Cyclists in New York City are supposed to follow the same laws that apply to motorists. But like drivers, they sometimes break them. This year, police have started cracking down on riders who run red lights or break other rules. Now, Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Queens) wants to go one step further. He’s proposing a law that would require all bikes in the city to be registered.
The system Ulrich is proposing would work like this: You’d go online and fill out a registration form, and the city would send you a mini license plate for your bike. It would be free — but mandatory — so cops could identify you.
The way it is now, Ulrich says, it’s easy to identify cars that violate traffic laws, “but when it comes to people on bicycles, there is no way to identify those individuals if they’re involved in an accident or they cause an accident.”
Ulrich says his constituents feel intimidated by cyclists. He thinks his proposed law would deter riders from breaking the rules. But bike advocates disagree and have flooded his office with calls and faxes.
Out on the street, cyclists say New York already has the laws it needs.
“What we need is better enforcement of the law so that what I call the ‘Bad Apples’ are rooted out,” said Peter Engel, a member of the 5-Boro Bike Club.
He and about 10 others have gathered near City Hall for a Sunday morning ride. Another rider here, Steve Bauman, doesn’t think registering bikes will make riders more responsible.
“Registration has been tried in a lot of places,” he said, ” and it just doesn’t do much good.”
Bauman has a point: there’s not much evidence to suggest that registering bikes makes riders behave. Madison, Wisconsin and Davis, California both have registration laws. But their programs are focused on getting stolen bikes back to owners.
Andy Clarke is the president of the League of American Bicyclists, a national advocacy group. He says Washington D.C. police recently convinced the city to repeal its registration law.
“The only time that it actually was being enforced or used was basically not for anything to do with bike safety or bike behavior issues, but it turned out to be sort of a surrogate profiling issue,” Clarke said.
The last time New York considered requiring bike registration was in 1980. At that time, Mayor Ed Koch turned down the idea because he didn’t think it would be effective and because he estimated it would cost 10 million dollars to implement.
But Ulrich is undeterred and plans to introduce the bill at the end of the month. He doesn’t think the expense would make a big dent in the city’s budget. And he says most of his opponents aren’t from his district.