Thursday, June 21, 2012

Redeye Weighs In On Helmet Use.

The Redeye published an article on helmet use in Chicago in which they quoted me as an opponent of helmet laws.  I've long been against helmet laws for bicyclists becuase I think it will do more harm than good. 

I've heard debate about whether or not helmets are even effective, and to be clear, I'm not opposed to people wearing helmets.  In fact, I won't ride around the block without a helmet.  I staunchly believe that helmets reduce the probability that a head injury will result from most collisions in the City.  At city speeds of not more than 35 MPH, it is my belief that helmets are effective at reducing the incidence of head injuries.  Having said that, it also seems to me that the faster the speed of the car, the less likely your bicycle helmet will be effective.  To be clear, these are just my impressions from my decade of experience handling injury claims for bicyclists. 

If helmets are a good thing why not make them mandatory?

I understand why well meaning outsiders might think they are doing us a favor, saving cyclists from their own stupidity, but in reality there are practical reasons a well informed cyclist would oppose helmet laws. As indicated in the Redeye article, I typically compare helmet laws to headlight laws.  Headlights are required to be used by cyclists under both Illinois and Chicago law, but you wouldn't know if becuase enforcement of this law is basically non-existent in Chicago.  In fact, the only time I ever see the headlight law used is when an otherwise negligent motorist is defending themselves after they struck and injured a bicyclist.  A motorist can do practically whatever they want to a cyclist at night, and if the cyclist didn't have a headlight they can simply point to the lack of compliance with the headlight statute and it provides a perfect defense. 

Helmet laws will be no different.  It is reasonable to expect that any helmet law would be enforced as well as headlight laws are enforced, or any other law that relates to cyclists for that matter.  Leaving cyclists with a meaningless requirement that will only be used when a motorist has struck a cyclist and it is convenient for them to use the helmet law to defend themselves.  They will argue that if the bicyclists had been using a helmet as required by law they never would have been injured, thereby shifting blame away from themselves despite whatever negligent actions they might have committed themselves.

...not to mention the absurdity of requiring bicyclists to use helmets when motorcyclists have no such requirement.   

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lake Street Protected Bike Lane

The City has begin installation of a protected bike lane on Lake Street West of Damen.  Between Damen and Western there is parking on the south side of Lake street between the bicycle lane and the through lanes of traffic.  I initially noticed that people seemed to be using the bike lane as a parking space, however, that seems to have subsided between Damen and Western.   In the picture above you can see cars parked in the Westbound bicycle lane, while the parking lane across the street remains virtually empty.

More interesting is that just West of Talman they have removed the through lanes of traffic outside of the train supports.  Those lanes are now parking lanes on the inside and bicycle lanes by the curb. 

I guess we'll see how drivers on Lake adjust to the new bike lanes and parking spaces.  There aren't too many businesses or residences between Talman and California on Lake, so the parking may be underutilized there.  This could create a situation where drivers continue to use the parking lanes for driving lanes.

Historically I considered Lake Street to be one of the more unpleasant east-west thoroughfares on a bicycle.  Signage still hasn't been installed either.  I'll be excited to see how the new protected bike lanes work out on Lake Street.  If everything works out, these changes could transform Lake Street form a harrowing experience to a pleasure to ride.