Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Three cheers for the licensing "debate"

Bear with me for a minute, because I'm going to mention That Video. The one that shows the cyclist, clearly running a red light along the Laurier bike lane, getting terrifyingly knocked across the hood of a car, the driver of which had clearly not been looking when he decided to duck around the car in front of him without pausing to wonder why the other driver might have been slowing down.

I won't link to the video, because it doesn't really matter, and you don't need to see it. Both parties were in the wrong. Whatever.

The thing is that since that crash happened on Saturday, we've had literally multiple media cycles - four days of it now - devoted to finding out who that red light runner was, whether he's been charged and with what, and multiple interviews with the poor shaken driver of the car. And more than one news outlet has decided it's a grand idea to put a poll on social media to ask, "Should cyclists be licensed/required to pass tests/certified?"

It's infuriating, because We Have Already Been Through This. And we've got the arguments lined up. Licensing cyclists has been tried. Any jurisdiction that's tried it has backed off, because it's stupidly expensive to administer, with no noticeable benefit to anyone in terms of safety or incident reduction, or even recovery of stolen bikes. Also, many cyclists already have driver's licenses, which presumably cover the rules of the road as they pertain to cyclists. And then there's the evergreen argument: at what age do we require these tests and licenses? Seven? Twelve? Eighteen? So a kid rides to school every day until suddenly she's eighteen and she has to pass a test to do it? Or do you forbid seventeen-year-olds from riding their bikes on the street? And if you do, then what do you do about your no-sidewalks laws?

A moment's thought and you can come up with this stuff. Think for just one second, I want to yell, while shaking these bike-hostile Twitter trolls violently, just think before you rattle off your reasonable-sounding and oh-so-original proposal, accompanied by that damn "thinking face" emoji.

But this time around, I'm going to be glad of this pseudo-"debate." Because it's actually clarified another point for me. And yes, that point is equity. Even talking about licenses, or training, or mandatory cyclist education, is, like so much else about cycling discussions, middle class affluent bullshit. It's the sort of thing people who don't worry about trading rent for food say. "We should just make them all take a course," you say. Okay then. Who will pay for that course you're imposing, or for the licensing fees? The cyclist? Right, you're automatically reaching for that mental image of a cyclist, and it's a guy in Spandex on a more or less high-end bike on his way to his white-collar job. Or a hipster type on his way to his part-time barista job, which he does to supplement his freelance graphic design work. Or whatever.


Bikes are, unquestionably, the only thing cheaper than your feet to get you around. They're a vital form of transport for people who can't afford a bus pass, much less a car. Bikes are the one kind of transportation that, once you have it, costs almost nothing to keep on the road. They are vital for people with minimal incomes, people on disability support (yes there are disabled bikers and lots of them don't @ me), elderly folks on pensions, immigrant families, the homeless and the street involved, and children of all kinds. The last thing you want to do is to put some institutional financial barrier in the way of using bikes.

It costs $158 to get a driver's license in Ontario, and that's not counting any driver's ed courses you might need to take, which might run you $800-$1,000. Sure, maybe a bike course would be cheaper, but even Can-Bike, which relies on local partners to subsidize their classes, charges money; and their courses have to be hosted by a community partner. So if the government isn't fully, 100%, subsidizing the training, the courses, and the enforcement, you'd better not talk about requiring anyone to carry around a bike permit. (Even in that case I think it's dumb, but if you must insist, I've got some ground rules. And if you already bitch about your taxes going into building bikes lanes, I'd like to talk to you about why you'd like them to go into a license scheme.)

Blathering about licensing cyclists just demonstrates your privilege, and your blindness to the people that bikes help most: the working poor, the homeless, the people trying to get established in a new country, starving students, children, struggling families.

So thanks, stupid, logic-free license debate. You've given me yet more insight into the inequality lurking in the general public's view of cycling. You've caused me to go out and look up a few more facts and stats to put into my armory. And you've helped to remind me of all the ways bikes matter.