On the bike license proposal and sharing the road

I recently wrote a guest column for the website Eugene Daily News. It’s about the “share-the-road” concept and the effort by a Portland businessman to get a measure on the ballot that would require a license to ride a bike. They said it would be OK for me to repost it here. So …

A Portland businessman named Bob Huckaby was in the news recently, proposing a ballot measure that would require you to have a license to ride a bicycle in Oregon. His proposal also would mandate license plates on bicycles. He reportedly has a lawyer drafting on the language.

Unlike some people who avidly ride bikes around town, I’m not vehemently opposed to this idea. My response is to sort of shrug. I don’t think it would be a terrible inconvenience, and I don’t think it would discourage people from riding bikes.

But I do think it would be a waste of time. And money.

A ballot measure is the easy way out. It may be a way for Huckaby to feel like he is doing something useful. But I doubt it would fix the problem he wants to fix — which is to say, cyclists sailing off the sidewalk and through a crosswalk, running a red light, or otherwise flouting the law.

Some do. No question. But if we think requiring a license for cyclists will stop them from running red lights, why do I encounter motorists — who presumably have licenses, not to mention license plates — driving 85 mph on the freeway? How come nobody actually drives 25 mph on south Willamette Street? That’s the speed limit. Why are there no ballot measures to address that? In fact, we seem to accept it. [NOTE: Given the news from yesterday, it’s pretty clear that the requirement to have a license doesn’t prevent really bad drivers from driving.]

I’m starting to doubt that sharrows are a good idea.

We are in a time of change. What is being called “urban cycling” or “cycling for transportation” — as opposed to cycling for recreation — is growing. People are riding to work, running errands by bicycle, riding around town with kids on their bikes.

They are more visible — and so is their lawbreaking.

What may be happening is that we are starting to witness the breakdown of the “Share the Road” concept, the idea that we can all get along on the same roads, happily coexisting, waving and smiling at each other.

Don’t misunderstand. A lot of people do wave and smile. Most motorists — and cyclists, too, I think — try to share the road and be considerate. But if you listen to serious cycling advocates — and I don’t necessarily consider myself one — you will hear many say that what we really need are better ways to separate bikes and cars. In fact, there are some good people in Eugene who are working very hard to do this, to create more routes like the new “cycle track” on Alder Street, although that certainly isn’t a perfect solution.

Maybe someday we’ll get there. Maybe someday we’ll be more like Denmark. But for the moment we must make do with a problematic system: “Share the Road.” Essentially, it advises us to be nice. Like telling my two young kids to share the same space on the couch. It isn’t a bad thing to encourage, but I never assume that it’s going to end well.

Here are some other things you should never assume out there sharing the road:

  • Never assume everyone in a car is a jerk.
  • Never assume everyone on a bike is an arrogant scofflaw.
  • Never assume that the lack of a flashing turn signal is any indication of a motorist’s true intentions.
  • Never assume that a cyclist will consider a red lights anything more than advisory.
  • Never assume that the motorist pulling out of a parking lot or driveway ahead of you is actually going to look in your direction before rolling into the bike lane.
  • Never assume that, because you ride a bike, you are above reproach.
  • Never assume — when trying to make eye contact with the driver of a car with dark tinted side windows — that the operator of said vehicle is not actually a monkey.

You never know.

18 thoughts on “On the bike license proposal and sharing the road

  1. Nicely said.

    I’ve had a lot of conversations with people who tell me about parts of Eugene or Portland where there are lots of cyclist running stop signs and yet claim that if they hit one, they would bear no responsibility for somebody else’s unpredictable action…

    “Unpredictable!? You just told me it happens all the time!”

    A good friend who happens to be an attorney then pointed out that the speed limit in the area in question was 35….

    “so, umm, is that a minimum or a maximum?”

    Eventually I decided that driving a car is like a great big Milgram Experiment – as long as you’re within parameters defined by authority, you bear no responsibility for your actions.

    It’s an unrealized and fairly small part of driving for most people – but it was clearly amplified in Gliech’s semi-functional brain.

  2. I assume there would be money changing hands if bike plates came to pass. If that is the case I wonder where Huckaby’s lawyer is penciling in where that will go? There is of course the police follow-up which may resemble “cell phone use while driving” enforcement; which as far as I can see is zero. If bike plate funds were channeled into bike related road improvements I approve.

    1. Yes, but all previous attempts have shown that the management of these type of registration programs end up eating up all the funds raised. You’d have to charge an amount way out of line with reasonable bike registration fees to actually have any go into real infrastructure type funding.
      Cyclists already pay for infrastructure funding through other taxes (since the gas tax doesn’t pay for the full expense of our transportation infrastructure).

  3. When my dad was teaching me to drive a car, he gave me the best driving advice I have ever received: “Always assume that everyone else on the road is simultaneously unaware of your existence and actively out to get you.”

    This means making many of the assumptions that EB writes above, but also leads to things like:

    – Never assume that a vehicle approaching a red light will actually stop for the red light.
    – Rules about the right of way do not intersect with the laws of physics. It’s better to avoid a crash than to crash into someone over whom you have the right of way.
    – Drive slowly (under the speed limit, where feasible), leave lots of room, don’t take anything personally, and be as predictable as possible.

    Advice like this, and like EB’s, is magnified for cyclists, since we will always be on the losing end of any collision with a motor vehicle.

    And no, licensing will do nothing about any of this. It hasn’t done so for motor vehicles.

      1. “Faster, it’s illegal”

        Only if there is a motor vehicle around:

        814.410: Unsafe operation of bicycle on sidewalk
        “(d) Operates the bicycle at a speed greater than an ordinary walk when approaching or entering a crosswalk, approaching or crossing a driveway or crossing a curb cut or pedestrian ramp and a motor vehicle is approaching the crosswalk, driveway, curb cut or pedestrian ramp. This paragraph does not require reduced speeds for bicycles at places on sidewalks or other pedestrian ways other than places where the path for pedestrians or bicycle traffic approaches or crosses that for motor vehicle traffic.”

        “(2) Except as otherwise specifically provided by law, a bicyclist on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk has the same rights and duties as a pedestrian on a sidewalk or in a crosswalk.”

        1. The way I read the ORS, it’s still illegal to ride fast off a sidewalk into a crosswalk. It says, in a double-negative sort of way, that “reduced speeds for bicycles” are required “where the path for pedestrians or bicycle traffic approaches or crosses that for motor vehicle traffic [i.e. where the sidewalk/crosswalk crosses lanes used by cars].” It does not say that cars have to be around, just that the “path” for cars has to be present.

          If you’re riding a bike on a sidewalk and you ride into a crosswalk at a speed faster than an ordinary walk, you are violating ORS 814.410, and a car crashing into you will not be at fault.

          That said, this ORS is poorly written, because clearly Shane and I could have a spirited discussion about what it really means. If he and I can’t understand it, and I’ll vouch for him as a smart and thoughtful guy, what chance does the average sidewalk-riding cyclist have of understanding this law?

  4. “what chance does the average sidewalk-riding cyclist have of understanding this law?”

    Not much. But what’s the chance they even care?

    That’s a thing about this. In the video of the “debate” about this that I link to at the very top of this post, Bob Huckaby talks at one point about how police decided to crack down on speeding on some street in Portland. They started giving tickets regularly and traffic slowed down, he asserts.

    And there he just explained why his own proposal won’t make a damn bit of difference. It’s not that people had to get licenses that made them slow down. It’s that they started getting fined.

    I sorta doubt the cops would really have time to make enforcement of this a priority.

  5. I also think the kind of work Shane is doing — teaching school kids how to ride safely — is far more productive than Huckaby’s proposal would be. If the program was helping pay for more Shanes, I’d happily pay a registration fee. But I suspect Shane is right when he says the cost of running the licensing program would eat up the revenue it generated.

    Speaking of teaching school kids, there’s an opportunity to volunteer to help Shane with this work:


    1. Thanks.
      Now if everyone who complained about “scofflaw cyclists” would A) volunteer to ride along on a community ride with the kids we teach the 10-hour “Bike Drivers Ed” to that would make me happy and/or B) take an adult bike education course themselves (and ride more often). THEN they might see the world through a different lens.
      What do you say Mr. Huckaby, want to come ride with us?
      I can dream, right?!

      Of course a lot of this is about respect. A cyclist on the sidewalk (probably because the road doesn’t feel safe) isn’t a problem if they respect pedestrians. Just like a motorist isn’t a problem to the kids trying to bike to school until they don’t pay attention and drive into them… “oops sorry about that, who let you ride your bike to school anyway, what bad parents, don’t they know its dangerous out there…”.

      Another thought on the overall meme Mr. Huckaby represents… Why do we waste time on cyclist scofflaws? Easy target, it’s THEM. Meanwhile the scofflaw motorist is ALL of US and everyday behavior. Go stand in front of a school from 8-9am and tell me if the cyclists & pedestrians that are the problem…or all those parents who “have to” drive their kids to school (along with everything else they have to do) and so a quick drop-off in the bike lane and a u-turn on the double yellow doesn’t really hurt anyone does it?! No…except when 5 of them do it (and 20 others do some other illegal action).

      1. Shane,

        Has anyone in your position made a PR move out of trying to get Huckaby involved with programs like yours? They really are the closest thing to what he claims he’s trying to accomplish – it seems like inviting him (in a very public way) to be involved with the classes is a win-win, if he gets involved and the media covers it, it’s great publicity for bicycle education… if he won’t go near it, he ends up looking a bit like a silly hypocrite.

        (and I should say, from watching the interview, I don’t necessarily think he is a silly hypocrite… I think he’s wrong, and he’s clearly partially motivated by negativity, but he also seemed like an ok guy)

        1. No we haven’t, most of our volunteers actually ride bikes and set examples for kids on the community rides. I don’t know Mr. Huckaby but I am guessing from his opinions that he doesn’t ride bikes much and wouldn’t set a great example for kids on our rides. However, I could be totally wrong and it might be fun to have him there signaling, coming to a complete stop, making left turns, and keeping ghost space with the other students.

        2. I agree with Kevin in that watching the video with Huckaby and Jonathan Maus you get the sense — or I did anyway — that Huckaby is genuinely trying to do something constructive. Misguided though the idea may be.

          This is a situation where there probably is common ground — as Jonathan points out. But it could easily become emotional and polarized.

  6. I appreciate that someone is trying to do something. If licensing would help I am all for it. There isn’t enough of a police presence in Eugene though. I see just as many drivers who don’t even slow down as they sail through stop signs, drive in the wrong lanes, and sail through red lights. The cyclists and drivers have equal numbers who just don’t care about courtesy or the law. There has to be an incentive for them to comply, and unless the police become motivated to clamp down I don’t see that happening. Therefore licensing would be a waste of money.

  7. Bring back the blog! Bring back the blog!

    Before it’s too late and you have to change your slogan to “Fine blogging since 2010 except for that hiatus I took in 2013.”

    We miss you, Eugene Bicyclist!

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