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CDOT’s response to helmet inquiry at MBAC

Waiting at a red light on Milwaukee Avenue at Western Avenue. 

Erica Salem of the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) emailed me in February asking about data on children’s bike accidents (crashes) and any related data about ER visits and head injuries. I forwarded her to my friend Bill who is working on such data at UIC’s Urban Transportation Center (UTC).

She was looking for information to make the case for kids to use helmets while biking. And she brought this up at the June 2012 Mayor’s Bicycle Advisory Council (MBAC). She’s a member of the council under the new rules and format.

Here’s a paraphrased version of the discussion:

Erica Salem (ES): How do you quantify the increase in bike riders in the city?

Mike Amsden: That’s a huge challenge. Bike/ped data collection is very difficult. Right now it’s just work trips, and there’s even talk of eliminating that. We do before/after data collection of bikeway facilities. That’s where this Green Lane Project will come in and help with promotion and resources.

ES: The CDC released data showing 88% CPS middle schoolers and 94% of CPS high schoolers don’t wear a helmet when biking. Some of us think there should be an ordinance for helmet use in children. And some of us don’t.

Charlie Short: Safe Kids Program out of Children’s Memorial has done bike helmet giveaway. Targets low-income children. That seems to be where most initiative is coming from.

ES: The funds are drying up. I’ve talked to them already.

James Boratyn (of Illinois Department of Transportation): IDOT helps fund Children’s Memorial’s Safe Kids Program [also funds Bike Ambassadors]

Alex Wilson (of West Town Bikes): Major issue was storage concerning their move. We just filed a grant for 500 helmets.

Luann Hamilton (representing the Chicago Department of Transportation): We’ve always taken the position to provide education, outreach, and providing free helmets, as opposed to mandate. Of all the issues the police are dealing with, it doesn’t seem like a useful way to deal with the issue. [emphasis mine]

A cogent and welcomed response.

Mayor Bloomberg (of New York City) responds directly to a question about helmet laws:

It would be better if everybody wore a helmet. I think in a practical sense a lot of people won’t, and they’re better off taking a bike than driving or walking in the streets and getting pedestrian accidents (sic). The most important thing we can do is separate bicycles lanes from traffic, and that’s one of the things we’re really trying to do.

Infrastructure and traffic enforcement will do more to reduce injuries than helmets.

My friend Brian pointed me to this article about how a helmet law may make a killed child’s parents (somewhat) responsible for their own child’s death. A 14-year old boy was cycling and killed by a then-48-year old driver. The boy was not wearing a helmet but state law requires that children 15 and younger wear helmets while cycling. The lawsuit was filed by the driver, from prison, in 2010. I don’t know what the outcome is.

Updated June 19 at 13:34 to add Mayor Bloomberg’s response to a question about helmet laws. Updated June 28 at 20:31 to add link to child death article. 

Comments on the Kinzie Street protected bike lane

After reading about the new protected bike lane on Kinzie Street, people are speaking up.

From Chicargobike:

I have to admit that this doesn’t seem to be a location that fulfills any of the criteria I just mentioned – it seems instead to be directed at people who already are bicycle commuters to the Loop, largely young, fit adults. I don’t think they are the people who can benefit from a track and it should be placed elsewhere.

Excerpted from Protected bike lanes get a wobbly start.

From Duppie:

While the safety improvements will become clear in the crash statistics, there are a lot of things that can make a bikelane good or bad from a user perspective. They should have a formal evaluation process after 6 months or a year to see what works what and what doesn’t.

Excerpted from their comments on The Chainlink.

From anonymous:

I’m a big fan of protected bike lanes, but starting this lane at Milwaukee/DesPlaines just seems like a remarkably bad idea to me.  The problem is that there’s a very steep downhill decline between Desplaines and Clinton.   That means you constantly have lots of bikes traveling at very different speeds, and this lane is going to trap them in a small space designed for slower speeds.   Right now, this works fine because the cyclists spread out all over the right lane (because of the downhill speeds, taking over the lane is no problem).

Excerpted from Saturday’s post on Steven Can Plan.

From BlueFairline:

Your photos remind me of another problem with this specific location, as you often have a Blommer truck parked on the westbound side with a large hose running between the truck and a nozzle on the side of the building. This hose will have to run across the protected bike lane. You’re going to have to have bicyclists either jump between the dividers into the traffic lane to go left of the truck, or stop and lift their bikes over the hose. Any advice on which option is the more reasonable for bicyclists?

From their comment on Chicagoist. Find more naysaying on this Chicagoist article.

What are your thoughts on the location, protected bike lanes, or bicycling in Chicago?

A group of people riding their bikes wait at the light at Division and Milwaukee, going southbound.

Listening to Jeanne Gang

Buy the book, Reveal.

Jeanne Gang is Chicago’s “in-house” starchitect. Sure we’ve got Adrian Smith (Burj Khalifa), but he’s jumping around the world while Jeanne (like Jeanie) has been maintaining Chicago’s status as a city with architectural and design marvels.

Architecture critic Lynn Becker calls her part of the Chicago “third school”:

Gang, Garofalo, Ronan, and other local rising stars are on the verge of defining a third Chicago school of architecture, following in the footsteps of Sullivan, Burnham, and Root in the 19th century and Mies van der Rohe in the 20th. This new school won’t be characterized by the kind of uniform visual style that marked the architecture of Mies or Frank Lloyd Wright, but by diversity, changeability, and an intellectual restlessness that compulsively tests accepted wisdom. (From the Chicago Reader)

People around here know her for the Aqua Tower (see my dramatic photos) and J.C. Gabel and her talked a lot about it at a recent book release party in the Stop Smiling storefront at 1371 N Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park. But enough about that tower, I’d rather mention something else.

In the photo above you see a model of interior of a University of Chicago study room. Think about all the dramatic films that take place in heralded college campuses: the study room in the library is a big hall with desks in neat rows for quiet, private research. But more often students must work in groups and need closed off spaces to avoid disturbing others. So Studio Gang Architects envisioned little cubicle rooms and built the 3D model of the study room and then threw in an ice cube tray to represent the cubicles.

Said Gang about the ice cube tray, and I’m paraphrasing, “Our studio, like many others, has a 3D printer so we can quickly create models of our work. But all the models end up looking the same. We just wanted to envision it differently.”

One of the coolest parts of the evening was when this self-identified substitute teacher (in above photo) stood up to talk about one of his students, an 8th grader who has a knack for drawing and 3D computer design. Someone at the school asked the student to design a new campus building. The teacher was concerned about the student’s design being stolen or ripped off and wanted advice on how he can protect his work. Jeanne laughed and said she didn’t think she would be asked to talk about copyright laws tonight. She then said that the student should continue his passion for drawing and that manual drawing was a dying but still revered skill. Jeanne agreed to meet with the student and teacher afterwards to take a look at his drawing. (I saw the drawing on paper the student made as well as the version he drew in Google SketchUp – very impressive.)

Buy the book, Reveal.

Moving from a subculture to culture

Mikael says bicycling in Chicago is a subculture.*

It will become a culture when lots of people (of all sizes, shapes, and colors) ride bikes for all kinds of trips. Read about the 8 to 80 threshold.

But I’m afraid that our subculture won’t exist anymore if it elevates to being part of the American or Chicago “culture.” Bicycling is the subculture that puts on bicycle scavenger hunts, teaches schoolchildren to repair bikes, takes in abandoned bikes and sells or donates the fixed up ones, goes on Tweed Rides. The same subculture that introduced me to strong friendships, based heavily on our shared passion for using the bicycle as transportation and trying to encourage others to ride for utility as well.

I’m not sure if any of this applies to Portland, Oregon, though. They will be successful in keeping the quirky and whimsical aspects of an American bicycle subculture as they transform into a bicycle culture. This is probably because Portland is so “weird.”

I went to Europe in December 2010/January 2011 and I rode a bike in Como, Italy, watched people ride their bikes in Milan, Italy, then rode a bike in Bremen, Germany, and Utrecht, Houten and Amsterdam in the Netherlands. I then rode again in Copenhagen, Denmark. I saw a lot of bicycle culture happening; er, does culture happen or does it just exist?

I would like to move to Europe and get a job or Ph.D there. Continue to learn how to transplant certain aspects of European culture to improve transportation in the United States. (“Making Transit Work” is one of the most interesting papers I read comparing European and American transportation-related cultural characteristics, discussing how urban form and automobile usage affects how often and how many people use transit – we can learn about more than bicycles in Europe.)

But in some of the places I visit or live in Europe, those that have a bike culture, I would have to adapt to a new culture and base my relationships on something other than riding bicycles to get around town. Because connecting to each other because of a shared passion for bicycling and “sustainable transportation” is not a thing. Fixed gear riding is a thing. Riding for sport is a thing. But riding a bicycle because it’s cheaper and more convenient than riding the bus is not something you tell your European friends about – cuz they ride just as often as you do.

*Mikael said this to me when we had dinner and drinks in Copenhagen during my January 2011 visit. Here’s us late that night.

In a bicycle culture, we won’t need to stop people biking on the street and ask them if they want a free headlight. Everyone’ll have a light because the police will ticket them if they don’t (this could happen now but it doesn’t, so education first and a free light is the strategy used in some places, including Chicago).

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