Westside resident Dennis Seaman, 60, bridges the divide between bicyclists and motorists. (Courtesy Joel Engardio)

Time to mandate bicycle licenses

Bicyclists in San Francisco should have to register their bike, obtain a license and carry a minimum amount of liability insurance — the same requirements for driving a car.

We have one set of roads long dominated by automobiles. But as a growing number of bicycle commuters assert political power to get their own lanes, they need to put some skin in the game. If cars and bikes are going to share city roads — which is where the future is headed — the responsibility for safe co-existence should also be shared.

Mandatory registration, license and insurance could ease ongoing resentments between cyclists and motorists. Cyclists will get more protection while motorists will be glad they aren’t alone in being held accountable on the road.

Before protesters on bikes jeer at me for suggesting this idea, they should know I’m pro-bike. I even rode my bike 545 miles from San Francisco to Los Angeles for charity. I share a car with my husband but mostly take public transportation and walk — and we live on the westside, in the “suburban” part of town near Stonestown Mall, where cars and parking spaces are still abundant.

Before my neighbors accuse me of undermining westside entitlement to drive and park, they should know I support putting parking garages with ground floor retail in neighborhood business districts.

And before transit-first urbanists get mad, they should know that I’m an advocate for investing in the subways and transportation infrastructure we regret not building decades ago. But until we get that world-class transportation system, we can’t pretend Muni is the Paris Metro.

Temporary parking structures can alleviate the pain points of a generational shift. Let the baby boomers continue to park while the millennials reimagine how we get around. When no longer needed, we can turn those parking garages into housing.

Dennis Seaman, 60, is a westside baby boomer who has a two-car household (one for him and his wife). His adult sons rely almost exclusively on their bikes for getting to work and around town.

Yet Seaman also rides a bike, averaging 75 miles a week throughout San Francisco before he was sidelined by an injury. He understands the frustrations on both sides of the motorist-cyclist divide.

“The critical mass bike ride every month is cool, but it pisses off motorists,” he said. “The bike movement has to do more than just demand more bike lanes and take away parking. Cyclists need to give motorists a reason to respect them. Bike licenses and insurance is a no-brainer. It puts everyone on the same playing field.”

Currently, bicyclists experience a lot more risk than well-insured car drivers. Seaman recently hit a car door that had opened into a bike lane he was riding in. His injury required 34 sessions of physical therapy. His bike had substantial damage. Yet his auto and home insurance didn’t cover his bike accident (not all policies do). He was on the hook for thousands of dollars in expenses.

“I was shocked. I have a lot of insurance for peace of mind,” Seaman said. “But I never thought about insurance for riding my bike. It took this incident to make me realize how exposed I was. What if I hit a pedestrian and they sued me? What if I was more seriously hurt? It could be catastrophic for my family.”

Mandatory bike registration, license and insurance could prevent accidents by generating the revenue needed to design and build safer roads. In addition to registration and license fees, adult residents could buy into a group bike insurance policy for themselves and children that helps fund more infrastructure to meet future cycling demand. Tourists who rent bikes could pay a city insurance fee.

As cars and bikes will be expected to increasingly share roads, we must accommodate the people who need to drive and park (especially seniors) while helping bicyclists get fully protected and insured.

Joel Engardio lives west of Twin Peaks in District 7. Follow his blog at www.engardio.com. Email him at info@engardio.combicycleJoel EngardiolicensesSan FranciscoTransit

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