Should Joy Require a License?

Joel Engardio, a candidate for the Board of Supervisors in District 7, has figured out a way to draw much-needed attention to his campaign for office: revive a tired proposal like licensing bicycles that attempts to pit people who bike against people who use other modes of transportation. While it shouldn’t need to be stated, let me begin by putting the false dichotomy of bikes vs. cars to rest. People who bike also walk, take transit and drive. Mr. Engardio’s frame asserting “ongoing resentments between cyclists and motorists” overlooks the fact that most of us are multi-modal commuters who share perspectives, just like him.

We know San Francisco is a fast-growing city, and there are more vehicles than ever on our streets. Congestion is a real issue for people who live and work in all parts of SF, and it is a source of mounting frustration on our roads. Licensing bicycles and requiring people who bike to carry insurance does nothing to solve this problem. By establishing an additional set of barriers to growing the number of people who bike in our city, it risks just the opposite: increasing strain on Muni and encouraging more people to drive.

Biking is one of the most affordable ways to get around. We know that after housing, transportation is the second-highest household expense in San Francisco. Riding a bike is an inexpensive and healthy transportation choice for thousands of San Franciscans struggling to hang on amid a skyrocketing cost of living. Mr. Engardio’s proposal unfairly targets those who would be least able to afford the added cost of licensure and additional insurance premiums. It also ignores that fact that most people who bike already carry a driver’s license and insurance.

Mr. Engardio also argues that carrying additional insurance would give people who bike peace of mind as they cycle our streets. He has the problem perfectly backwards. Rather than accepting the status quo of unsafe conditions that currently exist, we need better infrastructure, including protected bike lanes, that reduces conflict and encourages more people to ride.

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition is committed to fighting for a city where biking is an easy, comfortable and smart transportation choice for people in every neighborhood. Our 10,000-plus members bicycle for a variety of reasons, including health, the environment, affordability and convenience. I ride my bike for all of those reasons, including this one: it brings me immense joy. By licensing bicycles, Mr. Engardio is proposing to erect a barrier and impose regulation on one of the last remaining simple and free pleasures in our hectic urban lives. It’s a terrible idea.

Mr. Engardio has since posted an update on his position regarding licensing bicycles and requiring insurance. 

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