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Registering bicycles will not prevent any accidents

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Registering bicycles will not prevent any accidents

By Matthew Rascone

The new, silver BMW that almost hit me while I was riding my bicycle near the corner of Broad and Spruce Streets may well have been registered. But by the time I turned around to copy down the license plate, it was two blocks away and headed into the October sunset.

The car’s registration status had not done anything to prevent an accident. As far as I could tell, pure luck was the most important factor.

Two pedestrians were killed by bicyclists last month, and next month City Council will respond by considering legislation requiring any cyclist over the age of 12 to register and tag his or her bicycle, much as one would a car. But how would that remedy the problem of irresponsible bicycling?

It’s very sad when someone dies - especially someone you know or love. But I don’t think government-mandated registration would prevent any bicycle-related deaths.

A citywide initiative promoting safe riding would have a greater chance of preventing bicycle accidents. So would stiff fines for rogue bicyclists and jaywalking pedestrians.

I often bike to my office in Center City. During this commute, I often find myself cursing under my breath as pedestrians cross the street in the middle of blocks. They usually waltz out between two parallel-parked cars while jabbing at the buttons of their mobile phones. I typically hit the brakes, and the screeching sound causes them to look up and meet my annoyed stare. I can’t remember one apology, but I can recall many condescending looks suggesting I was the one who was wrong.

Last week, I decided to count the number of times this occurred in one day. During a 20-block round trip to and from work, I counted three jaywalkers crossing in the middle of a block.

Had a bus hit and killed one of these people, SEPTA would have been held accountable. Had I hit and killed one of them, City Council members would use it to further their latest legislation. Yet very few would note that the deceased should have remembered a grade-school lesson: Look before crossing the street instead of sending an e-mail on your BlackBerry.

And that is one of the major causes of enmity between cyclists and pedestrians. A cyclist must obey traffic laws, but a pedestrian listening to an iPod - and completely oblivious to his or her surroundings - is somehow free of any guilt.

Aside from the fact that bicycle registration and licensing programs have been implemented in several cities with only marginal success, police officers have more important issues to address, starting with the 301 homicides in the city last year. Also, Philadelphia is still in the red, and I wonder whether bicycle registration is really another measure designed to generate revenue.

I also question whether this bicycle legislation will hinder Mayor Nutter’s efforts to make Philadelphia America’s next green city. And it certainly won’t help the city deal with its unusually high obesity rate.

Finally, are we really ready to forfeit our century-old freedom to buy a bicycle and ride it home without worrying about a license plate or registration?

For the time being, I hope bicyclists will ride respectfully, pedestrians will use common sense, and our City Council members will not pass such a useless piece of legislation.