By Dr. Kim Perry, Executive Director
On August 29, a Chesterfield Virginia resident wrote a letter to the editor in the Richmond Times asking why cyclists should not be required to have license if they have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists.
Later in the day someone asked my opinion on the matter. My gut reaction was “No! That’s Terrible.” But I may have answered that wrong. The question nagged me as I drove home from my meeting and well into the afternoon. What I’ve written here are my opinions on the pros and cons of such an idea.
Barrier to Access
I first said no to this idea because the first thing that came to mind was that creating barriers for riding was harming people who need to be able to ride the most. While car ownership is common in the US, operating, maintaining, and owning a car is expensive. In some areas car ownership is not as important as other places and often depends on population density and availability of public transportation. Wikipedia has a chart of car ownership by city that provides some interesting data. We work in Virginia though, and understand that public transportation does not serve the bulk of the state’s residents.
Data from responsibleridesva.org suggests that rural Virginians are often without needed transportation; in some areas 1 in every 12 households does not have a car that needs a car. These families are often in the lowest economic levels and do not have access to good public transit. Biking is an important choice for them.
How many people that need to bike are undocumented or do not have good identification or even a permanent address? What about the now homeless man or woman that is trying to get back into society?
So how do people in this situation get around to work, run errands, and go to the doctor?
Walk. Bike. Bum a ride. Probably yes to all of these.
In my mind this is the group that would suffer most from having another barrier to biking for transportation.
Secondly, I think that having to get a license would be too much trouble for many people who might want to take a short bike ride for exercise or to run an errand. Would a license requirement be one more barrier to a highly effective and enjoyable form of exercise?
Biking burns more calories than many other forms of exercise. It’s easy on joints. It takes you to farther places. So making one more blockade might just perpetuate that cycle of obesity and failing health that our community is falling into.
I ask, why would we want to keep people from being active when inactivity and disease cost all of us money? Sickness and disease cost us all in higher insurance and healthcare costs. It costs our employers more (sick time and cost of benefits) and that’s money that could be going back into company development or salaries. You don’t just pay for your own health conditions, but that of everyone around you at work and in your community.
We should be encouraging everyone we know to exercise.
So, would you license the 5 year old or the 80 year old? Riding a bike is one of the great freedoms that we enjoy, no matter the age. When you are too young to own and drive a car and when you are not able to drive your car any longer your two wheeled friend is ready and waiting. If you can pedal, you can ride. Heck, even if you can’t pedal you can get an electric assisted bicycle!
Know the Rules
On to the pro side of things. I can understand the point that the commenter was making, bicyclists should have to demonstrate a knowledge of the rules of the road. I completely support the idea that we should know the traffic laws for biking. Bicycle law would be a great thing to teach in school. It could easily be part of PE or driver’s ed. We could have more bike specific questions on the driving exam.
Obey or Pay
Every vehicle on the road should obey the traffic laws that are designed to make everything flow smoothly and keep YOU and ME safe. Cyclists should signal their turns. Ride predictably. Stop for traffic signals. When cars fail to do these things it’s a problem. And there are consequences such as tickets and fines and insurance increases. I think that cyclists should face consequences too. I’m fine with tickets and penalties. As a matter of fact, it’s happening now, more people are getting tickets for cycling infractions like failure to stop.
What is the Right Answer
I’ll admit, this problem like many in life has no easy answer. I do think communities could do a lot to raise expectations for people that ride bikes. The culture of both knowledge and respect should be there, in the faces of residents who ride and drive.
Cycling is a good solid answer to many problems. Crowding and congestion. Parking and greenspace balances. Lower Cost Infrastructure. Affordable ownership and Operation. Exercise. Social connectivity to the places where we live, work, and play.
Changes like this take time. Every community will need to assess their own unique situations and needs. It’s not hard to begin though, you can start today in making a positive change, read up on cycling and Share the Road Tips and biking laws on our website. Pass it along to someone you know. You can also become a partner in Cycling and Pedestrian Awareness Week, we’ve got lots of resources for communities, businesses, and individuals.
Become a supporter. Contributions make our educational and awareness programs possible. Even the tiniest donation can help make Virginia a better place to bike and walk. Learn more on our Contributions Page.