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Senator Liu amended her misguided SB-192 bill. Instead of the requirement for helmets and “safety” vests, the bill now proposes a study of bike helmet use. While that is an improvement, there are still lots of problems with the bill. Now is not the time to be complacent.

The first problem is the study methodology:

The Office of Traffic Study [sic] shall conduct a comprehensive study of bicycle helmet use, including, but not limited to, determining the percentage of California bicyclists who do not wear helmets, and the fatalities or serious injuries that could have been avoided if helmets had been worn.

So the study would extrapolate the number of bicyclist lives that could be “saved” through increased helmet use? That methodology erroneously assumes increased helmet use leads to lower injuries and fatalities. Since there is no evidence to support such an assumption, the number of lives “saved” would be a bogus calculation. Such a number could, however, serve as useful propaganda for any future bike helmet legislation.

The second problem is that the study would be conducted by the Office of Traffic Safety (OTS). That is like asking the Koch brothers to do a climate change report. The OTS has a windshield perspective when it comes to bike safety, especially bike helmets.

For example, the new OTS 2015 Highway Safety Plan (p. 93) repeats that zombie statistic about bike helmets. You know the one…about how bike helmets can prevent more than 80% of fatalities:

Bicycle or safety helmets have been shown to significantly reduce the risk of head and brain injury. In fact, it is estimated that as many as seven out of every eight bicycle-related fatalities among children could have been prevented with a bicycle helmet.

As most readers know, this statistic was widely discredited long ago. And yet the OTS still devotes resources to helmet programs, and has set a goal of increasing bike helmet usage this year by 25%.

Instead of having the OTS do a helmet study, let’s turn this around and do a performance audit on the OTS bike/ped program. For the past decade, California has suffered an increasing rate of bike and ped injuries and fatalities. And yet OTS methods have not changed, still focusing on bike helmets and jaywalking stings. Clearly that isn’t working, and it is discouraging that the OTS doesn’t realize it. A fresh approach at the OTS — one incorporating Vision-Zero policies — is what really needs to be studied.

Cities throughout California have been upgrading their pedestrian signals to modern “countdown” style displays. You have probably seen them: They show the amount of time remaining for a pedestrian to cross the street. Studies confirm that countdown signals are effective for reducing collisions, because pedestrians know when it is safe to begin crossing.

Unfortunately, California law has not kept up with this new technology. CVC 21456, the “jaywalking” law, was enacted back in 1981. In those days, there was no countdown, just a flashing hand. As a result, there is a lot of confusion about when a pedestrian is permitted to cross:

The countdown begins when the “hand” on the signal switches from white to a blinking red and the timer starts ticking down toward zero. It seems that California law says you’re not allowed to set foot in the street once the “Don’t Walk” signal or the red hand begins flashing, even if there is still plenty of time on the countdown.

Well, who knew that? Many pedestrians assume — wrongly, it turns out — that the countdown is designed to tell you how much time you have to clear the intersection so you can make an informed decision on whether to cross the street or wait. “Fifteen seconds? I can make it if I walk fast.” “Five seconds? I’ll wait until the next cycle.”

In most cities, police are taking a common-sense approach to the countdown signals. They will only give a ticket if a pedestrian crosses against the solid-hand phase.

One big exception is the city of Los Angeles.

The LA police department has giving citations for jaywalking, especially in the crowded downtown area, to pedestrians crossing during the countdown phase:

A Downtown News story last week reported that Los Angeles police officers have been ticketing jaywalkers in the city’s historic core and the financial district. Penalties range from a hefty $190 to an even heftier $250. “We’re heavily enforcing pedestrian violations because they’re impeding traffic and causing too many accidents and deaths,” Lt. Lydia Leos told the newspaper.

Fair enough. Pedestrians, like drivers, can be careless — or reckless — and that can be a real safety problem. But what’s causing controversy is that the Los Angeles Police Department is enforcing the letter of the law and ticketing walkers who step into the street during the “countdown.”

This is ridiculous, and it has been going on for years. The Legislature needs to eliminate this ambiguity from CVC 21456. Otherwise, what’s the point of having a countdown signal?

countdown

I hate limousine liberals:

If I were Ed Lee, I’d be keeping an eye out for former Mayor Dianne Feinstein, because she’s been keeping an eye on the city and is not happy about what she sees. I had dinner with the senator at North Beach Restaurant, and for all of her involvement in national and international issues, you would have thought the world ended at the bridges. She was laser-focused on San Francisco.

At the top of her concerns is the gridlocked traffic, which she experienced most recently when it took her and husband Dick Blum an inordinate amount of time to get across town after attending the funeral for Gov. Jerry Brown’s sister Cynthia Kelly at St. Cecilia Church in the Sunset.

I explained that Mayor Ed was trying to make the city more bicycle-friendly, which means fewer lanes for cars. Add in all the construction, and getting across town takes some effort.

Oh, for fuck’s sake! St. Cecilia Church is 2 blocks from a Muni “L” light rail stop.

In California, parents are not legally required to vaccinate their kids. They are, however, required to make their kids wear bike helmets. How did we get into a situation where biking was seen as a greater risk than polio and the measles?

California passed its youth bike helmet law in 1994. It was one of the first states to do so, and led to dozens of other states passing similar legislation. California State Senator Carol Liu now wants to extend the “benefits” of mandatory helmet legislation to adults.

But what evidence is there that mandatory helmet legislation is effective? In doing a literature search, I find hardly any studies that looked at the effectiveness of California’s 1994 law. But the raw data is available online to do your own analysis.

The EPICenter online injury database tracks hospital admissions for injuries, with fields for age, race, location, and cause of injury. This is one of the databases used by helmet promoters to justify helmet laws. I pulled numbers from the database, and did time-series graphs. I encourage others to also review the data.

Before getting into the results, let me offer the usual caveats. The data only go back as far as 1991. And the data do not directly measure cycling activity levels (i.e. a decline in injury numbers could be a result of less cycling). Also keep in mind that hospital data records are notoriously unreliable.  Despite those limitations, one would expect to see dramatic reductions in head injury numbers given the supposed 80% effectiveness of bike helmets.

So here is the total number of bicycle-related traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in the California database, for ages 0-17:

youth_tbi_cases_1

The vertical line indicates when the state law went into effect. At first glance, the post-legislation TBI level does seem slightly lower. But was the post-legislation decline a result of the helmet mandate, or merely a continuation of an ongoing trend?

To help answer that question, let’s compare against reported pedestrian accidents, shown in the following time-series graph. It is interesting that the youth pedestrian TBI rate saw a similar rate of decline — even though there is no pedestrian helmet mandate. This suggests the decline in cycling head injuries was mainly due to fewer kids walking and biking, and not a result of the helmet mandate.

 

youth_bike_ped_tbi_3

 

Finally, let’s next look at the bicycle TBI data for the adolescents, ages 14-17. The reason for doing this is that adolescents are more similar to 18+ riders in the type of cycling and amount of adult supervision. As can be seen, the helmet mandate was ineffective for adolescents as TBI injuries were unchanged relative to pre-legislation levels. If the helmet mandate is ineffective for adolescents, it is unlikely that it would suddenly start to work when they turn 18.

youth_tbi_cases_teenagers

 

Conclusion

When the California Legislature passed the youth helmet law in 1994, it did so on the basis of speculative and dubious studies by helmet promoters. But now that the state has had more than 10 years of real-world data, it is clear the helmet experiment has been an epic fail. There no clear evidence the law reduced injuries, and it diverted millions of dollars in resources that could have been spent on more effective measures. The Legislature must not repeat this mistake with Senator Liu’s adult helmet bill.

If anything, the Legislature should rescind the youth helmet requirement. The parent-child relationship is sacrosanct. In free countries, government does not interfere in that relationship except in extraordinary cases. The decision about wearing bicycle headgear isn’t one of them.

Boycott

Cummins, along with other large employers in Indiana, sent a letter to GOP leaders:

Nine of Indiana’s largest employers sent a letter to state GOP leaders Monday asking for immediate action on the controversial religious freedom law. The letter says the companies are “deeply concerned” about the impact the law is having on their employees and the reputation of the state.

Here in California (and probably elsewhere), transit agencies do a sizable business with Cummins. AC Transit, for example, uses Cummins engines in almost every one of its buses. It is not hard to imagine that transit districts will look at a Boycott Indiana policy in its purchasing contracts. Large transit agencies do bus fleet purchases every few years — and Cummins does have competitors that aren’t located in states with Sharia law.

In case there was any doubt about the intent of the Religious Freedom Law.

In case there was any doubt about the intent of the Religious Freedom Law.

As one of the most scenic places on Earth, the California coast is not the place to be constructing expressways. The fact that CEQA allows this is a huge problem:

San Mateo County Superior Court Judge Marie Weiner tentatively denied the claims in the CEQA lawsuit brought by Pacificans for a Scenic Coast about the proposed widening of Highway 1. The Calera Creek Parkway project seeks to widen Highway 1 from Fairway Park to Rockaway by adding an additional traffic lane, a shoulder and a bike lane on each side.

The CEQA lawsuit contends the Calera Creek Parkway project was not adequately described at the time of the EIR, that the project is out of scale with Pacifica’s scenic nature, the EIR contains contradictory information on impacts of threatened species, and that the EIR did not adequately address adverse impacts of the project, according to Pacificans for a Scenic Coast.

The topics explored during the two-day hearing included concerns about noise, water run-off, species protection, traffic and pedestrian safety, greenhouse gas emissions and what the new road will look like in the neighborhood.

The “bike lane” in this case just means cyclists get to ride on the shoulder of an expressway. The new Devil’s Slide Class I path opened just down the road, but who wants to ride on an expressway to get there?

Before and after photosimulation

Before and after photosimulation

Behold, the “ultimate” highway widening. Seriously, that is actually the word Florida DOT officials used to describe it, and they may not be exaggerating:

ultimate_I4

This highway engineering nightmare is the new-and-improved I4. It is where the Obama Administration once tried to build a new high-speed rail line. Governor Scott killed the train idea, because he said it would cost Florida taxpayers too much (even though it was fully funded by the Feds).

The I4 widening will cost a whopping $2.1 billion for just 21 miles. And whereas Florida taxpayers would not have had to pay anything for the train, they will pay at least half the cost of the highway project. The rest of the funding is supposed to come from a PPP tolls. And given the dismal record of PPP-funded highways, taxpayers should expect to pay even more.

A giant highway overcrossing is a great place to a street fair!

A giant highway overcrossing is a great place for a street fair!

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