By Doug Porter
San Diego’s bike share program has finally launched, following multiple delays as private operator DecoBike navigated financial and political challenges along the way towards setting up 180 stations around the city.
This week California State Senator Carol Liu announced a bill (SB 192) expanding mandatory helmet use to include all riders over 18 years of age. Violators will face a $25 fine.
Taken at face value this legislation, which also requires reflective clothing at night, seems to be a common sense move aimed at preventing the often tragic head injuries associated with bicycle accidents.
Not so fast, say cycling advocates, who point out that similar laws in other cities have resulted in unintended consequence and a controlled Canadian study finding helmet laws have a minimal impact on the number and severity of head injuries.
From the Sacramento Bee:
Liu, in a press statement, cited a National Conference of State Legislatures report saying that 91 percent of bicyclists killed in 2009 reportedly were not wearing helmets. No states require helmets for adults, according to Liu’s press release.
Dave Snyder, head of the California Bicycle Coalition, said his group just learned of the bill and has not talked to Liu yet, but hopes to encourage her to look for other ways to improve cycling, instead of requiring helmets.
“We think she has good intentions,” Snyder said. “We know that the most important thing to protect people who ride bikes is to get more people out there riding bikes. Forcing people to wear crash helmets when they ride is counter productive to that goal.”
The cycling advocacy blog cyclelicio.us was less diplomatic in reacting to the announced legislation:
California Senator Carol Liu of Glendale yesterday introduced SB 192 AKA the “Remove Cyclists From California Roads Law of 2015″ or, alternatively, the “Harass Minorities On Bikes Law of 2015.” Her legislation, if passed, will require helmets for all bicycle riders of all ages, and high visibility safety apparel after dark.
So, is this another case –like the anti-vaxxers vs reality– where science and the good of the public at large should trump the interests of a subset of the population? It’s not so simple.
From the BMJ.com (formerly the British Medical Journal), an international peer-reviewed medical journal:
Even if helmets do have an effect on head injury rates, it would not necessarily follow that legislation would have public health benefits overall. This is because of “second round” effects, such as changes in cycling rates, which may affect individual and population health. Modelling studies have generally concluded that regular cyclists live longer because the health effects of cycling far outweigh the risk of crashes. This trade-off depends crucially, however, on the absolute risk of an accident: any true reduction in the relative risk of head injury will have a greater impact where crashes are more common, such as for children.
Here’s the point of view held by many cycling enthusiasts, expressed in Bicycle Austin:
Ironically, helmet laws thus make cycling more dangerous, because fewer cyclists on the road means that motorists are less used to seeing cyclists. It’s no surprise that the countries with the most cyclists have the lowest rate of injuries per cyclist. Helmet laws ensure that the rate of injury per cyclist goes up. In fact, helmet laws make driving and walking more dangerous, because when people stop biking, they start driving, and it’s cars & SUV’s that kill other motorists and pedestrians, not bicyclists.
There are yet other problems with helmet laws. In some communities police have used helmet laws as an excuse to target minority kids. In Austin the last time anyone checked, over 90% of the no-helmet tickets given to kids went to black and Hispanic kids.
Once something normal suddenly becomes against the law these kinds of excesses can occur. In Palm Beach County, Florida a sheriff’s deputy handcuffed a nine-year-old boy for not wearing the obligatory helmet.
San Diego’s Bike Riding Dilemmas
So if you ride a bike you’ll live longer, even if it proves to be more dangerous without a helmet. And the European experience indicates that more bikes on the road and better infrastructure substantially lower the risk.
The way San Diego was built out (and out and out) makes for a challenging physical and political landscape for cyclists. The easy thing to do politically has been to spend money on widening freeways; developmental monies for other forms of transportation tend to be relegated to the next decade. (Or two or three)
Over the past few years advocates have coalesced into organizations using the system to make incremental gains in the ways government looks at bike riding. Painted bike lanes and dedicated parking locations are tangible results of their efforts.
The deal with DecoBike for a sharing program is now becoming a reality after many delays.
From Voice of San Diego:
The program lets people rent a bike from a checkout station, ride it wherever they want and then return it to any station. Costs range from $7 an hour or $15 a day for a bike to between $20 and $30 a month for an unlimited membership. Its annual membership fee of $99 to $125 is more than other bike-sharing cities, including New York and San Francisco.
In July 2013, the City Council approved a 10-year partnership with DecoBike to supply bikes and set up checkout stations. DecoBike will pay $7.2 million for the bikes and stations and will give the city a portion of its profits — from $1 million to $2.6 million over 10 years.
A UT-San Diego report says 61 of the 80 initial DecoBike locations are open downtown and adjacent neighborhoods, with more than 3,000 individual rides occurring over the past two weeks.
DecoBike’s operations in other cities have not always had smooth paths to follow. A New York operation was faltering until CitiBank stepped in with a partnership deal.
Perusing the Miami Beach Yelp reviews from the past six months reveals a plethora of one and two-star reviews complaining about broken kiosks, unusable bikes, and credit card overcharges.
An article in the Miami New Times says DecoBike has paid the city government substantially less than promised when the contract was signed.
Think about it; if the state of California requires helmets and reflective clothing, much of the promised tourism bike business becomes a serious challenge. And San Diego’s annual bike sharing fees are the highest in the nation. Minneapolis, which despite its winters has an amazing biking landscape, has an annual fee that’s half of what’s charged locally.
West Coast Port Dispute Threatens Retailers
Get ready for some bare shelves at your favorite retailers.
Management at the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, which handle 40% of the nation’s incoming container cargo, has called for a partial shutdown.
You can’t really call it a management lock out, just like you can’t call the work-to-the-rule position the Longshoreman’s Union says it isn’t taking a slow down.
From the Los Angeles Times:
It’s unclear whether the partial shutdown foreshadows a total closure of the ports. Fears of a lockout of dockworkers, who have been without a contract since July, have risen in the last week and the two sides haven’t held talks since Friday.
International Longshore and Warehouse Union President Robert McEllrath said the employer group canceled talks Wednesday and accused the shipping companies of curtailing port work “to put economic pressure on our members.” The negotiations have dragged on for nine months.
Union spokesman Craig Merrilees has said the two sides are very close to a deal, but has declined to say what is tying up the talks, citing a request from a federal mediator to not discuss the negotiations in public. But Merrilees has said that wages and benefits have not been sticking points in previous negotiations.
America’s Jails: Warehouses for the Poor and Mentally Ill
The New York Times published a story today about a report saying our nation’s jails–as opposed to prisons–”have become vast warehouses made up primarily of people too poor to post bail or too ill with mental health or drug problems to adequately care for themselves.”
The average daily jail population in the US has increased from 224,000 in 1983 to 731,000 in 2013 even as crime rates have fallen substantially.
The study, “Incarceration’s Front Door: The Misuse of Jails in America,” found that the majority of those incarcerated in local and county jails are there for minor violations, including driving with suspended licenses, shoplifting or evading subway fares, and have been jailed for longer periods of time over the past 30 years because they are unable to pay court-imposed costs.
The report, by the Vera Institute of Justice, comes at a time of increased attention to mass incarceration policies that have swelled prison and jail populations around the country.
This week in Missouri, where the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by a white police officer stirred months of racial tension last year in the town of Ferguson, 15 people sued that city and another suburb, Jennings, alleging that the cities created an unconstitutional modern-day debtors’ prison, putting impoverished people behind bars in overcrowded, unlawful and unsanitary conditions.
A Bad Day for Corporate Education Giant Pearson
The San Diego Unified School District Board of Trustees voted 5-0 this week to urge Congress, as they consider extending the No Child Left Behind Act, to eliminate the federal mandate of annual testing.
Specifically they are asking for eliminating annual testing in grades 3 through 9 and decreasing mandated tests in grades 9-12. The San Diego schools are hardly alone in making this kind of request. Mandated examinations along with punitive sanctions not reflective of socioeconomic and other conditions are proving to be a sticking point with school districts around the country and across ideological divides.
Meanwhile, the company used by SDUSD and school districts around the country for everything from textbooks to testing is the subject of a comprehensive investigation in Politico.
Suffice it to say there’s much to question about the Pearson company’s activities, ranging from insider deals on contracts to selling programs of questionable value to how personal student data used. It’s a must read story for anybody concerned about the direction of public education in this country.
Ever since a federal commission published “A Nation at Risk” in 1983 — warning that public education was being eroded by “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people” — American schools have been enveloped in a sense of crisis. Politicians have raced to tout one fix after the next: new tests, new standards, new classroom technology, new partnerships with the private sector.
K-12 superintendents and college administrators alike struggle to boost enrollment, raise graduation rates, improve academic outcomes — and to do it all while cutting costs.
In this atmosphere of crisis, Pearson promises solutions. It sells the latest and greatest, and it’s no fly-by-night startup; it calls itself the world’s leading learning company. Public officials have seized it as a lifeline.
On This Day: 1818– Abolitionist Frederick Douglass was born into slavery near Easton, Md. 1909 – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded. 1956 – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins recorded “I Put a Spell On You.”
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