Wolfson: Sponsor of Mandatory Helmet Bill Is No Friend of Cyclists

In case you missed it yesterday, City Council Member David Greenfield was bombarded in the Twitterverse after the Wall Street Journal reported that he plans to introduce a mandatory bike helmet law. (Streetsblog joined the fray with enthusiasm.)

Renowned bike safety advocate David Greenfield thinks all cyclists should be required to have licenses and wear helmets. Photo: ##http://www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/33/52/all_hydrantfollowup_2010_17_12_bk.html##Brooklyn Paper##

City Hall is also having none of it. Deputy Mayor Howard Wolfson shot down the helmet law idea at a presser yesterday, noting that Greenfield — best known for haplessly trying to squeeze free parking from every conceivable inch of curbside space — has opposed measures to improve cyclist safety. (In addition to mandatory helmet use, Greenfield is a fan of mandatory licensing for cyclists.)

Kate Hinds at Transportation Nation has the deputy mayor’s full remarks on the subject. Enjoy:

First of all, there’s no other major city in the country that has a mandatory bike helmet law, and there’s a reason why. The thing that actually saves the lives of cyclists is protecting them from drivers, which we have done more in this city than any other city in America. It’s why our fatalities are down in this city, accident fatalities are down to an all-time low. So we are making enormous progress in keeping cyclists alive.

I understand there is a council person who has promulgated this. He is not a friend of bicyclists. He is against bike lanes. So I’m not going to take — and this administration is not going to take advice on protecting cyclists from somebody who has consistently been against the things that saves the lives of cyclists. As somebody who bikes to work nearly every day, I can tell you what saves the lives of cyclists. It’s separating cyclists from cars. And we’ve done more of that in this city than any other city in America. We’re going to keep doing that, we’re going to keep driving down fatalities, we’ve been successful at it. We’re not going to take advice from people who aren’t actually on the side of cyclist safety.

While there are some parts of the world that have helmet laws — notably Australia and portions of the Pacific Northwest — none of them have the kind of mainstream bike culture that prevails in cities without helmet laws, like Berlin or Copenhagen, where cycling is exceptionally safe. Helmet laws are becoming even scarcer as more cities adopt public bike systems. Mexico City and Tel Aviv recently jettisoned their laws in conjunction with launching bike-share.

After a couple of years in the council, Greenfield has established his specialty: proposing bills that serve no real purpose other than capturing the attention of the press. It looks like he’s going to milk this moment for all it’s worth too, but hopefully the rest of the City Council won’t opt to make NYC a global embarrassment by giving this bill a second look.

  • I regularly cycle in and around his district, I have to say it’s one of the most dangerous neighborhoods around. Double parked, speeding cars, small children darting out in to the street unaccompanied by Any Adult. I’ve been cut off and threatened at red lights many times. The “Local” Patrol pulled me over once, in a Large white Bronco with blue blinking light, for “Riding in the Street…” I called 911 after they wouldn’t let me go without looking at My ID. NYPD showed up in minutes, they laughed, I never handed my ID to anyone and was let go. Greenfield needs to Crack Down on All the Reckless Driving and Lay Off the Bicycles!!

  • Chandru

    Thanks for a reasoned article on this incendiary topic. Helmets are of marginal use in normal cycling, and is what keeps cycling marginalized. As noted in the article, places with more cycles have fewer helmeted riders (almost none in Amsterdam, even the kids don’t wwar them.) I’ve had more than my share of arguments about this issue with weekend cyclists who insist it’s safer (in the park, no less!); it’s hard to press this point with those who consider cycling an unsafe activity.

    The day they pass this law is the day I stop cycling. 

  • Anonymous

    So many good Yiddish words to describe this guy…

  • Groynim Nagelfarb

    Someone just needs to grab a video camera and head down to the heart of Greenfield’s district in Midwood, around Ocean Parkway, Avenue J and McDonald Avenue some weekday afternoon, preferably a Friday, before the Shabbos rush.

    What you will find in the middle of Greenfield’s district is total, utter and complete motor vehicular chaos. You will be hard pressed to find a person on a bicycle causing any substantial problems on the street. But you will immediately find massive amounts of unbearable traffic congestion and and endless number of drivers who are angrily honking, double-parking, blocking buses and menacing pedestrians. Stick around for a few extra minutes and you may even be treated to a car crash or a fist fight over a parking spot. I say grab yourself a slice of delicious Di Fara pizza on Ave. J and enjoy the 44th district’s motor vehicular shit-show.* This is a way of life in Greenfieldburg. Once you see it for yourself, you’ll be even more stunned that this is clown is focusing on something like bike helmets.

    Sadly, rather than actually working to solve traffic problems in his community (by helping people get around Midwood more easily with out a space-hogging personal automobile) Greenfield seems intent on scapegoating bike riders and playing for headlines.

    * Though I think Di Fara might just be a block or two outside of his district.

  • Anonymous

    Next you’re going to say that Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes really isn’t in favor of better bike lanes. . . . 

  • 44ther

    This is the same City Council member who didn’t know that the Parks Department, not DOT, was responsible for plowing the Ocean Parkway bike lane, yet railed against Comissioner Sadik-Khan for plowing it before the streets.

    Either he was ignorant of that fact, which should be embarrassing enough for someone in city government, or he knew the difference and chose to score some hit points against DOT anyway, which is just shameful.

  • fj

    Since he’s concerned about cyclist safe it’s a good time to make critical routes throughout all five boros completely car free.

  • Joe R.

    @0b0823518bc1aa61f8968d1058cabd20:disqus “The day they pass this law is the day I stop cycling.”

    I feel exactly the same way. At the speeds I normally cycle (17-25 mph, sometimes 40+ mph downhills) a bicycle helmet is about as useful as wearing tissue paper. Moreover, wearing one would cause me to overheat, and possibly distort the way I hear sounds. I depend upon my hearing quite a bit to let me know where cars are relative to me. Bottom line-I’m not wearing something with no benefits whatsoever for me personally but a lot of downside just because some legislator feels it’s safer based on questionable data.

    For the entire story on helmets from an unbiased source:


  • krstrois

    Helmets are such a red herring. Wolfson got that exactly right. Greenfield’s main goal is unwavering — whenever some cycling or street improvement is in the news he will arrive on the scene waving his junk around in front of a camera to win easy points in his car-bound community. Who did not suspect it was Greenfield when they saw “Brooklyn council member proposes ____ insane, douchey bike thing.” — I don’t follow the CC closely but he is always a top suspect for grandstanding. What a total fool. 

  • Larry Littlefield

    I have a helmet and use it, and want my family members to do the same.  But the goal here is to kill bike share, and nothing else.

    Bike share will get additional people to try getting around by bicycle.  Once they start doing so regularly, they can probably be convinced to get a helmet.  But if they are hit with a $100 ticket on day one, the message would be sent that if you ride a bike they are going after you.

  • Ben Kintisch

    It’s also worth mentioning that in Greenfield’s district, huge number of teenage boys, some as young as 11, are biking on these dangerous streets to get to Yeshivas. I can’t wait for the day when a Rosh Yeshiva (head of a Jewish religious school) stands up to Greenfield’s anti-safety mishegas and says, “We need to put the safety of our young people before the convenience of cars!” Or, for that matter, any of the thousands of parents in that are whose kids are sharing the road under some very dangerous conditions.

  • Jkspinning

    I started wearing a bike helmet the day I put my daughter on the back of my bike. 20 years later I still wear one. I don’t need a law, I suspect no one else does either.

  • Jkspinning

    I started wearing a bike helmet the day I put my daughter on the back of my bike. 20 years later I still wear one. I don’t need a law, I suspect no one else does either.

  • David

    What a Putz.  Politician’s get over zealous and try to pass bills like this.

  • Anonymous

    In Copenhagen, practically nobody wears a helmet when riding their bicycles. The number of people killed riding their bikes in Copenhagen: zero.

  • Pat

    Really? Lets see. The first time my daughter went biking a longer distance than just to school, she collided with me and went headfirst into a light pole. Thank god she was wearing a helmut. Would she have died? probably not but brain damage of some sort, probably. 

    A few years ago I did something stupid. Broke my shoulder and laptop. but not my head. 

    Really, people – helmets protect the most irreplaceable part of you – your brain. 

  • Ian Turner

    @b5692066c646c8bec0037651464abf4d:disqus : You should probably read this: http://cyclehelmets.org/1209.html

  • chandru

    yeah, Pat, anecdotal evidence, regardless of whether you witnessed it, is irrelevant.You have no scientific way of knowing if your kid would even have been injured, far less if badly, by that accident. Say I know somebody who tripped in a  park and hit his head hard enough to cause concussion. Take-away: nothing.

    The main reason to not wear helmets is so cycling is not considered ‘special’ or ‘different’…ie, you have to wear spandex and helmets and speed around. Cycling should be like walking, just do it.

  • Pedestrian Helmets

    Pat: Elizabeth Padilla was wearing a helmet when a careless driver doored her on 5th Avenue in Park Slope and knocked her into the path of a truck which ran over and killed her. Elizabeth Padilla needed a protected bike lane and more educated Brooklyn drivers a whole hell of a lot more than she needed a helmet. Let’s stop pretending that putting a styrofoam shell on your head is the solution and that bike safety is the sole responsibility of individual cyclists and start making sure city government is redesign streets and police are enforcing laws that protect cyclists.

  • fj

    Kind of wonder if Greenfield played serious contact sports without a helmet when he was a little boy?

  • Anonymous

    @b5692066c646c8bec0037651464abf4d:disqus Then we should require helmets in the shower.  I lost a friend because she slipped in the shower, hit her head on the way down and drowned because a part of her body blocked the drain.

    Also,  “Helmets for motor vehicle occupants are now being marketed and a mandatory helmet law for these road users has the potential to save 17 times as many people from death by head injury as a helmet law for cyclists without the adverse effects of discouraging a healthy and pollution free mode of transport.”

  • Locoverde99

    Crazy stuff.  I don’t wear a helmet and find myself riding much more slower and safer in traffic.  I get harrassed all the time here in Denver by fellow cyclists who chastise me for not wearing a helmet.  Its ironic though when I mention to the roadies the fact that none of them use a mirror and they retort that mirrors give one a false sense of security and keep cyclists from a much safer act of turning one’s head.


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