New York Bike-Licensing Bills are Weird and Probably Won’t Pass, Experts Say


Monday, Runnin’ Scared reported on Assemblyman Michael DenDekker’s new bicycle bills. If his proposals pass, riders across the state would have to register and tack license plates on their bikes, and submit them to yearly inspections.

First-time registration would cost $25, with a yearly renewal fee of 5 bucks. For commercial cyclists (who would also have to get insurance), paperwork would cost at least $50. DenDekker expects that these bills could initially generate some $1,875,000, and an added $375,000 every year after. Of course, DenDekker doesn’t really specify where the money would go, just that there would be more of it. Anyway, we decided to poke around the Internet and call a few people who knew about transportation policy, and see whether similar measures are the norm across the country. Turns out, they’re not.

License plate requirements are pretty much unheard of, says Meghan Cahill, spokeswoman for the League of American bicyclists, and she couldn’t think of any place in the U.S. that had them. Bikes, she says, can vary drastically in their shape and setup, especially when you throw vintage models in the mix, meaning there’s not a fixed, standard place on a bike for a license plate. So it would be tricky to consistently identify cyclists from a distance — which was one of DenDekker’s main argument for a plate.

And DenDekker’s proposed registration requirement — and the fees that go with it — don’t seem to stack up with most of the rest of the country, either.

On a state level, Hawaii requires that all bikes with tires larger than 20″ get registered, for a one-time fee of $15. If you decide to sell your bike or give it away, there’s an additional $5 to transfer the license. Minnesota used to have a registration requirement, but abandoned it because: “The administrative costs were more than the revenue generated,” according to that state’s Department of Transportation.

Some cities, like Madison, Wisconsin, do mandate registration. But when it comes to major metropolises( other than New York), none of the country’s biggest cities by population — Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose — seem to require bicycle registration or licensing of any kind

A couple of towns recommend “registering” with local police departments, in case of theft. Other big cities, though, just suggest that concerned bike owners use the National Bicycle Registry, which, for $10, puts your bike in a national database for 10 years. (DenDekker also said his plan would prevent theft, but it’s at least more than 2 times as expensive as the broader, nationwide registration, and doesn’t last as long.)

Transportation experts don’t really think that DenDekker’s bills will come anywhere close to becoming law. “I think it’s fairly foolish and probably a non-starter,” says Caroline Samponaro, Transportation Alternatives’ Director of Bicycle Advocacy. “Really, it’s a waste of resources. Out of the 76,000 crashes in New York, less than 4 percent involve bikes.” Frederick Brodzinski, associate director of the City University of New York’s Institute for Transportation Systems and professor of public policy, says that it’s not common to license bicycles. He doubts the bills will go anywhere, either. “I don’t think it has much chance,” he said. “There are too many cyclists in the state.”