not the supposedly dangerous cyclists. I believe your last pedestrian fatality from a cyclist was in 2010, whereas a motor vehicle mows down at least one pedestrian every month.

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  2. Separated lanes simply don't work in all circumstances, but I take your point. And while many people complained about the dangers of cyclists on sidewalks ("a hanging offence" someone called it) most complaints were about crossing the street and having to deal with cyclists who don't obey traffic signals, crosswalks etc.

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    Replies
    1. I cannot speak for those badly behaving cyclists, but as I point out in this pc, giving them a license likely won't change their behaviour, just as some motorists ignore these same traffic signals, something I experience nearly every day as a pedestrian and cyclist.

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  3. I respectfully disagree with the statement of "A bicycle ... cannot kill someone, if by chance they are hit by a bicycle." A quick search in Google will reveal that indeed it is possible and does happen. Granted, this is generally due to excessive speed and lack of braking control.

    I fervently agree that adding laws or licensing will not change behaviors. Take as a parallel the issues surrounding texting and driving.

    As with most things, it comes back to education. Reminding people to "look both ways before they cross the road" instead of being glued to their game of Angry Birds. Gently remind other cyclists that their behavior can be dangerous to others as well as themselves, and instill in children the correct behaviors from the start.

    I understand that riding on the roads is intimidating to many people, but it really shouldn't be. Our society needs to pause, take a deep breath, and slow down. Decide not to be the angry driver that crowds the shoulder and take that extra 20 seconds at the light for the cyclist in front of you. It's not rocket science, it's just common courtesy.

    Cheers!

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    Replies
    1. You say that bicycles can kill a person...there are more people killed by falling coconuts than by speeding bicycles!

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    2. Mandatory helmet law for pedestrians ought to solve that issue. ;)

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    3. And getting rid of the mandatory helmet legislation might slow cyclists down so they don't race through intersections like sports cyclists. Helmet free "citizen cyclists" are less likely to be aggressive.
      And licencing cyclists is clearly absurd! How will we get kids to ride to school??!!

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  4. If bike riders should pay for registration, then the Council / Government need to make it safe for bikes to ride on ALL roads.

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  5. hi - the blog topic would interest me, but it's too difficult to read, because it's grey text on a toned background. And down the left, the text runs over a darker background with images/darker tone. Suggest looking here (http://www.ncbi.ie/services/services-for-organisations/making-print-and-multimedia-accessible-mcs/make-it-clear)for tips on making web pages more visually accessible, especially for those without full eyesight.
    cheers

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    Replies
    1. PS - having added my comment, it's now displaying on a white background and the text is no longer superimposed over the left border. But it's still light grey!

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