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Letter to City Council

Just sent a moment ago. Links added for reference.

Dear mayor and council members:

My name is Mike Dahmus; I served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000 to 2005, and still write on the subject of transportation from time to time. Until a medical condition forced me to stop, I was a frequent bicycle commuter (but, unlike some others you probably hear from, also continued to own and drive a car as well).

I can't emphasize enough the points previously made by Jen Duthie from UT that this ordinance may seem like much ado about nothing if you're used to thinking about bicycling as simply a sporting activity - like the ride Bruce Todd was on when he hurt himself. If you're going out to ride for fun, a helmet doesn't make a lot of difference - you'll probably still ride, and even if forcing a helmet makes you delay your ride until a cooler day, for instance, the overall public health is not significantly harmed.

But for transportation bicyclists, mandating a helmet be used for what is essentially a safer activity overall than driving is a critical error - many marginal cyclists will simply stop riding their bikes and return to their cars. You certainly see this effect at play among children - hardly any of whom ride their bikes to school any more, partly because of the inconvenience and discomfort of the helmet, but also due to their parents belief that cycling must be a very dangerous activity if it requires a helmet.

Every adult cyclist you convince not to ride is one more driver. Every driver is that much more traffic and pollution; making Austin less healthy not only for themselves but for the rest of us as well.

Since the evidence in the real world has shown that there has been no actual benefit from dramatic increases in helmet usage in this and other countries, there ought to be no justification whatsoever for a mandatory helmet law (or even, I'd argue, excessive promotion of helmets compared to more effective measures such as traffic enforcement and education).

Please take this in mind when voting. No serious transportation cyclist (i.e. one who actually uses their bike to get around) has signed on to this effort as far as I'm aware.

Regards,
Michael E. Dahmus
mdahmus@io.com

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Bicycle Commuting , Bicycling in Austin , PS: I am not a crackpot , Republicans Hate Poor People , Republicans Hate The Environment , Transportation

Comments

And now you get "exclusive" access to what I sent today to council:

I urge you to reject the proposed bicycle helmet ordinance.

As an adult, I make a personal choice to wear a helmet when riding my bicycle. I wear one for the limited degree of additional protection it provides. The benefits of my choice, if any, to the public at large however, are not so compelling as to justify the city's infringement on that personal choice.

A city government may only infringe upon personal liberty when doing otherwise creates a significant risk of severe and demonstrably unambiguous harm to the public. Zoning, sanitation, and traffic control come to mind. An adult's act of riding a bicycle without a helmet does not have a severe negative effect upon the public, nor are the effects of such an act demonstrably unambiguous.

As citizens and officers of the public trust, one of your foremost responsibilities is to preserve the liberty of the people from which you derive your powers. When the other powers and responsibilities of your office come into conflict with personal liberty, you must weigh the effects carefully. A high standard must be met to outweigh the cumulative detrimental effects of infringements upon personal liberty. The mild and ambiguously hypothesized benefits of the proposed helmet ordinance (remember: "the plural of anecdote is not data") do not meet this high standard.