VT Legislator Introduces Bike Registration Bill

Earlier this month, Senator Carolyn Branagan of Franklin County introduced a bill that would require people to register bikes and pay an annual fee for the privilege.  Here's a nice article from VTDigger that asks some pointed questions about what such a bill would accomplish and whether it is needed.  

We've been getting lots of questions from supporters about this bill.  What's the point of registering bikes?  Why was this bill introduced in the first place?  And most important, is the bill going anywhere?  Read on for answers!

The short version is, this bill is going nowhere.  Local Motion checked in with contacts in the House and Senate transportation committees—without whose approval the bill cannot advance—and they affirmed their longstanding opposition to bike registration.  The reasons why legislative leaders (and Local Motion) oppose bike registration are many.  They include:

  • Cost vs. benefit.  Any reasonable fee to register a bike is unlikely to even cover the cost of running the registry.  So registering bikes would not generate any meaningful amount of revenue for paying for bike-related improvements to roads—one of the reasons that proponents of registration often cite.
  • Equity.  The folks who most rely on their bike—people living on a low income who have no other means of transportation—are the ones who are least able to afford a registration fee.  There are strong equity arguments for keeping biking free.
  • Enforcement.  Any police officer will tell you that they have more pressing issues to focus on than whether a bicycle is registered.  Are they going to stop kids, check their registration, and take away their bikes?

Then there's the basic fact that there is no meaningful connection between registering bikes and addressing the issue that Sen. Branagan raised:  failure of some bicyclists to ride by the rules of the road.  The Senator herself couldn't articulate any positive impact that registration would have on bicyclist behavior.  So what's the point?

Our assessment is that Senator Branagan introduced the bill with good intent, but that she does not have a clear sense of what in fact will result in safer biking and smoother bicyclist-motorist interactions.  To this end, we'll be reaching out to her to set up a meeting to discuss what will actually make a difference for the issues she raised.  Here are just a few of the ideas that we will bring to her:

  • More space for safe biking on Vermont's roads.  Wide shoulders, bike lanes, and paths make a real difference.  Vermont has a history of investing in safe roads, and we need to build on that commitment to make roads safer for everyone.  VTrans is in the middle of a large-scale effort to prioritize and advance bike-related improvements on state highways.  That effort needs legislative support to ensure that the funds are available to make needed improvements.
  • Effective education and outreach to people biking and people driving.  Yes, people on bikes sometimes do dumb stuff.  So do people driving.  Clear guidance about how to coexist safely and peacefully is more useful than finger-pointing.  One idea:  replace "Share the Road" signs (which are ambiguous and do not result in safer behavior) with "Pass Cyclists with Care -- Four Feet" signs (which are completely clear about what is expected).  


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