Thinking Bicyclist Accountability Thoughts…

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Chicago Lakefront Trail

Chicago Lakefront Trail

LINCOLN PARK — Should Chicago’s bikes be taxed with an annual licensing fee similar to cars?

Both candidates in the 43rd Ward aldermanic race said they would consider such a measure during a debate ahead of April’s runoff election.

The moderator of the debate last week, Kenneth Dotson, president of the Lincoln Central Association, asked “Do you support a requirement where bicycles be licensed? 

Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) said licensing could be the answer to making biking safer in the city.

“Implementing safe bicycling is something we have toiled on in our ward with some success, but there is more that needs to be done,” Smith said.

Smith’s opponent, Caroline Vickrey, also said she thought licensing could be a good idea.

“I know people who have been hit by bikes in a sort of hit-and-run situation,” Vickrey said. “I think it’s a good idea as long as it would be a reasonable process.

“We don’t want to add another layer of bureaucracy,” she said.

This is not the first time the ideas of a bike tax has come up in the city.

In 2013 Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) floated the idea of a $25 license fee on bikes.

“If we have to register our cars, bikes ought to be registered as well,” Dowell said at the time.

The executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance said any sort of licensing or bike registration plan that is mandatory and involved a fee or fine would be detrimental to the city.

“We should really be looking for ways to encourage cycling not discouraging,” said Ron Burke, executive director of Active Transportation. “Bikes get people around with no air pollution. They minimize traffic congestion. They cause very little wear and tear on the roads, unlike cars.”

Burke said a number of U.S. cities have attempted to implement bike registration programs and have found that the program actually costs more money to implement than it raises.

“On the surface it sounds like a good idea,” he said. “‘We license cars, why not license bikes?’ Often you will hear this recommendation in the context of ‘Those crazy cyclists, they are being reckless and dangerous.'”

Burke instead suggested that the city implement biking and walking education programs built into the school system.

Such a program could be layered into gym or health classes.

Both candidates in the debate agreed that the ward needs better bike infrastructure.

The 43rd Ward, which includes Lincoln Park and parts of Old Town and the Gold Coast, does not have any protected bike lanes.

Smith said the ward faces difficulty implementing safe bicycling infrastructure such as protected bike lanes because many of the streets are too narrow.

There have been discussions over the past two years of creating “greenways” running east and west, which could involve turning a two-way street into a one-way street and turning the rest of the street into a bikeway.

Smith said she has been working with the Active Transportation Alliance to address cycling safety issues.

One issue that she has worked with the group on as well as the Chicago Department of Transportation is separating the bike and pedestrian paths along the lakeshore in the new Fullerton revetment project near the Theater on the Lake.

As part of the Children’s Memorial Hospital redevelopment, Smith worked with the developer to include improvements at the intersection of Fullerton, Lincoln and Halsted, which is one of the most dangerous intersections for pedestrians and cyclists in the city, according to city data.

There will be striped bike lanes that continue through the intersection on Lincoln Avenue and Halsted Street.


One recent respondant to the idea of a bicycle tax wrote:

Reply by Jordan Schlife 4 minutes ago
Apparently there have been some “sort of” bike hit-and-runs. Well, maybe the city is going to start taking automobile hit-and-runs (aka “real” hit-and-runs) seriously.

It’s hard to argue against some accountability for bikes if they are running people over and fleeing, but bikers are the wrong place to draw revenue from.

This of course shows the rather odd disconnect between two notions:

  • Bikes belong on the roads as much (or more than cars) they should be afforded every right that cars have when it comes to occupying city streets. Because of their vulnerability bicyclists deserve at least 3 Feet when being passed and victims of collisions with automobiles should always be given vulnerable-user status and be financially compensated accordingly.
  • Bicycles are very different from cars. When a bicycle collides with a pedestrian and ‘takes offs‘ without waiting for the police to arrive this is not OK, but slapping bicyclists with the same kinds of fines and penalties as automobile drivers ‘is not fair‘. Cars kill, bicycles do not. Bicycles should be encouraged to enjoy sidewalks and trails, rather than taxed.

Eventually Bicyclists Will One Day Enjoy Total Parity

Bicycles do kill. Most of the high profile deaths of pedestrians at the hands of bicyclists and many of the injuries sustained by joggers and even other cyclists at the hands of reckless bicyclists have not resulted in heavy penalties. Bicyclists have been given the very same sorts of ‘slaps on the wrist‘ as the Urban Cycling Community complains about being handed motorists.

Evidently within the Urban Cycling Community there is little sentiment to make the deaths of pedestrians killed by fellow cyclists as meaningful as those caused by motorists. That of course makes precious little sense, but then little does when you listen to most of the arguments given by members of the Church of Urban Cycling.

When a pedestrian or a cyclists is hit by a car and they die, the effects are 100% the same as when they suffer this fate at the hands of a bicyclist. Likewise when we as a cycling community constantly offer up the notion that red light cameras and speeding cameras are just fine for motorists but licensing is not good for bicyclists one has to ask, ‘why not‘?

There is a certain amount of the ‘having your cake and eating it too‘ mentality that is floating around out there in the Urban Cycling Community ether. Much of this is borne of the notion that ‘bicycles are inherently good and so are their riders‘. The Clerics of the Church of Urban Cycling have offered very little in the way of justification for this tenet of their faith, but it is widely accepted as part of the Gospel According to Two Wheels.

When a cyclist dies at the hands of a motorist, we hold a vigil to honor the victim. And in fact we annually parade around on our bicycles to visit these hallowed sites in something called the Ride of Silence or the Ride of Remembrance.

But should a pedestrian be so unlucky as to have stepped out in front of a cyclist trying to beat his personal best on Strava and finds himself dead, we do not visit the site of his demise. In fact we do not dare mention that this sort of thing happened at all. It would bring dishonor to the Church of Urban Cycling.

Of course what we are saying in essence is that ‘Only Bicyclists Lives Matter‘. Perhaps there will have to be a ‘pedestrian Walk of Silence‘ to make it clear that ‘All Lives Matter‘. But until that time bicyclists will continue to deny that there is a need to fully include them in the sharing of responsibility for their actions.

We wish to remain ‘teenagers‘ who get an allowance for doing very little at home and yet have the right to complain when our parents demand that we obey their rules while continuing to live under their roofs.