By Lauren Zumbach and John Byrne
7:27 AM CDT, October 24, 2013
Mayor Rahm Emanuel's vision of Chicago as a bike-friendly metropolis found itself in the cross hairs of an alderman's proposal for a $25 bike tax Wednesday.
South Side Ald. Pat Dowell, 3rd, floated a plan to charge bike owners an annual $25 registration fee as a way to raise millions of dollars next year and provide an alternative to the mayor's proposal to hike cable television taxes to bring in about $9 million. Dowell also said she wants to require bikers to take a "rules of the road" safety class.
Emanuel, who this month led a bicycle tour of the Logan Square neighborhood as part of Chicago Ideas Week, said he would look at Dowell's plan. But he then linked his pro-cyclist agenda with recent success in drawing technology firms to the city, and essentially laid out why he almost certainly won't support the idea.
"The two are not correlated, but it's not an accident Google and Motorola decided to move their headquarters where the first protected bike lane went, and also where you have a good mass transit stop," Emanuel said in a meeting with the Tribune editorial board after unveiling his proposed 2014 budget.
"She can propose it. It's her idea. But I would argue I don't think that's the right way to go," Emanuel said.
Without the mayor's backing, Dowell's plan stands very little chance of success.
Since he took office, Emanuel has introduced protected bike lanes, increased the number of bike lanes citywide and launched the popular Divvy bike rental program.
Cyclists riding on Wednesday bike-friendly Milwaukee Avenue took a dim view of the tax idea.
Jourdon Gullett, of Chicago, said Dowell's plan seemed "a little extreme."
"Are they going to make every little kid riding down the sidewalk get one?" Gullett asked.
Ron Burke, executive director of the Active Transportation Alliance, said he doesn't know of a single U.S. city with a bicycle licensing program. While many cities have considered it, the idea is always rejected as too complicated and unlikely to generate enough revenue to cover costs, Burke said.
"We share the goal of wanting to improve safety, but we think there are better ways to achieve it," he said.
Biker Jessica Smith said she was prepared to flout the rule.
"I'd probably just ignore it," she said, laughing.
Emanuel nodded at the difficulty of enforcing such registration, especially in a city with entrenched violent crime. "I surely don't want police involved in policing whether you bought a bike license," he said.
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