Council Members: Mayor Was Just Mouthing Off on Helmets, Licenses

Orcutt: 'It originated with Marcia Kramer.'

Council Member Brad Lander, who pulled into a lower Manhattan press conference on a Citi Bike despite not having a helmet (or a bike license). Photo by Dave Colon
Council Member Brad Lander, who pulled into a lower Manhattan press conference on a Citi Bike despite not having a helmet (or a bike license). Photo by Dave Colon

Legislators and bike advocates aren’t giving any credence to Mayor de Blasio’s remarks last week that his administration is mulling a helmet requirement for Citi Bike users and licenses for cyclists more generally.

Brooklyn Council Member Antonio Reynoso, a member of the transportation committee, expressed doubt that the mayor actually was having such talks. “I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone” in the Department of Transportation, including Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, “to corroborate that they’re actually talking about helmets,” he told Streetsblog yesterday as he walked to unlock his bike in lower Manhattan.

Reynoso disparaged the mayor’s proposals as “the most backwards transportation policy a city can implement if they want to promote cycling.”

“If [the de Blasio administration] is having that conversation they should just let us know now, so that we can stop the expansion of Citi Bike and we can stop the progress that we’re making related to bike lanes because it would put us at a point where we won’t come back,” he said.

Bike New York’s Jon Orcutt, a former DOT policy director, also pooh-poohed the notion that mayor really meant what he was saying.

“We’re not convinced it’s something to take seriously yet, so far just loose talk. No one at DOT was in the loop about this; it just popped out as a response to a question,” Orcutt said.

The mayor’s remarks came in response to a question from well-known anti-bike crusader and car-enthusiast, CBS2 reporter Marcia Kramer, on whether the city’s rash of cycling deaths had de Blasio considering implementing a helmet requirement for Citi Bike users.

Hizzoner — who previously called himself the “bike mayor” — said: “[T]hat’s something we are talking about inside the administration. I think it is a really valid issue,” adding that licensing cyclists was “also a valid discussion.”

Orcutt credited Kramer with planting the suggestion in the mayor’s mind. “It originated with Marcia Kramer — the idea was in the question,” he said.

Orcutt also noted that any such initiatives would require legislation from the City Council, whose many bike-friendly members are not eager to pass laws discouraging cycling.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson flatly stated last week that a mandatory helmet law was the wrong direction, as did other Council members Streetsblog approached yesterday.

“This is so obviously not where we should be spending our energy on making cycling safer, and it’s really disappointing because we have so much to get done to make cycling safer,” said Council Member Brad Lander, before finding a Citi Bike dock, sans helmet.

And as if to underscore the point, Council Member Carlina Rivera was spotted riding her bike without a helmet around town on Monday afternoon.

But wherever the comments came from, no matter how serious they are, any conversations about biking in New York City should focus on building out more protected bike lanes and cracking down on reckless drivers, especially trucks, not on helmets or licenses, which are just more ways to sic police on bikers, especially those of color, bike advocates said. 

“Regardless of where this emanated from, we know the output of this is not positive. We need requirements about street design, not helmets,” said Transportation Alternatives’s new executive director, Danny Harris. “I’m really troubled by the timing of this message, just as Citi Bike is planning to expand to more diverse neighborhoods, we see mobility as an equity issue and if want to create more transportation options, these types of policies are going to disincentive that behavior. We know the record about policing in these, areas we want to encourage (biking) not discourage it.”

The Department of Transportation did not respond to a request for comment.  

  • Joe R.

    If I wasn’t home bound I would seriously consider staging a demonstration. Basically, it would consist of a bunch of people walking around with bike helmets carrying signs which say the following:

    Risk of head injury per million hours traveled:

    Cyclist – 0.41
    Pedestrian – 0.80
    Motor vehicle occupant – 0.46
    Motorcyclist – 7.66


    We need to highlight the absurdity of this, and the even more absurd licensing idea.

    While we’re at it, repeal the existing helmet laws for working cyclists and children under 13. Children in the Netherlands seem to get along just fine without helmets. So did myself, and all the kids I knew back in the 1960s and 1970s.

  • Reader

    So in addition to not being that smart and a little lazy, the mayor is also a coward and a liar. When he said to Marcia Kramer’s question about a helmet law, that it was “something we are talking about inside the administration” he was just pulling something out of his rear end because he either didn’t know what he was talking about or couldn’t stand up to Kramer. De Blasio is very Trumpian. This is the “some people are saying” of dumb cycling ideas.

  • Andy Gilbert

    Do you have a citation for this stat? I’d love to link people to this is fruitless internet arguments lol

  • dr2chase

    That stat resembles the old Failure Analysis Associates Stat, they were acquired I think by Exponent, and AFAIK it is no longer available online.

    You can, however, compare with per-trip mortality stats

    (per 100 million person-trips, car occupants expect 9.2 fatalities, bike riders 21, pedestrians 13.7, motorcyclists 536.6 — but for bike share, it appears the number is TWO, because we can count trips and count deaths and that is the observed rate)

    and elsewhere I have seen crude estimates that 6/10 of bike crash deaths are attributable to head injury and 4/10 car crash deaths attributable to head injury.

    Related — because if we’re talking about helmet laws, we’re talking about nanny-state — if you were interested in all causes of death, including the ones that occur much more frequently than car/bike crashes, if you bike to work, it reduces your annual mortality risk by 21% (least-impressive estimate) compared to driving. So if we think it is a good idea to pass laws to protect people from poor lifestyle choices that lead to early death, driving instead of biking to work is objectively one of those choices, and objectively worse than the choice to bike without a helmet, AND it is a much more common choice, so it has a far larger effect overall. So, are we talking about nanny state laws, or not? If so, I nominate something to get people out of cars, because that is a much larger cause of early death, both per-person, and overall.

    Reference for mortality claims, see Table 1.2 here:
    For a much more favorable statistical estimate (41% lower annual risk of death), see

  • Can we be realistic?

    New bike riders thanks to all the new options.

    Drivers in the most congested city in the US adjusting to a new obstacles (bikes).

    It is a recipe for accidents and death.

    This is not the 1970’s(!) when drivers saw bikes on the road all the time.

    The smart move for bike advocacy is to insist on helmets. It will make riders and drivers feel safer. And maybe save some lives. Because when a couple of young Hispanic kids end up brain dead because of an accident ( and the odds are it’s coming) the anti-bike advocates will seize on it and hurt the movement for years.

  • Seymour Butz

    to insist on helmets will make riders and drivers to feel safer? read the studies, the studies have shown “feeling” safer doesn’t make for being safer since cars think they can pass much closer since the guy/gal is wearing a helmet.

  • The reason for bike lanes is safety.
    Required helmets is the same logic.
    Transportation advocates fought against seat belts, airbags, helmets for motorcyclist, etc. Let’s get on the right side of history and put lives first.

  • The same arguments were made for seatbelts ( nannystate!) and arep of the same effort against gun control.
    Helmets are not a big deal and save lives.

  • Boeings+Bikes

    This is not the 1970’s(!) when drivers saw bikes on the road all the time.

    Your comments make me think you’re not familiar with New York City. Cycling rates are many, many times higher than they were in the 1970s. Recent data indicates that for relatively low-speed urban cycling, helmet use may well *increase* danger (because your risk is almost completely determined by driver behavior, and drivers are meaningfully less careful around helmet-wearing cyclists). Finally, it’s well-known that cyclists are safer when there are more people cycling, and thanks to cities such as Melbourne and Sydney and their helmet requirements, we have data showing that helmet laws result in radically fewer cyclists and more dangerous cycling conditions (I personally cycled in Melbourne last year, but felt so unsafe in Sydney that I didn’t).

    Finally, young Hispanic kids *have* been killed by drivers many times in recent years and the neighborhoods with high Hispanic concentrations have some of the least bike infrastructure and terrible cycling conditions. We would welcome and support those communities demanding safer streets from city officials. Look at the great successes that Hispanic groups in Sunset Park have recently celebrated.

  • Joe R.

    Why are you comparing bike helmets to seat belts? 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:

    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:

    “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.

    Helmets advocacy, and especially helmet laws, also discourage cycling. The benefits of cycling, even without a helmet, have been estimated to outweigh the hazards by a factor of 20 to 1.

  • dr2chase

    I’m not necessarily opposed to nanny state laws, but I think they should be based on facts, not feels. Given a choice of two nanny state laws, I will favor the one that saves more lives and at a higher rate. Discouraging driving would be a better nanny-state law than mandating helmets — it would save lives a higher rate per person who did the thing, and the potential for saving lives is much higher because so many people drive. So, do that first, else your nanny state is not rational.

    Helmets are also a big deal. Simple example. Would you be willing to wear my bicycle helmet after I’ve been using it all summer? One sniff and you would say “hell no”; they get sweaty, they’re a pain to wash, I wear not just a helmet now but a do-rag underneath because that is much easier to wash that.

    Compare that with seat belts; they go over your clothes, sitting in a car is not something that makes you sweat, cars come with A/C, etc. Gun control is also not a good comparison, because though a common abuse of guns is suicide, they’re also used on other people at a high rate — that is not nanny state, that is “stop people from hurting other people”, something that nobody argues against.

    And, finally, depending on circumstances, helmets don’t necessarily save lives from a big-picture point of view. It depends on how ineffective they are — in the Netherlands, a bicycle helmet is 80% less effective than in the US, because a helmet only actually helps if you have a crash involving your head. At the same time, if a helmet regulation causes you to bike less, you get fewer of the benefits of biking, which is larger than all crash risk (not just head-injury crash risk, not just head-injury-that-helmets-could-help crash risk) even in the US. In the Netherlands, where helmets don’t work very well, mandating them would almost certainly lead to a net increase in early deaths (through heart attacks and cancer) because some people would bike less, and die earlier

    This can even be true in this country, since is very much a property of individual bikes, routes, and cyclists. A daytime running light is estimated to cut your risk of a bad daytime crash by about 50%; that means that a helmet only works half as well (with DRLs) because a helmet only helps when you crash.

    I.e., none of your arguments is a winner. I’m not necessarily opposed to a nanny state, helmets are in fact a big deal, and mandating them does not necessarily save lives. Compare with bike lanes — those encourage people to bike, and apparently, if well designed, are also safer. That’s a strictly positive safety measure with no tricky tradeoffs. Or, consider helmet laws for driving; that is also a strictly positive safety measure, because it will save lives in auto crashes (at a lower rate than the crash reduction rate for bicycles, but much larger in absolute numbers because so many people drive), and to the extent that it discourages driving, it also provides health benefits. And because driving requires little physical exertion, driving helmets won’t get all sweaty nasty like bicycle helmets do.

  • Joe R.
  • Joe R.

    It’s detrimental to safety for governments, cycling organizations, or even to some extent individuals, to advocate for helmets, never mind mandate them by law. Each time you do that, you feed into the perception that cycling is dangerous, and discourage some people from riding. Fewer people riding means less safety in numbers. That means those who remain, helmeted or not, have a greater chance of dying. Those discouraged from riding are more likely to develop heart disease, stroke, or cancer as a result of a sedentary lifestyle. Even worse, when you look at whole population studies before and after widespread helmet use, there’s not even any decrease in head injury rates:

    Helmets don’t even fulfill their supposed primary objective. The above study also mentions that the benefits of cycling, even without a helmet, have been estimated to outweigh the hazards by a factor of 20 to 1.

    If you want to save lives, advocate for better bicycle infrastructure which will get more people on bikes. Don’t be so concerned whether or not they’re wearing helmets.

  • Joe R.

    I have seen crude estimates that 6/10 of bike crash deaths are attributable to head injury and 4/10 car crash deaths attributable to head injury.

    Helmet advocates often latch on to stuff like this because they ignore the context. Over 90% of cyclist deaths also involve a motor vehicle. By extension that means most of those 6/10 who died of head injuries were hit by a motor vehicle. This likely means that they suffered blunt force trauma to major organs in addition to head injury. In layman’s terms that means they were effectively killed twice. Also, a helmet can’t deal with the forces in a bike-motor vehicle collision anyway. Even if head injury was the only cause of death, a helmet wouldn’t have changed the outcome.

    The bottom line is there are very few fatal bike incidents where a helmet might have made a difference. It’s likely in the single digits, or low double digits, annually on a national basis. In other words, it’s not something that screams for us to do something about it, especially when helmet advocate harms more people than it helps by discouraging them from riding. There’s no scenario where any form of helmet advocacy is net positive in terms of saving lives.

  • Joe R.

    Strictly speaking, discouraging driving isn’t even a nanny state law. By definition nanny state laws only protect people from themselves. Helmet laws are but one example. So are things like Bloomberg’s proposed soda tax, which thankfully never passed. Driving kills other people not in the vehicle. There’s a great public safety reason for discouraging driving.

  • Andy Morris

    People on bicycles are getting injured and killed by cars and trucks because they are forced to share the same road with several thousand pound metal vehicles traveling much faster than bicycles. In Copenhagen, speed limits for cars and trucks is 15 mph and there are 3 separate roads everywhere: raised sidewalks for pedestrians , another raised sidewalk called “cycle track” for bicycles next to it, and the asphalt road for cars. This is on both sides of the street for different directions.Bicyclists wait at traffic signals (bikes have their own signals), lights on bicycles are mandatory at night, and everywhere the cycle tracks connect to next town, schools, busy downtown and rr stations. Nobody wears helmets or needs licenses to ride, it’s got more bicyclists than NY by far, and is the safest and most efficient place to ride bikes in the world. Bicycle education is mandatory in schools every year.

  • Riddley_Walker

    Mandatory Helmet Laws have been a disaster for cycling in Australia. And have done NOTHING to improve cyclist safety. They do give the cycle-haters another point to pick on cyclists about though.

    As for Citibike. Melbourne has just closed its share/hire bike scheme (similar to citibike) due to lack of support. There are a few reasons, but one of them was the helmet requirement. People didn’t have one, didn’t want to put a used one on their head etc. They even made the helmets free. Didn’t make any difference.

    To be fair, other factors were our excellent tram network (free in the CBD area), the failure to build enough bike stations to make the system viable, and a very complicated system for accessing the bikes.

  • Adamlaw

    While it is prudent to encourage cyclists to wear helmets, I concur with the arguments against a helmet law for cyclists. I would also add that it would provide in the NYPD with low hanging fruit of being able to ticket otherwise law abiding and safe cyclists.

  • thomas040

    Could we maybe get vending machine helmets? Like this one?

  • thomas040

    We need helmet vending machines, that dispense paper foldable helmets. Like this:
    I would love to see them dispensed from every citibike station.

  • • The calls for bicycle-licensing are emotional, not rational. It stems from people who see their motoring selves as the norm and are upset that The Other doesn’t have to do the same thing they do. Along the same lines, they sometimes also scream about mandatory helmets. Marcia Kramer is exactly the type of tools for this sort of thing.

    The right of muscle-powered people to the road has long precedent, all the way back to the Magna Carta. When cars hit the streets, they caused such an imposition on all other road users that we had to create an entire body of law (and a parallel justice system) to handle them, and because of its impact on others, motoring is a privilege, not a right. But since it has become the norm, many of the privileged get the privilege/rights thing backwards.


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