During the Republican National Convention, when the NYPD arrested thousands of protesters to maintain public order, the largest group arrested was cyclists. And by now you’ve probably heard about the semi-organized monthly ride to nowhere called Critical Mass, whose sole purpose it seems is to annoy drivers.
Critical Mass has also annoyed just about everyone else who lives in and cares about New York, including Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Kelly. So it’s not a surprise that City Council Members Madeline Provenzano and Philip Reed have proposed a law - Introduction 497-2004 - that will deradicalize this dangerous group of residents and restore law and order to our streets, once and for all.
The proposed bill would require all cyclists in the city over the age of 16 to register their bicycles with the Department of Transportation. This legislation would also impose steep penalties for failure to comply, which include substantial fines, seizure of property, and jail.
Mr. Reed has since taken his name off of this bill. However, according to a press release emailed to me by Ms. Provenzano’s office, this law is necessary because “Many bicycle riders fail to obey the traffic laws for which they are responsible. At present, it is very difficult for the NYPD to issue summonses for bicycle violations, since many cyclists do not carry proper identification.”
This is probably a good time to point out that out-of-control politicians can do a lot more damage to society than out of control bicycle riders. And no politician is more out of control than Ms. Provenzano.
Aside from the larger issues - and they don’t get much larger than adding a legal and bureaucratic layer of regulation to a mode of transportation that has gone 136 years since its invention without one - it is extreme and dangerously arrogant to suggest such a radical change in our social fabric without either a consensus or engaging in the necessary public conversation, neither of which Ms. Provenzano has done.
If she had spoken to the police department, as I did, she would have found that the NYPD does not have a problem issuing summonses to cyclists and that this has never been a strategic or tactical concern for the NYPD. In fact, Sergeant Doherty of the NYPD’s office of the deputy commissioner for public information refuted the councilwoman’s claim that it is very difficult for the NYPD to issue summonses: “Once ID is produced, a summons is issued and they are on their way. “And she also assured me that the “NYPD had procedures in place for dealing with anyone not able to produce identification.”
Another person that Ms. Provenzano should have spoken to was someone from the department of transportation because the bill as written places the responsibility of registering bicycles on DOT. Make no mistake about it: This is an agency that doesn’t even know what a bicycle is. How else can you explain the lack of a safe, appropriate, riding infrastructure for the more than 3 million bicycles that city residents own? What they call a bike lane the rest of us use as taxi-hailing and double-parking lanes.
When I asked Craig Chin at the DOT press office what planning has been done by DOT for the possibility of having to register millions of bicycles, he said, “I don’t know.” When I asked if he thought people would have to bring their bikes in to be inspected or would they be able to register via mail, he said, “I don’t know.” When I asked whose responsibility at DOT this would fall under, he said, “I don’t know.” And when I asked him if he thought DOT was the appropriate agency to handle the registration of millions of bicycles, he said, “I don’t know.”
When I called Assistant Deputy Commissioner David Wolloch to discuss Mr. Chin’s answers, he didn’t return my calls. If Ms. Provenzano had talked to DOT, at least she would have known that this would be the wrong agency to administer the registration of millions of bicycles.
Ms. Provenzano didn’t talk to the cyclists either. According to Noah Budnik, a spokesman for Transportation Alternatives, a group that claims to be a voice for bicycling interests that has little to show for its 20 years of activism on behalf of cyclists,” Neither Provenzano or Reed contacted us. This was a surprise to us,” he said. “We all have concerns about safe biking.” Yet he was unable to articulate why it was so bad to have riders register their bicycles. So I’ll do it.
More than 100 years after its invention, bicycles are still the most efficient vehicles on our roads. Think about it. No noise. No pollution. And the ability to travel at more than 20 miles an hour via human power. Yet as a society, we continue to move in the wrong direction and promote automobile use in our city.
It is not unrelated that we are fighting a war against terrorism in a region that contains most of the world’s oil reserves. So what do we do? Do we redesign our cities or invest in intercity rail transit or promote cycling or Segways, which get the equivalent of 450 miles per gallon? No. We build Hummers that get 8 mpg. We give businesses tax breaks to purchase them. And then we subsidize oil to the tune of about $1 billion a day, making it easier to drive in our city instead of more difficult.
Then there’s the environment. Ironically, with global warming, there are more nice cycling days than ever. But we have made cycling so difficult that only the most idealistic and desperate use a bicycle regularly in our city. Yet as transportation, a bicycle makes more sense than a private motor vehicle for most urban uses.
What is preventing more people from cycling in our city is nothing other than an unsafe and hostile environment. And here we are proposing laws to make cycling harder instead of easier, which is the exact opposite of what we ought to be doing. New Yorkers need better bills than Intro 497-2004 and, apparently, better politicians as well.