Court opinions often include dissents or concurrences to clarify specific points. This minority report resembles a concurrence since we strongly support the recommendations of the committee. The amount of hard work and careful thought that went into the report speaks for itself. The point of this minority report is that the committee did not go far enough.
At the heart of the problem is the City of Portland’s 2010 Bicycle Plan. It proposes making bicycles a mainstream mode of transportation. Its goals are quite radical – 25% of all trips under three miles by bicycle – but it gives little guidance on how this goal is to be reached. As is clear from the majority report, this is unlikely to occur if our planning for bicycles continues to be underfunded, haphazard, and poorly communicated to bicyclists and the community at large.
Adding to this report a requirement of licensing and registration of bicyclists and their bicycles will help the City of Portland to reach this goal in a manner that ensures the safety of everyone on the road.
Let’s start with safety:
A central issue in committee discussions has been safety. Safety issues include bicycle to car collisions, bicycle to bicycle collisions, and bicycle to pedestrian collisions. One key to addressing safety concerns is additional education and enforcement.
The statistical evidence suggests that the lynchpin of bicycle commuting in Portland is the Hawthorne Bridge. On an average summer weekday we have measured 4,000 riders going west in the morning and returning east in the late afternoon. This represents approximately 40% of the bicycle commuters in the downtown area and slightly less than 25% of bicycle commuters for the city.
The west side terminus of this route is a busy intersection for buses, cars, pedestrians, and bicycles. In fact, all four modes of transportation meet at the northwest corner of First Avenue and Main. Bicyclists must cross from the right side of the road, across the path of buses and cars, and then proceed on a lane between the right lane and the middle lane of Main. The potential for collisions between bicycles and motorized traffic is quite high.
This picture from Google Maps, amply displays the problem. Two cars are simultaneously in the pedestrian crossing. The westbound vehicle is in the bicycle lane. The bicyclist may be taking the bicycle lane across the intersection, crossing over a lane of traffic used for cars turning right onto Second Avenue and a destination for buses to discharge passengers. This picture was apparently taken in the afternoon with the sun overhead so that few commuters were present.
Many of these concerns can be addressed with better planning and better infrastructure – if we have the funding – but most require education and enforcement. The demographic information places most commuters as males between 25 and 44., Our only existing form of education for this demographic group is the Oregon Driver’s Manual which assumes that bicyclists are also drivers and that they have taken the driving test in recent years when some information on bicycles has been added to the manual.
Education as a key component of safety is mentioned in the committee report, but little is said on how to bring education on bicycle safety to current bicycle riders. The critical point is that the ATV model presented below brings education on safety directly to current ATV drivers.
The ATV Model
A useful model can be found on the web at http://www.rideatvoregon.org/. In Oregon, all-terrain vehicles require a license -- $10.00 – and a short web based safety training program. The requirements are not onerous and seemingly have not discouraged riders of all-terrain vehicles from pursuing their avocation.
As discussed in the body of this report, licensing and registration schemes are currently underway in many cities, two states, and Japan. They are the exception to the rule, but hardly uncommon. A survey of licensing and registration programs currently in place is contained in Appendix VI to the Majority Report.
Hawaii and Utah have state level registration programs. Registration programs are common at many universities and often extend to the surrounding community. Larger cities, including Honolulu, Salt Lake, Madison, and Milwaukee also have mandatory licensing programs.
The structure of licensing and registration programs across the U.S. are highly idiosyncratic. Many programs are voluntary. The mandatory programs appear primarily focused on crime deterrence with safety a much lower priority.
There are more than enough programs that establish that they are feasible. Interestingly, the fees charged in most programs are less than $10.00 per bicycle indicating that cost effectiveness is not a significant issue either.
This is an area where Portland might lead, rather than follow, other major cities.
The Difference between Licensing and Registration
The two terms – licensing and registration – are not synonymous. Colloquially, drivers are licensed and cars are registered. In the model described above for all-terrain vehicles, the drivers are licensed. All-terrain vehicles can be registered at the Oregon Department of Motor Vehicles, but it is not mandatory since ATVs are not operated on roads.
In the case of bicycles, it is appropriate to license riders in order to enhance education and raise revenues. It is also appropriate to register bicycles in order to discourage theft and identify riders who do not follow the rules of the road.
A common refrain in our research was that licensing bicyclists was impractical, unenforceable, or that the benefits were simply outweighed by the difficulties. In Oregon we issue licenses on a state, county, and city level. The word “license” is used in a variety of applications ranging from your driver’s license, your automobile license – most applicable to our discussions – to gambling licenses, hunting and fishing licenses, dog and cat licenses, gun licenses, marriage licenses, and a bewildering array of professional and vocational licenses.
Every level of government has assigned offices to keep track of licensing. The state of Oregon has a website that provides information on 1,191 different forms of licenses issued by 113 agencies. Multnomah County has a 47 page pamphlet that describes license fees that references 43 types of licenses.
The City of Portland has centralized collections at the Bureau of Revenue, an agency tasked with collecting license fees in a variety of areas ranging from poker games to secondhand stores. The Bureau’s mandate includes licenses – including the Portland business license – and billing for city-owned utilities. Their responsibilities also cover diverse areas like the arts tax, gambling, leaf pickup, and payday lenders.
Specific licensing – bicycle commuters, for example – would seem easy to identify and enforce. While we have little statistical data on recreational bicycle riders, we know that bicycle commuting is highly centralized with half of bicycling commuting occurring in the urban core and a significant fraction of the remainder in the near eastside areas.
An even more radical idea is bicycle plates. The increasing use of video monitoring to enforce traffic laws requires that vehicles be identifiable. Mainstreaming bicycling – at 25% of all rides – and simultaneously making identification of bicycle traffic law offenders more difficult than other forms of transportation doesn’t seem reasonable. The cost of a bicycle license plate is low. Personalized license plates are currently available on the web for nominal prices.
Enforcement of the licensing of bicycle commuters is relatively easy. Since over half of bicycle commuters must cross the river at a very limited number of locations, it does not require a significant police presence to simply ticket bicyclists who have not contributed to Portland’s bicycle development.
There is a strong perception that theft is a serious problem, and little data exists on the scale of the problem or its cost to the bicycling community. A recent Oregonian report on the recovery of sixteen bicycles from the apartment of a bicycle thief provided a web link to help the victims identify their stolen property. At the time, two of the sixteen bicycles had been returned to their owners, which would seem to indicate that only 12% of the stolen bicycles were registered. The absence of a centralized mandatory bicycle registration system makes the job of the thief easier and the plight of the victim much harder. The lack of an effective registry system also removes one of the most effective obstacles in the marketing of stolen property since resellers cannot be held responsible for selling stolen property.
It should be noted that the two police witnesses in our research supported registration as a crime prevention program.
The most significant reason for licensing bicyclists is to educate current bicycle riders. The Majority Report offers only a school program. By having a test with the license we enable some education of the bicyclist. Additional funding would allow many educational steps such as billboards to educate drivers and bicyclists.
Arguments Against Licensing and Registration
If we as a city seriously envision mainstreaming bicycles as a transportation choice, we also have to envision educating bicyclists (and motorists and pedestrians) about the rules of the road and then enforcing the rules of the road on all members of the community.
There is a fear that a registration fee will discouraging to bicycling. There is no evidence that bicyclists lose heart so easily. However, there is substantial, and vocal, evidence that bicycle advocates dislike such measures. For that matter, there is little evidence that owners of any vehicles like such measures.
The argument that car ownership by bicycle riders constitutes a funding contribution is faulty. All modes of transportation are subsidized, and the amount of this subsidy is difficult, if not impossible, to estimate. Registering your first car does not excuse you from registering your second or third car.
As for the argument that the police may be reluctant to enforce licenses; the police have many assignments which are insufficiently enforced ranging from distracted driving, DUI, speeding, running lights and stop signs, and even licensing and insurance checks. This does not mean that we should get rid of those laws.
We suspect that if pitched correctly the program could get a lot of people complying without enforcement because of the positive nature of what is happening. Licensing and registration provides a chance for the bicycle community to be part of the solution, and to counter those that complain about bicycle infrastructure paid for out of money that they think they may have contributed.
A possible framework for implementing this tax follows:
- The City of Portland would license Portland bicycle commuters. The license would require a web based safety education program similar to that for ATV drivers. The license fee could be $30.00 per year.
- Bicycles owned by the licensees would require registration of the frame number of the bicycle(s), and bicycle commuters would be issued an inexpensive bicycle license plate attached to their bicycle.
- The revenues from the fee would be earmarked for bicycle infrastructure, measurement, education, and enforcement.
The minority recommends adding the following Recommendation to the Majority Recommendations as 9d.
9 d. Portland should adopt bicycle user license fee and testing to be earmarked for bicycle infrastructure, measurement, education, bicycle registration, and enforcement; implementing a model similar to that used for the registration and licensing of Oregon’s All-Terrain Vehicles.
 Maximum ridership from the Hawthorne Bridge monitor on September 25, 2012 was 8,302 rides. Not all rides are commuters judging by “off-peak” ridership outside of commuting hours. The number of bicycle commuters from the Portland Business Alliance was 9,635.
 2011 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Table S0801.
 Means Of Transportation To Work By Age Universe: Workers 16 years and over, 2011 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates, Table
 Although outside the charge to the committee, there was an oft expressed sentiment that continuing education on the ATV model would be a good idea for the drivers of all vehicles.
 http://www.personalizedbikeplates.com/personalized-bike-plates-for-adults.htm, for example. Amazon.com lists bicycle license plates for as low as $3.50.
 Old Town hotel eviction leads to suspected bicycle thief, Oregonian, February 28, 2013.
 Minutes of 10/16/2012