Bike Registry Failure?

Background Reading


Biking While Black

Biking While Black

Registry Issues

In the article cited above this appears:

In 2003, Fort Lauderdale began requiring residents to register their bicycles with the city, aiming to make stolen bicycles harder to sell and easier to recover. City commissioners say that the policy resulted in a bike theft decrease, though a lot of people didn’t bother or didn’t know to register their bikes, and the stolen bike trade around the Broward Central Bus Terminal continued at a brisk pace.

But the bike registry program did have one noteworthy effect: It gave Ft. Lauderdale police the perfect excuse to start pulling over cyclists the same way that they did drivers — to check their registration. If the bike was unregistered, they could ticket the cyclist and impound the bike.

And lo, this came to pass — but only in certain neighborhoods. When the Broward Palm Beach New Times crunched numbers compiled by the Public Defender’s Office in October 2013, the paper found that the vast majority of tickets handed out by police over the past three years had been given to African Americans. The stories behind those tickets were alarming; in one case, police pulled over a woman leaving a party late at night, wrote her a ticket, took her bike, and left her to find her own way home through a dangerous neighborhood.

Almost none of the tickets were handed out in predominantly white neighborhoods, despite the fact that the majority of Fort Lauderdale residents who had actually gone to the effort of registering their bikes were black.

The author concludes with:

Until I read the New Times series, I thought that having a bicycle licensing system was a pretty great idea. Definitely, among my circle of friends, the most common crime that we encounter is bicycle theft. Fort Lauderdale’s bicycle registry program seems to have been drawn up by bike advocates, rather than people actively out to oppress anyone’s civil liberties. But when we’re fighting for bike policy, it’s important to think about how things will be implemented in the real world. For now, Fort Lauderdale is a cautionary tale of a good idea gone wrong.

The War On Drugs

Over regulation in the African-American community is nothing new. It is a separate issue from questions like should you have to register a vehicle. I cannot think of anyone who disagrees with the notion that in the event your car is reported stolen and its description is passed to squad cars around the city, cars fitting that description should be stopped and the driver should be required to provide registration.

Bicyclists seem to have this notion that what has worked for scooters, motorcycles and automobiles is either never going to work for bikes or will put a damper on the number of people engaging in bicycling.

Well, licensing and registration has never stopped the growing number of automobiles. In fact when you talk about young people getting their licenses, its a big deal for them. It is something of a coming of age ritual.

The ‘War On Drugs‘ ended up incarcerating more blacks than whites and for much longer times. That was both unfortunate but not unexpected. We can do bicycle registration the right way.

But rather than seeing this as punitive it might be wiser to think about the education and training aspects of it all. Right now there is no general knowledge of how to ride on streets. Bike lanes are not the full answer. In fact bike lanes which place the rider (by design) in the Door Zone only make things worse.

Knowing how to ride in such lanes or better yet, how to deal with trucks, buses and automobiles who when making right turns are allowed to merge into the bike is better yet. Please don’t let your knee-jerk reaction to ‘being on the grid‘ make you stupid.

If each bicycle has the same kind of external identification plate that autos and motorcycles have it would go a very long way to lowering the number of instances of scofflaw behavior, because now there would be consequences. People would be able to photograph you and thus help identify both bad and illegal behavior.

Because bicycles are so ‘invisible‘ people have a very hard time identifying one when they see it. Plates would help.

One more thing. A license plate on the bike and a bike license in the wallet make it crystal clear who owns this bike. The next time a bicycle advocacy group starts ragging on the cops for not being diligent in recovering their stolen property think about just how anonymous most bicyclists really are. I doubt very seriously whether an APB to squads in a given area would make much sense to the average officer who is neither a bicyclists but more important unfamiliar with the various brands/models of bikes.

Trying to recover stolen property in most instances is a fools errand. At the very least having a license plate and bicycle license in your wallet would limit the number of attempts to sell stolen bikes to unwitting shop owners.

Benefits of Licensing and Registration

If you are a carless person you probably do not have the ready ID that a driver does. If you are a cyclist who has no drivers license you are likewise anonymous. Perhaps you like it that way? But think about these things that you lack when you are ‘anonymous‘.

Lacking ID you cannot be easily identified nor your loved ones notified if you are ever in an accident. If you are a person-of-color riding a bicycle in the city and someone else (also black or brown) happens to strike and injury or even kill a pedestrians, witnesses are likely to give the only real description as ‘a black or brown male‘.

And when the cops start looking for the perpetrator of the crime you are the target. Had there been a license plate on your bike, the description might have instead been a ‘person on a bike with the plate number ending in BEEZO‘. The cops can move past you because your plates are not the same.

What in fact happens if you have to be sent to a hospital in an unconscious state? Failing a drivers license they would have to run your face through a facial recognition database to identify you. But then again, you are not likely to be in one if you have never had a drivers license.

Any critical information regarding your allergies or other medical issues are unknown for the time being. Your family would have to have heard of an accident or called the police to report you missing. But as we all know that does not trigger an immediate search. The cops always allow for some sort of family spat or lark to have occurred before deploying their manpower on what turns out to be a simple misunderstanding.

Nope, for all the obvious reasons, everyone needs to be identified.