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De Brainless: Mayor Endorses Meritless Helmet and Licensing Requirements for Cyclists

BdB’s new bag: Mandate that Citi Bike users wear helmets. Too bad they’re pretty useless for safety. Photo: Schwinn

On second thought, let him remain the absentee mayor.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, who must have had some bad mescaline on his stroll through a Nevada canyon recently, came back from his presidential campaign to tell the people of New York that his administration has been considering instituting a helmet requirement for Citi Bike users. The mayor (who previously called himself the bike mayor) also said that there's a valid discussion to be had about licensing cyclists.

In response to a question at a Wednesday afternoon press conference on whether the city's rash of cycling deaths had him considering implementing a helmet requirement for Citi Bike users, de Blasio said that he has "thought about that. And that’s something we are talking about inside the administration. I think it is a really valid issue."

The mayor followed that up by telling reporters that licensing cyclists was "also a valid discussion."

Cyclist licensing has a long history of failure in America, mostly owing to the fact that running the bureaucracy to establish and oversee bike licensing is too expensive to cover its own cost. (The social justice-minded mayor also should take note of the way it's been enforced in a racist manner.) As for the idea that helmets make cyclists safer, that flies in the face of every piece of research done on the subject including by ... the mayor's own Department of Transportation.

"If you look through any analytical work done by the DOT under the de Blasio administration, the more cyclists you see the safer it is," Jon Orcutt of Bike New York said. "It's the safety in numbers phenomenon."

DOT, in fact, stated bluntly that "the growing number of cyclists on our streets is a likely contributor to the positive changes in cycling safety" when it came out with its 2017 safer cycling report. No mention of helmets appeared in the report.

The idea that mandatory helmet usage is "a valid issue" was blasted by Citi Bike spokesperson Julie Wood, who also referred to the "safety in numbers" phenomenon. "We're proud of Citi Bike's remarkable safety record over the past six years and encourage our riders to wear helmets. There is extensive evidence that what keeps cyclists safe are protected bike lanes, enforcement against dangerous driver behavior, and more people riding bikes — not mandatory helmet laws."

De Blasio's off-the-cuff answer could, if put into practice, kneecap the very Citi Bike expansion his administration was championing just weeks ago. Bike-share systems in Seattle and Melbourne collapsed partly because of low ridership stemming from mandatory helmet laws.

"Something like Citi Bike, where it works best when you make a spontaneous decision to use because it allows you to get somewhere quickly, will especially suffer if you have to carry around a helmet for six hours every day," Orcutt said. "Citi Bike has a great safety record, so if it ain't broke, let's not make policy around it."

City Council Speaker Corey Johnson took to Twitter to say that the mayor's press conference featured no good bike ideas.

Transportation Alternatives challenged the mayor to work on safety measures that actually would help keep cyclists safe. "If the mayor is seeking to create a safer environment where pedestrians and bicyclists can move safely throughout New York, he should prioritize the rapid implementation of his Green Wave plan, and further prioritize action on Vision Zero to ensure that no more New Yorkers fall victim to car violence," Deputy Director Marco Conner said in a statement. "To date, more than 80 pedestrians and bicyclists have been killed on the streets of New York, a significant increase from 2018."

Endorsing mandatory helmets also put de Blasio in the same camp as state Senator Simcha Felder, the street safety roadblock and despised former power broker, who sponsored a bill in 2017 that would have mandated city cyclists wear helmets.

Orcutt noted that, despite all the gains street-safety activists have made over the years, the fight never seems to be finished. "Bikelash lives, that's why this came up today," he said.

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