License plates on bikes? Bill’s sponsor backpedals

Sponsors are putting the brakes on a bill to license bicyclists and make them pay registration fees after hearing from angry bike riders opposing the measure.

But the bill’s chief author, Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, said he’s going to continue working to address concerns from motorists and local residents who complain that cyclists are clogging roadways and causing safety hazards.

“I think it’s an issue that is going to continue building,” said Rogers, who Monday held a public hearing in Gainesville attended by hundreds of people, many upset with the proposed cycling regulations.

Rogers said he won’t pursue House Bill 689 during the upcoming 2014 General Assembly session. But he said he would continue working toward changes that will satisfy supporters of the registration fees, as well as cyclists who oppose them. Rogers called supporters “the silent majority out there that won’t come and speak out.

“There are a lot of people that think they (riders) need tags, they need to pay fees to be on the road,” he said. “I am going to pull this bill. I think it needs to be revisited. I think it’s going to take a while to get all parties together.”

Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, a cycling enthusiast who is sponsoring a charity ride Oct. 19 in Hall County, applauded Rogers’ decision.

“I appreciate their willingness to listen to the many, many Georgians who expressed their concerns about this legislation,” he said. “Together, we can continue to ensure cyclists have access to Georgia roads and improve safety for both motorists and cyclists.”

The legislation would require bicycle owners to get license plates if they ride their bikes on roads. The annual registration fee would be $15, or $48 for a “permanent registration.” It provides for a fine of up to $100 for cyclists who don’t register their bikes, which would be a misdemeanor. The measure also would allow no more than four riders per single-file line on typical roads, put limits on group rides, and let state and local officials restrict when and where riding is allowed.

The bill came to the attention of cyclists across the state last week via social media, and the news spread like wildfire. By the time the public hearing happened on Monday, it was packed with cyclists.

“The legislators said they wanted to start a conversation, and they definitely got one,” said Brent Buice, executive director of Georgia Bikes. “There were probably more productive ways to start a conversation besides introducing state legislation. But hopefully, that was a lesson learned not only for those representatives, but for their colleagues as well.”

The temporary defeat of the legislation was a victory for cyclists, like bike enthusiast Jason Spruill.

“I’ve got a 9-year-old daughter that has a bike and I just can’t imagine having to register her bike along with the other nine bikes that I own,” Spruill said.

Spruill strongly objects to the idea of prohibiting cyclists from riding two abreast. He feels safer with his 9-year-old daughter riding beside him, so he can act as a buffer between her and passing cars. And as DeKalb County police officer, Spruill also could not envision the proposed law ever being enforced by police.

“As it is, we don’t enforce some laws that are on the books like having reflectors on pedals and not riding on the sidewalk,” Spruill said. “We’re just too busy to enforce little things like that.”

Rogers, the sponsor, said, “The No. 1 issue I’ve heard about from both sides is education, of cyclists and drivers.”

He said there needs to be a concerted effort to teach both groups the rules of the road. He suggested, for instance, that teens be taught in driver’s ed classes about the rights and responsibilities of cyclists.

Putting off the bill for the 2014 session isn’t a surprise. All 236 members of the General Assembly and the governor are up for re-election next year, and none of them wants to run on raising fees. Rogers may continue working on the issue next summer. Any legislation is more likely to come up in 2015, when legislators don’t have to immediately face voters.