May I See Your Bicycle License?

SmithBikes.jpgIn a recent Waterloo Courier article (click here to link), a former multi-year councilperson offers good advice for living with a bicycle. In the same breath, he also demands a licensing program that would require nothing less than a gestapo to enforce.

Bicycle_Lane_1.jpgOn the surface, bicycle licensing seems like a reasonable tactic to stick-it to those spandex-wearing, health conscious, penny-wise, environmentally sensitive cycling fools. But in practice, it makes about as much sense as not allowing motorized boats on the Cedar River on Sunday. Wait!  Bicycle licensing IS THE LAW in Cedar Falls, has been since 1971. Motorized boating on Sunday was made legal this year. Lets dig a little deeper and answer the question, is bicycle licensing an effective method to raise revenue or provide some other public benefit?

An ordinance is only as effective as people are willing to comply and police are willing to enforce. In Cedar Falls, people don't comply and police don't enforce. It generates minimal revenue and serves no useful purpose (education, safety, skills improvement or otherwise). Behavioral licensing presents a burden to free living; occupational licensing creates unnecessary business barriers. In Cedar Falls, you need a license to have a 'going out of business sale'. You need a license to trim a tree. State licensing requirements are even more erroneous. In most cases, licensure laws unknowingly make criminals out of unsuspecting, enterprising citizens.

Oh yes, bicycle licensing in Cedar Falls. The current law requires that every bicycle be registered and 'tagged'. The current fee is $2.00. In 2013, one (1) bicycle was registered generating a whopping two dollars ($2.00) in revenue. OK, so even though it is the law, our licensing program seems to lack any resemblance of effectiveness and the revenues won’t even buy an Ace paint sample. But to argue that cyclists don't pay their fair share, well that's just factual manipulation. The greatest misconception is that bicyclists do not pay for roads. Cedar Falls funds the majority of road expenditures from the $4MM annual Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) on goods and services that all consumers pay. Interestingly, bikes are taxed the LOST, cars are exempt! Add up the revenues of Bike Tech, Europa, Scheels, multiply by 1% and let me know if it falls short of the annual $1,840 in bike marking expenditures.

BikeCheckPoint.PNGOK, so lets assume we want to enforce this law. At what point will citizens demand that police go door to door to ask for license and registration of dogs, gerbils, bikes, and wheelchairs?  Per the article, bike licensing should generate about $32,000/yr in revenues, but it would cost double to enforce... only the federal government can spend money that wisely.  I suppose we could set-up city checkpoints to verify licensing, but this wouldn’t pass a 4th Amendment litmus test. I can assure you, I will do everything in my power to prevent unnecessary and unreasonable search and seizures of our residents.

My point... we should refrain from overly-zealous licensing requirements. Licensing should only be required (preferably voluntarily) when it is absolutely essential as it relates to public health, welfare, and safety. Cars deservedly need licensing - whether it be to fund their awesome infrastructure burden or to more efficiently identify and pursue a criminal. An erector (of signs)? Well, not so much. Both are the law in Cedar Falls.

Continuing down the road of irrationality. My family of four maintains eight bicycles. Under the former councilman’s proposal, my family would need to pay $80 a year (on the low side) for the privilege of moving faster than 8.4 miles per hour without a car, my endurance land speed (i.e. average marathon speed). In property tax, this proposal would represent a 4% increase for me.  All things considered, I would be open to an open-road tolling proposal, the truest pay-for-use taxation method, but NOT licensing. Many in our city must believe that city planners are only tasked to move cars. As our recent Route 9 discussion brought to light, - many people can not exercise driving privileges due to financial or legal reasons.  While others choose not to drive by choice. This is a freedom of movement issue, our city needs to accommodate transportation freedom as both a quality of life investment and an essential service.

Property taxpayers subsidize many infrastructure and quality of life projects in Cedar Falls, a routine prioritization challenge in every budget. This year, we subsidized golfers to the tune of $171,000. Public transit users, $83,000. We spent $1,840 on bike lanes and sharrow paint (not $20,000 as purported). For the latter, considering the health, economic, and environmental benefits, lane marking doesn't seem like an unreasonable expenditure in light of the quality of life contribution for students, commuters, and recreational two-wheeled users (even if wearing spandex).

The city needs to build a complete transportation system that accommodates motorized vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians users alike. Bicycle lanes and sharrows cost about 0.000094% of the property tax haul. This meager expense is a major community differentiator that attracts residents, students, businesses and investment. Ending in a 'saying', we cannot afford to be penny wise, pound foolish. If you own a bike in Cedar Falls, feel free to comply with the law. Otherwise, consciousness objection anyone?


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  • My greatest concern is that of safety and responsibility. even though bicyclists have the same right to use our roads and streets, in the unfortunate event of a collision between the two, the car driver is at fault when it very well might be the bicyclists fault. Too many times have I nearly collided with a cyclist who totally disobeyed the traffic laws and it scares me!
  • Brilliant article!!