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Aldermanic Candidates Resurrect Bicycle License Debate

By aaroncynic in News on Mar 23, 2015 9:05PM

Two Aldermanic candidates resurrected the idea of implementing a licensing system for cyclists in a recent debate. DNAinfo Chicago reports both candidates in the 43rd Ward runoff said last week they would be open to such a system when questioned by moderator Kenneth Dotson, president of the Lincoln Central Association.

"Implementing safe bicycling is something we have toiled on in our ward with some success, but there is more that needs to be done,” said Alderman Michele Smith. Smith’s challenger, Caroline Vickrey, said she was on board as well. “I know people who have been hit by bikes in a sort of hit-and-run situation," said Vickrey. "I think it's a good idea as long as it would be a reasonable process.”

The idea is one that comes up time and again, often in the face of crippling budget crises or election season. Former Alderman Richard Mell proposed the idea in 2011 as a way to crack down on reckless cycling and Ald. Pat Dowell floated an annual $25 registration fee in 2013.

But before certain columnists prepare to write yet another screed about how licensing would rein in scary cyclists while pouring money into the City’s coffers, advocates say such a system wouldn’t make things any safer or bring in any extra cash.

Building and managing the bureaucracy that would implement and enforce a licensing system could cost more than it would take in and drive ridership down. "Punitive measures such as licensing end up costing a city more than they make, and do little to create safety,” Elly Blue, author of Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save The Economy, told Chicagoist. “They disincentivize people from bicycling, whereas measures like low investments in bike lanes help make streets safer."

We also chatted with John Greenfield of Streetsblog Chicago and he agrees. “If one was required to have a license to ride a bike and we were ticketing people for riding without a license that would be a significant deterrent to cycling,” said Greenfield. As to the number of hit and runs involving pedestrians, statistics are more than vague (a report examining crashes from 2005 to 2010 did not have statistics). Greenfield said that while such occurrences happen, hit and run crashes involving motor vehicles are much more frequent. “It’s a trivial issue in comparison of people seriously injuring and killing pedestrians with vehicles. “There has never been a case of a cyclist killing a pedestrian in Chicago.”

Both candidates in the debate agreed that Chicago needs better bike infrastructure. Smith told DNAinfo Chicago she’s worked with the Active Transportation Alliance on a number of issues, including improving the intersection at Fullerton, Lincoln and Halsted, and separate bike and pedestrian paths along parts of the lakefront.