Sunday, January 16, 2011

An Open Letter To Santa Monica City Council Regarding Bicycle Registration Ordinance Changes

Dear Council Members,

I've thought a lot about bike registration and I have a few concerns with keeping the ordinance as suggested in the staff report, as well as some questions about the nature of how the program and database are implemented.

If it is to be kept in some form I think the program should be opt in. Making it mandatory, even if only for residents, still places most local cyclists in a position of violating the law by default, who despite increased efforts to promote bike registry, often do not know it exists or is required. The inability to enforce bike shops to register bikes guarantees more bikes will be circulated without being registered. The idea of mandatory obligation to register is extremely worrisome to me unless there is a serious effort to really register every bike, which would undoubtedly take more resources than is spent currently on the program.

Since it would be residents only and not people passing through, how will the police distinguish between resident and someone passing through?

To date I have not seen any data or reason to believe city bike registry really cuts down on bike theft or has resulted in many bikes returned. The police saying it helps is not real information to me without further elaboration and supporting data. Even if it has had some successes, since this program does not even come close to paying for it self as the staff report indicates, we are all paying to have it in place. Might there be other ways such resources could be more effectively used to reduce bike theft?

There are also outside resources and programs such as nationalbikeregistry.com which register bikes more efficiently at less cost to the cyclist and without needing subsidy to administer. Santa Monica PD, along with many CA departments are already listed as participating police departments with access to their data base. Why not simply encourage people to register with National Bike Registry since it is cheaper for cyclists and the city, and the SMPD already has access to that database? Bikerevolution.org also offers bike registration and stickers for free. Also what if someone has already spent money to register with the National Bike Registry (their sticker and registration form kits are sold in some bike shops)? In that case in order to meet Santa Monica's requirements, they would essential have to double register even though SMPD has access to the registry they already paid for.

Speaking of database, how is the Santa Monica local bike registration program handled. Where does that data go, and can other departments access the data? If someone were to steal a bike in Santa Monica and go sell it in Venice, does the LAPD have easy access to Santa Monica bike registry data? If the sticker were removed from the bike, would the LAPD know to inquire further and cross reference Santa Monica serial number data.

For people with multiple bikes like myself, registering costs can add up. For my wife Meghan and I to register all of the many bikes we own at $4 each per year would cost $36 dollars a year. That's a lot more than we would pay for getting a permit for parking a car on the street in our residential zone. I don't think it's fair to charge people who own multiple bikes with fines greater than someone taking up valuable street space. If the idea is to encourage people to ride bikes in Santa Monica, I don't see how adding mandatory extra fees and bureaucracy to the process is beneficial.

Based on following the police reports on the SM Daily Press involving cyclists, it seems to me laws like this are more a pretense for busting certain kinds of characters and pursuing drug searches, more than the intent of the law.  I think the burden of proof is on the police department to show having this bike registration program is worthwhile for it's intended purpose. Until such time I have heard any convincing reasons to keep it, even if it would technically comply with state requirements, I cannot support keeping the law.

The state grants cities the ability to have bike registration programs, with some restrictions, but it does not require it, and unlike the misleading suggestions on the Santa Monica website, it is certainly not state law that all bicyclists in the state must be registered. The Santa Monica website quote "The State of California requires a bicycle license for any bicycle used on any street" is entirely false, nothing in the C.V.C. suggests this. This literature with false statements can be found in fliers around town as well. I have brought this to staff attention before on multiple occasions, but it does not appear to have been addressed.

Many cities which created such laws in the 70's and then forgot about them for 30 years are going through this same debate as cycling goes mainstream again. Many of these cities are doing away with the programs all together or are making them optional because they are finding the administration of keeping them is not worth it. Los Angeles has already eliminated their bike registry program. I believe Santa Monica should follow suit.

As it currently exists, as well as under proposed changes in the staff report, I primarily see this program as being an unnecessary use of resources, redundant with more efficient programs offered online by third parties, and a tool to discourage bicycling. I urge that the council vote to eliminate the Santa Monica bicycle registration ordinance. As part of efforts to address bicycle theft, cyclists should still be encouraged to register their bikes, but instead be directed to third party registration services.

-Gary Kavanagh

2 comments:

Briand Beausoleil said...

Dear Gary,

The bike registration model if flawed as it stands. Registered bikes mean more recovered bikes (stats back this up) and more tagged bikes mean less bike thefts. The difference between NBR and Bike Revolution is two-fold: BR is an open database. We aggregate as many databases as possible so SMPD doesn't just have access to stolen bikes in SM, but in all of California or for that matter, North America. Bikes are transported for sale elsewhere, for online and terrestrial resale so having a global database makes sense. Also, the tags BR offers are QR tags, which are readable by anyone with a smartphone. BR also offers municipal govt, law enforcement services and other entities a wholesale program, so there is revenue share on each tag sold. There is also no admin needed as all is held in the BR database, with each sector (SMPD) firewalled, yet accessible to that specific organisation. The entire system is meant to allow everybody to access ALL bikes, not just those in that area. In addition, stolen bikes and stolen bike alerts are geo-tagged, meaning SM public will only get info on stolen SM bikes, rather than bikes from Portland. Should you have other questions regarding this area, feel free to contact us at Bike Revolution.

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