Two-wheeled entitlement 

When Marilyn Marler tried to clean up the city’s bike ordinances, she uncorked a can of worms in the form of licensing fees.

Originally, Marler hoped to simply eliminate inconsistencies in the city code. As the discussion in the Administration and Finance Committee evolved, however, council members began to kick around ideas to make the licensing program more effective. As it stands now, city law requires owners to register their bicycle upon purchase—$10 for every four years—but there is no enforcement.

Phil Smith, the city’s longtime bicycle/pedestrian program manager, says City Council mounted a push 15 years ago to get residents to license their bikes, but only a small percentage signed up. His support of the program remains lukewarm.

“If council feels that putting a license on a bike is an important thing to do, I could support that,” he says. “The difficulty is if you have a mandated program with no apparent benefit to it.”

Marler’s new idea is to use funding from licenses to provide infrastructure or programs that directly benefit cyclists—and use the incentive to increase enrollment. The incentives could include a public safety campaign to remind people to ride—and treat riders—courteously, to buy helmets for those who can’t afford them or, as Councilmember Lyn Hellegaard suggested, provide a source of funding toward matching state or federal grants.

Hellegaard, who heads both the Missoula/Ravalli Transportation Management Association as well as the Montana Transit Association, says the city may soon be pressured to do even more to enforce the licensing law. A report from the Surface Transportation Commission has her worried about the Congestion Mitigation Air Quality funds that the city currently receives.

“I’m very concerned about the [report] recommending all projects must demonstrate users are contributing,” she says. “If this is included in the next transportation bill, the city will have no choice but to develop some fee structure for bicyclists in order to continue including bike lanes in our road projects or any trail projects funded with federal money.” That structure could come from a bolstered licensing program.

In the meantime, the issue remains in committee.
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