Police reverse course on bike sale database

By Erich Wagner

City officials hit the brakes on a plan to require local bike shops to log every bicycle sale with police just weeks after the department floated the idea.

As updates to the decades-old bicycle ordinance headed to city council for final approval, police spokesman Jamie Bartlett told the Times that he requested city officials keep an unenforced provision requiring bike dealers to register the details of every transaction. The information that shops turned over to the authorities — which included the name and address of the buyer as well — would be recorded in a department database in the future.

The idea, Bartlett said, was to make it easier for police to track and recover stolen pedal-powered rides. But the proposal chafed bicycle sellers and cycling advocates, who said such a registry would be onerous. They argued the existing — and voluntary — National Bike Registry is far more effective than a local database.

When city council passed the update June 25, Police Chief Earl Cook announced that the department had a new stance on the ordinance subsection: It would welcome removing that provision as well, he said, calling it impractical.

“There’s no utility,” Cook said. “With the transitory nature of theft and moving bikes, the national registry is a better option than doing it locally.”

Since the provision couldn’t be stricken this month because of procedural issues, the city council will revisit the issue in the fall.

Lt. Mark Bergin, a police spokesman, said the department’s evolution on the issue came from talking with residents and cyclists.

“From our discussions with the public and review of our policies … this was the best way forward,” Bergin said. “We discussed this with council members, bike officers talking with people and with our liaisons with the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee.”

Ron Taylor, owner of Wheel Nuts Bike Shop in Old Town, said he was glad that police recognized the difficulties in implementing a local registry.

“[The national registry] is a good, common-sense approach, and now the police see that,” Taylor said. “It leaves open the choice to the citizen. … It benefits everybody, and it’s better.”

City Councilor Justin Wilson said he always considered the registry unnecessary.

“The whole section was written in 1963, so most of it was very anachronistic,” he said. “In the context of review, my view all along was that the provision should go.”

Wilson joined the majority of city council and voted in favor of easing other restrictions on bicyclists, such as allowing them to ride on sidewalks in much of Alexandria. Though still banned from commercial zones in Old Town, cyclists can hop onto the other side of the curb as long as they yield to pedestrians and give them ample warning.

The city council also removed a section that requires local cyclists register their rides with City Hall — and pay a fee — in return for a license tag.

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