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Archive for the ‘bicycling’ Category

Tampa police have written 2,504 bike tickets — more than Jacksonville, Miami, St. Petersburg and Orlando combined.

Police say they are gung ho about bike safety and focused on stopping a plague of bike thefts.

But here’s something they don’t mention about the people they ticket: Eight out of 10 are black.

Just go read the entire article. It is beyond belief. The part that struck me the most, however, was that the “Bicycle Blitzkrieg” squad actually made the streets more dangerous for cyclists:

Despite the thousands of hours spent by police, court clerks, public defenders, prosecutors and judges on enforcement of bicycle laws, it’s hard to tell what Tampa gets out of them.

Even though 2013 was one of the department’s highest ticketing years, bike crashes still rose the following year by 20 percent. Bike thefts, too, climbed 15 percent.

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Now here is a sensible bill for consideration by the California legislature:

Over the last year, Off the Chain Bike Bus Tours has ferried party goers between local bars and breweries. One thing that’s been missing from these vehicles is the ability to serve alcohol on the multi-person bikes.

Dr. Richard Pan, a state senator from Sacramento, wants to fix that. He has introduced SB 530, which would: “Regulate the operation of quadricycles. The bill would define a quadricycle, in part, as being pedal-powered and seating no more than 15 passengers. The bill would provide that a person operating a quadricycle on the highway has all the rights and is subject to all the provisions applicable to the driver of a vehicle, including a prohibition against operating a quadricycle while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage or any drug. The bill would authorize consumption of alcoholic beverages by passengers on a quadricycle, as specified, if the local jurisdiction has authorized that consumption by ordinance or resolution.

California law already allows 21-and-older riders on “party” buses to drink alcohol. If bikes have all the “rights and responsibilities” as motor vehicles, then it only makes sense to permit alcohol on pedal-powered buses too.

Beer Bike in Berlin

Beer Bike in Berlin

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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.

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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.

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The idiotic Australian helmet law strikes again:

Melbourne police officers succeeded where scores of action movie villains have failed when they stopped Hollywood tough guy Arnold Schwarzenegger in his tracks on Monday.

The intervention began after photographs began circulating on social media of the American actor, bodybuilder and politician riding one of Melbourne’s blue share bikes. The Terminator and Predator star was wearing bike-matching blue shorts, but not a bicycle helmet.

“I saw a group of cyclists riding ahead of me and we just went up to do a routine intercept,” Senior Constable Gillson told Fairfax Media on Tuesday.

“Then we noticed that Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the crowd. “We spoke to him briefly and had a little chat with him about the reason why I pulled him over.”

The constable said he often chose to educate tourists from countries without helmet laws rather than fine them.

Someone needs educating, and it isn’t the tourists.

arnold

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This Is Not A Cycle Track

Here is a “cycle track” that was just installed in Alameda, along Shoreline Dr:

cycle_track_alameda

And here is a cross-section diagram of the “cycle track” (click to enlarge):

cycle_track_alameda2

Can you spot what’s wrong? The answer, of course, is that there is nothing protecting the cyclists from the cars. A cycle track should have physical separation between car and bike traffic (preferably with a concrete curb). Alameda is only installing paint and stanchions. The other option for protecting cyclists is to put the cycle-track behind parked cars — but that was only been done in a few places during daytime hours. Alameda put most parking on the wrong side of the street.

For comparison, here is how a cycle track is supposed to look:

Amsterdam cycle track

Amsterdam cycle track

Alameda is hardly an isolated case. Here is what they are calling a “cycle track” in Minneapolis:

cycle_track_minneapolis

There is no reason cyclists should have to put up with this substandard infrastructure.

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I was hoping to avoid comment on Senator Liu’s mandatory bike helmet law. It is a zombie idea that pops up every so often in the US. The California legislature last considered the idea in the early 1990’s. That was during the height of bike helmet hysteria, and even then Legislators thought it was a bad idea. Two decades later, the idea has even less traction now that we can look at the experience of nearly a dozen places that tried it. Senator Liu has yet to explain why it would work in California when it failed miserably in Canada, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, and Seattle.

One argument frequently heard is that mandatory helmet laws are just like mandatory seatbelt laws. There is actually a lot of validity to that argument: Both are feel-good measures and yet counter-productive for safety.

Now you are probably thinking that seatbelt laws have saved tens of thousands of lives. You are also thinking that automobile fatalities have been on a long decline, and that seatbelts are largely responsible. You may also have watched slow-motion videos of crash-test dummies. But the inconvenient truth is that while seatbelts are good to have in an accident, there is no evidence that mandatory seatbelt laws improved safety:

seatbelt1

That figure comes from work done by Dr. John Adams. It covered 80% of the world’s car population at the time of publication. If you have not heard of the name and believe he is some crank, it is quite the opposite. Dr. Adams literally wrote the book on modern risk analysis.

Here is another figure, showing how fatalities and injuries increased when the UK passed its mandatory rear seatbelt law:

seatbelt2

And here is what happened when Australia implemented the law. Note again how fatalities went back up:

seatbelt3

It is worth considering why mandatory seatbelt laws have negative consequences. One reason has to do with the idea of risk compensation:

Risk compensation is a theory which suggests that people typically adjust their behavior in response to the perceived level of risk, becoming more careful where they sense greater risk and less careful if they feel more protected. Although usually small in comparison to the fundamental benefits of safety interventions, it may result in a lower net benefit than expected.  By way of example, it has been observed that motorists drove faster when wearing seatbelts and closer to the vehicle in front when the vehicles were fitted with anti-lock brakes.

A consequence of risk compensation is that motorists drive faster, causing increased risk for pedestrians and cyclists. It is a major reason why pedestrian and bicycle fatalities have not declined.

Another reason why seatbelt laws didn’t work is because they were implemented instead of making changes in the infrastructure. It is a similar problem to bike helmet laws, which legislators also prefer to implement over more costly infrastructure improvements.

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