By Jim Meyer
11 Sep 2012 6:47 AM
At last, someone is doing something about the horrifyingly dangerous traffic situation in this country! That’s right, there is finally a movement to make it more difficult to ride your bike on city streets.
I know, I know, Grist Reader, you have been clamoring for it for years. Sure, most of the nation’s multi-trillion-dollar freeway system already bans bicycles, and the vast expanse of the American landscape remains pleasantly bike-lane free, but still, U.S. roads are way too bike friendly, and more can be done to keep these pedal-powered menaces off the road.
Witness Portland, Ore.: A series of collisions between cyclists and cars has prompted the city to close a turn-lane section of N. Wheeler Ave. The resulting detour is estimated to add between 30 and 45 seconds to commuters’ daily trips. That’s as much as 15 minutes a month — and it’s 14 minutes and 59 seconds too much for businessman and do-good(ish)er Bob Huckaby.
Huckaby has proposed a statewide ballot measure that would surely clear up the problem on N. Wheeler and many other streets as well: He wants to require all Oregon bicyclists to have a license, and to register their bicycles and outfit them with license plates.
Huckaby wants to put the measure on Oregon’s ballot next year. If it passes, the next steps against unlicensed bikers could include automated broomstick launchers that fire wooden dowells into your spokes at intersections and pit traps buried in bike lanes — for safety, of course.
This whole movement may seem frivolous, but I should say that I understand, somewhat, where Huckaby is coming from. I lived in Portland for a spell and spent two years commuting on my bicycle from Mt. Tabor on the East Side to Powell’s Books on the West. So I can tell you, Oregon has the worst drivers and riders of all stripes on the face of this great blue ball we call home.
Portlanders are, hands down, the slowest, sloppiest, most infuriatingly law-abiding drivers the world has ever seen. (Don’t believe me? Place one foot off the sidewalk and onto the street in Portland and watch every car from Mt. Hood to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch come to a screeching halt. It’s enough to make a seasoned East Coast jaywalker tear his own eyes out.) On the flip side, have you ever wondered what happened to Lord Humongous and all of the marauding anarchist gangs from the Mad Max movies? Apparently they all bought fixies and moved to Stumptown.
Nonetheless, if Huckaby’s law goes through, it will present a lot of problems. If you own several bikes — say a road bike, a mountain bike, a fancy two-wheeled-unicycle, and one for your pet chimp — that’s a lot of licenses and a lot of cash. And what about kids? Can your 9-year-old pass the rider’s test? If not, should he be tazed by the authorities? And tourists? Lots of people head to Oregon on vacation (mostly Germans) to bicycle (because Germans don’t know what fun is). What about them? What about the Germans?
OK, I understand. It’s a serious problem: As more Portlanders — and Americans everywhere — take to the road on two pedal-powered wheels, there are more and more conflicts between motorists and pedalphiles (it’s a new term I’m kicking around — please let me know if you see any problems). Many of the internal combustion persuasion are angered by bicyclists who demand equal access to roads while simultaneously flouting red lights, stop signs, and other traffic signals. In a recent British survey, 57 percent of cyclists admitted to having run a red light and 14 percent said it’s at least an occasional habit.
I, for one, would like to see a lot more bikes on the road and a lot fewer cars, but as we move toward that goal, something has to be done to prevent total roadway chaos. As a bicyclist and motorcyclist, I am well aware that vehicle safety needs some fine-tuning across this great land (the U.S. is No. 25 in science education, but No. 1 in driving into swimming pools).
At a time when bureaucracies are already stretched thin, however, adding yet another labor-intensive responsibility seems fiscally irresponsible. In 2011, the city of Long Beach, Calif., ended its short-lived bicycle licensing program because, despite hefty fines of up to $400 for riding an unregistered bike, the city was hemorrhaging money on law enforcement and prosecution. With Oregon’s projected fines in the neighborhood of $25, it is unlikely to do any better. A Medford, Ore., bicycle registration law was repealed in 2010. “We just think this is an unnecessary ordinance and is really unenforceable. It really doesn’t work in the best interest of our community,” said the city’s then-Chief of Police Randy Schoen.
So while bicyclists are hardly the biggest danger on our roadways (I think it’s safe to say that title is reserved for the triple threat of lions, tigers, and bears), many cyclists aren’t aware of how traffic laws pertain to them, and many drivers haven’t a clue, either. I would certainly support increased education for both bicyclists and motorists, and a rethinking of the rules on our increasingly mixed-use motorways.
Licenses are not the answer, however.
Huckaby told Jonathan Maus at bikeportland.org that he’s been encouraged by the response to his ballot measure and has hired a lawyer to write the proposed law. He needs 87,000 signatures to get the measure on the ballot and is hopeful to have them by 2013. You can bet there’ll be a lot of noise from both sides should it make that far.
In the meantime, if we’re going to throw out impractical, divisive, and infuriating solutions, I suggest we get a bit more creative. We could require a bicyclists-only chunnel below every street in America. Or how about we alternate days? Mondays and Wednesdays for cars, Tuesdays and Thursdays for bicycles, Fridays for rollerbladers, pogo-sticks, and silly-walkers, and the weekends belong to racing toilets (it seems like that’s the way it’s going in my neighborhood anyway).
You can follow the whole saga of One Angry Man vs. the bicycles over at bikeportland.org.