In today’s Boston.com article about the recent appearance of a ghost bike at a crash scene in Brookline, the reporter also mentioned that Brookline is considering requiring that bicycles be registered. (Executive Director David Watson is quoted on both topics.) MassBike is opposed to mandatory bicycle registration – in fact, we successfully repealed the long-standing statewide bicycle registration statute in the recent Bicyclist Safety Act. Requiring a prospective bicyclist to register their bicycle adds a layer of bureaucracy, and possibly expense if there are registration fees, for anyone who wants to ride. We are at a point in time where we need to remove as many obstacles as possible to getting more people on bicycles, not make it more difficult. And what about the fact that many bicyclists riding in Brookline, or most any town for that matter, do not live there and are just passing through? Those bicycles will not be registered. The old registration statute required bike shops in towns that adopted bicycle registration to register every bike they sold, identifying the purchaser – but if the bike shop in the next town over does not require registration, where do you think people are more likely to buy bikes?
One of the most often-cited justifications for bicycle registration is that it will enable police to better enforce the law against bicyclists who run red lights, hit pedestrians, etc. by identifying the offending bicyclist. But rarely do the people calling for bicycle registration call for increased enforcement against lawbreaking motorists or pedestrians, who represent the vast majority of people on the streets. In the United States, a city where even 5% of trips are made by bicycle is unusual; in Boston, for example, the number is closer to 0.5%. At the current level of mode share for bicycles, and with limited police budgets, there just isn’t enough bang for the buck in targeted enforcement against bicyclists. Not to say that bicyclists shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions – they should – but let’s try to keep the enforcement problem in perspective.