Sunday, May 30, 2010

Dialogue with a bike guy

Paul writes: Unless you know that any of those cyclists' lives would have been saved if they'd been wearing a helmet, that's a completely pointless statistic.

It's only pointless to those blinkered by their belief system. If a high percentage (97%) of cyclists who die in accidents aren't wearing helmets, the association is obvious to the rest of us, which is reinforced by the study's other salient fact: 74% of those fatalities were attributable specifically to head injuries.

Paul: The data that I've referenced seems to indicate that cyclists who wear helmets are more likely to to get into an accident, and for that reason alone I think it's perfectly reasonable not to wear one if you take all of the other, much more important precautions.

You haven't "referenced" any data. All you've provided is some links to news stories that I subsequently discussed in another comment that you evidently haven't read. One of the reasons for the accidents in the story you referred to may be the "daredevil" effect wearing a helmet may have on some cyclists, which leads to the issue of how cyclists' own behavior often contributes to their injuries.

The city's 2008 Bicycle Collision Report of Feb. 2010---available through the MTA website---tells us that motorists were at fault in 48.7% of injury accidents to cyclists, and cyclists were at fault in 49.6% of their own injury accidents (page 22). The behavior by cyclists that led to their accidents: unsafe speed, failure to stop at stop lights and stop signs, riding on the wrong side of the road, and unsafe turns.

Paul: The streets are relatively dangerous for everyone.

Another thing the city's studies show is that our streets are in fact steadily becoming safer for everyone, motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists. The San Francisco 2008 Collisions Report of December, 2009 has numbers on injury collisions for pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists between 1999 and 2008. There were 4,304 injury collisions overall in SF in 1999 and 3,010 in 2008. Traffic fatalities on our streets are also on the decline: there were 41 in 1999 and 27 in 2008.

Paul: And it's downright irresponsible to chide cyclists for not wearing helmets while also poo-pooing education efforts, which are a much more effective method of preventing those accidents in the first place.

The only education effort I've criticized is indoctrinating children in the joys of cycling as a "lifestyle," since, as I've pointed out before, cycling is the leading cause of head injuries to children.

Paul: These overblown fears[of the dangers of cycling] are self-perpetuating, and they engender ill will toward cyclists, which, on the whole, poses a much more serious threat to our personal safety than the very rare fatal head injury. We don't get the respect that we deserve if we're perceived to be risking our lives simply by riding in the street, and your hate speech reinforces those perceptions.

Fatal accidents for cyclists are relatively rare in SF; there were only three fatalities in 2008, and the average over the past ten years is two a year. But injury accidents to cyclists are not unusual; there were 468 in 2008. You are among the cyclists who, as cyclist/author Robert Hurst points out, are in denial about the dangers for fear that it will discourage others from taking up cycling. You do a disservice to potential cyclists by not being realistic about the dangers, probably because you are in denial about the dangers yourself.

My "hate speech"? Could you provide some examples of that? I often mock and criticize cyclists for a number of reasons---you folks are eminently mockable---but that's not the same as hate speech. I'm the only consistent critic in the media you folks have here in Progressive Land, and you seem to have trouble dealing with it. The behavior of many cyclists on city streets is what engenders antagonism from the rest of us, not to mention Critical Mass, the monthly orgy of self-indulgence by the city's bike people.

The reality is that the city's bike people have gotten a free ride, so to speak, by the local media over the years. Your political influence is way out of proportion to your imagined significance on the streets of the city. The attempt by the SFBC and its allies in City Hall to redesign city streets on behalf of a minority of cyclists to the detriment to the other 90% of the population that uses our streets is a culmination of that undue political power.

Paul: You clearly don't give a rat's ass about people's safety, though, as evidenced by your knee-jerk dismissal of the notion that slowing traffic would save people's lives...That's juvenile, antisocial, and irresponsible behavior for somebody who supposedly wants to become a district supervisor.

Just because I run for supervisor doesn't mean I really want to be one. In 2008 I ran against Ross Mirkarimi mainly to point out that he supports Critical Mass and mindlessly supports whatever the Bicycle Coalition wants to do to our streets. (He also supports some awful development projects---highrises on Rincon Hill, the Market Octavia Plan, UC's rip-off of the old extension property---issues that apparently don't interest you bike people much. It's all about bikes with you, right?)

You're evidently coming in late to the discussion about traffic in SF. As I've pointed out for more than five years, it would be poor public policy to "calm"/screw up city traffic as much as Leah Shahum advocates; she wants six-year-olds to be able to ride their bikes safely on city streets, but Dave Snyder, the so-called transportation expert, is more cautious, since he only wants to make it safe for eight-year-olds! 

Yes, I'm guilty of thinking that people in cars, buses, trucks, and emergency vehicles need to get where they're going a lot quicker than that. There are 461,827 motor vehicles registered in SF. All of our goods are delivered to city businesses by trucks; there are 686,000 trips every weekday on Muni; there are more than a 1,000 Muni vehicles on our streets and 1,500 taxis. Our economy is based on tourism, with millions of visitors driving into the city every year. The notion that the city should deliberately create gridlock on our streets on behalf of cyclists is simply bizarre---and also "juvenile, anti-social, and irresponsible."

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At 6:20 PM, Anonymous Dave said...

This "bike guy" reminds me of the idiots who refuse to wear a seat belt in a car, because they're supposedly afraid of being trapped by the seat belt should they have an accident. Of course, the number of people who survive a car crash only to be trapped by the belt and die in a fire or something is infinitesimally small, while the odds of being killed or seriously injured in a crash if you're NOT wearing a seat belt are quite high. Still, the idiots balk.

This is just an example of a small-minded idiot trying to twist statistics to fit his misinformed beliefs. Are cyclists wearing helmets more likely to crash? Well, maybe, because someone without a helmet might be likely to be riding more slowly and carefully without anything to protect them. But both helmeted and non-helmeted cyclists can end up in an accident, and it's pretty easy to predict which one will walk away and which one won't.

At 3:07 PM, Anonymous Paul said...

You and Dave are totally off base. I'll repeat it one more time: The percentage of cyclists who died not wearing a helmet is statistically irrelevant. 100% of motorists and automobile passengers who died in traffic accidents in 2008 were without helmets. 100% of pedestrians were also found to be helmet-less. The only thing that these numbers prove is that people don't wear helmets. Unless you know 1) how likely cyclists are to have a head injury in first place, and 2) how many cyclists who died in fatal accidents were wearing helmets, that 97% is completely meaningless; and you have no right to use it as basis for an argument about cycling safety—a subject with which you have no real-world experience on which to base any of your judgements.

How do you think drivers would react if you suggested that they would benefit from the protection of a helmet? Do you think they'd "bristle" at the notion of the streets being dangerous, despite the fact that over 30,000 die in the US each year? Cycling accidents involving fatal head injuries are a statistical rarity, and—especially given the negative effects that helmets have on perceptions of safety, the increased riskiness of cyclists' behavior, and the fact that they aren't even entirely effective—are a red herring in a constructive discussion about safety. This paper, published in the UK Policy Studies Institute, says it best:

"By wearing helmets, cyclists are at best only marginally reducing their chances of being fatally or seriously injured in a collision with a motor vehicle which is the predominant cause of these injuries. Even the most expensive ones provide little protection in these circumstances. Moreover, the argument in favour of helmets would have validity if there were proof that behaviour does not change in response to perceived risk. But there is no such proof. Safety devices encourage higher levels of risk-taking. As a result, cyclists are likely to ride less cautiously when wearing a helmet owing to their feeling of increased security. [...] Cyclists may be less likely to have an accident if they are not wearing a helmet, and are therefore riding with greater care owing to an enhanced sense of their vulnerability.

Furthermore, people are discouraged from cycling if their perception is heightened that it is a 'dangerous' form of travel and that it is only safe to do so if a helmet is worn. The result of this is that the considerable latent demand for cycling—an ideal mode for the majority of the population for most of their journeys—continues to be suppressed. As cycling is also a convenient and routine way of maintaining fitness, a significant route to public health is prejudiced."

What you call the "daredevil" effect is known more generally known as "offsetting behavior", and it's been observed in NASCAR, studied, extensively in the context of consumer auto safety regulation, and even applies to food policy. Your suggestion that cyclists' behavior is somehow riskier than anyone else's is completely without merit, and it's further disproven by the much lower incidence of fatal injuries among cyclists in places with a less fear-driven attitude toward cycling, and where helmets are much less prevalent.

I am not "in denial about the dangers"; in fact, it's my educated awareness of the dangers that make me a more cautious and responsible cyclist.

At 5:12 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

You ignore the fact that the NY City study found that 74% of those fatalities were attributable specifically to head injuries. Hardly some kind of statistical sleight-of-hand. You ignore almost every other point I make, too. Robert Hurst described guys like you in his book, which I've done some posts on. You're afraid that if people get the idea that cycling can be dangerous they won't take it up. Hurst---a career bike messenger and a dedicated cyclist---wrote a whole book on how to ride a bike safely in the city. "In fact, it's my educated awareness of the dangers that make me a more cautious and responsible cyclist." Exactly the way to proceed as a cyclist. Hurst, John Forester, and Bert Hill---the SFBC's favorite cycling safety instructor---all admit that cycling can be dangerous, and the only real defense is to acknowledge the dangers and prepare yourself for them. So what are we really arguing about? If you choose not to wear a helmet, hey, it's a free country, dude!


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