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

Is he trying to undermine his own bike-share system?

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

  • Crooked Hillary

    I know you think that your retort makes you appear bright, but it actually has the opposite effect. Again, what you’re seeking to accomplish is typical of those without an actual argument to make: insult and depart.

  • I like the Citibike helmet idea, but only because I don’t really like Citibikes nor most of their riders. However both ideas are so patently stupid that there’s no danger of them actually being made into policy.

  • I’m just gonna ride without a valid license. Ha ha. Works for so many car drivers, how hard could it be on a stupid bicycle.

  • JL

    I totally get why anti-bike people/ politicians here and elsewhere would want more constraints for city cyclists. I guess I’m not fully understanding why some pro-bike people are concerned or upset the average cyclist getting around in NYC might choose to go without a helmet?

    Is the idea of more people riding with/without helmets being more beneficial to society/environment than the health risk involved with NOT riding without a helmet a difficult concept? Even if you refute ALL negative aspects of helmet usage, the positive health aspects of cycling vs. miniscule risk for brain injuries at low speeds are not even in the same ballpark.

  • AMH

    That matches my own experience. Anecdotally, I find that drivers give me the most space when I’m dressed normally (no helmet), carrying shopping bags, and riding slowly with a slight wobble from the load.

  • kevd

    He’s clearly pandering to his bike-lash instigating dinosaur interviewer without actually committing to anything so ridiculous as a helmet requirement or bike licensing.
    A classic noncommittal response that satisfies neither side – that’s something were discussing and there are arguments for both sides.

  • gene99

    ah, yes. another “Cat 6” racer.

    fear not Joe. you still appear to be in your prime when it comes to the ability to brag and (i suspect) embellish.

  • T$

    Hey… well… that’s like… your opinion man

  • @harry smith – Sample size of one (1) bicyclist, and not exactly double-blind as the bicyclist was the researcher himself, sometimes wearing a wig to collect “gender” data.

    But it did pave the way for studies with larger sample sizes.

  • @kevd – He knows the best words, the high-quality words. More and more people are saying that nobody uses better words than him, believe me.

  • @JL – You would understand arguments from both anti- and pro-helmet points of view if you spent time reading the comments you’re metacommenting on.

  • burttthebike

    JL, assuming that your post is real, and not trolling, there are very good reasons why informed people oppose helmet laws and promotion. They dangerise cycling by making it appear much more dangerous than it is; cyclists have the same risk per mile travelled as pedestrians, and there are many other common activities with a higher risk for which no-one considers wearing a helmet. This dangerising of a relatively safe activity deters people from cycling.

    Another reason is that, despite all the “helmet saved my life” stories, helmets do not reduce the already very low risks of cycling. All long term, large scale, reliable, scientific research and data show this.

  • Joe R.

    As near as I can tell, the pro-bike people whose reactions to helmetless cycling range from mildly annoyed to thinking it’s criminal are mostly control freaks who want to impose their worldview on everyone else “for their own good”. Probably a lot of them are the exact same people who wrote those lame “a helmet saved my life” stories. I wouldn’t be surprised if some are also paid shills for the helmet industry.

    One important thing to remember is the pro-choice side of the helmet argument, which is people like me, have absolutely no financial motivation for our position. I don’t benefit if people wear helmets. I don’t benefit if they don’t. I just don’t think governments, advocacy groups, or even to some extent individuals, should be in the position of promoting helmets. New cyclists need to learn things like bike handling skills, how to fall, situational awareness, how to deal with various traffic situations, etc. This will help them way more than recommending they strap on a piece of styrofoam. In fact, all too often that’s ALL we tell new cyclists to do, as if doing so will protect them from every road hazard. That’s why I never even mention the word “helmet” if I’m dealing with a new cyclist. If they ask, I point them to information sources and tell them to make up their own mind about whether or not to wear one.

  • Crooked Hillary

    Oh, I don’t doubt that many would get away with it. But that doesn’t take away from my point as many also would get caught up in the mess if it was ever implemented.

  • Joe R.

    If you want a reasoned reply, here it is:

    Seat belts have a fair amount of studies proving that they mitigate injuries in many types of collisions. Moreover, keeping people, including the driver, from flying around an out-of-control car helps them to hopefully regain control.

    Seat belts also aren’t something you need to carry around with you. They’re attached to the car, so they’re always there. Some people have minor comfort issues with seat belts, mostly very obese people, but for the majority wearing them has significant upsides and few or no downsides.

    On the other hand, no place on the planet has experienced a statistically significant decline in head injuries if you look at before and after data once bike helmets became popular. Meta studies show the overall effect of bicycle helmets to be neutral to slightly negative:

    https://www.cyclehelmets.org/1251.html

    https://www.cyclehelmets.org/papers/c2034.pdf

    http://www.vehicularcyclist.com/fatals.html

    There are significant downsides to wearing helmets for at least a subset of cyclists. They include shifting the pitch of sounds, blocked vision above the head (relevant if you’re riding in an aero tuck), discomfort/abrasions from the chin strap, overheating, etc.

    And there’s even a study to support that wearing a helmet may actually interfere with brain function:

    http://www.cycle-helmets.com/risk-compensation-schmidt-2019.pdf

    “Our results suggest that wearing a bike helmet reduces cognitive control, as revealed by reduced frontal midline theta power, leading to risk indifference when evaluating potential behaviors.”

    Then you have the fact risk of TBI per hour of cycling is about half that while walking. To be logically consistent you should recommend walking helmets also.

    Basically, you’re advocating requiring a piece of equipment which is mostly useless in terms of protection, and has a lot of downsides, to ostensibly protect against an event which is statistically very rare. I’m actually a pretty risk averse person, but an informed one. I always wear a seat belt. I’ve never even owned a bike helmet, much less worn one.

  • Joe R.

    You think the cops want to be bothered enforcing this? Police are usually the first ones who come out against bicycle licensing laws because it’s another stupid thing for them to do which really doesn’t serve any safety or other function. As for paying their fair share, local roads, which is the kind cyclists use, are funding via income, property, and sales taxes. Last I checked cyclists aren’t exempt from these taxes. So yes, we already pay our fair share.

  • JL

    It’s not a pro/against helmet question. I guess I’m not very clear about what I’m asking here. It was originally for the pro-helmet people. Even if one is all-in “a helmet saved my life” 10 times, I carry a spare on every ride, I wear one to bed in case I sleepwalk. If one is pro-cycling, is it not clear that helmet laws are not a good thing? One would think more people riding is clearly desirable even if all they wear is a Borat g-string thong. Is it not very clear that “safety in numbers” helps them also? Maybe SinN is not an easily felt thing so they’re ok with limiting participation? If cyclists don’t understand this, it would be difficult for me to explain to people who don’t ride.

    Simpler form– (Pro or Anti-helmet), if one is pro cycling (and increase safety) => Anti helmet laws.

  • kevd

    isn’t “G-string thong” redundant?

    I wear a helmet 99% of the time. (my mom told me I had to)
    But I also know that helmetless cyclists help keep me from getting hit just be cycling (and vice versa).

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