Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Long Beach Drops Bicycle Registration: Implications for NYC

The city council of Long Beach, California voted yesterday to eliminate a law that required residents to register their bicycles. And so they were one more down, more to go, according to recent history at cities around the United States who have dropped similar legislation.

The failure of the bike registration law in a smaller, less complex community has importance for New York City because politicians here have lately been calling for a new law requiring residents to register their bicycles. Queens Councilmember Eric Ulrich introduced the legislation this January that would require ID's be carried by bicycle users as an effort to cut down on errant biker behavior.

New York  already suffers from a serious "scofflaw" image among all traffic users, starting with motorists, to taxi drivers, truckers, motorcyclists and on down to cyclists too, so imagining that a program unsuccessful in a tidy place like California would succeed here begs for a fanciful imagination.

With mandatory registration passed into law, 1,000 cyclists in Long Beach were given $400 tickets last year. Dubbed as "the most bicycle friendly city in the world," the city soon found itself with a failed program, and costs for running the licensing program greatly surpassing its revenue, reported the LA Times. The vast majority of cyclists in the city did not have their bikes registered at all.

Bike registration in Long Beach was supposed to give law enforcement officials a way to track down stolen bikes. But so few cyclists participate in the programs that many cities, including Los Angeles, have done away with them completely.  Registration in Long Beach will now become voluntary instead of obligatory, with city officials suggesting instead that cyclists list their bikes online with the National Bike Registry.

New York already has a voluntary registration program administered by the New York Police Department. If you bring your bike to a local precinct they will provide you with a registration number that can be etched into the bottom of the bottom bracket.  If your bike is stolen the ID can be tracked through the NYPD's database back to you as the rightful owner.

Ulrich's move was intended to also put an extra yoke on cyclists by making them more responsible for errant behavior, such as running red lights. But by introducing the legislation he also joined a chorus of pols mostly hailing from Queens and Brooklyn, against bike lanes, bicycle riders and the city Department of Transportation's efforts to improve conditions for this form of transportation. 

His move was largely seen by cyclists and advocates as prejudicial when he was quoted saying that riders do not carry any form of identification, because “they’re in Spandex or whatnot," and are "involved in accidents." To imply that cyclists are responsible for a greater share or even an equal share of accidents to motorists made Ulrich an enemy on cycling e-boards around the city.

Calls to the Department of Public Information at the NY Police department for correct statistics regarding tickets issued to motorists and cyclists by BBB were not returned.

Another reason DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan is meeting such resistance for new street design is that her department's measures threaten motorists with fewer parking spaces, a huge factor in the outer boros, admitted some boro representatives off the record to BBB. Already community boards and business improvement districts in the two boros say that they do not have enough parking spaces, and the changes have come at them without their input.

Drivers have also complained that they cannot manuever easily with many of the new street designs that  allow for bike lanes and pedestrian islands. Even previous DOT commissioner Iris Weinshall has publicly spoken out against the Prospect Park West bike lane. Others from Brooklyn--many of them car owners, have said that the new lane is dangerous and makes crossing the street harder for people with children.  They make no mention of the hundreds of cars, however, that also making street crossing so difficult across the city.

But some cyclists welcome registration. Said one long time cyclist who was hit by a truck more than 20 years ago when riding his bicycle, "What's wrong with [bike] registration? It might actually help us establish official status, and help us when we want things done our way."


Anonymous said...

How do you have a NYC cycling blog and have not as of yet addressed the NYPD crackdown, particularly in Central Park?

Jenny B and Ana Banana said...

Dear Anonymous:
It's coming. Haven't gotten any answers from the police (freaking predictable), nor from other agencies I have called.
That would leave one thing, guessing which as a trained journalist I would rather not do.
But something will be out shortly.