Should Cyclists Need Licenses to Ride? Portland Weighs the Question

A proposed ballot initiative is raising the hackles of the bike mob, but could it be an opportunity to pressure for dramatic infrastructure upgrades?


There's a rumble brewing over in Portlandia and the national bike community is paying attention. With a through-the-looking-glass perspective that perhaps could only be possible in bike-mad Portland, local business owner, Bob Huckaby, thinks the local bike boom has taxed a city infrastructure that can no longer keep up. His solution: mandate licenses for every cyclist without a drivers license and put license plates on every bike.

Huckaby's not just spouting hot air either—he's determined to get the 87,000 signatures required to get the initiative on the statewide ballot, he's hired a lawyer to help craft the language, and he told Bike Portland's Jonathan Maus that he's already gotten plenty of support for his proposal.

If you're really going to talk about 'share the roads', and this is what it's all about," Huckaby said today, "everybody has to be on the same playing field...I'll share the road, but let's share the laws too... Let's all operate the same way. And that goes both ways, I'm not after just bikes, I just think it needs to be a fair playing field. And that's the only way you're going to get it is to just register them.


Maus stands on the other side of question and points out the costs to the cyclist—$12 for the license and $40 for the plate every four years—and the cost to the city in enforcement. Long Beach, California recently threw out its mandatory registration system as "antiquated and inefficient"and Maus points out that other municipalities have also decided that bike regulation on this level is just not worth it.

Huckaby and Maus have firm middle ground though—they both want the City of Portland to become the best equipped town to handle the increase in ridership, says Maus.

When Huckaby looks out at the roads, he sees a vast increase in bicycle traffic onto a system that isn't ready for it. During our chat, he expressed frustration that the City of Portland has done so much promotion of bicycling, yet hasn't built a complementary system of infrastructure to handle it.


Implementation and regulation of a licensing system on the scale of Huckaby's proposal does indeed sounds like a beast, but would it really be such a bad idea? Perhaps the bike community of Portland could embrace this as an opportunity to stand up and be counted and Maus and Huckaby could work together to craft a proposal that would ensure that revenue collected would be set aside specifically to upgrade Portland's cycling infrastructure. After all, what daily bike commuter wouldn't gladly fork over the price of a tank of gas every four years for the promise of a dedicated system of bike highways?

Image (cc) flickr user Woody1778a

Julian Meehan

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