James Vesely / Times editorial page editor
Tales of two cycling cities: Chicago has no license fee, Honolulu does
Should bicycles be licensed? Yes, but cities such as Chicago and Honolulu take different approaches than Seattle.
Times editorial page editor
Honolulu's fee system:
BY far the most concise and articulate of my critics following last week's column suggesting bicycle fees was the writer who simply wrote, "idiot."
Such precision was not apparent in other commentaries, but we tried to put as many as tastefully possible online at www.seattletimes.com/opinion to give full voice to the detractors and the supporters of a license for bicycles similar to those on boats, dogs, hunting and fishing.
I contend this is not about emotion, but about public policy. How does a city and a region maintain its quality of life in harsh economic times? Normally, through a fee-based structure that asks for special use permits. Why should we exempt the politically powerful, such as cyclists' organizations?
My curiosity of the cycling world extended beyond Seattle's boundaries to two other cities where cycling is both pleasure and transportation. Chicago does not have a license fee, Honolulu does.
Let's take Chicago, which — at least part of the year — is a cyclist's dream along the beautiful lakefront and through the neighborhoods. Cycling is a passion there, as is the cyclists' involvement in their civic agenda.
Chicago does not have a fee, according to the major cyclist organization, but it does have mandatory registration to help police in theft cases.
A new bicycle ordinance is one of the most-progressive in the country. The rules, written with the help of the cycling community, place heavy fines on motorists who interfere with cyclists. A potential $500 fine goes to the motorist who opens a car door in moving traffic, deterring "dooring."
The rules require a 3-foot clearance while passing cyclists and prohibits motorists from turning right in front of a cyclist. In exchange, Chicago police are determined to enforce existing rules for cyclists. Last spring, police stood by a busy intersection and gave out warning tickets to cyclists who rolled through stop signs or made illegal turns. The Chicago Tribune reported most cyclists were cooperative, but some said the idea of coming to a halt at a stop sign was impossibly hard, because you have to stop and then start up again.
Honolulu has a different approach. Here's the gist of it:
"All bicycles with 20-inch or larger wheels are required to be registered by the city and county (of Honolulu)." Cyclists have a one-time fee of $15, plus a $5 fee when transferring ownership of the bike. A decal is attached to the bicycle's seat tube.
One important point: "All taxes collected from the registration fees are deposited in a special bikeway fund." Those funds can be used only for cycling projects and programs.
Some cities go one way, others another. To me, that means it is not a closed argument just because people get angry about it. Readers will no doubt find city policies elsewhere to agree with their views. I tried to find a city roughly the same size as Seattle, and Charlotte, N.C., at about 500,000 population, does not have a cycle fee.
I think we should in Seattle and the suburbs.
James F. Vesely's column appears Sunday on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is: email@example.com; for a podcast Q&A with the author, go to Opinion at www.seattletimes.com/edcetera
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