Archive for the ‘risk’ Category

Things you did as a kid that your kids will never do” is the title of a posting to the SF-Moms blog today. Here is the main photo shown at the top:


And when I saw this, my first thought was this was going to be a nice story about how parents have become too paranoid about allowing kids to play with bikes out in the neighborhood.

Then I read the caption under the photo:

Ride a bike without a helmet tand do other dangerous things on your bike. Note: We’re glad kids are now wearing helmets. This is a good step forward.

Excuse me while I go slap my forehead…

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In California, a driver is only required to carry $15,000 in liability insurance coverage. That is the second lowest in the nation (only Florida is lower with $10,000). A car crash can cause well over $100,000 in medical expenses (not to mention lost wages). So if you are wondering why the amount is so ridiculously low, it is because the amount has not been raised in 40 years:

Enacted in 1974 when the average new car cost $4,440, California Vehicle Code 16056 dictated that drivers need to have insurance with $15,000 to cover bodily injury or death to one person in a motor vehicle accident, $30,000 to cover two or more people and $5,000 to cover property damage.

California is one of only seven states in the U.S. — the others are Arizona, Delaware, Louisiana, Nevada, New Jersey and Pennsylvania — with limits that low, according to the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America. Only Florida has lower minimums, at $10,000, $20,000 and $10,000, respectively. Alaska and Maine have the highest at $50,000, $100,000 and $25,000.

Adjusted for inflation, $15,000 in 1974 dollars is equivalent to $70,800 in today’s dollars.

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Fort Lee Shenanigans

In New Jersey, government officials have abused their authority — possibly even broken laws. The victims were ordinary residents of Fort Lee, just trying to travel along city streets.

Oh, did you think I was talking about Governor Christie and his staff?

No, I am referring to Fort Lee’s Police Chief. He decided to ticket “distracted” pedestrians — even though there is no law against it:

After trying pamphlets and brochures, he’s ordering his officers to ticket careless pedestrians on the spot. “They’re not alert and they’re not watching what they’re doing,” Police Chief Thomas Ripoli told CBS 2′s Derricke Dennis.

Unlike careless driving, there’s no specific charge for being a careless pedestrian, but Chief Ripoli said his officers are watching, adding they’ll know it when they see it.

Fort Lee does have a problem with pedestrian fatalities. It averages one pedestrian collision per week. But it is crazy to blame cell phones instead of the fast-moving 2-ton vehicles.

The family of Jerry DeAngelis was particularly appalled by the Chief’s emphasis on “distracted” pedestrians. Jerry was struck and killed while crossing an intersection on the way to church. The family believes the driver was not paying attention. The DeAngelis family writes:

We all agree that pedestrians need to do their part and are often to blame in these accidents, but focusing your campaign almost exclusively on the pedestrians, while ignoring the issue of distracted and reckless driving, is both short-sighted and naïve.

We are not interested in publicity stunts and public relations campaigns. As Jerry’s family, our motivation is to see fewer families suffer the way we have.

We believe your campaign needs to be better researched and more comprehensive. We suggest you look at a number of methods to improve pedestrian safety, but most importantly, Fort Lee needs a significantly stepped up police presence.

Many residents express frustration that the town’s streets are unsafe and point to the lack of law enforcement presence and effective action as a major cause. The consensus seems to be that drivers in Fort Lee violate traffic laws with impunity. Research shows that a greater police presence will be the most effective means for gaining voluntary compliance with traffic laws – far more effective than handing out ice scrapers and florescent umbrellas.

Clearly, education initiatives are important but all safety campaigns must be accompanied by strict law enforcement measures and an acknowledgment of the increasing numbers of distracted drivers contributing to these accidents.

An effective pedestrian safety campaign should begin with a realistic assessment of the root causes of these accidents. A zero tolerance policy for motorists who put themselves, other motorists, and pedestrians at risk would go a long way toward reducing the number of accidents in Fort Lee.

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As reported by BikePortland, there were zero bike fatalities in 2013:

This isn’t a new feat for Portland: the city also avoided any bike-related fatalities in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2006, 2008 and 2010. That’s a safety record that’s nearly unmatched from coast to coast.

San Jose, by comparison, was a bloodbath:

This has been a particularly dangerous year on roadways throughout San Jose, with 26 traffic fatalities involving a pedestrian or bicyclist — the highest total since at least 1997 and the most of any city in the Bay Area.

And the death toll in New York was over 100 cyclists pedestrians and cyclists.

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The debate over ski helmets is quite similar to that of bike helmets. A cottage industry is marketing helmets. But despite a huge increase in the use of helmets by skiers, there has been no reduction in fatalities.

Schumacher’s injury also focused attention on an unsettling trend. Although skiers and snowboarders in the United States are wearing helmets more than ever — 70 percent of all participants, nearly triple the number from 2003 — there has been no reduction in the number of snow-sports-related fatalities or brain injuries in the country, according to the National Ski Areas Association.

Experts ascribe that seemingly implausible correlation to the inability of helmets to prevent serious head injuries like Schumacher’s and to the fact that more skiers and snowboarders are engaging in risky behaviors: skiing faster, jumping higher and going out of bounds.

“The equipment we have now allows us to do things we really couldn’t do before, and people’s pushing limits has sort of surpassed people’s ability to control themselves,” said Chris Davenport, a professional big-mountain skier.

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On the subject of horn blasting, FRA officials will always say that safety is their primary concern. But in fact, the rule can do more harm than good. An egregious example is the iconic tracks in San Clemente, California.


The tracks run past a beach with heavy pedestrian traffic. With no formal crossings, people just crossed wherever. This was obviously very dangerous, so the city proposed a reasonable solution – formal pedestrian crossings, with audible warning systems and other safety features. Fences and landscaping would discourage crossing, except at the designated locations. The idea was that the wayside audible warning system would provide as good (if not better) safety compared to train-mounted horns blasted from a quarter-mile away.

San Clemente applied to the FRA to obtain quiet-zone status for the crossings, but was not successful. The city then approached the PUC, asking the commission to approve quiet-zone status anyway.

Surprisingly, the PUC went along and the crossings were built. But the BNSF railroad derailed the plan, arguing that the FRA had primary jurisdiction over quiet-zones. BNSF filed a lawsuit against the PUC.

In BNSF Railway v. PUC  Judge Robie sided with BNSF. The result is that trains now have to blast horns whereas they didn’t used to (before crossings were installed). The neighbors are understandably livid about that.

While Judge Robie may be correct on the law, this is still bad policy. In his analysis of the case, UCSD Law Professor Shaun Martin notes:

The opinion might benefit from a recognition that this result is suboptimal. For everyone. It harms homeowners (as well as beach visitors). It discourages cities like San Clemente from enhancing pedestrian safety (since the result will be massive annoyance to its homeowners). It seems not to advance public safety in the slightest. It’s simply the result of an ossified historical structure — the traditional use of horns located on the train — that does not comport with modern technological capacity.

How did we ever get to the point where FRA rules prevent cities from fixing pedestrian hazards?

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bike_saddleBack in the 1990′s Dr. Irwin Goldstein, a urologist, made his infamous statement: “there are only two kinds of male cyclists – those who are impotent and those who will be impotent.”

It started the myth that biking would cause your dick to fall off.

There was absolutely no basis in the claim whatsoever. But like all zombie myths, it doesn’t go away. The NY Times, for example, has published a gazillion scaremongering articles. And it isn’t hard to see why journalists would run with such a story. Biking is a healthy activity, so nobody would expect it would cause impotence or bone loss.

Regrettably, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) got into the act. The agency, which protects workplace safety, issued official recommendations on bike saddles:

Over the last several years, NIOSH researchers have investigated the potential health effects of prolonged bicycling in police bicycle patrol units, including the possibility that some bicycle saddles exert excessive pressure on the urogenital area of cyclists, restricting blood flow to the genitals, resulting in adverse effects on sexual function. NIOSH worked with several police departments with bicycle patrols to conduct reproductive health research. In these studies NIOSH did more than assess a problem; it also tested a solution and published recommendations.

It is one thing for crackpot researchers and journalists to be making these wild claims. But when the US government is publishing official brochures, that is a big problem. Bicycling is a healthy activity, and the NIOSH should be encouraging workers to ride bikes instead of motor vehicles. One also wonders whether this will expose employers to frivolous lawsuits for providing bikes with the “wrong” saddle design at jobsites.


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FRA To Re-Visit Horn Rule

Here is some good news. Colorado Senators Udall and Bennet say the FRA will review its train horn rules:

Following months of pressure and numerous requests on behalf of Colorado communities, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall welcomed the Federal Railroad Administration’s recent decision to review its train noise rules and consider how to cut red tape and make the required train-crossing upgrades more affordable for local taxpayers. The reassessment of the agency’s rules, noted at the Railroad Safety Advisory Committee’s Oct. 31 meeting, will give Colorado communities an important opportunity to weigh in as early as Spring 2014.

Bennet and Udall pressed the Federal Railroad Administration in a recent letter to reopen its rules and give Colorado communities the flexibility they need to confront train noise — which can hurt businesses and residents near crossings — and protect public safety.

“The FRA’s decision to reevaluate their regulations on train horns is encouraging news to local communities. This step demonstrates some Colorado common sense, balancing safety concerns with the desire to revitalize urban areas, promote economic growth, and generally have reasonable peace and quiet,” Bennet said. “We look forward to continuing to work with federal and local officials to develop a responsible solution that will better support these communities.”

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Fort Collins Attempts Quiet Zone Waiver

Fort Collins is one of those old railroad towns where they still have street-running trains. This never used to be a problem, until the FRA horn-rule went into effect — and the horns became louder and more frequent. Because the track runs through the middle of town, any Quiet-Zone implementation would be costly and disruptive. A number of cross-streets would have to be closed, to the detriment of nearby businesses. So the city is going to attempt a waiver:

The city for years has been studying whether it could and should create a “quiet zone” along the Mason Corridor by making a series of intersection changes, including much larger crossing gates. But installing those safety measures would cost about $5 million and make it much harder to get around Old Town.

Now, the city is trying something different.

Instead of closing off some intersections and significantly rebuilding others, the city has decided to ask federal officials for a waiver from the horn rule. The city plans to tell federal officials it will make some smaller intersection changes and offer up other safety solutions. City officials believe they can make the case that because Mason is so unusual, Fort Collins deserves special dispensation. City, railroad and federal officials say Fort Collins is unique because the BNSF Railway tracks run down the center of a city street.

We will see what happens, but the FRA has been rigid in its application of the rule. Even in cases like Fort Collins where the trains travel at very slow speeds.


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Loud Enough To Wake The Dead

Homeowners are still suffering noise pollution along the NJ Transit RiverLINE. The problem is the FRA’s insane horn blaring rule:

On weekdays, 91 River Line trains sweep north and south between Camden and Trenton, starting about 5:45 a.m. and ending about 10 p.m., when the commuter trains make their final runs.

But peace does not descend on these river towns, even then.

In Pennsauken, Palmyra, Cinnaminson, Delran, Riverside, Delanco, Edgewater Park, and Bordentown, residents living close to the tracks are shaking fists at an unknown Conrail engineer whose long, loud horn-blasts in the wee hours sound “hostile,” they say, and even “spiteful.”

It should be a policy goal to encourage people to live near train stations, not drive them away:

“You can’t have a conversation” when the horns sound, said the wife, who gave her name as Nancy. “And that guy on the freight train is so obnoxious,” she added.

She pointed to a vacant two-story white clapboard house across Woodlane Road, adjacent to the grade crossing. The owner, a widow, “just walked away from it” several years ago, she said, because she couldn’t sell it.

“What good is a house,” she asked, “if you can’t enjoy it?”

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