Should Bicycles Have License Plates?
An assemblywoman in northern New Jersey, Cleopatra Tucker, introduced a bill last week that called for New Jerseyans to register their two-wheelers—yes, even a tike’s bike with training wheels—with the Motor Vehicle Commission at $10 each and to have every bicycle sport a license plate. The bill (A3657) was widely criticized, drawing “outrage from bicycle enthusiasts and others who called it unnecessary and intrusive government regulation,” according to today’s Star-Ledger. It was withdrawn by Tucker today.
Tucker had proposed the bill in response to several elderly residents in her district complained of being knocked over by children on bikes. The elderly victims, Tucker noted, “had been knocked down, knocked over and they had no way to register a complaint. They couldn’t identify the person.”
Paige Hiemier, vice president of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition, described Tucker’s withdrawal of the bill as “a victory for cyclists.” Indeed it is: My husband and son are avid bike riders and having to go register their bikes (and stand in those same lines as we already do for our cars) would be a major, and not so necessary, nuisance.
My son has been riding on local streets since he was 6 years old, but always with my husband right beside him and ready to explain why, with his neurological challenges, Charlie might be riding on the sidewalk. After more than 7 years on two wheels, Charlie has become a very able bike rider, and rides on local streets, though it is the case that motorists here in New Jersey aren’t always very willing in sharing the road.
And one point to keep in mind: Tucker’s reason for introducing the bill was not necessarily so much about restricting personal freedoms, but (according to her statements) arose out of concerns about elderly residents in her district, in the towns of Belleville and Bloomfield, which are right next to the troubled city of Newark. To accompany its articles about the bill, the Star-Ledger ran a photo of lycra-clad, predominantly white cyclists cycling (some on vintage bikes with huge front wheels) on a suburban street. Tucker’s concerns were not necessarily about such cyclists but, perhaps, rather about children and teenagers who might be a bit more careless in their cycling habits as they pedal in congested urban neighborhoods.
Last October, a judge in New York ruled that a young girl, who was accused of running down an elderly woman while racing a bicycle with training wheels on a Manhattan sidewalk in 2008, can be sued for negligence, according to the New York Times. While I find this case poses some (to understate the matter) perplexing ethical and legal questions, it does suggest that there are some dangers to children of any age riding bikes on city sidewalks.
How about building more bike lanes, for a start?
Photo by gallagher.michaelsean.