Whether or not one should wear a bicycle helmet is one of the most controversial subjects on TreeHugger. I personally have moved from being an absolute mandatory helmet advocate, closer to the position of Mikael Colville-Anderson of Copehagenize and wrote recently:
Over the years I have become convinced that he was right, that helmets can marginalize and isolate urban commuting cyclists, who are no more likely to crack their heads than pedestrians or drivers. That they can scare people from cycling, just like the car manufacturers fought against mandatory seat belts because they thought it would tell people that driving is dangerous. That we have a right to ride in our city without armouring ourselves against cars. That normal urban cycling doesn't need special clothes and equipment, just a bike.However, two recent accidents in my home town, Toronto, are making me reconsider.
The Wychwood Barns are a few blocks from my home; these former streetcar repair barns are now an active community centre. There are disused streetcar tracks all around it, and I have gingerly ridden my Strida over them many times. On Monday, 47 year old Joseph Mavec was riding on the quiet residential street; his tire got caught in the tracks, he went over the handlebars, hit his head on the pavement and died.
A few days earlier, writer Shawn Micallef, who I know personally, was riding with humorist writer Tabatha Southey, (who happens to be the funniest tweeter that I follow) when she got her bike tire caught in the tracks and went flying. Shawn called 911 and the unconscious Tabatha was rushed to the hospital. You can see the full set of tweets on OpenFile, but Shawn shows her cracked helmet to the doctor and concludes:
Streetcar tracks are a terrifying hazard in Toronto, but you learn how to deal with them: try to cross them at or as close to right angles as you can.
On I Bike TO, Herb provides an excellent primer on how to deal with streetcar tracks, in a series of different conditions. I also try to avoid them as much as possible by picking alternate routes.
Sometimes there are no alternate routes, and with the construction boom in Toronto there often isn't much road. Last year I had to navigate this, while Donald Trump built his hotel to the south and an office building went up to the north, on one of the busiest crosstown one-way streets in the city. Note how the construction barrier is a foot away from the tracks; this is totally common in the city where they give a license to occupy the street without a thought to the cyclists. No helmet in the world would save me if I fell here. I only did this once; after that I got off and walked, or rode on the sidewalk. (legally, by the way, my Strida's tires are 16" and that makes it a kids bike, allowed on Toronto sidewalks).
Blame for Joseph Mavec's death can be spread around; The city shouldn't leave abandoned streetcar tracks in the road for 30 years, and he probably shouldn't have had a bag of groceries hanging from his handlebars.
One can also conclude that Toronto's streetcar tracks are inherently dangerous to cyclists, and perhaps I should put my helmet back on, until Toronto becomes like Amsterdam or New York City and invests in a decent cycling infrastructure.