Cyclists across Chicago are reacting strongly to a proposal last week from Ald. Richard Mell (33rd) calling for the licensing of bikes in the city as an option to quell rule-breaking, which Mell called a rampant problem on city streets.
Many have drawn parallels between this suggestion and a rash of other crackdowns proposed citywide, including stricter enforcement of shoveling requirements and dog licenses, that could offer the city a revenue boost as it faces sweeping budget shortages.
At the budget meeting where Mell brought up bike licensing, Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein skirted the issue, and pointed to the city council's ban on texting while biking, passed earlier this month, hailed as a move to "level the playing field" between motorists and cyclists.
Huffington Post blogger and biking advocate Renee Patten, a resident of Mell's ward, raised some concerns about the proposal.
"It is a short-sighted proposal that does not address the real issues of creating a better transportation system for all users of the road," Patten said. "As I proposed to the alderman in an email, as I am a resident of his ward, 'How about you support a protected bike lane in the ward? Increase road sharing signage? Support more conversation between all users of the road? I ride daily down Montrose and there are many, many more effective ways to increase the safety on our streets than this idea.'
"The alderman needs to realize and make decisions remembering that for one, streets are not just for drivers, and also that our road infrastructure was designed for automobiles as singular users we need to start designing and planning streets without this mindset to improve and create safer Chicago roads," Patten added.
Chicago cyclists have also taken to The Chainlink, a citywide online bike forum, raising concerns that a push for licensing (which is already available on the city's website) would be more driven by revenue interests than safety concerns.
"Hmm, reduced congestion, less pollution, reduced wear and tear on infrastructure, lower public health and insurance costs...seems as if cyclists should be subsidized, not taxed," user Christopher Warland argued in the site's discussion thread on the topic. "On the other hand, I'd buy a license if the revenue went into a bike infrastructure trust fund. Like to get some of these fading lanes repainted."
Warland added, "Of course proposals such as this are fairly transparent attempts by people who don't like cyclists to create barriers to increased cycling. Nothing more or less."