Tag Archives: mandatory helmet law

Bike Share (Finally) Coming to Vancouver

Hubway
Vancouver is finally getting a bike share system. Fingers crossed, bikes should be on the ground and ready to roll mid-June.

It’s been a long road. The City of Vancouver first started exploring bike share systems in 2008, and signed an initial contract to deliver one in 2013 (but that fell through when BIXI went bankrupt).

The biggest hurdle has been our BC-wide, all-ages, mandatory helmet law (which I’ve written about before). There still doesn’t seem to be a good solution. When bike share was announced in 2013, the plan was to put yet-to-be-invented helmet vending machines at every station. 3 years later, that technology still doesn’t exist. Now the plan is to just leave helmets with the bikes and periodically clean them.

Ignoring the helmet problems, I think Vancouver’s done a great job choosing a bike share vendor and picking the initial service area. For bikes and stations, the provider will be Smoove. The main difference between Smoove and BIXI (which other Canadian cities have and most people are familiar with) is the Smoove bikes are smart and have minimal station requirements, while BIXI bikes are simple and the have the smarts. This means Smoove bikes have GPS tracking and can be locked anywhere (although there will still be dedicated stations), a system more like Car2Go.

Vancouver Bike Share Map
The initial service area will be east of Arbutus, north of 16th Ave, and west of Main street (including Stanley Park). There will be 1000 bikes and 100 stations at launch, expanding to 1500 bicycles at 150 stations by the end of 2016. If all goes well, the first expansion will move west to Macdonald (including Kitsilano) and east to Commercial Drive (the blue areas on the map above).

The initial area includes Vancouver’s densest neighbourhoods, the business district, 11 km of uninterrupted Seawall, the most popular tourist attractions in the city (Stanley Park, Granville Island, Vancouver Art Gallery, and Science World), plus separated bike lanes and bike routes with only modest hills. With 150 stations in the initial area, that would give Vancouver a station density close to New York. Imagine stations every 2 blocks in most areas (see this example by UBC’s Carter Xin for an idea of station location).

There is absolutely no reason bike share shouldn’t succeed in Vancouver, except for helmets. The most recent city that has tried to launch a bike share system with a mandatory helmet law, is Seattle (which also happens to have similar weather and topology). The results have been disappointing and many people blame the city’s helmet law. When Seattle launched their bike share system in 2014, they were planning on using the same helmet vending technology that Vancouver was considering. It wasn’t ready at launch so they decided to just leave bins of helmets at each station. 2 years alter, that temporary solution is still in place and Seattle’s Pronto system is paying $85,000 a year to maintain its helmets (in a system with only 1000 bikes), and the vending machine solution is still nowhere in sight.

All that to say, I’m looking forward to Vancouver’s bike share system. I happen to live and work in the initial area, and even though I own my own bike I plan on getting a membership and adding bike share to my transportation options. I just wish someone in provincial politics would have the courage to admit what research has been showing for some time – that our mandatory bike helmet law isn’t saving lives and is a hindrance to increased rates of cycling.

 

 

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.

Helmets are the Kryptonite of Bike Share

Bixi Chic
Helmets are the kryptonite of bike share systems. Nothing puts a damper on the fun, spontaneous travel that bike share facilitates like a foam lid designed to prevent brain damage in the most severe accidents. Shared helmets are gross and carting your own helmet is not convenient. It’s no surprise then that bike share users are less likely to wear helmets then cyclists who ride their own bike.

So what happens when you flood city streets with casual cyclists (many of them tourists) who have no desire to wear helmets? Many pundits predict carnage but time has proven them wrong. Bike share systems around the world have outstanding safety records. Even in busy New York City, where Citi Bikes are being used for bar hopping, it’s a safe way to travel.

Emergency room and city officials say they have not seen a notable spike in bike-related accidents since the 6,000 Citi Bikes were unleashed on the city streets in May. “There’s no obvious sign that there have been more bike injuries,” said Dr. Marc Stoller, the associate chairman of the emergency department at Beth Israel Medical Center, which serves much of Lower Manhattan.

Meanwhile, personal injury lawyers are on standby. Daniel Flanzig, a lawyer who focuses on New York-area bike accidents, said last month that he was “absolutely amazed” that he had not had a single case involving the bike-share program. “My phone rings three or four times a week with a private bike crash, but nothing involving Citi Bike,” he said.

Bike helmet vending machine for Melbourne bike share.Riding a bike share bike without a helmet is statistically safe, but in some cities it’s strictly illegal. So how do you introduce bike sharing in cities with helmet laws? Melbourne offers taxpayer subsidized bike helmets at vending machines and convenience stores, but uptake has been slow. Now they’re leaving free helmets on the handlebars of the bikes, but it isn’t working. Riders continue to shun the system and the Mayor of London openly mocked the helmet law when he visited Melbourne last week. Mexico City and Israel took alternative approaches when they opened their bike share systems. They simply scrapped the helmet laws and watched their bike share systems thrive.

Unfortunately, after years of delay and study, Vancouver has chosen to follow Melbourne’s flailing lead. Hamstrung by a provincial helmet law, Vancouver is getting a bike share system with an integrated helmet share system. I think it’s a bad idea for a number of reasons.
1) It’s expensive. The City won’t reveal exactly how much is being spent on helmet vending machines, but think millions of dollars. That’s money that could have been spent on buying more bikes and extending the area bike share covers (initially limited to the central core).
2) Requiring a helmet will deter ridership. There’s a significant portion of the population who won’t ride a bike with a helmet. Some may still rent a bike and risk the fine, but many will just skip the experience all together.
helmethub-beta3) It’s a logistical nightmare waiting to happen. Balancing a bike share system is complicated enough without helmets. You need to ensure that every station has bikes available and empty spots returns. If you have a good mix of users taking a variety of trips, this will happen naturally. When it doesn’t, you need to pay people to shuffle bikes around.

With the helmet system being proposed for Vancouver, you can’t rely on even trip patterns to balance the system. Each helmet vending machine only holds 36 helmets and each helmet will only be used once before it’s cleaned and inspected. In a successful bike share system, each bike is used 5-10 times per day. There just isn’t enough capacity to store that many helmets. So a lot of time and money will be spent shuffling new helmets stations and picking up the used ones, assuming people use them at all.

I really want Vancouver’s bike share system to succeed, and the helmet law needs to be scrapped before that can happen.

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.

The Great Helmet Debate

Momentum Magazine has a great new article about the helmet debate – one of the most divisive issues within the biking community. I’m a bit torn on the issue. I wear a helmet and would feel naked without one, but I think the mandatory helmet law in BC should be scrapped.

Why? Two main reasons.

  1. Helmets discourage people from riding and increase the perception that cycling is unsafe. Less people cycling means more fat people. If we could convince them to bike, they would be healthier and society would be better off even if they didn’t wear a helmet.
  2. Helmets make bike-sharing nearly impossible. Melbourne is the only city that has a public bike-sharing program and a mandatory helmet law, and it is floundering. Vancouver is looking to become the second city, but it is also struggling to figure out how to make it work with a mandatory bike helmet law.

The real focus should be on making cycling safer, not on reducing the risk of head injury in the most severe crashes. That means education cyclists and drivers, enforcing lower speed limits, creating separated bike lanes, and doing other projects to improve general cycling safety.

Here is Mikael Colville-Andersen’s TEDx talk on Why We Shouldn’t Bike with a Helmet