Cyclist Fatality Underscores Need For Safe Infrastructure

By Ryan McGreal
Published June 09, 2010

Tragedy struck yesterday at the corner of Upper James St and Stone Church Rd when a cyclist riding north crashed into the side of an SUV turning left into the Tim Horton's on the northeast corner of the intersection.

The cyclist was riding on the sidewalk. This is understandable, given the appalling lack of cycling infrastructure on the mountain; but it needs to be said over and over again until people get the message:

This seems astoundingly counter-intuitive, but the evidence bears it out. In a major study on cyclist/motor vehicle collisions in Toronto, cyclists on the sidewalk were significantly over-represented in the results. From the Key Findings:

In almost thirty percent of all collisions, the cyclists were riding on the sidewalk immediately prior to the collision. Young cyclists were much more likely to have been riding on the sidewalk than were adults (Figure 3.10). In fact, over half (53%) of the collision-involved cyclists under age 18 were riding on the sidewalk, whereas only 21% of those 18 and over were.

The study also confirms that people cycling in more suburban environments are more likely to ride on the sidewalk:

Forty-six percent of collisions in the outer areas of the city involved sidewalk cycling (522 cases), compared to only thirteen percent of the central area collisions (188 cases). This suggests that, in outer areas, either sidewalk cycling is much more prevalent or it is much more likely to lead to a collision than it is in the central area.

Again, this makes sense. Suburban arteries generally have more and wider lanes and traffic moves more quickly, leading cyclists to feel unsafe on the road.

Unfortunately, the perception of greater safety on the sidewalk is false. Motorists are less likely to expect - and hence be on the lookout for - a fast-moving entity on the sidewalk.

This sets the scene for collisions when motorists turn across the sidewalk or crosswalk while cyclists are proceeding along it. Again, the Toronto study observes:

Cyclists riding towards an intersection on the sidewalk, even at a moderate speed, can seem to appear quite suddenly and unexpectedly from outside the driver's field of view.

Ultimately, riding on the sidewalk to avoid motorists confers a false and dangerous sense of safety. The most important factors in safe cycling are to be visible and predictable by riding on the street and following the rules of the road.

This maximizes the chance that motorists will see the cyclist, while at the same time training motorists to expect to share the road with cyclists. Don't understimate the significance of this latter point: a surprised driver is a more dangerous driver.

As the Toronto study concludes:

Drivers who expect to encounter cyclists are able to detect and recognise them more readily, so increasing driversí awareness of cyclists has great potential to reduce collisions.

Bike lanes can help significantly. They provide a dedicated space on the road for cyclists so there is less incentive to 'hide' on the sidewalk; and by encouraging more people to ride bikes, they 'train' drivers to expect cyclists and to take them into account when driving.

Again, the Toronto study:

Bicycle lanes can provide a consistent and predictable space for cyclists, making them somewhat easier to detect. Some cities use special markings and/or coloured pavement to highlight conflict zones and to remind drivers to look out for cyclists.


The impact of bicycle lanes and paths on overall safety is the subject of debate, but it is clear that the cities with the highest levels of bicycle use and the lowest injury rates are those that have provided plenty of "bicycle-friendly" infrastructure.


[T]he presence of bicycle lanes can serve to remind motorists to be alert for cyclists, and they can also channel cyclists into a more predictable and visible position on the road. For cyclists not comfortable mixing with traffic, they provide a better alternative than the sidewalk, and thus may reduce the incidence of sidewalk cycling and its associated problems.

This is why cities that build bike lane networks experience significant increases in the number of cyclists, coupled with significant decreases in the number of casualties.

Given tragedies like yesterday's collisions, we should be making the construction of a network of safe cycling routes a much higher priority than it is currently.

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 wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Capitalist (anonymous) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 10:44:28

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By mikeyj (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 10:49:58

As someone who bikes downtown on the reg, I personally find it impossible not to use the sidewalk a fair share of the time that I'm heading away from the core.

In my case it's mostly because of one-way streets, although bike lanes would help, putting in one-way bike lanes on the existing one-way streets still means going out of my way (and often further uphill) than I need to or have time for, making their benefit alone negligible.

There is a previous article on pedestrians jaywalking that words this perfectly,

"In general, people with a given objective are going to pursue it as directly as they can, and they will act wherever possible to circumvent arbitrary barriers to progress."

Therefore, converting streets to two-way could have equal results in decreasing the amount of bikers on sidewalks. Either that or the installation of two-way bike lanes on one-way streets needs to become a more common practice to really have an effect.

Comment edited by mikeyj on 2010-06-09 09:52:03

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 11:06:54

ya, shame on you Ryan for trying to help save lives and help provide a safer city for everyone to move around in. You're a real neanderthal.

Comment edited by jason on 2010-06-09 10:07:16

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 11:24:14

I am frequently frustrated by cyclists using the sidewalks in my area. First of all it's dangerous to pedestrians and secondly it's dangerous to them. Yesterday I was driving home and watch a guy with one of those motorized bikes flip from road to sidewalk to avoid a red light and stopped traffic.

I actually feel bad for the guy driving the SUV he hit. From the sounds of it the cyclist was going at a fair clip (to smash his head through the windshield). THere was an 18 wheeler driving down Upper James with 4ways on looking for a place to stop and this guy probably thought, "I'll duck in quickly before he blocks the entrance" checks for ppl on the sidewalk, gives it a bootful only to be blindsided by the cyclist who was in a place he shouldn't have been.

I'd love to say if you feel like you need to bike on the sidewalk, don't bike but that is counter productive as well. Something has to be done... I have been thinking about the configurations on Upper James and with the current lanewidths it should be relatively easy to install bike lanes and narrow the lanes a bit. Sure it would slow traffic down but is that really a bad thing?

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 11:38:11

no bike lanes, transport trucks driving on urban streets stopping for coffee no less. This whole setup is a mess.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 12:29:56

No matter how wrong the cyclist was in riding on the sidewalk death is a pretty stiff penalty.

I feel really bad for the young man and his family. The only hope I have is that just maybe his death will lead to significant real change. Cycling lanes are a must for our roads.

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By mikeyj (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 12:40:31

If they build it, we will ride it.

Until then, drivers need to do a double take and start looking further for bikes... instead of only directly in front of them for pedestrians.

Not that it sounds like having bike lanes or much of anything could have been done to avoid this particular tragic string of events. The truck could have obstructed the drivers view either way.

To me it seems unlikely the average cyclist would ride next to cars/trucks traveling at highway speeds as opposed to the empty sidewalks on Uppers James and most major mountain streets, no matter how much you decry it's legality.

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By Peter2 (anonymous) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 12:40:46

Five to six lane road.... Truck route. 60 km/hr speed limit (i.e. people are going 70+).... I don't blame someone for wanting to be on the sidewalk. If this was in Holland the bike path would be exactly where the sidewalk is, separated from the road... it's not safe either objectively or subjectively to bike on the road in its current configuration.

Look at this streetview image from just down the road. Unless you are in the hardcore spandex crowd, this is not going to get anyone out of their cars anytime soon.,+hamilton&ie=UTF8&hl=en&hq=Upper+James+Po&hnear=Upper+James+Po,+858+Upper+James+St,+Hamilton,+ON+L9C+3A4&ll=43.210673,-79.889397&spn=0,0.006968&t=h&z=18&layer=c&cbll=43.210582,-79.889441&panoid=XVwwZgWD2Jw0ia8TDJeZJg&cbp=12,196.99,,0,15.44

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 12:58:05

Bike lanes really help in tough spots and it is frustrating to see them deployed so slowly when lives are endangered, especially when you know there is room.

The news was spooky to see yesterday because I was run down at about exactly the same time. An SUV driver honks, screams, then accelerates into me. This person gunned it and tried to brush me off the road, hitting me as he sped past, a loud bang as my elbow digs into his side panel. They didn't stop, just sped off. Two years of cycling and this was only the second time somebody deliberately used their vehicle as a weapon and tried to cause an accident. Since I didn't get any digits of the new york license place I saw no point in phoning the police; this was a hit and run but I wasn't hurt so I let it go. I have the flu and I left work early because I just wanted to get home and pass out, I was not interested in any problems. But I got home, opened a web browser, and saw that the young man had been killed at exactly the same time this road rage was happening.

Please note that the left lane was empty when this happened. This person had the entire road available to pass me. It was naked aggression.

There is a serious disconnect here. There is a dangerous lack of knowledge regarding who lawful users of the road are, and the rights and responsibilities. Even if you do your best and do everything lawfully and right, to some psychologically unstable people, you are an offense and cause of anger just for existing because you are infringing on 'their space'. Try to ride in the right lane on Upper James and see how long you survi

So cyclists are supposed to stay off the sidewalks but roads are perceived as dangerous because they are treated as urban freeways with insufficient knowledge of rights and responsibilities.

As for the person that hit me, what is amazing is this individual will most likely go home to their family, sit down and eat a meal, pretending to be a normal civilized person, oblivious to the fact that they almost angrily ground into paste a lawful and peaceful user of the road. Not a hippy with a political agenda, or activist riding to purposely inconvenience, just lil ol me, a dude with the flu trying to get home from work early. Yes. Perfectly nice decent people. Except when they get behind the wheel, they'd run down their own kids if they were crossing the street in front of them.

Newspapers and media would do a lot better for their social responsibility if they would run more articles and editorials to educate the public instead of fomenting more rage. How about teaching people what the rules are? The Star did something of the sort with its Mean Streets series a while back, but it was still done in a format to provoke arguments instead of truly educate the public what the laws and issues are. I don't understand why a more concentrated public service announcement type campaign is not being done to educate the public.

The young man should not have been riding on the sidewalk but with these attitudes and road configurations, there it is, countless cyclists on the sidewalk and little that can practically be done to enforce it. Roads are just user beware, Darwin meets the wild west. Disgusting. But I see it as a growing pain into the 21st century - it will pass but cost lives due to negligence at a personal level between citizens, and among those in a position to do something meaningful to help (media, city council, etc) but don't. And those of you who run somebody down in anger when the rest of the road is wide open .. shame on you you should be in a psychiatric hospital for assessment and counseling before you hurt somebody! Other people live in cities they are not your own personal freeways. There are billions of dollars of freeways that are all yours. City streets are exactly that.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2010-06-09 12:00:27

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By trevorlikesbikes (registered) - website | Posted June 09, 2010 at 13:07:20

this is indeed awful and tragic.

then minutes ago i open the spec and what do i see...

highschool student riding on the sidewalk with no helmet (not that they really help - but it is the law for minors), baggy pants just asking to be sucked into the chain, holding an umbrella with his right hand which means if he has to brake he will be grabbin a mitt full of front brake over the bar action and to top it all off...yes, he's riding on the sidewalk!

Lovely urban expressway as a backdrop though.

I love bikes and cyclists alike but i think the popo or his mom should pay Jordan a visit to knock some sense into him.

Our society is doomed.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 13:41:12

@mikeonthemountain That really sucks! I'm sorry that happened to you, I guess I've been pretty lucky on my bike. I hope your arm is okay. Did you get knocked off your bike? Did anyone else see it?

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 14:10:13

No I was neither hurt nor knocked off the bike ... that's why I didn't bother with a police report because I couldn't ID them ... they hit my elbow which sunk into soft sheet metal and bounced off but they didn't contact the bike so I kept control and kept going. I think they got a dent though. This behaviour is pretty rare and it is the first time somebody actually made contact with their vehicle. I have been lucky too ... not shy to use the road (properly, lawfully) and never had a scratch.

It looks like another driver followed behind me for a moment to see if I was ok, then passed and was on his way, since I kept going and the other guy had sped off.

The reason I posted my story so emotionally is because crackheads like this are trying to bully cyclists off the road meanwhile this young man gets killed cycling on the sidewalk. It is ironic and I think highlights some of the very problems that led him to use the sidewalk in the first place. Plus the empathy and heartache that I made it home alive, and this brother didn't.

Comment edited by mikeonthemountain on 2010-06-09 13:17:06

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By trevorlikesbikes (registered) - website | Posted June 09, 2010 at 15:02:40

@ mikeyonthemount

I for one am glad that you are alright. I had an altercation a couple weeks back where i was actually accosted by the driver with a snowbrush out the passenger window! I got the plate and he got a visit from Hamilton's finest. Also, a guy stopped followed and came back to me with the guys plate number, which i appreciated and thanked him for being a human being.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 15:12:27

IMO unless the street is a residential street by which I mean a small street with very little traffic or a highway like the RHVP LINC or QEW they should have dedicated bike lanes. I've stated this elsewhere but the current design parameters give the option of using wider lanes or a paved shoulder as accommodation for cyclists. This is inexcusable...

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By herb (anonymous) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 19:03:54

This is indeed tragic, particularly when people feel they are doing something safe.

Ryan, I can understand the urge to show that sidewalk cycling is dangerous so as to support the need for bike lanes. I commend the purpose of the post: I believe bike lanes are the ultimately important for increasing cycling safety. But I don't feel it does a service to make claims that aren't supported by the collision study.

You claim: "The sidewalk is the most dangerous place for a cyclist to ride." You then go on to claim that the Toronto collision study shows that "cyclists on the sidewalk were significantly over-represented in the results". But that is not true; the study does not say sidewalk cyclists are *over-represented*. In order to make this claim the study would need access to data on the breakdown of urban/suburban road versus sidewalk cyclists and then compare it to the collision data. What the study does say is it does *not* know about prevalence in relation to collisions:

"Forty-six percent of collisions in the outer areas of the city involved sidewalk cycling
(522 cases), compared to only thirteen percent of the central area collisions (188 cases). This suggests that, in outer areas, either sidewalk cycling is much more prevalent or it is much more likely to lead to a collision than it is in the central area (Figures 3.11 and 3.12)."

The study authors could not conclude either way since they didn't have access to the prevalence of sidewalk cycling. Now, there is not any publicly available data, but when I had worked in the City of Toronto's cycling department a few years ago we had collected data at various suburban and urban intersections to get year-by-year data on cyclists and their habits. From my recollection roughly 1/3 or more of all suburban cyclists were riding on the sidewalk during our counts.

I'm not sure why the City has never published this data, but it may be partly because of a lack of funding and priority in getting this out. Either way, I believe that my 1/3 number correlates with a lot of people's experience: there are a lot of sidewalk cyclists in the suburbs.

In sum, you cannot claim that sidewalk cyclists are over-represented since the evidence is not there. The best we can say is that sidewalk cycling is not any *safer* than riding on the road; or that you are just as likely to get hit in a crosswalk coming off the sidewalk as you are riding on the road. I'm glad that sidewalks (or crosswalks, to be technical) are not that dangerous since we still tell our children to bike on them.

There are other good reasons for adults to avoid riding on the sidewalk that we can focus on. Namely, sidewalk cycling increases the risk of hitting pedestrians; sidewalk cycling is slow compared to the road; and it's illegal in many municipalities (though not all).

I hope you take another look at the study and read it a bit more closely before making such strong claims. Or look around for other studies that can better correlate the two - I believe they exist.


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By Brandon (registered) | Posted June 10, 2010 at 08:06:59


As a driver I have never been surprised by a cyclist on the road. In the last year I can think of three separate instances where I almost creamed a cyclist at an intersection, felt horrible guilt and then realized that they had been on the sidewalk and that there had been no way for me to see them.

If visibility is remotely obscured by hedges or buildings, or cyclists on the sidewalk are moving significantly faster than a walking pace problems are going to occur.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2010 at 09:06:18

trevorlikesbikes - Your statement "...with no helmet (not that they really help - but it is the law for minors)..." is way out in left field. Next I suppose you are going to tell us that seatbelts do not help either. Every study everywhere I have ever seen shows the wisdom of always wearing a helmet. You should not spout off like that, somebody might read your comment and not wear their helmet the one time the need it. It is a constant struggle to keep them on the heads of teenagers and when others make comments like yours it sure does not help. You really should wear one (if not for your sake then for your family's).

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By Rene Gauthier (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2010 at 09:15:08

Anybody remember the last time we tried to get bicycle lanes on major streets?

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2010 at 09:28:20

I hesitate to start the helmet debate, but I will briefly chime in against helment nagging: helmet laws and helmet nannying have helped to turn cycling from a casual mode of transport for many to an extreme sport for the bold few. And so made cycling more dangerous than it used to be.

And the oft quoted "85% reduction in head injuries" studying was flawed and has been criticized(1), though I've never seen anything in the mainstream press.

Here is a list of things which would do far more for cyclist safety than putting a helmet on every head and they most of them are things that cyclists can do for themselves ...

  • more cyclists on the roads
  • cyclists off the sidewalks
  • cyclists obeying traffic signs and using signals
  • cyclists riding upright city bikes instead of hunched-over sport bikes (the kind Europeans still ride and we North Americans rode until the lates 1970s or so)
  • bike lanes (debatable, I know, but they get cyclists on the roads)

These things will all help to reduce the number of accidents and injuries; helmets will only help to reduce the severity of head injuries in a minority of accidents. In fact there is evidence that helmets actually increase the likelihood of an accident with a vehicle(2).

The chorus of "wear your helmet" is a distraction and a false panacea at best, and a contributing factor to the decline in cycling (and thus to cyclist safety) at worst.


Comment edited by moylek on 2010-06-10 08:46:25

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2010 at 09:36:02

Forgive the double post, but I'm reminded of a wonderful (if ugly) web page called "How to Not Get Hit by Cars". It focusses not on helmets nor laws but on sensible strategies: "Ten Ways to Not Get Hit". I make a point of re-reading this every now and again.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-06-10 08:38:45

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted June 10, 2010 at 09:59:16

"How to Not Get Hit by Cars", TL;DR edition: Obey the law.

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By trevorlikesbikes (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2010 at 10:00:57

@ the Meister

Like it or not bicycle helmets have many structural shortcomings. From only testing for direct front impact to the increased rotational torsion applied to the brain during impact, you may not like my statement but that in itself doesn’t make it wrong.

We the sheeple will do exactly what the gummerment tells us, cause the lobbyists told them, and lobbiests don’t have anything to gain by this do they.

That said I wear my Bell Sweep and Sweep XC on all but the shortest jaunts around the neighbourhood because quite frankly I enjoy the false sense of security it provides me and the motorheads around me.

And on the eighth day God created Google.

The question you should be asking yourself is, "who paid for the studies I am reading?" Statistics are wonderful things to manipulate.



Oh wow as usual Ryan said it much more eloquantly than i. Thanks Ryan! you're the tops!

Comment edited by trevorlikesbikes on 2010-06-10 09:06:41

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By Ryan D (anonymous) | Posted June 10, 2010 at 12:43:28

"Mandating bike helmets (which takes approach #1) actually deters people from cycling because it communicates the idea that cycling is dangerous."

I've never understood this idea that safety precautions = danger, because I've never heard it expressed in a context other than cycling. Seatbelts and airbags don't deter people from driving. Lifejackets don't deter people from boating. Most safety experts recommend keeping a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, but few people consider cooking breakfast to be dangerous. Any time you get on a plane, the flight crew will explain emergency exits, oxygen masks, and flotation devices, but people still fly.

I don't consider cycling to be dangerous, but I always wear my helmet because stupid, unpredictable accidents can happen anyway.

Now, if you don't believe helmets actually provide protection, I can respect that. But I honestly don't understand how taking a reasonable safety precaution makes an activity appear more dangerous.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 10, 2010 at 13:05:50

Last time I checked bicycle helmets weren't on the list under "infrastructure"...

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By trevorlikesbikes (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2010 at 15:12:21

Ryan D.

I'd take a stab and say that you don't have a choice but to cook food. I'd also guess that about the time that they started really pushing fire suppression devices in the home can be with some statistical fun proven to be exactly when america started eating out more.

And well that little demo before flight really ain't going to help you much when you are about to become creamed corn as a plane plummets from the sky. Some would argue that air travel is a necessity and as such the associated risk for highspeed travel which if traveled by other means (walk or car or bike) would carry a significant burden (non-incentive) that outwieghs the implied risk.

Boats...well boats are for the rich. They have exceptional risk thresholds and the money to pay the fine for not obeying the law.

The need for a helmet is also a deterent for 'those that struggle' aka the poor as it is simply another cost necessary to travel. which you could argue directly contradicts ones right to travel unimpeded as per Section 6 of the canadian constitution.



Comment edited by trevorlikesbikes on 2010-06-10 14:13:54

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2010 at 12:53:38

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2010 at 16:49:44

Wearing a helmet does not equate to more injuries or more serious injuries.

Except that the wearing of helmets has coincided with the 1) the decline of cycling by the general population (of adults and children) and 2) the increased use of specialist cycling gear. I'm pretty sure that the two things go hand in hand: as cycling becomes a sport requiring special clothing and safety equipment, general-purpose cycling goes down. And as general-purpose cycling goes down, the danger to cyclists goes up.

And if helmets are useful at least some of the time, why not wear them while doing other activities which expose one to the risk of head injury? For example, I've fallen and hit my head while walking twice (having slipped on ice) and I've hit my head against the frame of a car several times. I'm serious: why not wear a helment all the time?

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By Bob (registered) | Posted June 12, 2010 at 17:36:36

Oh Dear

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By trevorlikesbikes (registered) - website | Posted June 14, 2010 at 08:45:10

Must have been a 2 for 1 sale at the sheeple store on useless unsubstanciated dribble.

Also, If Chris Ecklund calls you and tells you to go to Wingfest, do not do what he says. Save your money or better yet give it away.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted June 15, 2010 at 11:25:12

An often overlooked issue in the helmet debate...women.

In countries where helmet use is not prevalent, nearly an equal proportion of cyclists are male and female.

In countries where helmet use is prevalent, cyclists are predominantly male.

Where a helmet is considered necessary, cycling is not seen as a pleasant way to get around, it is seen as a high-risk activity, and therefore women are less likely to participate on a regular basis.

I think that cycling advocates often overlook the importance of encouraging greater gender balance on the roads, especially as women are often less likely to take risks and more likely to ride in a way which is considered law-abiding and co-operative with other users of the roads.

And one must also realize the frequency of head injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes is extremely high. Where are the campaigns to enforce hemlet use among motorists?

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted June 17, 2010 at 01:17:25

You can manipulate the numbers and find co-incidences all you want but nothing changes the fact that you are better off wearing a helmet if you get involved in a crash while cycling. Why would you look for excuses not to wear one?

If anyone used these kind of arguments to lobby against increasing cycling amenities in the city you would be up in arms and rightfully so. E.G. you do not need cycling lanes since cycling is already incredibly safe.

Wearing helmets may cramp your style or be uncomfortable or not look cool or mess your hair but the fact remains they help. Again this sounds an awful lot like the comments I heard years ago when seatbelt use became mandatory. Now it would seem strange not to have seatbelt laws.

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