I was reminded of something today, seeing the post on Copenhagenize about Roger Geller, Portland’s bicycle co-ordinator, and his visit to Sydney, Australia to talk about Portland’s movement towards accommodating bicycles.
Photo courtesy of Copenhagenize.
I’m going to write about bicycle helmets one more time :) Through discussion around the internet and with people in person, plus a lot of time in thought, I’ve come to the opinion that bicycle helmets are, amongst other things, an indicator of how safe people feel while riding a bike. When we’re talking about the cross-section of people riding around in cities for normal everyday trips like going to work or to the grocery store or out to a movie or whatever, I feel that the choice whether to wear a bicycle helmet or not is largely made based on whether the person feels that the streets are safe or not, and this is mostly based on the motor vehicle traffic, street design, etc. I don’t think most people feel the need to wear a helmet on a separated path where there is no car traffic, unless they are riding head-down and fast (i.e. racing), or if to them the helmet is just kind of “part of the gear”.
It really struck me when Mikael noted that in one of Roger’s presentations, on one slide he shows the current percentage of people wearing helmets in Portland, and then mentions he’ll show the desired percentage – the next slide says 0%. That is, he envisions a Portland which is deemed safe enough that nobody feels the need to wear a helmet when riding around the city.
This is also my ideal for the city I live in, and it’s really nice for me to know that, whether it moves quickly that direction or not, the city I live in is interested in making the city safer for people to move around by bicycle, and not just telling them to watch out for themselves, and good luck.
Clearly, in the Netherlands, it is deemed safe to ride a bicycle. There isn’t even a second thought about it. Everyone from age 3 to age 90 rides them, and not a single person wears a helmet while just going from place to place on their daily trips. Despite nobody wearing helmets, they have the safest bicycle traffic in the world, statistically. Subjectively, it feels like a dream. A very good dream.
We don’t need more emphasis on forcing or coercing people to wear helmets in Portland or anywhere else in the U.S. If people feel like they need them, they will wear them, they are readily available. In the meantime, we should be spending our time and energy in an effort to make it actually safe (both through street design and law) so that people don’t in fact need them.
In case you ever read this Roger, thanks for understanding that.