In Salem, Representative Wayne Krieger (R-Gold Beach) has introduced legislation that Oregon bicyclists say is a case study in Car Head, the tendency to see the world through a windshield especially when it comes to bikes. But in some ways, Representative Krieger’s proposal, House Bill 3008, actually seems like a good thing, elevating the bicycle to the same status as any other vehicle on the road. The bill establishes a bicycle registration system in Oregon that would require each bicycle to be registered just like a car. 

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  • The fee for registering a bike in Oregon would be $54 with fines for not having proper registration ($25) and for altering a bicycle’s serial number ($90). Each bike would get a little reflective sticker just like cars do.  The fines and fees are deposited into a new bicycle transportation fund that is dedicated to “pay for development and maintenance of bicycle lanes, bicycle paths and other bicycle related transportation improvement projects.”

    But bike advocates are outraged, partially because they believe the law would discourage people from riding. To them, registration feels like a tax that could discourage people from bicycling, maybe even prompting more people to drive. They also dislike the bill because they believe the sponsor has an anti-bike motivation.

    Based on some of Representative Krieger’s comments there’s some good evidence that he isn’t out to promote bicycling.

    When asked whether the bill would discourage bike riding Representative Krieger said, “If a small fee discourages something, I would suggest they probably aren’t very ardent to the cause to start with. I think there are very few people who would stop biking because of the fee.”

    It’s hard to imagine many politicians making a statement like that about driving a car—and its part of the reason bike advocates don’t trust where this bill is coming from.

    There are two key issues with this ongoing debate. First, increasing the price (and headache) of using a bicycle will likely discourage some people from riding and impede others from starting to ride. If promoting bicycling is a policy objective then this bill is probably unhelpful.

    Second, many bicyclists would say that bikes already have enough legal standing on the road without a registration system.  What’s missing is broad cultural recognition among drivers that bikes should be treated with the same respect as another car. The best way to improve bicycling’s cultural standing is to making significant policy changes that protect and empower bicyclists on the road rather than imposing registration requirements.

    It’s this last point that truly annoys cyclists. There are manyother policy changes that would improve safety and make it easier to ride. Get those done first, and maybe registration might make sense.

    It’s hard to tell whether registration will discourage biking in the short term, or if over the long term registration will shift cultural norms to give bicyclists the respect they want from drivers.

    Some jurisdictions have already opted for registration, including Honolulu where it is mandatory; but I haven’t caught up with any studies about whether the registration policy has made a difference in bicycling rate. (It may be worth a field trip to find out.)

    Do the benefits of elevating the bicycle’s status outweigh the downsides of imposing fees and headaches? Are there other things we should do first before we require registration? Will there ever be a time when bikes should be registered? How will we know? Weigh in, in the comments section!