Tag Archives: bike helmet

More about Bike Helmets

helmet law
I’ve probably written enough about why I think mandatory helmet laws are a bad idea, but I couldn’t resist linking to a few interesting articles published recently.

Two great posts by Howie Chong, former president of the Sierra Club of Canada, that combine statistics and the tragedy of the commons to explain why he doesn’t wear a helmet.
Why it makes sense to bike without a helmet
What helmets can teach us about climate change

I have made a careful and conscientious choice to not wear a helmet when I’m cycling in urban areas because I strongly believe that it will help improve the overall safety of cycling in the long run.

From Vox: Stop forcing people to wear bike helmets

Walking and driving are just as dangerous as biking — but they don’t require helmets.

And in Dallas: Dallas Considers Loosening Bike Helmet Laws

Several city council members say that the ordinance is a major obstacle to expanding a pilot bike share program next year.

Photo from P.M. Lydon

Breaking the Law?

Seawall Scofflaws
Only in Vancouver would cycling slowly along a recreational bike path be illegal. It’s ridiculous. I run faster than most seawall cyclists, and yet they’re required by law to wear safety gear. The City of Vancouver has its own by-law (60D) that extends the provincial helmet law (part of the Motor Vehicle Act) to the city’s car-free paths and parks.

It’s possible that skateboarders and rollerbladers have it worse than cyclists. They can’t legally use the city’s side streets unless bubble-wrapped.

A person must not ride or coast on non-motorized skates, skateboard, or push-scooter on any minor street unless (a) that person wears a helmet, wrist guards, elbow pads, knee pads, and front and rear reflective equipment, and, in the case of skates or a skateboard, wrist guards; and (b) the skates, skateboard, or push-scooter has a braking mechanism.

Wrist guards are so important they were mentioned twice!

I realize these by-laws are rarely enforced, but if the city wants to show it’s serious about active transportation then it should scrap them. I think most people can decide for themselves if the risks of rollerblading without wrist guards is acceptible.

In related news, Vancouver’s bike share system has been delayed, yet again – now estimated to launch in 2015 (after being proposed in 2008 and approved by council in 2012). Dealing with the mandatory helmet law continues to be a stumbling block. Apparently they’ve worked out a vending machine solution. Seattle is set to launch its bike share program this fall with the same helmet vending machines, so we’ll see if they actually work or cause a logistical nightmare.

Getting more Asses on Bikes in Vancouver

Work Commute
I’ve been thinking a lot about cycling lately. Vancouver just hosted the world’s premier bike conference, Velo-City, so cycling issues have been dominating the news and my twitter feed.

On Thursday night I went to a talk by Mikael Colville-Andersen, the man behind the Copenhagenize blog. It was a fascinating look into what cities can do to bring cycling into the mainstream. Mikael’s goal is to make cycling as common as vacuuming – you don’t need special training to vacuum, there are no “avid vacuumists”, and you don’t go to Vacuum Equipment Co-op to buy special gear – it’s just something you do. In Copenhagen, people don’t self-identify as cyclists and only a small percentage of people who bike do so for financial or environmental reasons. Most people do it because it’s the most convenient way to get from A to B.

After listening to Mikael and reading the reports coming out of Velo-City 2012, I realized Vancouver has a long way to go before it achieves the cycling mode-share seen in Copenhagen (37% compared to 5% in Vancouver). Here’s my list of things that need to change before cycling goes mainstream.

  1. Introducing a public bike share system.
  2. Scrapping the mandatory helmet law.
  3. Building a connected grid of separated bike lanes.
  4. Calming automobile traffic.

Progress is being made on all these fronts, but it’s moving at a glacial pace. The bike share system has been announced, but delayed by a year while they figure out how to work helmets into the system. Opposition to helmet law is mounting, but politicians are reluctant to speak out against a law that still has popular support outside of cycling circles. Vision Vancouver took a lot of flack for the new separated bike lanes they built downtown, but they were rewarded with an increased majority on city council. Hopefully they take this as a sign to keep building new separated lanes.

As for traffic calming, Vancouver has been on a road diet for decades, and vehicle volumes have been steadily dropping over the past two decades – they’re now at the same levels they were in 1965. The next step is to reduce the speeds that cars move at. According to Colville-Andersen, Barcelona is adding 30 km/h zones across the city, and 80% of all streets will have lower speed limits by 2015. Why? Because fast cars kill. If you get hit by a car going 30 km/h you have a 95% chance of surviving, but at 50 km/h it’s 55% and at 65 km/h it’s only 15%.

Hopefully the City of Vancouver, Mayor Gregor Robertson, and Vision Vancouver respond to Velo-City 2012 Conference by increasing the pace of cycling improvements.

Mandating Helmet Debates

Biking the Blossoms
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.