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A NY Times editorial jumps on the distracted-pedestrian bandwagon. It argues in favor of laws recently passed in Honolulu and Montclair outlawing the use of mobile devices by pedestrians at intersections.

In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever that distracted walking is a problem. Enforcing such a law would do nothing for pedestrian safety. Rather, it would be a pretext for police harassment of pedestrians.

The Times argues such laws are needed to enforce a “social contract” that everyone is responsible for their safety and regard for others. But there is no such social contract. Distracted pedestrian laws only apply to….pedestrians. Drivers are still free to use their mobile devices as they blast through intersections. Some car manufacturers, such as Tesla, even incorporate giant touchscreens in the dashboard.

The hysteria over distracted walking originates with the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), which speaks for state highway departments. State highway engineers have spent decades building a very dangerous transportation system. But rather than acknowledge professional blunders, the GHSA blames the victim. Pedestrians, you see, are getting killed because they are drunk and using cell phones.  For 2018, the GHSA annual report adds a new bogeyman — marijuana legalization:

Analyzing data for the first half of 2017, the Governors Highway Safety Association found a notable increase in pedestrian deaths in states that had legalized marijuana. Elsewhere, the death toll declined. It is too early for firm conclusions, but you can’t rule out that judgments are flawed when drivers and pedestrians go around stoned.

There were seven states that had legalized marijuana between 2012 and 2016 (Alaska, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington). While those states did see large increases last year in pedestrian fatalities, other factors (increasing VMT in particular) appears to be the culprit, not legalization. Except for Nevada, the legalization states still have lower overall pedestrian fatality rates compared to the national average. And interestingly, there is considerable debate within the medical community on what impact (if any) cannabis has on driver impairment.

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Darren FAIL

Twitter readers are not impressed with lackluster job Cheshire Council (UK) has been doing on pothole repair:
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At its March 6 meeting, the Dublin City Council voted unanimously to deny a permit for a 220-unit apartment near the Dublin/Pleasanton BART station.

The project would have consisted of 22 studio units, 98 one-bedroom units, 96 two-bedroom units, and 4 three-bedroom units. Staff recommended approval of the project, but Council members said the project was too massive and used the wrong colors (the developer offered to hire a color consultant).

This episode is serves as further motivation for the State to scale back planning control from local cities, starting with Senator Wiener’s SB-827 bill. In the meantime, housing activists are threatening to file a lawsuit against the city for violating the Housing Accountability Act.

 

 

Most readers are familiar with the Sierra Club’s opposition to transit-oriented development. But now the Club has sunk to a new low:

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One of the Club’s arguments is that the law would generate opposition to new transit lines. Why would NIMBY groups support transit investment if it all but requires upzoning?

But as Ethan Elkind points out, this is a feature not a bug. Far too much money has been wasted on new rail lines to low-density communities. When these communities refuse to approve the necessary development to generate ridership, it wastes the taxpayer investment. At the very least, the bill would ensure future transportation investments are spent on communities that actually want public transit.

An Independent Forensic Team has published a 584-page report on the catastrophic destruction of the Oroville dam spillway last winter. The report summary states the catastrophe was the result of long-running systemic failures at both the State and Federal levels.

The entire report makes for fascinating (and scary) reading, but there is one part that really stands out:

A contributing factor to DWR’s overconfidence and complacency was a somewhat widespread belief within DWR that the SWP was designed by the “best of the best” – a belief passed on through two generations to the current generation, and possibly increasingly mythologized by each generation. While it is true that DWR recruited nationally to hire qualified engineers and geologists from other organizations, it is unlikely that DWR was able to fill all of its key engineering and geology positions with the “best” people, given the rapidity with which DWR needed to scale up its organization during the 1960s.

The most relevant possible illustration of this aspect is that, as reported to the IFT in an interview, the principal designer for the Oroville spillways 1) was hired directly from a university post-graduate program, with prior engineering employment experience limited to one or two summers for a consulting firm, 2) had no prior professional experience designing spillways, but had received instruction on spillway design in university coursework on hydraulic structures, and 3) likely did not consult technical references regarding spillway chute design, and instead relied on notes from his university coursework in hydraulic structures. If this information is accurate, the IFT finds it striking that such an inexperienced engineer was given the responsibility of designing the spillways of what is still the tallest dam in the US.

Damaged Dam

According to Australian mainstream media, Bicycle Network is that country’s one and only group for representing the interests of cyclists. This is the organization which, for the past 30 years, promoted mandatory helmet laws. With friends like that who needs enemies?

But now, I guess in an attempt to stay relevant, Bicycle Network has been conducting a highly publicized survey on the issue of mandatory helmet laws. The good news is that the survey result showed agreement on repealing Australia’s mandatory helmet laws. However, a substantial number of respondents (40%) want to retain the law for children.

This survey result is typical, especially when the bicycle gearheads discuss helmet laws on the internets. Children, it is argued, need to be protected because they are more vulnerable to traumatic head injury. Like everything else involving helmets, that argument is based on superstition instead of hard data.

Children are actually not all that vulnerable to head injury. In fact, if there is one age group extremely vulnerable to traumatic head injury it isn’t children but the elderly. Rates of head-injury deaths in the US were highest for those aged 75 and older. Similar results are seen in Europe. From a safety standpoint, it is ludicrous to single out the age group least at risk:

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TBI-associated death (Eurostat)

Now to be clear, this data is for all TBI-related fatalities, not just ones involving a bicycle. The point here is to show that children do not have some biological issue that requires special head protection.

And of course, we already know that mandatory youth helmet laws is ineffective by looking at places that implemented such laws, including California and parts of Canada. Oh, and Australia.