Saturday, January 15, 2011

Freedom of Access: Bicycles, libraries, and mandatory registration

On Wednesday, a New Jersey lawmaker named Cleopatra Tucker proposed a law requiring bicycle registration, inciting a peloton of protesters, comprising penny-farthings and twelve year olds, into a frenzy of action.

There are five penny farthings in that picture. Five pennies and five farthings. That's four more than I've ever seen in person, and possibly every such bike in New Jersey.

Cleo Tucker must have been overwhelmed by all the big wheels, because the very next day she was back-pedalin' and retractin'.

At which point the big wheels and the twelve year olds all turned around and went back home.

Arguments in favor of registration are often of the type, "If you're using the roads you ought to be paying for their upkeep." It's hard to argue against that. Fortunately, one doesn't have to, because nearly all cyclists are already paying city and county taxes.

The city of Denver offers—but does not require—bicycle registration for two cited reasons: to assist the police with-
  1. the recovery of a stolen bicycle, and
  2. the identification of an injured cyclist.

I have a hard time imaging a successful outcome in either of those scenarios resulting from having registered your bicycle, but click here to do it anyway.

Some places, like Long Beach, actually do enforce bicycle registration. With $400 fines.

Which is utterly ridiculous.

Mandatory registration, especially as proposed by Cleo Tucker and especially as enforced by Long Beach, is in direct opposition to the idea of freedom of access, which is a major pillar of my personal belief system.

Freedom of access empowers any person to grab one (of whatever it is you have been granted access to) and use it it for what-so-ever-the-hell pleases them.

It's the primary function and purpose of public libraries. The material is there, and the user has access to it. It's up to the user to decide what it means to them and how to use it, how to apply it in a way such that they achieve their vision of success.

Bicycles and libraries serve critical functions—far beyond mere entertainment value—for twelve year olds, homeless adults, and everybody in between. People often need access to these resources and these opportunities in order to thrive.

Libraries and bike kitchens caulk the cracks in the sidewalk of society because libraries are bastions of knowledge and bicycles are instruments of mobility and transportation. People crave and are entitled to knowledge and mobility. They are human rights, and as much as abstractions can want something, they want to be free.

Ultimately, bicycle registration will never work because there will always be people salvaging bikes out of dumpsters to ride to work, or the drug store, or the unemployment office, or the day laborers office, or to the library to work on a resume and apply for a job, and that simply has to be allowed to happen freely and unhindered by the threat of a $400 fine.

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