Council Members: Mayor Was Just Mouthing Off on Helmets, Licenses

Orcutt: 'It originated with Marcia Kramer.'

Council Member Brad Lander, who pulled into a lower Manhattan press conference on a Citi Bike despite not having a helmet (or a bike license). Photo by Dave Colon
Council Member Brad Lander, who pulled into a lower Manhattan press conference on a Citi Bike despite not having a helmet (or a bike license). Photo by Dave Colon

Legislators and bike advocates aren’t giving any credence to Mayor de Blasio’s remarks last week that his administration is mulling a helmet requirement for Citi Bike users and licenses for cyclists more generally.

Brooklyn Council Member Antonio Reynoso, a member of the transportation committee, expressed doubt that the mayor actually was having such talks. “I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone” in the Department of Transportation, including Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, “to corroborate that they’re actually talking about helmets,” he told Streetsblog yesterday as he walked to unlock his bike in lower Manhattan.

Reynoso disparaged the mayor’s proposals as “the most backwards transportation policy a city can implement if they want to promote cycling.”

“If [the de Blasio administration] is having that conversation they should just let us know now, so that we can stop the expansion of Citi Bike and we can stop the progress that we’re making related to bike lanes because it would put us at a point where we won’t come back,” he said.

Bike New York’s Jon Orcutt, a former DOT policy director, also pooh-poohed the notion that mayor really meant what he was saying.

“We’re not convinced it’s something to take seriously yet, so far just loose talk. No one at DOT was in the loop about this; it just popped out as a response to a question,” Orcutt said.

The mayor’s remarks came in response to a question from well-known anti-bike crusader and car-enthusiast, CBS2 reporter Marcia Kramer, on whether the city’s rash of cycling deaths had de Blasio considering implementing a helmet requirement for Citi Bike users.

Hizzoner — who previously called himself the “bike mayor” — said: “[T]hat’s something we are talking about inside the administration. I think it is a really valid issue,” adding that licensing cyclists was “also a valid discussion.”

Orcutt credited Kramer with planting the suggestion in the mayor’s mind. “It originated with Marcia Kramer — the idea was in the question,” he said.

Orcutt also noted that any such initiatives would require legislation from the City Council, whose many bike-friendly members are not eager to pass laws discouraging cycling.

Council Speaker Corey Johnson flatly stated last week that a mandatory helmet law was the wrong direction, as did other Council members Streetsblog approached yesterday.

“This is so obviously not where we should be spending our energy on making cycling safer, and it’s really disappointing because we have so much to get done to make cycling safer,” said Council Member Brad Lander, before finding a Citi Bike dock, sans helmet.

And as if to underscore the point, Council Member Carlina Rivera was spotted riding her bike without a helmet around town on Monday afternoon.

But wherever the comments came from, no matter how serious they are, any conversations about biking in New York City should focus on building out more protected bike lanes and cracking down on reckless drivers, especially trucks, not on helmets or licenses, which are just more ways to sic police on bikers, especially those of color, bike advocates said. 

“Regardless of where this emanated from, we know the output of this is not positive. We need requirements about street design, not helmets,” said Transportation Alternatives’s new executive director, Danny Harris. “I’m really troubled by the timing of this message, just as Citi Bike is planning to expand to more diverse neighborhoods, we see mobility as an equity issue and if want to create more transportation options, these types of policies are going to disincentive that behavior. We know the record about policing in these, areas we want to encourage (biking) not discourage it.”

The Department of Transportation did not respond to a request for comment.