Get ready for the great helmet debate, round 243. If you’re just joining us, Momentum Magazine has the best article summarizing the reasons for and against helmet laws, and explaining why we’re still arguing about it.
Today, the NDP government in Manitoba announced that soon it will be illegal for anyone under 18 to ride a bike without a helmet. I couldn’t be more disappointed. I have nothing against helmets, I wear one every day, but mandating their use won’t make cycling safer, it will just discourage some people from cycling at all.
I learned to ride in the mean streets of Winnipeg and often biked around the city, including to my co-op job when I was 19 – from Meadows West to the Exchange District. For a large portion of that ride I used the sidewalks because there were no bike lanes and biking along Keewatin was (and likely still is) suicide. Most cyclists I know in the Peg (other than my hardcore Aunt) ride on the sidewalk sometimes. Everyone knows it’s a bad idea (including Ryan fu*king Gosling), but helmeted or not, Winnipeg lacks safe bike routes.
Only hours before the Manitoba government announced it’s new helmet law, a cyclist was killed biking to work in Winnipeg. No word if she was wearing a helmet, but it likely wouldn’t have mattered. She was hit by a car and pushed under a semi-trailer that crushed her without even noticing. The area where it happened is a bike lane deadzone. There is a bike route (the laziest form of bike infrastructure – a sharrows) for a few blocks on Higgins, but it disappears before it gets to Main (where she was hit). Bike routes in Winnipeg frequently just stop. There is not network or grid.
The lack of infrastructure is the biggest safety problem, not lack of helmet use. If the Manitoba government was serious about cyclist safety, it would help the City of Winnipeg fix the damn bike lanes. There’s only so much a styrofoam lid can do when you are hit by several tonnes of steel.
Here in Vancouver, we have a good grid of bike routes, separated lanes downtown, and cycling is relatively safe. There’s a push to get rid of the mandatory helmet law, or at least add exceptions to it, because it is making a public bike share system unworkable. It’s not going to be an easy change to make, and I’m pissed off that Manitoba is falling into the same trap.