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California (and many other states) have singled out children for mandatory bike legislation. The “logic” is that if kids need car seats in automobiles, then they also need helmets when riding on bikes.

But when looking at the actual data, this makes no sense. Young children have much lower fatality risk compared to other age groups. According to the NHTSA, the 14-and-under age group makes up 9% of bicycle fatalities. It is adult males who account for most bike fatalities.

(In France, incidentally, senior citizens are the ones most at risk from cycling fatalities. The French Cycling Federation argues that if any age group were to be singled out for mandatory helmet laws, it should be the elderly.)

Which brings us to today’s ridiculous story:

A man filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing San Francisco police officers of wrongfully arresting him and forcibly taking his infant son from him after stopping him for riding his bike with his child strapped to his chest in a Baby Bjorn carrier. Takuro Hashitaka said he and his then-10-month-old son, Moku, were riding in a bike lane on Eighth Street headed to a Trader Joe’s two blocks from his South of Market home on Dec. 13.

The infant was strapped to Hashitaka in a Baby Bjorn and “further secured by a sweatshirt that had been modified into a traditional baby carrier garment with a hole for Moku’s head,” said the federal civil rights suit filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Officers Anthony Bautista and Brendan Caraway came up behind them in the bike lane and “came close” to hitting them, the suit says.

Caraway asked over the patrol cruiser’s loudspeaker why the baby wasn’t wearing a helmet, and Hashitaka, “unaware of a requirement for a baby to wear a bike helmet,” asked the officer “what the authority was for this,” the suit says. The officers activated their lights and stopped Hashitaka at a gas station at Eighth and Harrison streets, the suit says.

The officers grabbed Hashitaka’s wrists, telling him he was being arrested and that Child Protective Services would take his son, according to the suit. Other officers arrived and took Hashitaka to the ground and choked him until he lost consciousness.

If officer Caraway were to ever visit Europe or Japan, the jails would fill up:

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Alameda County voters will soon go to the polls to decide the fate of a proposed BART extension to Livermore. The project has been controversial not just among transit activists, but also Livermore residents. In 2012, a transportation sales tax measure that would have funded the project was narrowly defeated, largely because of lackluster support in Livermore. A majority of Livermore voters were opposed.

And now the debate over the project has gotten a lot uglier, with ex-Director Robert Allen making inflammatory comments about the kinds of people he thinks will use BART:

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So there you have it. Billions of dollars should be spent extending BART out to Livermore, just to have it surrounded by a moat of parking. To protect Livermore from thugs that ride transit.

One of the more closely watched races in California is Assembly District 15. The seat had been held by Nancy Skinner, who is being termed out after 6 six years. The California Democratic Party has nominated Elizabeth Echols, even though she has never held elected office. Her challenger is Tony Thurmond, who served on both the Richmond City Council and the W. Contra Costa School Board.

Echols previously ran for an position on the AC Transit Board of Directors. Reading her candidate statement for that position is rather eye-opening. One of her main interests was having AC Transit increase its investment in hydrogen fuel buses. Keep in mind this was in 2009, during the depths of the Great Recession, when AC Transit was in terrible financial condition. It is baffling that she would propose using expensive technology (that does nothing for riders) at a time when routes were being slashed.

As part of the “blended” plan, Caltrain and CHSR will be sharing the same tracks and stations. It would be a no-brainer for trains to have compatible platforms, right? Indeed, staff from both agencies announced (just days ago) that they would be doing precisely that.

And yet someone at the CHSRA didn’t get that memo. In a spec published just yesterday, the HSR trains are to have a floor height of 1295 mm (51 inches). This spec will serve as the basis for a train procurement process that has now begun.

1295mm is incompatible with Caltrain requirements. It really makes no sense — other than being compatible with the NEC. Why are they trying to maintain backwards compatibility with a rail line thousands of miles away?

Besides the platform height, there are other problems with the HSR train spec. These “off-the-shelf” trains are supposed to comply with both Buy-America and Buy-California rules — even though there are no high-speed manufacturers in California or the rest of the country.

The spec also has a requirement for 220mph operating speeds. As noted by the Peer Review Group, 220mph is not needed until the entire SF-LA line is in service:

It may not be optimized to have all trains running at 350 Km/h, particularly those trains with several intermediate stops. Very high speed is only needed on a long distance range and/or when high-speed rail is competing with air.

The 2014 Business Plan optimistically predicts LA-SF route will not be in service until at least 2028. Realistically, it will be decades before LA-SF is in service. Until then, the CHSRA would be running a strictly regional service — and regional services do not require extremely expensive HSR trainsets.

In 2010, the NY Times published article on the Northern Alameda Chapter of the Sierra Club. It was not a flattering article, as it went into the group’s reluctance to embrace smart-growth policies. Many of its members were opposed to in-fill development in the downtown area (near the BART station). At the time, I pointed out that the group was endorsing candidates opposed to AC Transit BRT.

Now comes the 2014 election, and to judge from their endorsements it is clear nothing has changed. They again endorsed Councilmembers Worthington and Arreguin — even though both voted against BRT. As well, the Sierra Club endorsed the candidacy of George Beier, who organized neighborhood opposition to BRT.

Arreguin deserves special mention for sponsoring Measure R. It would reduce height limits and increase minimum parking requirements in the downtown. Groups such as Transform and Greenbelt Allliance are oppopsed to Measure R, but the Sierra Club is curiously silent on the matter.

If you visit the Sierra Club Transportation Policy web page, it states the following:

Walking and bicycling are best, along with electronic communications to reduce trips. Next are buses, minibuses, light rail and heavy rail (as corridor trips increase); electrified wherever feasible. Rail systems are most effective in stimulating compact development patterns, increasing public transit patronage and reducing motor vehicle use. Station access should be provided by foot, bicycle and public transit, with minimal, but full-priced, public parking. Accommodation of pedestrians, bicycles and public transit should be given priority over private automobiles.

Land use patterns should be designed to improve pedestrian access, encourage shorter trips, increase public transit use, enhance the economic viability of public transit and decrease private motor vehicle use (auto mobility). Therefore zoning, financing, land-use controls and other policies should concentrate employment near transit stations or stops, densify residential areas to allow shorter trips.

This a good transportation policy. What would it take for the National leadership to demand that local chapters adhere to it?

 

 

HR 3040 (Safe Freight Act) and S2784 (Rail Safety Improvement Act) have been introduced in Congress. The legislation would require freight trains to be crewed by both a conductor and an engineer. The unions are obviously very much in favor of the bills, predicting a “safety disaster” should freight trains have just a single crew member:

Part of the excuse for single-person crews is the coming of yet another new technology, positive train control, which Congress is mandating the rail carriers all adopt by 2015. This automated system will track trains’ speed and position, and apply the brakes in certain situations. Railroaders call this tech advance a good thing—but as an additional boost to safety, not something you’d want to rely on to replace a human. “The railroad unions have been asking for PTC to be implemented as a safety overlay, not in place of a crew member,” Wright says.

Even as companies have been lobbying to delay PTC because of its cost, they’ve also been eyeing it as an opportunity to cut labor costs. They will save billions of dollars if they can implement one-person crews, says Kaminkow.

Contrary to the aims of the legislation, a two-man crew mandate could actually reduce the overall safety of the transportation system. That is because increasing costs for freight train operators makes them less competitive against trucking. The end result will be more cargo shipped by truck — a mode of transport orders of magnitude more deadly than trains.

 

 

Assault on Amtrak

assaultUrban Shield, the SWAT team and arms manufacturer trade show, was recently held in Oakland. The event, funded by the DHS and organized by the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department, featured a number of training scenarios. Here is one event, the Assault on Amtrak (starting 50 seconds into the video clip):

Mother Jones reporter Shane Bauer has been covering the event — or at least trying to. The Sheriff’s department kicked him out of the convention center:

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The Alameda Sheriff’s department is one of the biggest proponents of militarization, including the use of unmanned drones and a gunboat.

 

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