Helmet Laws – an Impediment to Bike Share in Seattle?

According to Seattle Bike Blog, both Seattle U and King County are looking seriously at bikeshare programs, akin to Denver’s B-Cycle program. One interesting point at the end of the article is that our mandatory helmet laws represent an impediment to launching a bikeshare program, and that perhaps we should subsidize helmets or amend the law to exempt bikeshare.

These are two horrible ideas. Subsidizing helmets does nothing to solve the spur-of-the-moment nature of taking a quick ride that makes bike share so appealing (I know . . . let’s also subsidize backpacks to carry the helmets – and then pass a law requiring everyone to carry their helmet at all times!). And excepting bike share creates nothing but ride and enforcement confusion. So here’s a thought – why not just shit-can our mandatory helmet laws? There’s no evidence they do any good, and we can now add “discouraging bike share programs” to the litany of ills visited by this particular little bit of nanny-statism.

This isn’t to say I think wearing a helmet is a bad idea. In fact, I think it’s dumb to ride in the city without one. But it should always be a matter of rider choice. While I’ll always tell you what I think the right choice is, there’s no reason for our government to dictate that choice for you.

New Lights

Arleigh over at Bike Shop Girl posted recently about using lights during the day, which is good advice but not really relevant for bike commuters in Seattle this time of year.  But as our days get longer, I’m sure I’ll be able to put it into practice soon.  And I’ve got new lights – I’ve upgraded the fleet to these Superflash variants (that’s the regular on my rain bike to the left, and the clear version on my Cassaroll).

How’d I choose these lights?  A couple of months ago I was riding up Pine.  A half-block ahead a guy pulled in front of me with the most blinding-ass light I’ve ever seen.  It’s not just the intensity of the flash, or the fact that it flashes to the back and partly to the side.  The pattern is also a kind of eye-catching staccato.  I caught up to him at the light and asked what kind of light he was sporting – “Superflash.”  Sold.

No complaints so far.  The lights seem to be waterproof, and the switch mechanism, while a little stiff, is easy to use even with gloves on.

Planet Bike 3034-1 Blinky Superflash .5 Watt LED with 2 Red LED Tail Lights (Black/Clear Case)

Bikes – Not in the Constitution

You’ve never had to look very hard to find thick-headed fools in the U.S. House of Representatives; citizens of towns far and wide have reliably sent a collection of rigidly-thinking nitwits to Washington.

But wide-eyed wunderkind Duncan Hunter (R-CA) may take the cake. An adherent of the Constitutional fetishization gripping a sizable chunk of the GOP these days, Hunter – who serves on the House Transportation Committee – opined in a recent interview with DCStreet Blog:

  • On getting people out of their cars and into other modes of transit:  “So no, it’s not one of my priorities at all to get people out of their cars. I like my car.”
  • On public investment in transit infrastructure:  “So if transit makes sense and it can be done on its own and pay for itself, then absolutely.”
  • Finally, on the fact that a small portion of federal highway dollars have historically been used for bike infrastructure:

DH: I don’t think biking should fall under the federal purview of what the Transportation Committee is there for. If a state wants to do it, or local municipality, they can do whatever they want to. But no, because then you have us mandating bike paths, which you don’t want either.

SB: But you’re OK with mandating highways?

DH: Absolutely, yeah. Because that’s in the constitution. I don’t see riding a bike the same as driving a car or flying an airplane.

SB: How is it different?

DH: I think it’s more of a recreational thing. That’s my opinion.

It’s hard to overstate how ass-wipingly stupid these comments – as well as Hunter’s “corny” admission that he liked legislation relating to the military and postal roads because these things are “actually in the constitution”  – are, particularly coming from a government leader who should know something about transportation.  A few of the more gaping holes in Hunter’s thinking include:

  • No transportation infrastructure – least of all highways – “pays its own way,” except via complex modeling that takes into account benefits to the commons.  We invest in transportation infrastructure because it’s necessary to achieve these common goods.  It’s fair to ask whether any infrastructure investment is worth the cost, but Hunter apparently exempts roads from this analysis because he “likes his car.”
  • Highways aren’t “in the Constitution.”  Neither, of course, are cars or planes.  Yes, the “post Roads” mentioned by Hunter are in the constitution, but – far more relevantly – so are the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses, by which Congress has had, since the earliest days of the republic, broad power to regulate.
  • The mind-boggling stupidity of Hunter’s distinction between “recreational” bikes and the (by implication) “non-recreational” cars and planes should be evident.

This priestly adoration of the text of the constitution – while simultaneously ignoring over 200 years of judicial interpretation except where it supports one’s views – is infantile and dangerous.  Pols like Hunter, who don’t know the first thing about the constitution, happily parrot back whatever they’ve heard that supports their worldview.  They’re like 6-year-old Sunday schoolers who just learned their pets get to go to heaven.

Bikes aren’t in the constitution?  Well, neither is a world with equal rights for women and minorities.  I wonder what Hunter’s take on that is.

h/t Commute by Bike