Here’s me on the left, no helmet! I’m riding a coaster bike. I think it’s likely my top speed was 15 km/hr. it’s a beachside rental on a small island in French Polynesia. It was the kind of cycling environment where a helmet would have seemed out of place. There were parents and kids sharing a single bike. Not a helmet in sight. It was also very hot. Susan and I biked to the beach and I loved it.
I’ve also ridden bikes without helmets in Amersterdam, Bremen, and Montreal. What these cities have in common is well developed cycling infrastructure and lots of everyday people on bikes. Love riding in their protected bike lanes.
In the other photo, there’s helmeted me on bike commute to work through traffic in my usual hometown. Definitely wearing a helmet. I also wear helmets on longer, faster rides through the countryside.
My preference is for no laws requiting helmet use for adults. Why not? Well, helmets make cycling seem special and scary and put people off riding. I am concerned about cycling safety. When it comes to bike safety, numbers matter more than helmets. If fewer people ride if they’re required to ride a helmet, that’s less safe overall.
It’s one of those situations where your goal, increased safety for cyclists, is undermined by the means you choose to achieve it. You aim for all cyclists to wear helmets, increased safety, but the effect is fewer people riding. Numbers of people riding matters more to cycling safety than helmets.
For prudential reasons, I usually wear one. But there’s no need to force me.
For the past two weeks I’ve been home from work recovering from surgery (everything is fine and I’m now back on my bike) and for exercise that means I’ve been walking, a lot.
One of the cool things about recovering from surgery as an active person is that you can scale back considerably and still have lots that you can do. No biking or running, fine, but I walked lots. Some of it was with the new puppy so it wasn’t all speedy. To the surprise of the staff at the clinic I attended one week out I walked there and back, about 8 km. But parking would have cost $10, I’m frugal, and it’s not like I was getting any other exercise.
But all that walking made me think about pedestrian safety and risk. When Tracy blogged about giving up road cycling and her fear of being hit by a car one of my first thoughts was about walking and cars. Why? Because I’ve had two people in my life in the past few years killed by cars while out walking. One was a friend from church out walking her dog at night and the other was an older woman I knew from the velodrome. She was out walking in the evening. I kept imagining how many people would judge that activity safe and her velodrome riding risky. I blogged about cycling and risk here.
During my week of walking lots I heard of more pedestrian deaths in the news. Another pedestrian was killed in our city this week. A 70 year old, crossing the road, at an intersection. We don’t yet whether charges will be laid but I couldn’t help but note that there’s been no outcry about pedestrian safety.
Should he have been wearing reflective clothing, flashing lights? A helmet? Maybe it’s not safe to walk and we should all just stop. Maybe we should drive everywhere and then walk in our houses on treadmills.
Pedestrian deaths are common. They don’t make news except on slow days. In big cities hundreds of people are killed each year while out walking from place A to place B.
Freakonomics even speculates that running someone over is the best way to get away with murder.
From Mike’s traffic blog, talking about New York, “There were 1,300 fatal pedestrian crashes there from 2008 to 2013 and only 66 drivers were arrested. That’s the entry point for Freakonomics to analyze pedestrian crashes. In New York City, 52% of all traffic fatalities are pedestrians. That percent drops to 14% for the rest of the United States. Obviously there’s an exposure risk in New York. There are more people walking around there than anywhere else.”
You don’t hear much of that and as a cyclist I find the comparison with cycling deaths a bit hard to understand. There are ghost bikes but no ghost sneakers. That’s part of why I worry about ghost bikes. They single out cycling as particularly dangerous rather than cars as our shared enemy.
Cycling advocacy groups do occasionally promote helmets for pedestrians, on the grounds that what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander. See here
I don’t think of myself as much of a walker. I say it’s too slow. I say that I’m saving walking as a fitness activity for my old age, along with cruises for vacations, long driving trips, and television for entertainment.
Now the not walking thing isn’t quite true. For years, I pushed strollers. I will always walk dogs. I love hiking. But I tend not to walk as transportation. I usually drive the car or ride my bike for distances over 2 km.
Maybe it’s an identity thing. I am a cyclist, but I’d never describe myself as an avid walker.
And in terms of safety, I’m not suggesting we stop walking. But we should think differently about risk, maybe that means worrying a bit more about walking and a bit less about cycling. Certainly we should pay lots attention when walking (stop looking at our phones! ) and maybe even wear reflective clothing and lights when walking at night. I’m also looking forward to the era of driverless cars. I think smart cars are likely to be much safer for their passengers and for cyclists and pedestrians alike.