The Starting Line – Want to Make San Diego More Bike Friendly? Lose the Helmets!

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There’s been a lot of discussion in San Diego lately about making the city more bike friendly.  Mayor Sanders held a media event not long ago touting a public “bike sharing’ program, a low cost rental system that could encompass downtown, the beach areas and midtown by next spring.  Three bike ‘corrals” that allow riders to safely park their bicycle in crowded urban neighborhoods have been opened recently. And it would appear that the people in charge of the area’s roads are starting to take a more serious look at making the streets more user friendly to riders.

From the venerable New York Times Sunday Review comes an article suggesting that, if we truly want to succeed in making San Diego more bike-centric, we should look at what many will consider a heretical idea: lose the helmets.

In the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as pretty near God’s truth. Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke. Cities are aggressive in helmet promotion.

But many European health experts have taken a very different view: Yes, there are studies that show that if you fall off a bicycle at a certain speed and hit your head, a helmet can reduce your risk of serious head injury. But such falls off bikes are rare — exceedingly so in mature urban cycling systems.


Recent experience suggests that if a city wants bike-sharing to really take off, it may have to allow and accept helmet-free riding. A two-year-old bike-sharing program in MelbourneAustralia — where helmet use in mandatory — has only about 150 rides a day, despite the fact that Melbourne is flat, with broad roads and a temperate climate. On the other hand, helmet-lax Dublin — cold, cobbled and hilly — has more than 5,000 daily rides in its young bike-sharing scheme. Mexico City recently repealed a mandatory helmet law to get a bike-sharing scheme off the ground. But here in the United States, the politics are tricky.

The article goes on to cite Piet de Jong, an Australian researcher who has studied the issues of cycling’s health benefits versus its risks. He concludes the benefits outweigh the risks by a ratio of 20 to 1, pointing out that it makes more sense statistically speaking for people to wear helmets when climbing ladders or getting into a bath tub, because there are lots more injuries during those activities.

Please, read the entire article here BEFORE you log on and call me names for sharing this story. Thank you.

City Employees Featured in Anti-Romney Ads

San Diego City employees are the stars in a series of three video commercials produced by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) critical of GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The ads, which are part of an on-line advertising campaign by the union, criticize the Republican nominee for benefiting from governments services while advocating for cut backs that affect middle class citizens.

Here’s Richard Hayes, a sanitation worker who has worked the La Jolla route that includes Romney’s beachfront house.

New City Hires to be Enrolled in Social Security

San Diego city employees also made the news in Sacramento over the weekend as Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill authored by State Assemblyman Ben Hueso requiring newly hired employees of the City of San Diego to be enrolled in Social Security.  This will provide for a minimal guarantee of future retirement benefits, something not provided for under Proposition B, the pension reform ballot measure that changed the City’s program for newly hired workers (police were exempted) over into a 401(k) style plan with payouts to be determined by stock market.

City employees voluntarily gave up Social Security enrollment back in the 1980’s in return for a promise by then-Mayor Pete Wilson of guaranteed future medical benefits, a pledge that was taken back during the Sanders administration.

City Attorney Jan Goldsmith wasn’t happy about the Governor’s ok on the measure, telling a UT-San Diego reporter “We can do well if we’re able to be free of state meddling.”  Local unions representing City employees have been publicly silent on the question of Social Security benefits, fearing that taking a public stance would damage their position in closed-door negotiations about pension benefit currently in progress.

 More News From the Dougchester Empire

The press release announcing the formal take-over of the North County Times by the Dougchester’s UT-San Diego hadn’t even hit our email in box before accounts of massive layoffs started appearing in various journalists Twitter accounts yesterday morning.  We hear that one-third of the NC Times newsroom staff were given notice and additional employees in the UT-SD’s Mission Valley location were impacted. NC Times employees received emails directed them to one of two locations within the building, one for those being retained and one for those being laid off.

 In Case You Had Any Doubts About Where the Local Daily is Headed…

An interview with UT-San Diego’s CEO John Lynch in The Wanderer, which bills itself as a national Catholic Weekly newspaper, minces no words when it comes to the opinions he holds regarding the current President of the United States:

 Barack Obama is “openly anti-Catholic and antireligious freedom,” the vice-chairman and CEO of San Diego’s dominant media player told The Wanderer during a 40-minute interview in his fifth floor office here overlooking bustling Mission Valley.

 Asked why he thought Obama directly tackled the Catholic Church early in this volatile presidential election year, media executive John T. Lynch replied, “I think he’s an ideologue” who can’t change. “A), he’s an elitist. B), he’s so socialistic. He believes in changing our country forever.”

 The July 3rd interview also allowed Manchester’s’ main minion to pontificate about the future of California, which he apparently believes will be split in half:

 For decades there has been chatter about splitting California in half, between north and south, because of differences in the very large state. However, Lynch indicated, the talk has grown more serious because of the Democratic-dominated state legislature, up north inSacramento, ignoring conservatives and pursuing its own failed economic policies.

 “We get to the point California is so broken, and so non-reflective of the people,” Lynch said, that discussion turns to “ bifurcation of thestate,” with southern California’s more-conservative San Diego, Orange, and inland counties splitting from the rest of the state.

 “We kind of talk about a [Nancy] Pelosi California and a [Ronald] Reagan California” resulting from the split, he said.

  PETA Protest at Sea World Set for Wednesday

An orca named Nakai, injured during a performance on September 20th at Sea World San Diego, is at the center of a controversy swirling around the Mission Bay theme park. The 11 year old killer whale is being treated with antibiotics after losing a large chunk of flesh from its lower jaw.

Image Courtesy PETA

Activists with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) are planning a demonstration on Wednesday demanding that the park comply with the provisions of Animal Welfare Act, requiring incompatible animals be kept in separate enclosures. PETA claims to have a whistleblower report that the killer whale was attacked by “other frustrated, captive orcas.” The animal rights group has also filed a formal complaint with the Department of Agriculture, which has jurisdiction in this matter.

From reportage by Sara Gates via Huffington Post:

 This injury is not the first to mar Sea World’s reputation. The theme park has been the target of a number of investigations following the 2010 death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau at the hands of an orca named Tilikum who had been involved in two other human deaths.

 In “Death at Sea World,” a book released earlier this year, author David Kirby interviewed several former Sea World trainers, who detailed concerns about SeaWorld employee’s safety and the mistreatment of animals. The accounts bordered on horrific, with claims that whales broke their teeth on metal gates, and trainers were required to remove the broken teeth with power drills.

PETA members, accompanied by a costumed “bloodied, bandaged orca”, plan to descend on SeaWorld in San Diego on Wednesday October 3, at noon.

National Caesar Chavez Monument Announced

President Obama will be traveling to Keene, California on Monday to mark the creation of a new national monument at the home and grave site of civil rights and labor leader Cesar Chavez.  The site, located on the property known as Nuestra Senora Reina de la Paz (Our Lady Queen of Peace) includes several structures linked to the United Farm Workers leader, including the mission-style building where he held meetings and worked to organize farm laborers.  Chavez also lived at the La Paz complex from the early 1970s until he died and was buried there in 1993.

 Quail Brush: The Power Plant Proposal That Will Not Die

Activists with Save Mission Trails and other organizations opposed to the construction of natural gas power plant near Santee rallied at the proposed site of the generator yesterday to increase public awareness about an upcoming hearing before the California Energy Commission.  The Public Workshop, scheduled for Wednesday at Grossmont College (Building 60) starting at 2pm will hear testimony about the proposed plant.

Topics for the session include: fire safety, air pollution, public health, biological resources, cultural resources, and worker safety. The workshop is being held to provide a public forum for staff, the project applicant, intervenors, the public and interested agencies to discuss issues related to the project. The workshop will also give the chance for the public to ask questions and comment about the project and the staff’s environmental review.

The project has already been rejected by local authorities on the grounds that it violates the master plan for the region.  Activists are urging concerned members of the public to wear orange to the meeting as a gesture of opposition. For more information go here.

 African Solidarity Event on Tap for Wednesday

The Uhuru Solidarity Movement San Diego will host a “Day in Solidarity with African People” event on Wednesday October 3rd as part of a nationwide series of events being held in Oakland, Philadelphia and other cities.  The San Diego event will be held at the Headquarters Cafe, located at 5841 El Cajon Blvd, from 6- 9pm.

Organizers hope that the events will provide a unique opportunity for those in the white community to hear from the leaders of the African liberation movement and to examine the true history of the relationships between white people, Africans and other people around the world.

The keynote speaker will be Omali Yeshitela, Chairman of the African Socialist International and founder of The Burning Spear newspaper. A political leader who emerged in the Black Power era of the 1960s,Yeshitela has traveled throughout the U.S., Europe and Africa,building a movement for the unification and liberation of African people worldwide. Penny Hess, Chairwoman of the African People’s Solidarity Committee and author of “Overturning the Culture of Violence,” will speak on the role and relationship of white people in solidarity with the African liberation movement. For more information via email , please click here

Another Big New Shiny Thing for Downtown

City Councilman David Alvarez cast the sole dissenting vote yesterday, as the City of San Diego moved forward with plans to expand the Convention Center. The construction will cost an estimated $520 million and expand the facility’s South Embarcadero location by 50%, with a projected completion date late in 2016.  The 6-1 council vote yesterday was to approve final financing plans, additional design work.

Actual construction of the expansion still faces two major hurdles; a court case challenging the legality of imposing a hotel tax without voter approval and the bless of the California Coastal Commission.  Despite additional questions about the impact of any liabilities the City of San Diego may have for repaying construction costs and the actual economic viability of the expansion, it’s pretty clear that the downtown crowd is bound and determined to get this deal done.

Tweet of the Day:

#Romney planing Big Foreign Policy Speech – will NOT include Offshore Banking Opportunities. Because Everyone does it already!

— Tom Hall (@TomHall) October 1, 2012

On This Day: In 1950“Peanuts,” the comic strip created by Charles M. Schulz, was published for the first time in seven newspapers.  In 1967Thurgood Marshall was sworn in. He was the first African-American member of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1976 John Belushi came out on stage with Joe Cocker while he was performing on “Saturday Night Live.” It was one of the funniest moments I’ve ever seen on television.

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Eat Fresh! Today’s Farmers’ Markets: Coronado (1st St. & B Ave., Ferry Landing) 2:30 – 6 pm, Escondido  (Grand Ave. btw Juniper & Kalmia St.) 2:30 – 6:00 pm , Mira Mesa  (Mira Mesa High School 10510 Reagan Rd.) 3–7 pm, Morena District   (1240 West Morena Blvd.) 3 – 7 pm, Otay Ranch – Chula Vista (2015 Birch Rd. and Eastlake Blvd.) 4 –8 pm, Pacific Beach  (Bayard & Garnet) 2 – 6:30pm, UCSD/La Jolla (UCSD Campus, Town Square at Gilman/Meyers) 10 am – 2 pm (Sept. 25 through mid-June; closed for winter, spring and summer breaks)

I read the Daily Fishwrap(s) so you don’t have to… Catch “the Starting Line” Monday thru Friday right here at San Diego Free Press (dot) org. Send your hate mail and ideas toDougPorter@SanDiegoFreePress.Org    Check us out on Facebook and Twitter.


Doug Porter

Doug Porter was active in the early days of the alternative press in San Diego, contributing to the OB Liberator, the print version of the OB Rag, the San Diego Door, and the San Diego Street Journal. He went on to have a 35 year career in the Hospitality business and decided to go back into raising hell when he retired. He's won awards for 'Daily Reporting and Writing: Opinion/Editorial' from the Society of Professional Journalists in 2013, 2014 and 2015. Doug is a cancer survivor (sans vocal chords) and lives in North Park.
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  1. avatarbob dorn says

    Great reprint of the often-addled John Lynch’s remarks. Behind the overreaching by himself and the Dougchester there appears to be a divide-and-conquer Tea Party strategy. The two of ’em buy the NoCountyTimes and establish a northern San Diego conservative fortress; the Ranchos vs the Peons down south. That could result in any number of scams to take public money and use it to further a garrison state up there: improvement districts, redevelopment funds, road building (to relieve those country lanes constipated with SUVs) and a larger detachment of Sheriff’s Deputies to guard the gates.

  2. avatar says

    Re “lose the helmet.” What an astoundingly irresponsible article published by both the NYT as well as the SDFP. Using the logic in these pieces, we should just eliminate stop signs, red lights, seat belts and all manner of safety checks and controls and just trust in the force to keep us all safe from others negligence, because you know, we want to promote safety.

    If readers want a crystal clear idea as to the value of wearing a helmet while biking, I can give you all the feedback you want. In 2006, I was hit in a crosswalk at a red light. The driver of the SUV failed to see me ::IN THE CROSSWALK:: immediately in front of his vehicle despite being stopped at the light because he was too busy screwing with his mobile phone and worrying about making a right hand turn on the red. He plowed straight into me, knocking me out the saddle. I was covered head to toe in road rash and bruises with an assortment of broken bones including a broken leg. Additionally, I also had a concussion. I shudder to think of the ensuing complications a head injury such as a subdural hematoma would have caused by not wearing a helmet. Think twice and then think a couple times before publishing the abdication of personal safety in favor of popular sheeplethink that is apparently espoused by the NYT.

          • avatarDoug Porter says

            although dave rice has contributed an article here and there he is not technically staff. but we do consider him a friend of the “family” so you’re right, it ain’t trolling

        • avatar says

          As Doug says, I’m certainly not staff, just an occasional contributor.

          I was also just trying to break down your argument into a simple form: you say the fact that you were struck by a vehicle while in a crosswalk is “a crystal clear idea as to the value of wearing a helmet while biking.” Since pedestrians also use crosswalks, if your assertion is accepted as fact, it’s also crystal clear that pedestrians should also wear helmets when in a crosswalk.

          My intent here isn’t to troll at all, but simply to suggest that while helmets certainly add value in many circumstances (I wear a full-face, DOT-approved helmet when I ride my bicycle on a BMX track), I don’t think reporting the finding that mandatory helmet use is a potential deterrent to improving ridership is in any way irresponsible. As the father of an elementary-age child, I find that providing a proverbial carrot to entice positive behavior is much more effective than the threat of a stick.

    • avatarRafael says

      Speaking of responsibility, it’s also cyclists duty to ride defensively, and make sure they get seen if at all possible. Sounds like you assumed he would stop. If that’s the case, you were equally at fault, IMHO. Your choice to wear a helmet that day potentially saved your life, balancing to some degree your ego and carelessness, however not everyone else is going to make the same error. Nor in a free society should people be forced to buy something they don’t find value in or wear something they don’t wish to wear. ;-)

      • avatarJohn says

        Riding defensively (which, in many cases, is also assertively) is important, but we shouldn’t let drivers abdicate their responsibility for their 3000lb deathtraps just because driving is the dominant mode of transportation.

        We *should* be able to assume that all other road users will follow the rules of the road, and in fact we all do assume that most road users will follow most laws (otherwise no one could ever walk on the sidewalk lest some driver ignore the road edge and mow them down). Cars are not some fundamental force of nature that we must simply cope with. They are driven by people, who are influenced by culture. If we want our roads to be safer, we need anyone who gets behind the wheel to recognize the responsibility they are taking, and not blame the victim for not taking precautions which should not be necessary.

        • avatarRafael says

          Thanks for your opinion.
          For the record, I didn’t “blame the victim” or even make reference to a car, but said that in the case ‘Boyo’ assumed the driver would stop, they’d both be equally at fault. “Precautions which should not be necessary” is a foolish cop-out. The way I see it, all users of the road have *equal* responsibility to use it correctly regardless of their mode of transportation.

  3. avatarJohn Anderson says

    Doug – thank you for highlighting this article on bicycling and helmets. Enjoyed reading it and echo the sentiment that it presents.

    Prattle On, Boyo – If you were in a crosswalk on a bicycle were you riding in a lane or on the sidewalk? Also, if the vehicle was to blame for the accident why wouldn’t you blame vehicles for the threat to your safety? Also, as Dave references, far greater numbers of pedestrians are killed and injured by vehicles than bicyclists each year. (Yes, there are more pedestrians than bicyclists so on a percentage of trips basis the pedestrian death rate is likely lower the total amount of lives lost would seem to be a strong argument for a walking helmet requirement, no?)

    • avatarJohn says

      I agree 100%, I’d just suggest that the “vehicle” can’t possibly be blamed. It’s just a machine. The driver, however, is certainly culpable.

      There are a few word usages that have snuck into our language that subtly excuse drivers from their responsibility for the machines they control. We say, “He was hit by a car,” rather than “Someone drove their car into him.” We talk about traffic “accidents” when, nearly every time, someone is to blame. “Crash” is more accurate, as it assumes nothing more than the fact that there was contact. It may seem pedantic to call out these differences, but I see no need to automatically excuse careless or aggressive drivers who cause crashes.

  4. avatarNadin says

    Loose the helmets!!!! Really.

    As a former EMS worker I thank my helmets, no, not just one, for saving my life.

    I also took care of cyclists, and guess what, those who had a properly fitted one usually avoided the major head injury. Those that did not, well then.

    This is irresponsible to say the least.

    Oh and one more thing, if you ride, I do… the rules of the road also apply to you…

  5. avatarmicaela shafer porte says

    as a bike rider from an early age, and riding my bike every day, everywhere i go, even to to north country from pacific beach sometimes, even being over 50 years old, I admit, I never wear a helmet… famous last words maybe, but i find helmets impair my sense of the environment, hearing, and reaction time….
    once i had an encounter with a big black truck turning suddenly into my path, hit the bike brakes, went head over the handlebars, and left a nice dent in the hood of the truck from my sunglasses that absorbed the shock…
    it IS possible to have less cumbersome head protection that would protect us as much… David Bryne’s book, Bicycle Diaries, is a really good trip on bike around the world, and explores other helmet ideas, … and bike philosophies…

  6. avatarmicaela shafer porte says

    ps i always make eye contact with drivers, and share hand signs, when meeting them in intersections, ride defensively, and always VERY alert! never drunk…. night lights and other precautions, wearing white… probably figure out some helmet scenario one of these days too….