“Regulatory Idiocy”: Councilmember Michael Hildt on Bicycle Registration

Seattle experimented with bicycle registration in the 1970s, with the goals of reducing theft and encouraging bicycle inspection.  However, the mandatory registration failed to encourage bicyclists to register.  Rather than have a law in place that was never enforced, Councilmember Michael Hildt argued it should be changed to a voluntary, not mandatory program.  He introduced Council Bill 99198 which repealed all  ordinances relating to the registration of bicycles.  The Bill passed in Full Council with a vote of 6-2 on March 13, 1978.   Councilmember Hildt's argument can be heard here

Council President Sam Smith:  Mr. Hildt, I believe you are the author of the proposal. 

Councilmember Hildt:  Well, this has a long and colorful history and it's my sincere hope that this will be the last time that City Council has to deal with bicycle registration.  I was opposed to it when I was not on the Council in the first place and I think that the program has failed to meet expectations.  But my initial objection was on just plain principles of government grounds.  This is just one of those cases where the benefits of registration are to the person who owns that bicycle.  And we should be able to sell those benefits in a voluntary program and not put out a mandatory program, basically a nuisance regulation and all the bureaucracy and enforcement that goes with it when we have higher priorities for police enforcement in the city. 

I think that if we are to take the approach philosophically in City government that we should protect everyone against themselves, we will be leading ourselves into all kinds of regulatory idiocy and by the same logic we ought to insist that people license their television sets, cameras, and the like.  There are all kinds of estimates as to how many kinds of bicycles there are in Seattle but this program, in the many months that it has been in effect, with all the publicity, after the Council extending the deadline several times, still has failed to register even half of the bicycles.  So, we now have a tolerant policy on bicycles.  We're not going to have our police officers running around curbing bicycles to look for stickers, and the police officers don't want to do that either.  And I just think, you know, particularly when we're dealing with so many young people, we're trying to get people to respect the law, we should have laws that are enforceable.  And if they're not enforceable then we shouldn't have that law, we should work the problem another way. 

So, my proposal is that we repeal the bicycle registration program, and if the Council again repeals, and if this time the Mayor, the new Mayor will agree, then we can go about the business of reestablishing a voluntary program, make it a more accessible program, make it one where you can register easily in the bike shops and with more public information and so on.  We'll, I think, be able to register at least as many bicycles, but most importantly we'll be able to more in the way of bicycle safety and bicycle education which I think is a needed function, without harassing bicyclists over these stickers, particularly those bicyclists who do not want to avail themselves of that kind of protection.  So that's basically my case, this probably doesn't need a tremendous amount of discussion; it's probably been discussed more than any other issues facing the city in the past year.  

Council President Sam Smith:  It's been cussed and discussed.

Councilmember Hildt:  Yes.

Council President Sam Smith:  If anyone is here from the Police Department on the registration of bicycles, please come forward.

Sergeant Christianson: Sergeant Christianson, Seattle Police.  Good, bad, or indifferent, it'd probably be nice to see it out of my office....Registration program whether it's mandatory or voluntary is going to cost money.  You're looking at a minimum of $20 to $25,000 just to keep the program going.   Like you were saying, it was being done on a voluntary basis in bicycle shops, done in schools and that type of thing.  It didn't produce on a voluntary basis and it's kind of anticipated that it won't produce again on a voluntary basis.  Good, bad or indifferent, my concern doesn't go either way. 

The entire Public Safety and Justice meeting can be heard here. Related documents include Ordinance 107224 and Bicycle Advisory Board Minutes, Record Series 1802-C3.