Bicyclists have been riding on the soft side of the law for at least the seven years I have worked as a courier. I have spoken with people who think this beautifully free-spirited and with others who think this an affront to good order and manners. It has always seemed to me to be a practical accommodation to an awkward situation.
The District has enjoyed the advantage of putting off some difficult questions by allowing a little vagueness in its bicycle laws. Bicyclists have enjoyed the advantage of following their own instincts. The operative principle has been: fit in as best you can and don't clog up the works. If this won't work anymore, if the increase in bicycle traffic downtown makes change necessary, these changes need not be made in the heat of unwarranted anger.
The Commercial Bicycle Operators Training and Licensing Act is a poor piece of legislation, vaguely conceived, ineffective and, at its heart, unfair.
This is a bill that would regulate street traffic with a business license and regulate a business with a motor vehicle license. If the District were to license all bicyclists, I wouldn't complain. Or if the District were to license everyone who makes deliveries downtown -- UPS, Federal Express, the car and motorcycle drivers of my own company -- I wouldn't complain. But this bill addresses neither all businesses nor all drivers. It is a makeshift combination of two generally accepted licensing powers in order to select a designated group for regulation.
It is simply unfair that bicycle couriers should be subjected to restrictions and fees not imposed on other deliverymen; but it is grossly unfair, and I think incompatible with our legal procedures (though Elliot Richardson and Edwin Meese might think differently), to license and tag a specific population -- i.e., bicycle couriers -- and subject them to greater oversight and enforcement simply because they are thought most likely to break the law.
The media coverage of this issue has seemed mostly concerned with characterizing couriers as outlaws and barbarians. Discrimination wears many faces and at times can seem even reasonable or practical, but I hope the D.C. Council will look to higher principles.
The chief argument of those who favor the courier licensing bill is that the bill would force cyclists to comply with the bicycle traffic laws. But just like motor-vehicle operators, bicyclists can be ticketed and fined. If they ignore these citations, they risk the penalties, including arrest. I admit I do not know of any bicyclist who has been arrested for disregarding citations, but I suspect the reason is that cyclists, until recently, have been ticketed only a little more frequently than jaywalkers; these infractions are not a high priority. This could change; I expect it will.
Instead of soliciting the opinions of bicycle couriers, who have a wealth of experience to share, the policymakers have cast couriers in the role of adversaries. This does not make sense when it is cooperation, on and off the street -- and sweet reason -- that is wanted.
-- Henry Tenaglio Jr.