KTVU Reporter Documents Own Harassment of Cyclists

Last week, KTVU 2 reporter David Stevenson drove down Valencia Street, yelling at bicycle riders through the window of his motor vehicle, asking where their helmets were. He even brought a camera crew to film it — oddly enough, in the name of bicycle safety.

KTVU's David Stevenson distracts a cyclist from potential hazards like drivers opening car doors on Valencia. Image: ##http://www.ktvu.com/videos/news/special-report-negligent-bicyclists-could/vG5DN/##KTVU 2##

“As twilight descends,” Stevenson told viewers, “the most vulnerable of the crowd dodge dangers on every block.”

“Dangers”… like distracting them by shouting through the passenger window, pointing a TV camera at their faces?

Stevenson’s behavior seemed to border on an offense that’s suable under Berkeley’s new bicyclist anti-harassment law, had it taken place in that city. As a colleague of mine put it, driving down Valencia yelling, “Where’s your helmet?” at bike riders is like waving a loaded gun in the air and yelling, “Where’s your bullet-proof vest?”

At best, Stevenson’s report was a sloppy analysis of bike safety that neglects to field any perspective from bicycle advocates or research the actual causes of bicycle crashes and injuries. The segment simply cited the numbers of bicycle riders killed and injured, then implied that helmets and lights are the most effective solution for preventing deaths and injuries. Stevenson made no effort to weigh factors like driver inattention or speed, which can have deadly consequences. (Speeders are, of course, harder to harangue from the passenger seat than cyclists.)

There’s nothing wrong with the friendly promotion of bike lights as an essential tool for night visibility (though Stevenson did point to bicyclists without lights in daylight).

But if Stevenson had even grazed the tip of the iceberg on the complex debate around bike helmets, he’d find there’s far from any consensus about their efficacy as a safety measure. No doubt, wearing one is (and should be) a personal choice. But for starters, Stevenson might have looked into why the European Cyclists Federation, comprised of 65 bicycle coalitions in 39 countries, actively campaigns against mandatory helmet laws and “shock-horror” helmet promotions that unrealistically depict bicycling as an abnormally dangerous activity. As worldwide Danish bicycling advocate Mikael Colville-Andersen of Copenhagenize is keen to point out, there’s little evidence to support the notion that riding a bike carries a higher risk of head injury than many other everyday activities like walking, climbing stairs, or driving.

And if Stevenson was truly concerned about bike safety in the Bay Area, he might note the danger of dooring, the single most common cause of motorist-induced injury suffered by San Francisco bicyclists. He might also wonder about the drivers whom he taped stopping in the bike lane on Valencia, and why such streets lack safer designs like protected bike lanes.

Stevenson shames a bicyclist weaving around cars stopped in the Valencia bike lane for not having rear lights. Image: ##http://www.ktvu.com/videos/news/special-report-negligent-bicyclists-could/vG5DN/##KTVU 2##

It’s too late for KTVU to take back this particular affront to the public discussion about street safety. But here’s an intriguing datapoint for a potential follow-up: An Australian study suggested that mandating helmets for motorists could potentially save 17 times as many lives as a bicycle helmet law (without the adverse impacts of discouraging bicycling and reducing the “safety in numbers” effect [PDF]).

  • Gneiss

    If I was in Holland where it’s normal not to wear one, I wouldn’t.  Because I’m in the US I wear one.  I fail to see how that makes me a hypocrite. 

    Believing so strongly in helmet use – If you were in Holland would you wear one?

  •  Gniess, yes. I don’t consider my safety a fashion statement or a matter of peer pressure. I have also ridden scooters and motorcycles. It’s amazing the difference between the two communities. Bikers don’t resent their helmets and they are forced by law to wear them. There are even wars over full face versus 3/4 helmets. Bikers and cyclist are small, open to the air, vulnerable, delicately balanced, and moving at incredible speeds much of the time – especially down hill.

  • Gneiss

    Then you probably know that bicyle helments are not rated for high speeds – especially those achieved on downhills.  A typical bicycle helment is only rated to absorb the impact from falling off your bike.  So, wearing a bicycle helment provides a false sense of security over speeds of 15 mph.  So what we really should be doing is wearing motorcycle helmets instead, if we were really concerned about safety you’d advocate for cyclist to wear them instead.  I’d assume that’s what you must wear one on your bike since ‘safety’ seems to be your overriding concern.

  •  Gneiss, you don’t actually understand the physics of a crash, do you? You’re never going to hit the ground faster than 15mph. Your forward velocity has very little impact on that at all. This is not a car pulling you along with it at a certain speed. This is free fall. Gravity rules. Plus, your body is most likely going to hit first further slowing you down. Bike falls in even the most high speed situations average 10mph. That means in the vast majority, if not all, of bike crashes the helmet will be effective.

    This is why bike coalitions need to spend more time educating people people fully instead of complaining about a news man picking on them. You’re extremely misinformed. I’m just glad you wear a helmet anyway.

  • mikesonn

    @mark2000:disqus Wow, do you really believe what you just typed out there?

    “You’re never going to hit the ground faster than 15mph.”


  • mikesonn, do some reading, man. Just because something feels right doesn’t make it true.

  • mikesonn

    What does that even mean?

    Are you telling me that because free fall speed from a bike will never go over 15 mph that a helmet will protect in all crashes? You do know that people crash going faster than 15 mph? The velocity of the fall in the up/down direction has only a fraction to do with the impact sustained from the forward velocity.

    You have to be joking, right?

  • Abe

    @jd_x, there are alternatives to battery-powered lights. I purchased and installed an aftermarket light system that generates power from the movement of my wheels (more advanced version of a dynamo). It bolts on to my bike so I never have to take it off. It works phenomenally well! Whenever I am moving my lights are on.

    The only downsides (due to the fact that it’s an aftermarket light) are that it’s really ugly and the wires which run from my forks to my lights are exposed to vandals and accidents.

    The total cost for front and back was about $100, which would probably be cheaper if it was ordered in a large quantity.

    There are certainly good options for weatherproof built-in lighting on. Bycicles. (and for the record, I haven’t noticed any added effort to ride with these lights on)

  • Joe B

     Both of you are wrong. Side reflectors need not be mounted on the wheels, they can be anywhere forward-of-center and -rearward-of-center of the bike. CVC21201(d)(4).

  • Guest

    OK Joe B, I’m “wrong”.  Doesn’t change the fact that the bikes in the video didn’t have reflectors “anywhere forward-of-center and rearward-of-center”, nor reflectorized tires at night.

  • @mark2000:disqus This is not an issue of what activists ought to be advocating. Local news endangering cyclists by accosting them in traffic is not acceptable. Not only that, but over a non-violation. Why not go around hassling motorists putting on makeup, or with one hand holding a burrito and one on the steering wheel? Those seem pretty distracting, but neither are illegal. 

  • Anonymous

    I’ll say it again: there is no law that says you need reflectorized tires. See the vehicle code that @437c2dc2dbd9e4570da976b21f62c0d8:disqus referenced: there is nothing in there about reflectorized tires.

  • @twinpeaks_sf:disqus  Great example of a false dichotomy.

  • Anonymous

    @twinpeaks_sf:disqus wrote: “15 bare-headed people on a street is safer than 2 helmeted people. Safety in numbers.”

    That was a much more succinct way of saying what I was trying to say.

    @mark2000:disqus This is what you keep ignoring: making people wear helmets prevents many people from riding, which makes our cities less safe. It doesn’t matter if *you* personally feel that is silly. The reality is, many people are limited by this. And actually, it’s not just because it gives you a helmet head: it’s just one more thing to “deal with” when riding a bike. You already have to carry a huge U-lock, lights (which you can’t leave on your bike because somebody will steal), and then your helmet. In the end, trying to use your bike becomes more of an ordeal than it should be, and that does prevent people from cycling (again, even if you personally are not bothered by these things). Remember, this isn’t about you (or me), but about statistics, and it has been shown that forcing people to wear helmets prevents many people from riding. And this is a net health loss to society. You can’t just talk about wearing helmets in a vacuum and pretend like it doesn’t have an effect of how many people decide to ride.

    The real problem with our society is that cyclists are having their heads slammed into the ground so that they need a helmet in the first place, and this is the result of collisions with cars. We should be focusing on this. I would love to see this junk news local reporter go out and actually do a story on why the hell we need helmets in the first place in this country.

    Finally, Mark 2000 wrote: “You’re never going to hit the ground faster than 15mph”

    I understand what you are saying, but you are wrong. It isn’t just hitting the ground that a helmet is supposed to protect you from. For example, if a car slams into you, your head whiplashes and gets slammed into the hood/windshield, and you your head will hit a *lot* harder than 15 mph. In fact, one of the common way cyclists are killed (especially in non-urban areas where traffic is moving faster) is from cars hitting them at fast speeds, so fast that the impact to their head *against the car* is much more than 15 mph, and much more than a helmet can usually handle.

  • mikesonn, from the Bike Helmet Safety Institute who probably has it out for cyclists with a name like that: “The typical bike crash involves a drop to the pavement. The important
    energy in that crash is supplied by gravity, not by forward speed.
    Although forward speed can contribute some additional energy, the main
    force is the attraction of gravity, and the impact severity is
    determined by the height of your head above the pavement when the fall
    begins. It is gravity that determines how fast your helmet closes with
    the pavement.”

    Sean Rea, Did you actually watch the piece? News man talks to one person currently riding. Everyone else is stationary or ride for the camera and not interacting. This Aron’s article is nothing but a misrepresenting attack because no one is allowed to criticize cyclists.

    jd_x, I understand what you said, perfectly. More riders on the road means more awareness from drivers. What makes you think I don’t understand just because I disagree with you? I don’t care if more people cycle. I care that people are safe and responsible. Frankly, people dumb enough not to wear a helmet are also going to be bad enough cyclists to place me in danger. And no amount of people on the road will help you if you take a false step on your bike and fall over. You like to make this a bikes against cars thing, but cars aren’t the only problem for cyclists on the road. A well placed pot hole, tree root, or street car rail will do the job just fine.

    Your logic is terrible. Please try again.

  • Gneiss

    So Mark, all those cyclist in Europe who cycle every day to work, to the shops, to school are ‘dumb enough not the wear a helmet.’ Nice one.  Way to insult most of the population of countries with the highest number of cyclists.  Again, take a look at what the Safety Institute indicates – a crash involving a drop to the pavement.  Not a car – bike accident, Not a downhill decent, just a typical trip and fall, just as if a pedestrian tripped and fell.  Using that logic, people walking on the sidewalks should be wearing helmets too.

  • @mark2000:disqus yes, I watched the video.

  •  This argument sounds interesting on its face but has some flaws that are outside the scope of this audience.

    A company like Specialized, that sells a huge amount of bikes, sponsors racing teams that ride on their stock bikes. The European racers ride the stock frames made with the lightest materials and built up with the top end components. The exact same frame with lower end components makes up big part of their assembly line, and the same frame geometry but with heavier tubes makes up another segment of their market.

    If they were forced to put all this gadgetry into their stock frames, the Euro teams would not race on them. Either Specialized would have to design additional frames or it would really mess up what is pretty much the largest part of their entire marketing budget.

    Companies like Colnago might just give the US the finger. Small frame builders with stock no longer legal to sell would be completely screwed, especially places like Calfee who have invested a lot into Carbon molds that would not support the routing.

    This is by far the fastest growing part of the market segment and where bike companies largest margins are.

    If this was actually implemented it would also pretty much put aftermarket companies like LnM and PlanetBike into a big pinch.

    All over a piece of equipment that can be bought in a bike shop for 10 to 15 bucks and be clipped onto your handlebar in 10 seconds.

  • mikesonn

    “the Bike Helmet Safety Institute who probably has it out for cyclists with a name like that”

    Yeah, they aren’t pushing a product or anything. The comment that ” the main 
    force is the attraction of gravity” is still stupid as the force of slamming your head against anything, even the ground, is subject to your overall speed in all directions, not just towards the ground. Why any one would even argue against simple physics is beyond me.

  •  Mark – I wear a helmet 100% of the time, as does my wife, as does my son. I don’t personally care if anyone else does or not because I’m not responsible for their safety (let’s assume for the sake of discussion that helmet equals more safe).

    Why is it that KTVU has decided that this merits a piece on their limited TV broadcast time?

    There are plenty of things more dangerous in life than riding a bike with no helmet. Does KTVU send out a reporter onto Market Street and badger everyone lighting up a cigarette? Are they walking down the street berating obese people for eating too much and giving themselves diabetes? Stanley Roberts can go out and do a piece on “people behaving badly” for not wearing helmets – is he turning the camera around and saying “look at this overweight man who is a poster child for Type 2 Diabetes”. Sure they report on it, but not in this tone.

    The tone is set to play to an audience that thinks nobody should bike WITH OR WITHOUT a helmet. That should trouble you because that means as a whole you are under attack for riding a bike no matter how you comport yourself. And if every cyclist magically used lights and wore helmets, they’d find something else.

  • Anonymous

    @mark2000:disqus If the only thing we were worried about is cyclists falling over and hitting their head (from hitting a root, hole, just losing their balance, etc.) and not from being hit by a car, then they number of head injuries from cycling would be drastically reduced. This is why nobody wears helmets in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, etc. where they have safe bicycle infrastructure so that interactions between cars and bicycles are minimized. Once you do this, you remove the need for helmets. Why are you ignoring what the results show from northern European cities where nobody wears helmets yet they have the lowest injury rates? That alone shows that helmets aren’t needed, or at least no more than they are when walking or driving a car.

    Finally, your understanding of crash physics is incomplete. First, you can generate more than 15 mph in the z-direction (perpendicular to the ground) due to having your head getting whiplashed. Even if your body is only falling vertically at say, 15 mph, your head can get snapped when your body first hits so that your head suddenly accelerates towards the ground, achieving speeds faster than your body. Second, horizontal speed certainly matters, because the friction from rubbing on the ground can snap your head in random directions causing severe neck injuries. In fact, it has been argued that helmets exacerbate this phenomena. And third, as already said, horizontal speed matters when a car hits you and your head slams into the car.

    “I understand what you said, perfectly. More riders on the road means more awareness from drivers.”

    That’s not what I said at all (though it is true). What I said is that: more riders on the road means less cars which means more people being healthy, less pollution, less noise, less fossil fuel consumption, etc. And sure, more riders makes it safer because you get more awareness from drivers too, but that isn’t my point. My point is that *all* these things add up to be a huge net health benefit for everyone (not just the cyclists) so that, even if people aren’t wearing helmets, it is a net benefit for everyone to have more people cycling. Conversely, if making people wear helmets discourages people from riding, then that is a net health loss for society and a bad thing.

  • Guest

     Really?  Then where did this text come from?

    “(4) A white or yellow reflector on each side forward of the center of the
    bicycle, and a white or red reflector on each side to the rear of the center of
    the bicycle, except that bicycles that are equipped with reflectorized tires on
    the front and the rear need not be equipped with these side reflectors.”

    Answer:  Section 21201.  I typed 2″0″201 by accident the first time, that made me “wrong” per Joe B.

  • mikesonn

    “Why are you ignoring what the results show from northern European cities where nobody wears helmets yet they have the lowest injury rates? ”

    This is San Francisco, nothing else anywhere in the world applies here! Except parking minimums of course.

  •  mikesonn, you just don’t understand physics. Unless you’re slamming into something right in front of you if you’re going down you’re going down. Forward momentum really adds nothing to the fall. Try throwing an egg forward and let it land on the ground. Now just drop it. Now throw one right at a wall. The first two will be very similar. The last not so much. I don’t believe I have to explain this to you. Are you in high school?
    jd_x, no one suggested that should be the only thing you worry about, but thanks for twisting what I said into something else.Stop comparing SF to Europe. We aren’t there yet. Do keep working on it, it’s worth it. But until you reach that point people need to be protected and to tell them it’s ok not to is stupid. And when you get to that point a helmet is still a good idea because of the unpredictability of your own actions on the bike.I know this is impossible. You guys have politicized this and memorized the rhetoric to the point that you can’t see through the haze of your own rage. This article is a perfect example. It’s so insanely reactionary. Cyclists are not a race of people. You’re not a marginalized group. You need to all get some perspective. Just because someone in your community does something doesn’t mean it’s right or that it should be defended.I’m done with this thread. Go ahead and waist breath on more snide comments if you like. I’m tuning out.

  • Thanks for playing, @mark2000:disqus . 

  • Anonymous

    Okay, I was wrong that it wasn’t mentioned, but the point is that you don’t *need* reflectorized tires. You can use them, but they aren’t required (since you can just use the standard reflectors instead).

    The overarching point, however, is that you do need reflectors of some sort.

  • Anonymous

    @mark2000:disqus I’ve made no snide comments towards you (in spite of yours towards me). I try to avoid that, as much as I may disagree with somebody.

    “But until you reach that point people need to be protected and to tell them it’s ok not to is stupid.”

    No, not if requiring them to wear a helmet makes people stop cycling. You keep assuming that making people wear helmets won’t change how many people ride (in which case, I would agree that, until we get the infrastructure of Europe, helmets are a good idea), but that isn’t how it works. More people riding but without helmets, even if their are then more head injuries, will be more than offset by the reduction of deaths from obesity-related diseases, car accidents, asthma from pollution, etc. So more people riding without helmets is much better for society than less people riding with helmets. Can you not agree that their is a trade-off at play here with helmets?

  • mikesonn
  • Anonymous

     Unclear on the concept award for 2012.  Congrats!

  • @mikesonn:disqus Have you ever heard of the components of vectors?  The only component of the velocity that matters with respect crashes is the component that is normal to the surface that is hit.  Since a vast majority of the time you hit the flat pavement with your helmet (head) the only component that matters is the vertical component of your velocity.  This component is unaffected by your horizontal velocity.  All that matters is the distance that you fall, which is about 1.5 meters.  The speed can easily be calculated with 1/2a(t^2)=d (d=1.5m) (a=1g=9.8 m/s^2), solve for t you get ~1/2 sec.  That is how long it takes to fall 1.5 meters.  Your velocity at the time you hit the ground is t*a (1/2 * 9.8) ~ 5m/s  which gives you a mph ~11 miles per hour. (actually if you use a calculator you get 11.9 mph)

  • mikesonn

    @facebook-100001895311343:disqus I’m fully aware. Thanks for the physics lesson though.

  • Anonymous

    No, in CA a rear light is not required.  If you insist it is, please share the relevant vehicle code with us.  Oh wait…there isn’t one.  BTW, the VC of relevance is 21201.  I’ve made it easy for you.  GO forth and learn young Padawan.

  •  Wow Logan, the doctor told me “We see fractured pelvises in two things – old people and high speed crashes”. Maybe my parents lied to me about my age, because clearly I didn’t hit the ground at high speed.

  • @mikesonn:disqus That means you are intellectually dishonest, I would say that is worse than being ignorant.

  • I.cant.see.you.without.lights

    wow, this whole helmet debate reminds me of the similar debate with motorcyclists several years back.  I knew a few folks that stopped riding, but maybe only one or two.  I still cringe when I travel to another state and see someone on a motorbike without a helmet.

    Personally, on a bicycle, I think it is way more important to have lights than a helmet.  I think all that don’t use lights on both the front and the side are on a death wish.  I walk in the panhandle a lot, late at night and early in the morning.  Even while walking it takes me a while to see a cyclist without a light.  Now imagine that same cyclist coming up Fell or down Oak, with a car or truck going 25mph… 

  • mikesonn

    @facebook-100001895311343:disqus No, it just means the answer isn’t so black/white. A brain/head injury isn’t just about the velocity normal to the surface.

  • Andy Chow


    That’s the problem with the cycling manufacturers: they aren’t equipping basic safety features because a significant part of the business is to serve the racing/recreation sector that could forego those features for performance, and that those same vehicles can be operated on the street. That’s how the fixie no-brake bike fad got started, with taking bikes for cycledrome to use on city streets. In the automotive world, you can’t take a NASCAR and drive it on the street for transportation. The stock sports car that you can buy from a dealership aren’t nearly the same ones used in professional car racing.

    Bikes don’t necessarily have to build the lights into the frame, although I think it would result in a better design. I think it should still be a standard feature by bundling lights, rather than selling them separately. The outcome should be that someone who aren’t bike experts can go into a store and come out with a bike that’s legal to operate 24 hours a day for all seasons, not just for day time in nice weather. Even if the actual use is strictly for recreation, the additional cost for the lights wouldn’t be a barrier. Things that ought to be optional should be accessories for performance and comfort, not safety.

  • @facebook-100001895311343:disqus Please refrain from personal attacks.

  • I would just say, as a former scooter owner, that the level of risk on motorcycles and the level of protection offered by motorcycle helmets are very different. I never went without my helmet and jacket on that thing.

  • Anonymous

    If you read your DMV manuals, you’d be mazed at how little lighting a car is required to have.  Think Model T.

    (And I think you can still fore-go all lighting if you hire someone to walk in front of your car waving a flag.  JK!)

  • Anonymous

    Danish bicycle rules in English:


  • +1 to what @azb324:disqus said (also speaking from experience).

  • Andy Chow

    The state law may require less lighting, but you’re not going to buy a car with that less lighting. Automotive lighting is also governed by FMVSS (federal law). You’re not allowed to buy a new car from abroad and drive it in the US unless and until adjustments are made to meet FMVSS. Cars that meet the European lighting standard are not compatible with FMVSS.

    People often trade style for safety (one of the reasons some people choose not to wear helmet, or not equip hand brakes on fixie bikes), but I don’t think that manufacturers should sell a vehicle that can’t be operated safely 24 hours a day.

  • Never show yourself as submissive because it will make you an easy target. Keep a balance.

  • Someone SF

    Did KTVU run the biased story?  Is there a viral place to complain, vent or counter the one-sided story?

    I’m a cyclist who rides responsibly. I can see issue on both sides. But it is both sides. A hemet angle is so bogus. If 2000 lbs of metal hits me, my head is might be protected, but what about my mangled body? 

  • Robb

    Wrong Answer…Cyclists do wear helmets, with or without complaints…at least here in Oregon…and there a still a lot of non-comformists that refuse to use their seatbelts…with or without complaining…the funny thing is the fact that no local government really gives a s___ about what happens to us, let alone kids…they are only concerned with their ratings in the poll.
    Then there are people like you, that need everyone else to be a conformist…good luck with that theory…L8r G8r’s

  • Forthright

    Mark you are a lone voice of sanity and reason

  • joechoj

    Or manufacturers should at least design bikes better for modular, wired lights you can plug in. I agree, the aftermarket approach makes it harder than it should be. There should be a baseline light package people can choose to have installed when they buy a bike.

    I’d love to see blinkers, personally. I don’t love having to hand-signal when braking, especially on a downhill.
    And how about horns?? 🙂

    All that being said, these safety devices become much less critical when it’s just bikes together in protected lanes.

  • joechoj

    I don’t stock lights should be a requirement, but they sure would be a nice option, and a potential growth area for manufacturers. As with the helmet issue, it applies more in a world where cars and bikes mix. I’m against mandates that presuppose mixed car/bike since we’re moving toward separated infrastructure.

    Okay, you identify some difficulties. But how can it be so hard to tweak the design to accomodate light fixtures? These are professionals – I’m sure they can get it done.

    I didn’t realize retail models retain the exact design as the race model, and that’s a big deal for people. I’m guessing that’s just for bike racing fans, no? I don’t think commuters would much care that their street cruiser wasn’t ridden in the Tour de Whatever – I think they’d take that as a given! Anyway, it’s a strange model – so why can’t racing & commuting models be de-coupled, as they are in cars? And similar to cars, customers could choose their ‘package’. As long as wired lights weren’t mandated, this would allow people to either keep it cheap and stripped down, or to add a base package, or a blazing fireworks package.

    As to the aftermarket companies – well, that *is* too bad for them. There are always winners and losers with new paradigms. But the question isn’t “How can we keep these companies in business?”, it’s “What’s best for cyclists?”

  • joechoj

    @facebook-100001895311343:disqus – Even assuming those stats are right, they miss the point. Cyclist safety isn’t ensured by helmets; it’s ensured by safe infrastructure.

    An analogy: If people are constantly getting their fingers cut by bandsaws, the solution isn’t to put gloves on and proceed as before; it’s to keep your fingers well clear of the blade.


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