Transportation

Bike Helmet Debate Heats Up

By Ryan McGreal
Published October 01, 2012

A September 29 article in the New York Times explores the controversy over bicycle helmets in the context of bike share programs and other attempts to get more people riding bikes.

In the United States the notion that bike helmets promote health and safety by preventing head injuries is taken as pretty near God's truth. Un-helmeted cyclists are regarded as irresponsible, like people who smoke. Cities are aggressive in helmet promotion.

But many European health experts have taken a very different view: Yes, there are studies that show that if you fall off a bicycle at a certain speed and hit your head, a helmet can reduce your risk of serious head injury. But such falls off bikes are rare - exceedingly so in mature urban cycling systems.

On the other hand, many researchers say, if you force or pressure people to wear helmets, you discourage them from riding bicycles. That means more obesity, heart disease and diabetes. And - Catch-22 - a result is fewer ordinary cyclists on the road, which makes it harder to develop a safe bicycling network. The safest biking cities are places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, where middle-aged commuters are mainstay riders and the fraction of adults in helmets is minuscule.

The article compares bike share programs in Melbourne, Australia and Dublin, Ireland. The former city is flat and temperate with wide streets but has a mandatory helmet law, and cycling use is low; whereas the latter is cold and wet with narrow cobble-stoned streets but no helmet law, and the system has 5,000 rides a day.

Dublin Bike share station (RTH file photo)
Dublin Bike share station (RTH file photo)

People are a lot less willing to participate in a bike share if they have to wear a helmet - particularly a shared helmet worn by other people.

Evidence from bike share programs in Montreal, Washingon and Minneapolis finds that while helmet use among people using these programs is lower than cyclists in those cities using their own bikes, the accident rates are also "really low" and participants report getting more exercise than before the shares were available.

Toronto Bixi bike share station (RTH file photo)
Toronto Bixi bike share station (RTH file photo)

Growth in Cycling

The most bicycle-friendly cities, like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, go out of their way to avoid even mentioning bike helmets. Instead, they focus their regulatory efforts on maximizing the number of cyclists.

Essential to that goal is a continuous network of dedicated bicycle lanes so that people feel safe taking a bicycle instead of an automobile.

Earlier this year, the Ontario Coroner's Report on Cycling strongly recommended a provincewide "complete streets" policy that provides for the safety of all street users - pedestrians, cyclists, public transit users and motorists - instead of optimizing for motorists.

The study also explored the bike helmet controversy, treading a careful line between the evidence that a cyclist has a better chance of surviving a crash with a helmet with the evidence that a cyclist has a lower risk of crashing in the first place on a more mature, well-used bicycle network.

A fact sheet by the European Cyclists' Federation concludes that higher rates of bicycle use result in lower numbers of casualties - for the simple reason that cycling is safer when more people do it. The effect is so profound that significant increases in the number of cyclists can actually result in an absolute reduction in the number of injuries.

Between 1980 and 2005, the Netherlands experienced a 45% increase in cycling coupled with a 58% decrease in the number of cycling fatalities. Similarly, London has experienced a 90% increase in cycling since 1990 coupled wiht a 33% drop in casualties from 1994 to 1998.

Similarly, since 2000, cycling has quadrupled in New York City while the risk of injury has fallen by three quarters.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2012 at 11:55:33

One day we will have nice things. Hopefully before I lose my ambulatory powers.

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2012 at 12:05:41

I think a lot of the issue with bike helmets is that people far overestimate the probability of accidents occurring where a helmet would make a big difference. Frankly getting everyone to wear a helmet while in a car would probably make more of a difference, but nobody's going to do that.

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By AnjoMan (registered) | Posted October 01, 2012 at 12:08:10

Helmets make sense when you are racing, because of your speed, or mountain biking, because you really can fall pretty easily and hit your head a rock or tree. However, when I bike in the city, the only way I can think of that I would fall off my bike is if someone hit me with their car, in which case a bike helmet provides only a marginal increase in protection - it won't stop me from breaking my neck, ribs, or extremities, and it won't stop me from getting bad road-rash or being crushed by the vehicle. Mind you, the psychological effects of even a mild blow to the head can have a much more profound effect on you than a broken arm.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 01, 2012 at 13:16:40

Before we waste time thinking about helmets we need to start giving a crap about the real danger to cyclists: terrible road design.

How about putting a bike lane on a bridge that merges into a highway off ramp on your right with 4 lanes of high speed traffic on your left?

Don't worry, we already have that covered thanks to the firecracker road design duo of the province of ontario with special guest the city of hamilton.

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 02, 2012 at 20:45:49 in reply to Comment 81346

I'm in Portland right now....you would just die at the bike infrastructure...and probably never go back home.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted October 03, 2012 at 06:45:18 in reply to Comment 81383

Hamilton is still in the early stages of becoming "The Place Where Young People Go To Retire."

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By jason (registered) | Posted October 03, 2012 at 10:33:07 in reply to Comment 81385

doing some reading while here....the economy has really been hit, like most of the country, yet young people keep flocking. Researchers say they are lured by the quality of life. Lack of jobs is why Portland has the highest number of start-ups and entrepreneurs per capita than any city in America. People want to be here and will take less money to do so. I met a young guy in a trendy hood from Buffalo. Got chatting. He said he came here for the 'opportunity' and to 'ride my bike all year'. I asked about job market (he was trying to sign people up to vote on the street), he said it's not good, but nor was Buffalo's. Said he likes what's starting to happen in Buffalos urban core, but (every Hamiltonian needs to pay attention to this next part) he was tired of waiting around for the city to get it's act together and make urban revitalization a priority! Wow. Where have we heard those warnings?

He took great pains to praise Buffalo, but still said I'm only young once and want to have a good quality of life.

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2012 at 14:05:08 in reply to Comment 81346

But of course hot buying/wearing a helmet is instantly achievable, requires no procedural odysseys and costs the government nothing.

Rehabilitating the city's/region's/province's road/bridge infrastructure, on the other hand, takes long-term planning, a battery of surveys and schematics, no small amount of political prestidigitation and of course it comes at a sizable cost.

raisethehammer.org/comment/80789

On balance, you can save a lot of time, energy and prime childbearing years by moving to a more enlightened and less conflicted city/region.

http://www.walkandrollpeel.ca/news-ideas/we-need-you.htm

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2012 at 10:06:03 in reply to Comment 81348

Wait a minute - are you saying "move to brampton"?

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2012 at 11:33:38 in reply to Comment 81362

Tongue-in-cheek. But you have to admire the region's initiative:

"Peel Region hopes so and has launched an ambitious program to increase the number of daily bike trips by 46,000 rides in five years. (In 2006, there were 2.3 million total daily trips made by Peel residents. Five per cent, or 115,000, of those trips were either cycling or walking trips, the rest were made using vehicles.).... Over the next 20 years, the region plans to build 480 kilometres of bike paths and lanes in addition to the 600 to 700 kilometres planned by the City of Mississauga."

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/article/1233891--peel-region-cycling-46-000-more-bike-rides-in-five-years

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2012 at 12:30:33 in reply to Comment 81374

We have the same 20 year "dreams" on paper but constantly refuse to implement any measures necessary to achieve them.

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By Glorieta (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2012 at 15:54:35

Almost two dozen vehicles in the local Car Share program... and the way things are going, probably as many years before we see a Bixi pilot in Hamilton.

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By Steve (registered) | Posted October 02, 2012 at 10:21:44 in reply to Comment 81350

I can only dream what life would be like if the following could have happened:

  1. A portion of US Steel's 'penalty' from their agreement with the feds went towards a Bixi program.

  2. Then the councillors in the the downtown area (Wards 1, 2 & 3) put a good portion of their area rating slush fund to the Bixi program.

  3. Finally BIA's, MAC University/Studend Union paid a reasonable annual stipend to have a station in their area.

  4. Some advertising from some corporate sector. In Toronto it's Desjardin & Telus, so maybe here FirstOntario & Bell.

  5. Partnership with New Hope Bike Coop, or similar organization for maintenance and repair.

Am I dreaming or would that be funding and at least some operational work then done for 100 bikes?

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted January 04, 2013 at 06:30:38 in reply to Comment 81365

It might very well supply the required funding but you are definitely, 100% dreaming.

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2012 at 20:54:21

I get the part about forcing people to wear helmets being problematic. Especially for bikeshares, who in the world would want to wear a used helmet. But promoting helmets creates a sense of danger? How? The bike rider sees a picture of a bike commissioner wearing a helmet and suddenly they stop riding? Where's the proof? The bike rider in Toronto or Melbourne doesn't cease riding because people are pushing helmets, I suspect, but because it's miserable to bike in these cities. All it looks like to me is that they've correlated helmet promotion with bike riding. What that shows to me is that cities with crappy infrastructure where bicyclists are getting hurt frequently are looking for the cheapest way out of their liability. Show me the cause between the promotion and the bicycle rates.

In Europe they don't promote helmets because they don't need to, the infrastructure is so good. Here we have real risks and I seriously doubt that if you get hit by a car your helmet will not be a huge aid to you. Helmet use is a token thing, for sure, and maybe once we get good biking infrastructure we could do without it, though even then I'm sceptical.

And finally as to risk, we secure ourselves against hundreds of infinitesmal risks. You probably don't need to refrigerate your eggs, get vaccinated for polio etc. Where the only downside of taking a precaution is that your hair gets rustled then I think it's a bad argument.

Long way of saying non sequitur.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2012 at 10:19:31 in reply to Comment 81354

I seriously doubt that if you get hit by a car your helmet will not be a huge aid to you

You can "seriously doubt" all you want, but the helmet deign standards themselves specifically state the limitations of helmets. This includes the fact that they are simply not designed to protect you in the case of an interaction with another vehicle.

Show me the cause between the promotion and the bicycle rates.

So your argument is allowed to be based on your own "serious doubt" but the other side needs to 'show you the proof'?

Here's some collected proof for you from a society who is suffering under helmet laws as we speak:

http://helmetfreedom.org/helmet-research...

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted January 04, 2013 at 06:39:11 in reply to Comment 81364

Any energy absorbing material between your head and a hard object during an impact is a good thing and is bound to help you. Totally irregardless of the design of said energy absorbing material.

If bicycle helmets are so ineffective then we should be lobbying for better helmets not to repeal laws or avoid laws that mandate their use.

Long long time ago in place not far away the government introduced a law that would make seatbelts in vehicles mandatory. One of the big reasons that was given for not wearing them was that their use was going to wrinkle cloths. Wrinkled clothes to messed hair, we have learnt nothing. Amazing.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted October 02, 2012 at 09:19:27 in reply to Comment 81354

The problem with your argument is that the best way to increase bike safety is more bikes on the road. ANYTHING that gets in the way of that decreases safety.

In today's vain world, mussed hair is plenty of reason for people not to choose their bike. Each time that happens you reduce the safety of all cyclists on the road by reducing the number of cyclists.

If it is in fact a token, as you acknowledge above, then why enforce a safety token when it detracts from the total number of cyclists?

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2012 at 10:30:19 in reply to Comment 81360

good comments both, but two points:

1. yes helmets won't protect being hit by a car. But they would protect falling off bike and hitting head on pavement. I'm basing that on a combination of common sense and anecdotal evidence.

2. yes if they're making the claim that helmet 'promotion' causes rates of cycling to decrease they need to show the proof. It seems to me they're making a correlation/ causation error.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted October 02, 2012 at 10:38:00 in reply to Comment 81367

The best example is New Zealand, where the effect of mandatory helmet laws on cycling and injuries has been extensively studied. The research seems to show that mandatory helmet laws decreased cycling by although the injuries decreased by 19% after the law, cycling also decreased by 22%, which means the risk for each cyclist actually increased slightly.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bicycle_hel...

A New Zealand medical Journal study

"finds the helmet law has failed in aspects of promoting cycling, safety, health, accident compensation, environmental issues and civil liberties."

Clarke, Colin (2012). "Evaluation of New Zealand’s bicycle helmet law". New Zealand Medical Journal 125 (1349).

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By j (registered) | Posted October 02, 2012 at 10:33:12 in reply to Comment 81367

sorry, one other thing: I agree with the website you linked that helmet laws are a bad idea. It seems to me they've weakly associated promotion with prohibition.

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By OreoTurtle (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2012 at 10:10:11

How difficult would it be to give bike share members a special new helmet upon registration? It would promote bike share and safety. Plus if they include the helmet with the membership registration, they could make it mandatory.

In this city too many cyclists do not wear helmets, and yes most people feel their only concerns would be IF they got hit by a car. I laugh at this if because this is a common occurrence in this city that motorists hit cyclists. It happened a few months ago at the corner of Barton & John and the cyclist was not wearing a helmet and had to go to the hospital for severe head injuries and was on the brink of death.

I have always felt that cyclists should wear helmets, especially in this city. I have many friends that choose to ride their bikes and I'm pretty sure 99% of them do wear their helmets.

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By MikeyJ (registered) | Posted October 02, 2012 at 11:38:17 in reply to Comment 81363

I feel deep in my heart that pedestrians should also wear helmets, automobile drivers neck braces, and motorcyclists should be wrapped in bubble wrap.

It happened just today where a car hit a motorcycle that hit a pedestrian. After extensively researching this accident in my gut region, I'm confident the measures above would have saved them, but they all died.

I'm certain this wont be prohibitive to these activities, because about 150% of my friends love bubble wrap.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 02, 2012 at 10:28:14 in reply to Comment 81363

I am so tired of people who advocate for mandatory helmets because they "feel" like it is "safer".

Take 10 minutes and read the helmet standards. Understand the limitations of helmets.

We could actually save lives if we educated the entire population on defensive cycling techniques from a young age, and taught drivers how to behave near cyclists as part of the licensing system.

Instead we are going to waste millions of dollars in police costs to enforce helmet laws which will save almost no lives.

Helmets are only marginally effective. Please stop holding them up on a pedestal. It is actually dangerous to blindly promote helmets without accompanying the promotion with the information about what they can actually do for you.

I am not against helmets. I wear one. But I understand the limitations and that makes me safer than any mandatory helmet law ever will.

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2012 at 15:26:41 in reply to Comment 81366

wait a second. You've put words now into both my and Oreoturtle's mouth - neither of us advocated for mandatory helmets. Both of us only said they work, and Kevlahan's article showed they do, while they also have a bad downside. Then another fellow chimed in and suggested they are unnecessary like wearing bubble wrap all the time. Be careful that you don't twist this into arguing against a good thing just because it has bad consequences - attack the consequences absolutely but you can also have the good thing.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2012 at 12:39:40 in reply to Comment 81382

You are arguing for promotion of helmets. Oreo wants more people to wear helmets. This MUST be accompanied with correct information about exactly what they are designed to save you from: minor head injuries at low speeds, and abrasion injuries. My main point is that any money, time or effort spent on helmet promotion (or god forbid mandating them) is absolutely wasted if we put this before proper education and road design measures.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2012 at 12:45:57 in reply to Comment 81394

It's hard to conclude that helmets are anything other than a distraction from the slightly harder but vastly more successful strategy of building continuous cycling infrastructure and educating children and adults on how to cycle safely and prosperously.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-10-03 14:01:59

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted January 04, 2013 at 06:44:41 in reply to Comment 81395

Then you should be advocating for better helmets. Maybe in more subdued colours.

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By j (registered) | Posted October 03, 2012 at 16:01:16 in reply to Comment 81395

I totally agree with you both on the larger issue, but I'm just stressing the fact that given that we live in a world with terrible bicycling infrastructure where we do face a real risk of harm due to the low rates of cycling, helmets are actually beneficial. I worry there's an element that reads this article (ie 'anything other than a distraction') as saying that you shouldn't or needn't wear helmets, when in fact under current circumstances it's an argument for wearing them. It's a false dilemma. We should both promote helmets and promote infrastructure, and once the infrastructure is in place, ditch the helmets.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2012 at 21:15:11 in reply to Comment 81399

But the risks are really not that great. I mean especially compared to riding in (or driving) a car. I just don't understand the paranoia surrounding cycling safety. Mothers who beg their kids to "ride safely" are the same ones who don't have a second thought about their kids driving a car to work despite the fact that driving is far more dangerous. We live in a world where we are constantly told how dangerous cycling can be. And this most definitely affects cycling rates. When you make statements such as "face a real risk of harm", you could be doing more damage to readers than those who say "wearing helmets is not really that important".

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted January 04, 2013 at 06:46:04 in reply to Comment 81402

If cycling is so safe in this environment then we obviously do not need bicycle lanes.

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By j (registered) | Posted October 03, 2012 at 23:05:43 in reply to Comment 81402

I do feel a very real risk of harm riding my bike. I was very nearly hit by a car just yesterday. Cars are constantly veering around me, not seeing me at turns, and passing me in my lane despite me staying a metre off the curb. I don't think people are resisting bicycling out of an erroneous prediction of risk or because people like me are wearing helmets, but due to a legitimate fear. You can demean those 'feelings' all you want but I trust them.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 04, 2012 at 12:42:13 in reply to Comment 81403

I'm not trying to demean your feelings. But those who don't even ride bikes dismiss it as "too dangerous". If as a cyclist you feel that you are in danger and you feel that wearing a helmet will help you, I'm not trying to stop that.

What I am trying to do is point out the reality of the situation for readers based on facts that are separate from your feelings. The statistics show that cycling is a safe activity when compared to many things we do. The design standards of helmets require them only to protect from relatively low speed blows direct to the crown of the head.

If we truly cared about cycling safety we would not be wasting breath on helmets. We would be plucking the low hanging fruit of education - the first step to real safety. ANd we'd be fighting for the slightly mre expensive options that really work: dedicated lanes and signals on our busier streets, and continuous bike route networks.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted October 04, 2012 at 07:35:43 in reply to Comment 81403

I do feel a very real risk of harm riding my bike. I was very nearly hit by a car just yesterday. Cars are constantly veering around me, not seeing me at turns, and passing me in my lane despite me staying a metre off the curb.

I ask in earnest curiosity: where do you do most of your biking?

This does not describe my own cycling - daily in West Hamilton with weekly forays downtown. So I'm wondering what accounts for the very different experiences.

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By j (registered) | Posted October 04, 2012 at 11:21:56 in reply to Comment 81410

I mainly cycle on Main and King and Hunter for work in Hamilton, and Bay/ University when working in Toronto.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2012 at 19:29:50 in reply to Comment 81399

We should both promote helmets and promote infrastructure, and once the infrastructure is in place, ditch the helmets.

I'll go ahead and be the one to say it: when you wear a helmet, you make cycling more dangerous for me. For everyone.

After all, when does one wear a helmet? When one is doing something dangerous: rock climbing, white-water kayaking, mountain biking, driving a race car.

So if you wear a helmet, you are announcing to anyone who sees you that you are doing a dangerous thing: riding your bike. I cannot believe that that isn't discouraging.

And that goes double for those who wear safety vests, too: "don't hit me! I know I don't really belong here on the road, but please don't hit me!"

There are certainly circumstances in which a helmet will save you from damaging your noggin, but that's no more true when you're on your bike as when you are in your car or taking a shower or walking on snowy sidewalks.

If you don't feel safe riding a bike without a helmet, well, then I guess you should wear a helmet rather than give up riding your bike. But realize that you are not just protecting your head - you are telling the world that cycling is dangerous.

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-10-03 19:59:15

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By Steve (registered) | Posted October 02, 2012 at 10:42:30

When I ride my bike I always wear my helmet. When in Toronto on a Bixi, I never wear a helmet.

I did wear a helmet the first few times on a Bixi, but carrying the helmet to Toronto then carting it around when not on the bike, and carrying back to Hamilton was a pain.

So I rationalized that I wasn't travelling very fast (a Bixi is only 3 gears) and only travelling for a short distance (less than 3km), therefore no helmet.

Right or wrong, that's what I do.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted October 02, 2012 at 12:18:07 in reply to Comment 81370

Grenoble's MetroVelo program is geared more towards long-term rentals. In the Long-term rental (at least a month) the user keeps the bike themselves (rather than always returning it to the racks as in Paris). The full yearly rate is 105 euros, which includes regular maintenance (they advise every two months) and repair.

This is different from most other municipal bike rental schemes which are designed for short-term users who just pick up a bike from a rack when they need one.

http://www.metrovelo.fr/service-location.php http://www.metrovelo.fr/metro-velo-uk.ph...

Maybe this is the right sort of scheme for a mid-size city like Hamilton: focus on longer term rentals.

MetroVelo also rents a number of accessories: baby carriers, trailers, tandems, and helmets. A rental helmet is included in the standard longer-term rental deal.

However, I can't see anywhere on the site that even encourages the use of helmets. They are just included as an accessory for those who want them.

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2012-10-02 12:20:34

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By Jay Robb (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2012 at 14:31:57

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted October 02, 2012 at 23:43:55

I love the idea of a bixi like project in Hamilton. I have some doubts as to the viability of such a plan but even if the city needed to subsidize it to a limited extent it would still be a worthwhile thing. In order for it to work the city needs to have some sort of connected comprehensive bike lanes. The existing hodge-podge of lanes we have now is almost worse then nothing at all. For the minute investment bike lanes require there is simply no reason for this city to be in the position it is. Main St. West was completely rebuilt by the university not long ago and there is no bike lane anywhere to be seen. The number of students who ride bikes to Mac at least occasionally is huge and yet the powers that be did not bother putting in bike lanes.

If the bikes were a little lighter and more rideable that could not hurt things either.

One of the main arguments against wearing a bicycle helmet seems to be that cycling is not dangerous. Compare the number of miles traveled by bike to automobile I wonder which mode of transport is more dangerous. Motoring is also a very safe mode of transportation yet we as a society make seatbelts mandatory.

The other big argument against mandatory cycling helmets appears to be the limited effectiveness of bicycle helmets. Then maybe the answer is to raise the standards of these helmets. Make them more in line with motorcycle helmets. They are safer for sure.

I find it almost impossible to believe that anyone would be so vain as to put their life in jeopardy over something as trivial as "helmet hair." If they are that vain maybe the gene pool is better off without them.

I realize I am an old man and my priorities are different than a youngster but the arguements against helmets sounds a lot like the arguements against mandatory auto seatbelts I heard 30 or 40 years ago. Today I doubt many would defend the "right" of automobile drivers and passengers to ride without one.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 03, 2012 at 12:11:54 in reply to Comment 81384

I'm inclined to think a bike share in Hamilton right now is (if you'll forgive the mixed metaphor) putting the cart ahead of the horse. First we need to build a continuous network of bike lanes, and preferably separated bike lanes. Culture follows infrastructure.

One of the main arguments against wearing a bicycle helmet seems to be that cycling is not dangerous.

Everything is dangerous, including staying indoors and doing nothing. Cycling is safer than driving, and it becomes progressively safer when more people do it. The improvement in safety that comes from increasing the number of cyclists is much bigger than the reduction in safety that comes from not wearing a helmet.

Then maybe the answer is to raise the standards of these helmets.

We don't need to guess. All we need to do is follow the examples of other cities that been successful at encouraging more bicycle trips.

the arguements against helmets sounds a lot like the arguements against mandatory auto seatbelts

The important difference is that the evidence did not support the arguments against wearing seat belts.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted October 05, 2012 at 09:41:58 in reply to Comment 81392

Then the only answer is to make bicycle helmets better.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 05, 2012 at 09:53:00 in reply to Comment 81427

That conclusion simply does not follow from the premises. It is not supported by either the comparative risk of cycling compared to driving/walking/etc or by the evidence on how the risk of cycling injury has been reduced successfully in other jurisdictions.

The solution, based on the evidence, is not to make helmets "better" but to make cycling inherently safer by increasing the number of cyclists and improving the safety and quality of cycling infrastructure.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted October 08, 2012 at 17:48:55 in reply to Comment 81430

If biking is already so damn safe then there is no need for bike lanes.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted October 05, 2012 at 12:01:14 in reply to Comment 81430

But it does make you wonder who bike helmets were originally designed for. It seems to me that we have unthinkingly adopted for everyday use, a design intended to protect cyclists from the types of accidents most commonly experienced by competitive bike racers. Would love to know the history.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 05, 2012 at 12:43:54 in reply to Comment 81436

I'm no expert, so off we go to wikipedia. (The section on the history of bike helmets has a note at the top about missing citations, so caveat lector.)

It looks like the earliest bike helmets were only worn by racing cyclists and were used to protect against abrasions rather than impact traumas.

The modern consumer helmets made from polystyrene came out in the United States in the 1970s when cycling became popular. By the 1980s, pro cyclists were wearing these helmets as well, and the current soft-shell form with big vents emerged around 1990.

It looks like bicycle helmets are an essentially American invention and never gained much traction in Europe, where cycling continued to increase after the 1970s as cities invested more in continuous bike lane networks and other supporting infrastructure.


Incidentally, in the United States, the rise in helmet use between 1990 and 2000 correlates strongly with both a sustained decline in the rate of cycling and a dramatic increase in head injuries among cyclists. A New York Times article from 2001 is perplexed about this.

One hypothesis the article offered is that riders practice risk homeostasis: "Many specialists in risk analysis...believe that the increased use of bike helmets may have had an unintended consequence: riders may feel an inflated sense of security and take more risks."

In the decade since then, a lot more research has come out pointing to a better explanation: mandating and otherwise encouraging helmets discourages people from cycling, and reduced numbers of cyclists increase the risk to each cyclist who persists.

However, that is not to say risk homeostasis isn't a factor. A study came out in 2006 finding that motorists actually pass cyclists more closely when they are wearing helmets than when they are not. That is, drivers are willing to take bigger risks with the safety of cyclists who are wearing a helmet.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2012-10-05 13:03:50

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted October 17, 2012 at 22:25:58 in reply to Comment 81437

It does not matter what they were originally designed for. Just like seatbelts were not originally designed for everyday drivers but were adopted for that use when the evidence warranted mandatory seatbelts.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted October 08, 2012 at 17:51:48 in reply to Comment 81437

That study has been referenced before. How many times were helmeted cyclists hit compared to non helmeted cyclists?

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted October 05, 2012 at 18:27:04 in reply to Comment 81437

Here's the missing link in the article above and throws a big wrench into my argument. Risk homeostasis. The problem with the helmet laws argument is that it doesn't address why helmet promotion or simply helmet wearing is also a bad thing, since that doesn't clearly connect to why bicycling rates would go down.

As a pure generalization risk homeostasis sounds good, but by the same logic you might have handrail users, rock climbers, sunscreen enthusiasts, etc all hurting themselves to a greater degree than they are being protected out of an inflated sense of security. That is unless you had evidence about the mechanism, which I've been doubting, but this study shows it actually exists (though I've yet to see the study showing that cyclists behave less safely with helmets).

At the same time I'd still like to know which it is: are motorists being more safe because of no helmets, or are bicyclists being less safe because of them, or both?

Finally I'm not sure that I'm brave enough to ditch the helmet for either reason: I already apparently have a heightened sense of risk, and I'm not really that confident about making the basis for ditching it the fact that drivers will suddenly view me as too precious to run into. Nor am I all that excited about ditching it to signal to the noncyclist that the activity is safe.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted October 04, 2012 at 16:36:06 in reply to Comment 81392

Also see this discussion of why the evidence for seat belts is so much stronger than for bicycle helmets:

http://www.cyclehelmets.org/1135.html

It is not a questions of the 'right' of cyclists to do as they please, it is a question of whether the policy is effective in reducing injury, and if this reduction is worth the negative side effects.

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By Rimshot (anonymous) | Posted October 03, 2012 at 06:50:09 in reply to Comment 81384

Good observation re: Mac's blindspot on bike lanes (goes hand-in hand with its antipathy to public transit).

Mohawk has been undergoing historic investment/reinvention/construction. I'm sure that they laid out a similarly enlightened position, yes? What with the public health initiative going in across the street and all?

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted October 03, 2012 at 09:36:17 in reply to Comment 81386

FWIW, Mohawk took home the 2011 Smart Commute Employer of the Year Award for its achievements.

Noted: "The new weather-protected, restricted access and monitored bike cage accommodates 44 bicycles. And a bike loan program was initiated for students and staff who need temporary access to bicycles, thereby reducing their reliance on single-occupancy vehicles."

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By WRCU2 (registered) | Posted October 03, 2012 at 08:45:58

Get Your Free Online Subscription to 'Cycling Matters'. WHY? Because...

PNG Image
Cycling Matters is a new monthly digital magazine focusing on cycling in Ontario, with an emphasis on 'real life' insightful, adventurous, and entertaining editorials. The magazine has a variety of cycling-related content ranging from book reviews and work-out music playlists; to group ride profiles and safety issues.[Emphasis Added]

Right now you can sign-up for a free digital subscription, with each monthly issue being downloadable on your smartphone, tablet computer, or desktop computer. Visit cyclingmatters.ca for more information and to sign-up. Be sure to also check them out on Facebook.

Local Employers Honoured For Commitment to Sustainable Transportation
JPG Image
Mayor Bob Bratina presents Carolyn Zess of McMaster Innovation Park, with the organization's Smart Commute Employer Recognition Award (T. Morton)

SOURCE: Smart Commute Hamilton October 2012 Newsletter

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2012-10-03 09:40:15

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By Chevron (anonymous) | Posted October 09, 2012 at 11:10:03

Toronto charts a path to car-free streets
John Lorinc
Globe & Mail, Oct 9, 2012

As all children and many adults know, there’s something deeply enticing about playing on the road.

But a growing number of international cities have leveraged the allure of that normally prohibited behaviour to create hugely popular festivals that allow tens of thousands of residents to literally take to the streets with their bikes, blades, boards, wheelchairs and strollers.

During a trip last winter to Guadalajara, Mexico, which played host to the 2011 PanAm Games, downtown councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam found herself swept up in one such event – the Via RecreActiva – that involves closing more than 60 kilometres of roads to vehicular traffic on Sunday mornings, when traffic in the city of 4.3 million is light.

“I’ve never experienced anything so transformative in my urban life,” said Ms. Wong-Tam, who borrowed a bike and rode it from Guadalajara’s historic core to its far-flung suburbs, passing a wide array of street-side events and impromptu soccer games.

Inspired by Guadalajara’s event, Ms. Wong-Tam told The Globe she plans to introduce a motion at council later this month asking the city to begin looking at launching something similar here in the summer of 2013.

With cyclists furious about the Jarvis bike lanes and many drivers still smarting from the summer construction season, it might not seem like a fortuitous moment to be debating street closings.

Proponents disagree: “We never talk about closing the streets,” said 8 to 80 Cities executive director Gil Penalosa, a public-space advocate who has advised cities around the world on how to plan their own versions. “We talk about opening the streets to people and closing them to cars.”

Mr. Penalosa, in fact, helped organize the first of these “ciclovias” – Spanish for bike ways – in Bogota in the 1980s. Over the past few years, the idea has spread rapidly as cities like New York, Portland, Ore., and even Winnipeg hand parts of their street networks over to pedestrians and cyclists on weekends, some occasionally and others up to once a month. Ottawa has, for years, closed the parkways along the Rideau Canal on Sundays for cyclists. Vancouver launched its own ciclovia in 2011.

Bogota’s ciclovia takes place every Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m, has drawn up to two million participants, and significantly reduces smog for the duration.

While Mr. Penalosa noted that such events are fundamentally about accessible recreation and physical activity, Ms. Wong-Tam argued a Toronto version could be a way to kindle enthusiasm for the 2015 Toronto PanAm Games.

“I love the idea of a mass participant event,” said Bruce Kidd, a former Olympian who has been outspoken about the lack of interest around the 2015 Games. He added that events like the “Ride for the Cure,” on the Don Valley Parkway, show how “liberating” it is to travel on spaces normally reserved for cars.

Those who’ve been involved in ciclovias elsewhere say events, when planned properly by municipal roads officials, don’t gum up streets like marathons because vehicles can still cross the route. “It does not shut down the city,” Mr. Penalosa insisted.

Others point out that local businesses have leapt at the opportunity to take advantage of the crowds along the route. “Proprietors are telling us this is our busiest day of the year,” said Jonathan Parfrey, a board member of L.A.’s CicLAvia, which held its fifth annual festival Sunday. “We’ve found there is some economic development taking place.”

The notion of shutting down streets for special events – from Nuit Blanche to marathons, jazz festivals and the Santa Claus parade – is hardly new to Toronto. And in Kensington Market, summer car-free Sundays have gone some distance toward reviving the fortunes of local merchants.

But closing or partially closing longer networks of arterials to cars on a more regular basis would require the city and the TTC to develop alternate routes and ensure the public and local merchants know what’s planned.

Ms. Wong-Tam will be asking council, officials and residents to develop a route that connects both the core and outer areas without creating traffic snarls. “If this is not good for business,” she said, “it will not be repeated.”

In traffic-addled L.A., politicians were initially skeptical, said Damien Newton, editor of L.A. Streetsblog. But they were pressed into action after the mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, broke his elbow in a cycling accident.

The first CicLAvia “changed the conversation” about liveable streets, he added. “There really was a latent demand for streets where people could take a walk and bike safely.”

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/toronto-charts-a-path-to-car-free-streets/article4595916/

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted October 27, 2012 at 22:13:56 in reply to Comment 81486

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 09, 2012 at 11:26:04 in reply to Comment 81486

This sounds totally unsafe. Where will the people get helmets?

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By rrrandy (registered) - website | Posted October 12, 2012 at 10:18:00

Methinks there is an element of sophistry to this whole "helmets make cycling more dangerous" line. But then again, I'm just letting other people argue for me...I am glad to see that the discussion is getting away from the mandatory helmet law proposed, and into more significant discussion about creating safer cycling environments. I certainly don't want to force adults to wear helmets, but I don't want people suggesting that my choice to wear one is making life more dangerous for them! (the one time I needed it, it worked like a charm, and that is good enough reason for me to continue to wear one)

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 15, 2012 at 09:04:13 in reply to Comment 81524

An individual's choice to wear a helmet doesn't make cycling more dangerous. What makes cycling more dangerous is the policy that bike safety depends on getting individuals to wear bike helmets rather than creating safe, comprehensive cycling infrastructure.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted October 17, 2012 at 22:28:11 in reply to Comment 81649

That's twisted logic even for you.

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By j (registered) | Posted October 15, 2012 at 23:58:50 in reply to Comment 81649

think he's referring to Moyle's comment above that suggested this, based on helmet wearer's creating a sense of risk making others avoid the activity.

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By Mal (anonymous) | Posted October 15, 2012 at 12:46:08

"A study has found that cyclists who die of a head injury are much less likely to be wearing a helmet than those who die of other injuries.

Researchers looked at 129 accidental cycling deaths in Ontario between 2006 and 2010, using data from the Office of the Chief Coroner.

They found cyclists who didn't wear a helmet were three times more likely to die of a fatal head injury than those who wore head protection while riding.

Lead author Dr. Nav Persaud says more than three-quarters of the deaths involved a collision with a motor vehicle, and most of those who died were aged 18 or older.

The family physician at Toronto's St. Michael's Hospital says the study shows helmets save lives and their use should be mandatory for all ages across the country.

Legislation requiring helmet use for children and adult cyclists varies across the country.

The study is published in Monday's issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal."

http://www.thespec.com/news/canada/article/817936--cyclists-without-helmets-3-times-more-likely-to-die-of-head-injury

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 16, 2012 at 12:32:42 in reply to Comment 81670

Instead of wasting time talking about helmets we need to reduce these bike/car interactions to near zero. If we can accomplish that and people are still getting boo-boos then we can talk about helmets. If we aren't willing to actually reduce collisions then I cannot accept the argument that any of this is about safety FIRST. It is clearly about convenience first, followed by frugality, politicians' job security, entitlement, etc. Safety is obviously way down the line.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted October 15, 2012 at 14:46:36 in reply to Comment 81670

Researchers looked at 129 accidental cycling deaths in Ontario between 2006 and 2010, using data from the Office of the Chief Coroner.

Until we know how many cyclists with and without helmets died, we can tell almost nothing about how valuable Dr. Persaud's conclusion is.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 16, 2012 at 14:06:45 in reply to Comment 81682

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted October 16, 2012 at 19:25:03

Hallelujah. Science has finally caught up to common sense. I saw an article in today's Toronto Star that the latest scientific study shows that you are 3x more likely to die in a bicycle accident without a helmet than you are with one. Although common sense will not necessarily give you that number it would tell you that you are better off with a bicycle helmet than with out one.

I am sure that the diehards on the site will try to bend the numbers or spin the results to serve their pet causes there really is no disputing this, if there ever was one. It is all the same arguments that were made 30 or 40 years ago when seatbelt use became compulsory.

The only thing I am surprised at is how long it took to get here.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 17, 2012 at 08:03:00 in reply to Comment 81770

I saw an article in today's Toronto Star that the latest scientific study shows that you are 3x more likely to die in a bicycle accident without a helmet than you are with one.

That is not correct. As Nicholas Kevlahan just explained, the 3X in question is the odds ratio, not the relative risk.

Science has finally caught up to common sense.

Again, no. What you insist on calling "common sense" is nothing more than your own simplistic preconceptions about a complex issue.

As several people have already argued on this site and elsewhere, there are two strategies to reduce the risk of death by head injury:

  1. Reduce the chance of getting killed when you are involved in a collision; and

  2. Reduce the chance of getting involved in a collision in the first place.

Helmets are part of the first strategy. They're an attempt to improve the odds of surviving if you are in a collision, and the current CMAJ study in question indicates that cyclists who die from a collision are less likely to die from head injuries (though not 3 times less likely) if they are wearing a helmet.

However, the broader evidence from several studies across many countries strongly indicates that the second strategy is far more effective: instead of trying to improve the odds of surviving a collision, it is far more effective to work on improving the odds of not getting into a collision in the first place.

Ask yourself this: would you rather get in a collision and survive it, or not get in a collision at all? Helmets target the former, whereas a comprehensive cycling strategy based on safe, continuous infrastructure targets the latter.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted October 17, 2012 at 22:57:01 in reply to Comment 81790

No matter what you try to do, you cannot eliminate bicycle crashes. Since there will always be some of these crashes then cyclists will be safer if they are wearing a helmet.

Are you really trying to tell me that you refuse to acknowledge that once someone is involved in a crash that a bicycle helmet does not increase their chances of escaping injury and or death?

Why do we have to work on one strategy only? IE reducing crashes? It makes a lot more sense to work on both simultaneously.

Much like cars have been improved to reduce accidents, ABS, better lighting, better controls, ESC and others. We also improved the survivability by not only having mandatory seatbelts and improving those seatbelts with things like pretensioners but also having air bags and advanced crumple zones and a host of other features in todays cars. Perhaps the single biggest difference in car accidents and the resulting fatalities is that drinking and driving has become socially unacceptable, along with a strong legal push to punish drunk drivers more harshly. Not to say that drinking and driving has been eliminated but it has been reduced and the single biggest reason is it is not socially acceptable. Drivers no longer brag about how hammered they got last night and then drove home. Nor do they brag about driving home and being so drunk that they cannot remember it. All things that were heard too often not that many years ago. What we need to do is make riding a bike without a helmet socially unacceptable along with a law making wearing a helmet mandatory.

"I am sure that the diehards on the site will try to bend the numbers or spin the results..." didn't I nail that one.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted October 18, 2012 at 08:24:22 in reply to Comment 81874

No matter what you try to do, you cannot eliminate bicycle crashes. Since there will always be some of these crashes then cyclists will be safer if they are wearing a helmet.

No matter what you try to do, you cannot eliminate car crashes. Since there will always be some of these crashes then motorists will be safer if they are wearing a helmet.

No matter what you try to do, you cannot eliminate slipping on icy sidewalks. Since there will always be some of these falls then winter pedestrians will be safer if they are wearing a helmet.

No matter what you try to do, you cannot eliminate slipping in the shower. Since there will always be some of these slips then bathers will be safer if they are wearing a helmet.

No matter what you try to do, you cannot eliminate falling from ladders. Since there will always be some of these falls then ladder users will be safer if they are wearing a helmet.

But more to the point: mandating helmets reduces the number of cyclists. And roads with fewer cyclists are more dangerous for cyclists in general, as experience and reason tell us.

A helmet may well protect a cyclist, but helmets hurt cycling.

Comment edited by moylek on 2012-10-18 08:29:00

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted October 20, 2012 at 19:27:34 in reply to Comment 81891

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 18, 2012 at 06:31:33 in reply to Comment 81874

No matter what you try to do, you cannot eliminate bicycle crashes. Since there will always be some of these crashes then cyclists will be safer if they are wearing a helmet.

You should share your "common sense" with the traffic planning department in Copenhagen:

"We don't have a law in Copenhagen mandating cyclists to wear helmets," says Brian Hanson, the head of the city's traffic planning department. "We have no problem with anyone wearing a helmet and understand the safety benefits of it. But we've studied the topic many times and the results are always the same: it will decrease ridership significantly. We feel the health benefits of bike riding – active lifestyle, very low carbon emissions, clean air – far outweigh the risks of riding without a helmet." And with ridership still increasing in the city, cycling is becoming even more safe. "The number of accidents has been decreasing year after year. More bikes on the road means it's safer for cyclists," says Hansen.

Increasing the number of cyclists is a much more effective way of reducing injury rates than trying to get more cyclists to wear helmets. It really isn't that hard to understand, but you seem to be fixated on helmets as a band-aid.

"I am sure that the diehards on the site will try to bend the numbers or spin the results..." didn't I nail that one.

No. The newspaper reports "bent the numbers and spun the results" by confusing the odds ratio with relative risk and by drawing a conclusion that is not supported by the actual study, as Nicholas Kevlahan patiently explained.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 17, 2012 at 23:31:40 in reply to Comment 81874

You really need to look up the design standards for bicycle helmets before you make any more invalid points. They are NOT DESIGNED TO PROTECT THE USER IN THE EVENT OF A COLLISION WITH ANOTHER VEHICLE. It has been observed that mandatory helmet laws simply do not reduce the rate of injuries to cyclists.

I'm not trying to dictate that people don't wear them. But I'm 100% against anyone dictating that anybody else should. It is backwards, useless, and detrimental to the general health of our population.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 17, 2012 at 08:39:11 in reply to Comment 81790

Ask yourself this: would you rather get in a collision and survive it, or not get in a collision at all? Helmets target the former, whereas a comprehensive cycling strategy based on safe, continuous infrastructure targets the latter.

Unfortunately this thought experiment only works for people who actually cycle on the roads. Those who exclusively drive cars will have zero injuries whether they are involved in a car/bike collision or not.

Perhaps this is why helmet laws seem mostly to be pushed by people who don't ride.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted October 17, 2012 at 09:26:49 in reply to Comment 81797

Those who exclusively drive cars will have zero injuries whether they are involved in a car/bike collision or not.

Actually, the evidence shows that streets are safer for all users when they are designed with dedicated bike lanes. See, e.g. "Evidence on Why Bike-Friendly Cities Are Safer for All Road Users" by Wesley E. Marshall and Norman W. Garrick.

Similarly, Jarvis Street in Toronto experienced an overall 23 percent drop in collision rates (and an 89 percent drop in pedestrian collision rates) after bike lanes were installed and the number of cyclists tripled - all at the cost of a modest 2 minute increase in rush-hour automobile commute times. Yet Toronto City Council just voted incomprefrackinghensively to remove those lanes at a cost of $300,000.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 17, 2012 at 10:00:21 in reply to Comment 81808

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 16, 2012 at 21:07:11 in reply to Comment 81770

My pet cause is for society to give a shit about actually making roads safer rather than wrapping everyone in bubble wrap and setting them loose to collide with each other.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted October 17, 2012 at 08:08:38 in reply to Comment 81776

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted October 20, 2012 at 19:35:50

It never ends. The Jolley Cut was there first and then a park was built around it. How do we tolerate that? Very well indeed.

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted January 09, 2013 at 21:29:13

The big difference in the two cities is size the thing that you always ignore. Dublin is all of 115 Km2 while Melbourne is a new world city and covers almost 1600 Km2. That has to be a crippling factor for riding a bike. A trip across town in Dublin would figure to be 10 or 15 Km at best while in Melbourne it would be 50 or 60 Km. That is a huge factor in riding a bike. How many people will ride a bike 25 or 30 Km to work, assuming that their trip is half way cross town. A lot less people will ride their bike 25 or 30 Km no matter the terrain.

Like most new world cities Melbourne is built and functions as a city based around the car wide modern streets and lots of parking. Dublin is a typical old world city small compact with narrow roads and very little parking. Before you push your false cause and affect of why cycling is more popular in Dublin than Melbourne try looking at the real causes of cycling popularity. But then truth is not very high on your list so I guess it just does not matter to you, just keep pushing the nonsense.

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By assumptions (anonymous) | Posted January 10, 2013 at 12:45:14 in reply to Comment 85021

Yes, it makes total sense to assume all trips are some percentage of "across town".

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By LOL all over again (anonymous) | Posted January 16, 2013 at 08:21:46 in reply to Comment 85060

The silliness never ends.

OK then if you are that dense let me put it another way. In a compact old world city many more people live within cycling range of a any given location then in a spread out new world city. Is that better? Can you grasp that concept?

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