Legislator Proposes New Licensing Requirements for Bicycles

If a city lawmaker has his way, cyclists in New York City may soon have to think about more than dodging car doors and pedestrians.

New York City Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Queens) announced last month that he will propose new legislation requiring licensing of all adult cyclists in the city. Proponents insist the measure will protect pedestrians from cyclists, but other residents fear the measures will add one more bureaucratic obstacle to a cheap and clean form of transportation.

Several students at The King's College in Manhattan voiced concerns about the bills.

"I think it sounds remarkably inconvenient. There are way too many people riding bikes in the city to expect that," said Betsy Brown, a senior at King's. Brown has been riding her bicycle around the city since her sophomore year and says that cycling allows her to save money, get to know the city, and enjoy fresh air.

Ulrich is not the only one to consider increased bicycle legislation for New York. State Assemblyman Michael DenDekker introduced similar bills in mid-February but withdrew them in response to public protest. The bills would have required all cyclists to license and register their bicycles. Commercial cyclists would have been required to have insurance.

Cyclists and bicycle advocacy groups in the city responded to Ulrich's idea with outrage, and Ulrich met with Transportation Alternatives, a non-profit bicycle advocacy association to hear their concerns.

Conor Greene, a staff member from Ulrich's office said, in early March, that the Councilman still planned to introduce a bicycle bill in the next few months, despite the opposition to the state bill. However, unlike the assembly bill, Ulrich's bill would apply only to adults and would not require riders to have insurance. Whether or not the bill requires licensing of both commercial and private cyclists has yet to be determined.

The bills followed a law passed in early March requiring the city's Department of Transportation to complete reports of bicycle crashes in the city. The department currently maintains records of bicycle fatalities and serious injuries, but the new reporting regulation will require reports on bicycle crashes with pedestrians, bicycles, and cars, whether or not injury occurred.

The new law, as well as proposed bills, was created in response to the growing number of cyclists in the city. Though the Department of Transportation does not track the number of cyclists in the city, the department's Community Cycling Indicator measures bicycle traffic at key intersections. According to its latest findings, New York bicycle traffic increased by 13% from 2009 to 2010.

Should Ulrich's bill pass, its effect on New Yorkers would depend mainly on the cost of licenses, as well as enforcement.

Nate Plumb, a sophomore, commutes from his dorm in the Lower East Side to the college everyday. Asked if he would register his bicycle if the bills pass, Plumb shrugged. "If it's not regularly enforced, I would not," he said. "If it was strictly enforced, it would depend on the costs."

Businesses depending on bicycle delivery are also concerned about costs."It would hurt the business," said Jonny Montez, an employee of Rosa's Pizza. Montez hesitated to elaborate on the direct costs to Rosa's, but admitted that most of the company's delivery people are undocumented workers who would not be able to obtain licenses.

Students and businesses alike will have to wait to learn the details of Ulrich's proposed restrictions. A member of Ulrich's office says that the Council's legal department is currently drafting the bill in preparation for sending it to committee hearings.

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