Phil Matier, a pundit for KCBS and the SF Chronicle, has been betraying a rather stunning lack of policy knowledge recently, painting transit in the Bay Area as a boondoggle and wagging his finger at “bicycle lobbyists” for opposing a statewide mandatory helmet law.
In a KCBS radio segment this week, Matier did seem to understand the case against the mandatory helmet law proposed by State Senator Carol Liu:
[Bicycle lobbyists] feel that the requirement of helmets for adults would be another barrier to more people getting on bicycles and that it would be a disincentive. Safe or not, they seem to think it’s more important to get more people to ride their bikes.
The concept that Matier was apparently trying to convey is called “safety in numbers” — the well-documented phenomenon that biking is safer the more people are on bikes. As CA Bicycle Coalition has argued, helmet laws have been shown to only discourage bicycling, countering the safety in numbers effect. Focusing on helmets distracts from the implementation of changes that actually make streets safer and prevent crashes in the first place.
But then Matier went on to ignore that point and paint bike advocates as a constituency that just wants something for nothing:
San Francisco has already started to spend $3 million on bicycle awareness and will continue to do so for the next few years. This will include safety campaigns and improvements to bike lane infrastructure. The city has also called to increased citations to motorists by 50 percent in the next two years in an effort to cut down on injuries.
But when you turn it around on the bicycle groups, they don’t want to adhere to things like mandatory helmet wearing or even chipping in money on the new bike lanes. This is making state lawmakers and politicians wonder if this is a one-way street.
There’s a lot to unpack here. For one thing, the SFMTA has barely increased its bike spending in recent years, and $3 million remains only about 2 percent of the agency’s total budget.
Matier is also dead wrong when he claims that people who bike don’t “chip in on new bike lanes.” The vast majority of funding for local street infrastructure, including bike lanes, comes from general taxes paid by everyone. People who bike instead of drive also impose much less in the way of maintenance costs on the street system.