Bikes Are Not Cars, and Infrastructure Is Better Than Helmets

CC BY 2.0. Lloyd Alter/ Vancouver bike infrastructure

We do go on about bike safety, primarily the question of whether the emphasis should be on building better infrastructure for cyclists so they don’t get squished or mandating helmets for their head to try and protect them when they do. On the Alternative Department for Transport, a UK website, the author notes that in the UK people do wear helmets and hi-vis vests- because they are afraid not to.

If we genuinely want to make cycling safer, more helmets aren’t the solution. They are really a good indicator that the streets aren’t safe. When people don’t feel safe when cycling, they will wear a helmet – and hi-vis vest – with or without advertising.
Higher helmet use shouldn’t be a goal, it should be seen as a failure of policy, an embarrassing statistic. An increase in helmets is a sign that the government has failed miserably in their duty to provide safe streets.

The Minister of the ADFT (he doesn’t give his name) goes on to suggest that the real solution is better infrastructure, with good bike lanes optimized for safety. He suggests that helmet laws and promotion campaigns are just a way for governments to shift responsibility, as if they are saying saying “if you get hurt, you’ve only yourself to blame”.Read more at the Alternative Department for

Side note: I wear a helmet and think everyone, including drivers and senior citizens should, I would still have all of my mom if they did. But I don’t think that urban cyclists are at any more risk than either of those groups.

©. Chris Bruntlett and daughter

© Chris Bruntlett and daughter

Meanwhile in Vancouver, Chris Bruntlett discusses another one of our favourite cycling topics: Why they are not like cars and shouldn’t be treated like cars. Helmets are mandatory in British Columbia, back in the 90s “when cycling was viewed as sporty, dangerous, and most notably, an inconvenience to those behind the wheel of an automobile.” Now Vancouver has terrific bike infrastructure and an explosion of utility cycling, but all these silly rules are still embedded in what is called, of course, Motor Vehicle Act, notwithstanding that bikes are not motor vehicles.

Our all-ages helmet law has been a remarkable policy failure, something other jurisdictions around the world now cite in order to avoid. The law reduced cycling rates among young adults, has caused no appreciable change to head injury rates (versus provinces without such a law), blocked our eight-year efforts to establish a bike-share in Vancouver, while also wasting police and court resources with an unenforceable distraction.

And then he goes on about my personal bête noire, the requirement that cyclists stop at every stop sign, even though in my city they are on every street corner as a method of slowing down cars, not determining right of way. Or as Chris notes, "bicycles are much slower, lighter, less dangerous, and easier to maneuver than a 4,000-pound motor vehicle, for which the stop sign was designed." He eloquently complains about the situation:

In the meantime, the vast majority of provincial resources around lawmaking, education and enforcement should be directed towards motorists, whom a recent report found were “at fault” in 93 per cent of collisions with bikes in Metro Vancouver.
Expecting both drivers and cyclists to play by the same set of rules is like equating shotguns with water pistols. Let’s not lose sight of the real weapons on our streets.

More in the Vancouver Courier, and on his terrific blog at Modacity Life.