This afternoon we spoke with State Assemblyman Michael DenDekker, a Queens Democrat who has introduced legislation that would require every bicycle in New York State to have a license plate. The registration and inspection fee would cost $25 for "private" (i.e. non-commercial) bicyclists and $50 for commercial bicyclists, with a $5 fee every subsequent year to renew the license. Reached by phone, DenDekker elaborated on the bill, and said he looks forward to the day when cameras in bike lanes will help identify scofflaw cyclists and hold them to the same standard of accountability as drivers. (We're assuming motorists and police officers in bike lanes would continue to be exempt from any enforcement.)

Where did this idea come from and why? I had various constituents contact me concerning bicyclists in the Woodside/Jackson Heights area that don't obey the traffic rules, that are driving down streets the wrong way, driving on sidewalks and actually being very reckless. And their concern is that when they do this there is no way to report them because there is no way to identify the bicyclists, per se, so that has been the reason for it. It's just natural now that we're investing so many resources into making this the new mode of transportation, which I'm all for, we're just going to need to regulate and register the bicycles so we know who everybody is who is sharing the road with us.

Did you consult with the DOT or with any cyclist groups before introducing this? No, I did not discuss this with any cyclist groups. It's a piece of State Legislation and as far as the DOT, I consulted them only for numbers concerning the amount of money that we were spending on lanes and how many more bike lanes they were projecting in the future, as well as how they believe that this form of transportation would be 10 or 20 years out.

Do you have support for this in the Senate or among your colleagues in the Assembly? We just introduced the bill last week, we'll have to see. Some people are going to be for it and some people are going to be against it and it will bring up debate and discussion. I'm always willing to talk and negotiate any idea.

Is there anything in there about what the penalty would be if someone was riding a bike without a license plate? No, there is no penalty aspect to this yet but, again, we have penalties currently for people who are riding without a helmet, not riding with proper lights, not riding in the right direction, and those aren't being enforced either, which I believe speaks to a lack of manpower in the police department and maybe the priority of how people feel about trying to enact every piece of legislation that's currently out there.

Although we do come out with alternatives to enforcement issues, putting cameras in bus lanes, for example, it's the same kind of thing we may be able to do someday with bicycle lanes. We would put cameras in bicycle lanes to make sure that bicyclists are wearing their helmets and have their lights on and are riding in a manner which is accustomed to the lane or if they're being reckless and endangering and hurting others. I believe it also gives more credibility to bicyclists, making them more a part of the road.

So eventually, if the bicyclist had a license plate and there was a camera in the bike lane, it could be the same effect as when a driver goes through the red light and a camera catches it? It would be similar to that, that's correct. This is just the beginning aspect of this piece of legislation, I'm sure there will be a lot of public debate on this, and that's good because that's what we need. We need to discuss it and figure out what the future is of bicycles in the State of New York, not just in the city.

They're sharing roadways now and it's very important that they have that credibility and respect, just like we have for motorcyclists, for example. I think it will be a positive thing and actually be better for bicyclists in the long run. Especially those that are law-abiding and ride according to the law, they should be happier. And possibly the money that is being spent on license plates could be used to make improvements for more bicycle lanes and more areas to park bicycles.

(In a statement, DenDekker also explained that private bicyclists under the age of 18 would be issued license plates that would bear a distinctive identifying mark to be determined by the New York State Commissioner of Transportation. "Each year, more and more bicyclists take to the streets of our state," DenDekker concludes. “Now is the time to institute regulations by which the bicycling - and pedestrian - communities can safely coexist.”)