Friday, February 20, 2015

California's Proposed Bicycle Helmet Mandate Is A Bad Idea

Last week a state senator in California introduced a bill that would require all adults to wear a helmet while riding a bicycle.  While some jurisdictions in the United States require minors to wear bicycle helmets, if the proposed bill were to become law, California would be the first state in the country to mandate helmet use for adults.  

Mandatory bicycle helmet laws are a terrible idea.  Just in case an Illinois legislator gets an idea about introducing a similar bill here, let's revisit why.  Cycling as a form of recreation and transportation offers a myriad of benefits to the individual and the community as a whole.  An adult or child riding a bike to work or school takes one motor vehicle off the road thereby reducing traffic congestion and pollution.  It also reduces the strain on mass transit.  Buses and trains are less crowded and more pleasant to ride.  Also, motor vehicles place a physical strain on infrastructure that a much lighter bicycle does not.  Bicycle trips save the community money but taking heavy cars and trucks off the road.  In this age of rampant obesity, cycling helps promote good health.  This too saves the community money by reducing expenditure for health benefits such as Medicaid, particularly with regard to treatment for ailments closely associated with obesity like diabetes and heart disease.

These benefits are placed at substantial risk by helmet laws, because such mandates discourage higher rates of biking.  This very concern recently prompted the City of Dallas, Texas to repeal its adult bicycle helmet ordinance.  That city wanted to see more cyclists on its roads through a bike share system.  However, civic leaders recognized that such a program would likely be doomed to failure if casual bikers were required to fetch a helmet in order to rent a bike.  Australia is one country that requires all adults to wear helmets when cycling.  The impact has been unfortunate. According to the Institute for Public Affairs, an Australian think tank, "When the laws were introduced in the early 1990s, cycling trips declined by 30-40 per cent overall, and up to 80 per cent in some demographic groups, such as secondary school-aged females."

If the goal is to reduce the likelihood of serious injury for the individual bicyclist, then helmet mandates are the wrong way to go.  Yes, wearing a helmet while biking is safer than not doing so.  But the factor most likely to reduce the likelihood of bicycle versus motor vehicle collision is to increase the number of riders on the road.  More people on bikes means motorists are more likely to anticipate a bicyclist when turning or opening a car door.  More bicyclists also encourages municipalities to invest in bicycle specific infrastructure like protected bike lanes, and to keep them in good repair.  Understandably, city officials are less likely to push for such measures if they do not think people will use them in substantial numbers.

Laws that require helmet use can also have a devastating impact on a cyclist's ability to receive just compensation should they be injured due to someone else's negligence.  The way some laws are written, failure to obey a helmet requirement could be used against a bicyclist in personal injury litigation as evidence of their own negligence, even if failure to wear a helmet had nothing to do with how or why the crash happened.  (But see Deerfield, Illinois municipal code Sec. 22-121A(c) which states, "A violation of this Section shall not constitute negligence, contributory negligence, assumption of risk, be considered in mitigation of damages of whatever nature, be admissible in evidence, or be the subject of comment by counsel in any action for the recovery of damages arising out of the operation of any bicycle.")

We are not anti-bicycle helmet.  Daily we see the clients with injuries that are worse than they might have been for failure to wear one.  But legislation requiring helmets are a bad idea.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Smartphone App Promises To Alert Drivers To People On Bikes

A new smartphone app may help alert drivers to the presence of bicyclists.  The Bike Shield App, free for iPhone and Android users, sounds an alarm to drivers also using the app when a cyclist is nearby.  The app works if both cyclist and driver have it running in the background.  

I recently downloaded Bike Shield onto my iPhone.  It is pretty cool.  The interface and appearance is very simple.  It is a set-it-and-forget-it sort of thing that one day could prove quite helpful.  Of course, that day is in the future.  For it to be effective lots and lots of drivers and cyclists would have to download the app to their phones.  A map on the application shows drivers and cyclists using the app worldwide.  Thus far, U.S. users amount to a handful of people in California, and, now, one guy in Chicago.  But with a price that can't be beat, hopefully it will catch on.  The developer of the app is apparently trying to establish partnerships with bike share companies and municipalities to get them to install the app on public bikes and buses.

To learn more about Bike Shield click here and here.  

Thursday, February 12, 2015

What You Need To Know About Winter Biking In Chicago

The following post by Brendan Kevenides appears on the Time Out Chicago blog:

"You're nuts."
I get that a lot when people learn that I ride my bicycle daily during the winter, to and from work. I certainly don't see it that way. As I rode from my Logan Square home to my office in the Loop on February 2, the day after the big Super Bowl Blizzard, I easily cruised past numerous drivers spinning their wheels to extract vehicles from huge snow drifts and miserable people shuffling their frozen feet while waiting for late CTA buses. I felt sorry for them. If only they knew what I and other winter bike commuters know. Dealing with the weather is not as hard as you think. Seriously, you will arrive at your destination warm, dry and clean if you abide by a few simple tips.
Dress smartly. You need to dress warmly without overdoing it. No expensive, techy clothing is necessary. One mistake newbies make when first riding in cold weather is to wear too much bulky clothing. Multiple, thin layers of clothing is the way to go. Each layer traps a bit of warm air while letting moisture escape, creating nice, dry insulation. If you become too warm, it is easy to modulate your temperature by removing a layer. A heavy parka is not a good bet. Once you start pedaling, ...

Monday, February 2, 2015

Chicago Protected Bike Lanes Barely Passable After Big Overnight Snow Storm

Of course the big news of the day is that it snowed last night.  A lot.  Word is that this was the fifth single largest accumulation in Chicago history, depositing over 19" of the chilly white stuff.  So yeah, I rode my bike into the office this morning.

I had to walk the bike along side streets near my home in Logan Square.  But once I got to the main roads it was smooth sailing.  Armitage was clear as was Milwaukee Avenue.  In fact, with so few other vehicles on the road it was actually more pleasant than usual.  That is, until I got to the protected bike lanes.

The Kinzie and Dearborn bike lanes were passable, but just.  It seemed that Streets and Sanitation attempted to clear them, but there was a lot of deep, mushy snow in numerous spots.  With 26" x 2" Schwalbe Winter Marathon tires inflated to 40 psi (about 10 psi below the manufacturer's recommendation) I was able to blast through most of it.  I got struck a couple of times but managed to stay upright.  I am concerned, however, that if/when the snow freezes the bike lanes will become very treacherous.  Hopefully the City will go over them again before the evening rush.  Here's also hoping that businesses along the lanes will refrain from dumping their own unwanted snow deposits into the  bike lanes.

I have posted some brief video clips from my commute this morning so you can check out the conditions for yourself.  The video starts in the Kinzie bike lane, then (abruptly) transitions to Dearborn.

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