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Bicycle Licensing in San Mateo

According to our City Codes online we are required to license our bikes. Really?

When I was a child my friends and I proudly rode to the fire department (and although I don't remember money being involved, it must have been) and rode away with bicycle licenses. I only remember doing this once so I may have been a scofflaw at an early age.

I was stopped at a red light when a fellow bicyclist asked me if I had a license to ride in San Mateo. What? Had I heard right? I observe all the driving, common sense, and bike traffic laws. I am considerate of pedestrians. I often have to stop on the side of the road to be considerate of drivers. I stop at stop signs and let the cars there go first. So why ask me? Why not ask the kid with no helmet darting across against the light? Second, could it be true? Do I need a license to ride the streets of San Mateo?

According to the San Mateo official website, the answer is yes.

After checking the website but not finding where to apply (as it states there is a written application, so good luck first graders) I made a call to the San Mateo Police Department. The dispatcher on the business line said they were not sure where to go but thought it would be the San Mateo Fire Department main office. Unfortunately for me, they are closed on the weekends like most offices. So the mystery of where and how much to pay remains.

It does beg the question of why. I understand the helmet laws for children under 18. At what age are we required to license our bikes? Is it after training wheels are removed? Are tricycles exempt? What could the fee fund? And more importantly why doesn't everyone know about it.

I will venture a guess that this city code may have been established to aide with theft of bike recovery. The code goes on to say we must provide notice of the sale or transfer of ownership of these bikes. So I am a scofflaw once again as I sold my mountain bike and gave a nephew another bike. Dear officer in charge, if you are reading this, please do not arrive at my doorstep with a citation in hand. I honestly didn't know.

It seems to me the easiest way would be to license the bike at the time of purchase from a dealer. A smaller scale version of car registration. Would the time to collect and distribute the funds and police the outcome be offset by the fees collected? Doubtful. The code does state the fee is to be used to improve bicycle safety programs and bike lanes. I suspect the fees collected, if any, are minimal right now as so many don't know about them.

I conducted a very unscientific poll on Palm Avenue asking riders going by if they knew of a bike licensing requirement in San Mateo. Eleven out of eleven said no.

People cycling are good for society. Less wear to the roads, better overall health of the population, less pollution, less traffic, less traffic accidents, and on and on. You make not care for the Lycra styles favored by so many serious bike riders but you cannot deny the positive impact on the community.

Everyone is a winner. And what would be the best way of discouraging people from bicycling? Making them leap through a host of bureaucratic hoops first.

So dear San Mateo, please take a moment to amend your codes to today's needs. If you want us to license then provide the info in a clear concise way available to most people. On-line for example. Don't discourage the riding population with a treasure hunt for where, how much, and when to pay yet another regulation. Let's make the time and monies spent for developing a great bike plan count in our city.

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Ben Toy May 21, 2012 at 05:04 PM
Agree that all bicycles should be licensed, as it is both a means of recovery if stolen and found later....to revenue for the city. Few understand that any municipality is a business and that in order to provide services...there needs to be 'income' to pay for the staff that provides those services. License fees are one of the 'income' avenues San Mateo's Pedestrian and Bicycle plans are becoming models for the area and expanding farther. What is the real problem is both the populations auto-centric mentality and that the city is laid out as an automobile-centric architecture. The best cities to walk, ride a bicycle or take public transit are or were architected over 200 years ago when there were not automobiles....they walked or took the trolley to get around. I cycle every morning in San Mateo and the cities that touch our borders. If a bit late and into the morning traffic (after 7am) it becomes much more dangerous trying to stay out of 'their' way. Saying that education is needed for both the cyclist and auto-drivers. Your suggestion of licensing at the point of purchase is GREAT one. Convenience has become the critical thing in getting these types of things done. Education...like trying to tell the person riding a bicycle heading right at you, when they are on the wrong side of the road (the old walk against traffic does NOT apply to bicycling)
d wave May 21, 2012 at 05:05 PM
it would good for you to call the fire department. i had wondered about this too and i can't imagine it ever coming back. the sierra club "san mateo cool cities" is doing a lot of bike-related work and the thought of having retail stores (repairs/sales) disseminate information to green cyclists could be good. even a hand out (did you know that san mateo is planning to bring 30% of transit under 1.5 miles to bicylists - through the master plan? etc
Annette S May 21, 2012 at 06:57 PM
I agree, either make it easy and affordable, or get rid of the whole code, you can take the fee at the time of purchase, or register and pay online, and give a little sticker for the bike as proof of license, and then put the monies towards bike database maintenance, safety, riding improvements and recovery of stolen bikes.
TGD May 21, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Can you get a Vanity License?
David Grimes May 21, 2012 at 09:51 PM
Wondering what the owners and/or managers of the locations that sell bicycles in San Mateo think of all of this. If they are not aware of this law, if once they become aware of it, are they then required to act in accordance with the law going forward? Maybe you can ask them what they think and what they currently do and let us know. Talbots, Performance, Cycle Path, Sears, Target, K-Mart are just a few of the places that immediately come to mind. Wondering how many businesses know of the requirement and what they think and currently do and what the Chamber of Commerce position will be on this. Where is the city on all of this and what is their responsibility for making residents aware of, and administering, this law? Who originally suggested this law and when was this enacted? Can a citation be issued to people riding with out a license in San Mateo? If so, what is the penalty? What are the other cities, our neighbors, on the peninsula doing?
Denise Nelson May 22, 2012 at 01:55 AM
If we could mine would be wobbly1!
Denise Nelson May 22, 2012 at 01:57 AM
Hi Annette! It does seem it could generate some money if online, easy registration were available. Every dollar helps and an online system would be low cost to maintain iI would think.
Denise Nelson May 22, 2012 at 02:02 AM
Hi Ben! Thanks for the comments. Recovery and revenue are important, I agree. So an easy registration to get those monies is the issue first. Point of purchase or on the city website seem feasible at first glance for collection. Your commute including other cities made me wonder if we are obligated to pay in each city or only the one we live in. Am doing some online checking but without much success.
Denise Nelson May 22, 2012 at 02:04 AM
I've read most of the bike plan and it is great. I do like the idea of a percentage of the retail going to the city towards bike safety etc. but wonder how hard and what laws would have to be passed to enact. Everyone has some great ideas today!
Denise Nelson May 22, 2012 at 02:06 AM
Hi David! Right now there isn't any requirement at point of purchase. It is up to us as individuals to register our bikes. The code appears to date to the late 70's. I could be wrong. I will see if I can email the cuty and get an answer. Thanks for taking the time to comment!
Denise Nelson May 22, 2012 at 02:17 AM
I have emailed a city representative for more specifics about our program and will post an update when I receive an answer...
Denise Nelson May 23, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Per Lieutenant Ted Gonzales of SMPD "Although we have a “city code on line” for bike registration (dated from 2008), We have joined other cities in the National Bike Registry Program (www.nationalbikeregistry.com) which in summary is the following: $10.00 will cover a bike for 10 years $25.00 will cover a bike for 30 years (When you replace your current bike, contact NRB for a new label and certificate, limit one bike at a time.) $25.00 Family registration will cover up to 5 bikes at a single address. Each bike is registered for 10 years. 99cent Stolen Bike Registry You can register a bike AFTER it has been stolen. In the event that one of our participating law enforcement agencies find it, it can be returned!! (The registration is for one bike, for 6 months, and does not include a decal or certificate) This is a good website for bike owners to register their individual bikes. As a side note, this assists law enforcement when an individual has their bike stolen and officers ask for the serial number. At the very least, I would encourage all bike owners to write down the make, model and serial number of their bike and then get on to the website to register it. For more information, please visit the website. Thanks Lieutenant Gonzales!

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