Many of the larger cities and towns in New Jersey address the use of bicycles in differing detail for separate outcomes.
In Hoboken and Jersey City, laws clearly say that bicyclists are required to obey traffic signs and devices like motor vehicles. And Jersey City bans them on sidewalks in downtown business districts, and outside the business areas too, unless the rider is under the age of 9.
Those towns do not require bicycles to be licensed, though, like Perth Amboy, where police wielded their local law during a confrontation with local Black and Hispanic teens recently, arresting one and seizing the wheels of four riders.
Reaction to footage of the incident went viral on social media, and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office is now reviewing the matter.
Some other towns require licenses, too.
Licensing bicycles does not work, says Debra Kagan, executive director of the New Jersey Bike & Walk Coalition.
She’s not sure how many towns have them – the state does have 565 municipalities – but it’s not many and there is very little enforcement by police, she said.
“Our position is, they are unnecessary and do not provide more safety, and they do provide a barrier to bicycles on our streets,” Kagan said.
Kagan watched footage of the Perth Amboy incident, which starts with the young riders popping wheelies and weaving along city streets, at times riding against traffic.
Safety is one thing, but licensing does not address the the safety issues identified in the Perth Amboy incident, she said. “It creates an opportunity for discriminatory enforcement…it is not going to solve the the safety of riding in the streets.”
Kagan’s comments mirrored those of the state’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who tweeted the footage and later called it another, “example of the kind of excessive criminalization that invites selective enforcement by police officers.”
“Black and brown people are targeted and racially profiled for normal activities like riding bikes, walking down the street, or driving a car,” ACLU Executive Director Amol Sinha said.
Perth Amboy’s ordinance on bicycles, an entire chapter that was first enacted in 1939 and amended in 1991 and 2011, calls for a “proper license tag” and cost .50 cents per bike per year.
Violating the ordinance gives police the power for “immediate confiscation” of the bike and penalties up to $50 and 10 days in jail.
Sinah also said in a statement that such municipal ordinances requiring licenses should not be used to criminalize residents.
“New Jerseyans across the state have started to engage in an important debate about whether police should be deployed for something that can and should have a non-police response. New Jersey is not alone, and this is only the latest example of strict enforcement and escalation when it comes to over-policing people of color, particularly Black people,” Sinah said.
“As we’ve seen far too often in our country, it’s these law enforcement interactions that are traumatizing for individuals and can escalate, leading to tragic outcomes for people of color,” the statement said.
Our journalism needs your support. Please subscribe today to NJ.com.
Kevin Shea may be reached at [email protected].