SM City Council To Amend Bike Licensing Law

On Monday night, Santa Monica City Council will discuss what to do with this arcane law.  Unfortunately, bicycle registration has often been used by police departments in Los Angeles, Santa Monica and Long Beach as a means to harass and antagonize cyclists instead of curbing theft.

It is easy enough already to pin California Vehicle Code citations on a cyclist; the municipal mandatory bike license law makes it a piece of cake.  Let’s look back at some photos from the December 2007 Santa Monica Critical Mass Ride, a textbook example of police officers abusing their power.  Dozens of citations were handed out to cyclists that night, most of them were baseless.

No Front Light Ticket!
No Front Light Ticket!!

After fumbling through the California Vehicle Code, the two officers decided to ticket the cyclist pictured for a lack of front lights (two of them are mounted on the fork, click for larger photo).  The cyclist showed up to court; the case was dismissed.  Not only did the city waste money by sending police to patrol, but the judge who heard the case and all of us that took time off work to testify on the cyclist’s behalf also wasted valuable time.

Santa Claus gets ticketed on Christmas for riding too far to the left...
Santa Claus gets ticketed on Christmas for riding too far to the left...

On this same ride, Santa Claus was cited for “riding too far to the left” after a similar brainstorming session – notice the officer in the car leafing through the CVC.  Eureka!  A charge was made up – Riding too far to the left.  The cyclist was not holding up traffic, and the CVC allows the cyclist to make up his or her own decision on what “riding as far to the right as practicable” means.

Those two visual examples were not about bike license citation, but you can see plenty of those mentioned in the SM Daily Press on a weekly basis.  Getting rid of mandatory bike licensing would at least take away an excuse to ticket cyclists.

Bicycle registration is a redundant and futile process.  As long as owners write down the serial number at the time of purchase, all they have to do is include that in the police report.  Even so, the smarter thieves will sand off that part of the frame, rendering it unreadable.

I have filed police reports in two bike theft cases and provided serial numbers.  This did not result in getting anything back.  Most thieves will leave city boundaries to sell or strip the bike, so registering it is useless unless there is a regional, collaborative database that these serial numbers get entered into.

Bicycle registration alone is futile.   A legitimate, concerted effort by the SMPD and LAPD to bust bike theft rings and a centralized database of serial numbers would add some value to the bike registration process.

So, back to what’s up for discussion on Monday night’s agenda.  The Staff Report on Item 7-B from mentions that:

  • Santa Monica’s current fine for riding without a license exceeds state law;  it could be dropped to $10
  • Bike licensing fees may go up to $4 in order to cover costs ($2 for replacement or renewal)
  • Eliminating the licensing program altogether is an option

In Long Beach, due to the mass ticketing on a Critical Mass ride, City Councilman Robert Garcia is proposing to make bike licensing voluntary.    We’ll see what route Santa Monica takes.

Get ready for a lively discussion on Monday night!

January 17, 2010
5:30 p.m.
Santa Monica City Council Chambers
1865 Main St.

Mihai Peteu

Software Developer, Bike Safety Instructor, Amateur triathlete

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