September 11, 2012
A survey published in the Star on Tuesday showing growing support for licensing cyclists was panned by many in the cycling community.
“Bad poll. Wrong message. Bike licensing doesn’t work. Police have powers of enforcement. Go w(ith) education instead,” tweeted Cycle Toronto.
One of the questions asked in the Forum Research survey was: “Do you approve or disapprove of licensing bicyclists so that traffic laws can be enforced with them?”
Of the 834 respondents, 65 percent approved. But the question didn’t make much sense to some people who pointed out that cyclists are already subject to the Highway Traffic Act. (Although the act does apply to cyclists, Police Chief Bill Blair told the police services board in 2011 that licensing would “create a certain accountability that would assist us in enforcement.”)
The issue of licensing comes up so frequently that the City of Toronto has a website devoted to its history, and Cycle Toronto has a statement online. The group opposes the idea on the grounds that creates unnecessary and costly red tape, when legislation already exists. Also, it discourages cycling.
The city investigated the idea of licensing cyclists in 1984, 1992 and 1996. The city’s manager of cycling infrastructure and programs says it is not currently being studied and doesn’t have much merit.
“This notion that if people have a licence they’d be better cyclists, that hasn’t stopped drivers from crashing into each other,” said Daniel Egan.
Another question in the Forum survey asked if licensing would be a fair trade for European style bike infrastructure.
“There’s a presumption that cyclists aren’t paying for anything, and don’t deserve anything, as if we don’t pay property taxes,” says I Bike Toronto blogger Herb van den Dool.
Since cyclists can already be stopped by police, van den Dool says licensing seems to be a way to collectively punish cyclists “because somehow there’s been a general sentiment created that we’re getting away with murder.”
Even further, it is an impractical idea that would hamper tourism efforts like the Bixi program, he said.
Eleanor McMahon, founder of Share the Road, says many people assume that a licence is a way to “control or change behaviour.”
“That hasn’t necessarily been the case with licensing cars,” she said.
The issue of licensing cyclists isn’t a Toronto specialty. In bike-friendly Portland, Ore., resident Bob Huckaby is hoping to get the matter on a statewide ballot.
Huckaby told BikePortland.org that he would like to see an education program for people who have not taken the Oregon driver’s test, and more enforcement of traffic laws. He proposes that the new measure would be paid through program fees and a fee for bicycle licence plate registration, he told the blog.
Jonathan Maus, publisher of Bike Portland, says politicians avoid this issue because no one wants to be seen as anti-bike and no one wants to enforce a new tax regulation. Maus says Huckaby has made an interesting point about people who may be using the roads who have never taken a driving test, but his framing of the issue is very broad.
“Logistically it’s a nightmare,” Maus said — noting he has 12 bicycles he would need to get plates for.